No. 14 Mobil 1/Rev The Vote Chevrolet driver Tony Stewart isn’t going to win his fourth Sprint Cup championship in 2016, but the future NASCAR Hall of Famer is quick to say he’s not going to let that diminish what he sees as a successful 18th and final season in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing.
“Sure, I’m disappointed as any competitor would be,” said Stewart, whose 13th-place finish Sunday at Dover (Del.) International Speedway left him 13th in points after the Round of 16 in NASCAR’s 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Only 12 of the 16 Chase drivers advanced to the Round of 12 that begins with Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
“I’m not going to let falling out of the Chase ruin what I think has been a really good year,” Stewart said. “There are still a lot of races left and we are going to go out and try to win a few more. We’ve had a lot of fun this season and that’s not going to stop because we are out of the Chase.
“We gave it our best at Chicago, New Hampshire and Dover. We made our car much better throughout the weekend in Dover and I was pretty proud we could walk out of there with a 13th-place finish. It just wasn’t good enough this year to advance.”
Stewart announced a year ago that 2016 would be his final season in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. But he’s been more than competitive during his swan song. He’s logged five top-five finishes and seven top-10s in 21 races in 2016. He also returned to victory lane in June when he won on the road course at Sonoma (Calif.) International Raceway.
Stewart has several goals for the final seven races of his career. His next victory will be the 50th in his career and tie him for 11th place all-time with NASCAR Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson. There would be no better place to reach that milestone than Charlotte, where he’ll make his 35th career start. Stewart won the fall race in 2003 and has posted six top-fives and 13 top-10s, plus he led a total of 701 laps in his 34 career Sprint Cup starts there. His average Charlotte start is 16.4, his average finish is 14.8, and he has a lap-completion rate of 96.5 percent.
“Charlotte certainly has special memories for me,” Stewart said. “Making one more memory would be really cool.”
One those special memories includes his inaugural victory for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) in 2009 at the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. It launched SHR on a path to 35 wins in 800 races, plus championships for Stewart in 2011 and Kevin Harvick in 2014.
SHR headquarters in Kannapolis is about 10 miles from the Charlotte track. Shop employees who normally don’t travel the 36-race NASCAR schedule usually attend Charlotte to watch their team race. They’ll see Stewart will introduce a new corporate partner on the deck lid of the No. 14 at Charlotte in Rev The Vote – a non-partisan organization whose mission is to increase voter registration among the millions of unregistered motorsports fans in the United States.
While Stewart might not be a title contender in 2016, there’s still more items on his to-do list in the final seven races of his storied career and it begins this weekend in Charlotte.