On occasion, however, some may elect to skirt the attention that success breeds. Even a three-time Sprint Cup champion like Stewart can, at times, be found attempting to blend in rather than stand out.
In a word, it’s about camouflage. And it can be a necessary technique for navigating the pitfalls that exist when drivers operate within inches of each other as part of a 200 mph freight train – the very type of racing that will unfold during the Geico 500 Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Stewart makes his 32nd Sprint Cup start at Talladega this weekend driving the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), which coincidentally carries an authentic stripe of True Timber® Camo. Through his 17 years of competing at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, Stewart has seen his fair share of races unfold like the evolutionary theory of survival of the fittest, coming out on both the losing and winning ends.
Twice Stewart has enjoyed the spoils of success at Talladega, both in 2008. The first came in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in April, when he won from the pole, leading five times for a race-high 81 laps in the 117-lap race. The second came in the Sprint Cup Series in October when he outdueled Regan Smith for the win in a green-white-checkered finish.
While Stewart has merely dabbled in the Xfinity ranks, making only six Talladega starts in the undercard series, the bulk of his work has come in the ultracompetitive Sprint Cup Series. More often than not, Stewart has successfully worked the draft, flying under the proverbial radar – camouflaged – and stalking the pace from behind the pack before ultimately positioning himself well for a win amid the last-lap chaos.
For his efforts, Stewart has scored six second-place finishes, tying him with Buddy Baker for the most runner-up finishes at Talladega. Additionally, Stewart has nine top-fives, 13 top-10s and 322 laps led. He’s completed all but 182 of the 5,874 laps that have been run in his 31 Talladega starts since 1999 for a lap completion rate of 96.9 percent. On the flip side, Stewart has a total of eight DNFs (Did Not Finish) at the track – six of which occurred in the closing laps.
Although there are plenty of restrictor-plate races that have gone sideways for Stewart, he’s also had his fair share go according to plan, especially when combining his results from Talladega’s sister track, Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, where he is patiently working his way through the track’s record books.
To date, Stewart has four point-paying Sprint Cup wins in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, three wins in the Budweiser Duel qualifying race, three victories in the non-points Sprint Unlimited, two IROC Series wins and, most recently in February 2013, he scored a record-tying seventh Xfinity Series victory, joining the late Dale Earnhardt. Tally them all up and Stewart owns 21 wins on NASCAR’s restrictor-plate tracks.
A cagey veteran, Stewart learned long ago the value of the trusted adage “to finish first, one must first finish.” The formula for finishing first this weekend in Talladega includes a little luck, a fast racecar and the perfectly timed charge for the lead.