Red-hot Ste­wart read­ies for fi­nal race at home­town track

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - Staff RE­PORT

NASCAR Wire Ser­vice

Not long ago, peo­ple were say­ing that Tony Ste­wart’s days of dom­i­nance were at an end.

The as­sess­ment proved fair con­sid­er­ing the three­time NASCAR Sprint Cup Se­ries cham­pion had only notched three top-five fin­ishes in the last two years.

How quickly the as­sess­ment has changed.

Ste­wart has pro­duced three top-five show­ings in his past four starts, in­clud­ing a win at Sonoma and a run­ner-up last Sun­day at New Hamp­shire. The Colum­bus, In­di­ana, res­i­dent will try to ex­tend his streak in Sun­day’s Crown Royal presents the Com­bat Wounded Coali­tion 400 at the Brick­yard (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) – his last race at his home­town track.

“I’m not go­ing to down­play it be­cause it’s one of the most im­por­tant week­ends of the year for me,” Ste­wart said. “Be­ing at home and rac­ing in front of friends and fam­ily for the last time there. It’ll be an emo­tional week­end, for sure, but I’ve got a plan on how I’m go­ing to ap­proach the week­end, and I’m just go­ing to stick to that plan and go about our work.”

In 17 starts at Indianapolis Mo­tor Speedway, Ste­wart claims two wins, seven top fives, 11 tops 10s and 227 laps led. He also owns the sec­ond-best av­er­age fin­ish (9.6) and the third-high­est av­er­age run­ning po­si­tion (11.6). He has fin­ished out­side the top 12 a mere four times at the 2.5-mile track.

“Man, that front straight­away, es­pe­cially where the start-fin­ish line is, if you are lead­ing that race and you come off turn four, that’s a long way to the check­ered flag,” Ste­wart said. “If a guy isn’t right be­hind you, you have a lot of time to sa­vor that mo­ment driv­ing un­der­neath the dou­ble check­ered flags and the yard of bricks. Man, that’s a once-in-a-life­time feel­ing.”

If Ste­wart kisses the bricks at Indy once more this week­end, it would be after record­ing his 50th win – a mile­stone that would tie him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Ju­nior John­son and Ned Jar­rett for 11th on the all-time list. Ev­ery el­i­gi­ble driver with as many vic­to­ries as the No. 14 Chevro­let driver is im­mor­tal­ized in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

What better place to cap­ture his 50th win than the state and track that he loves.

“It’s a big deal to us to win here (at Indianapolis),” Ste­wart said. “This is an event that I def­i­nitely cir­cle on the sched­ule and emo­tion­ally have a lot in­vested in it. To us, it’s def­i­nitely not just another stop that’s on the cal­en­dar and on the sched­ule. You don’t just pull in and say, ‘ we’re go­ing to go in, try to win the race and then pull out of here.’ When you’re here, you’re amped up be­cause you’re at Indianapolis.”

Jones hopes to sus­tain strong sum­mer run with ‘pretty spe­cial’ win at Indianapolis

Erik Jones has made a seam­less tran­si­tion from NASCAR Camp­ing World Truck Se­ries driver to full­time NASCAR XFIN­ITY Se­ries com­peti­tor this sea­son.

After win­ning the NASCAR Camp­ing World Truck Se­ries cham­pi­onship in 2015, Jones leads the NASCAR XFIN­ITY Se­ries with two wins and 10 top fives. Al­though he sits fourth in the points stand­ings – 54 mark­ers be­hind his Joe Gibbs Rac­ing team­mate Daniel Suarez for first – he ranks first on the Chase Grid due to his two vic­to­ries.

Jones hopes to add a third win in Sat­ur­day’s Lily Di­a­betes 250 at Indianapolis Mo­tor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) – the fi­nal event of the NASCAR XFIN­ITY Se­ries Dash 4 Cash, con­sist­ing of two 20-lap Heats and a 60-lap Main. He placed 34th at the 2.5-mile track last year, but heads into the race on a hot sum­mer stretch con­structed of four top-four fin­ishes in his last six starts, in­clud­ing two run­ner-ups.

Both of Jones’ wins this sea­son have come in Dash 4 Cash races. The Dash 4 Cash bonus is only open to XFIN­ITY Se­ries reg­u­lars. The toptwo full-time XFIN­ITY Se­ries driv­ers from each Heat be­come el­i­gi­ble for the Dash 4 Cash in the Main. The top el­i­gi­ble fin­isher after the Main takes home a $100,000 bonus.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to Indy for sure,” Jones said. “Indy is such a cool place for us and Indy is such a unique track to be­gin with, but the Dash 4 Cash is an added bonus for sure. Look­ing for­ward to get­ting back to the Heat race for­mat and we’ve had a lot of suc­cess in that for­mat, so hope­fully we can go and get a win this week­end at Indy which would be pretty spe­cial.”

One of the key as­pects Jones likes about the Dash 4 Cash is that the Heats help teams set their cars up for the Main, which cre­ates better and closer rac­ing.

“Indy is def­i­nitely unique com­pared to the other (Dash 4 Cash races) – we had 50 laps at Bris­tol and we had 50 laps at Dover as well,” he said. “[Twenty] laps at Indy is a long time still, longer than you think, but it’s still a short heat race, but we’ll be able to learn some­thing for sure. That’s a long enough run at Indy to re­ally feel out your car some and make some ad­just­ments. We’ll go into it with the same men­tal­ity that we did the last three and work on our stuff and get it better and get it the best we can. I think ev­ery one of the ‘Dash 4 Cash’ races we’ve learned quite a bit about our car in the heat race and we’ve been able to make a fair amount of ad­just­ments be­fore the Main to get it where it needs to be.”

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