Wednesday, Jul 06

Tony Stewart Sunday’s Talladega Race Marks 70th, Final Superspeedway Restrictor-Plate Start

Tony Stewart might not be the biggest fan of restrictor-plate racing in NASCAR, but there are few drivers like Stewart who can say they’ve led almost 1,000 laps or logged more than 30,000 miles in their careers on the 200-mph, high-banked tracks at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.


In Sunday’s Alabama 500 at the 2.66-mile Talladega track, the three-time champion will drive the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Delvac Chevrolet in the 70th and final superspeedway restrictor-plate start of his 18-year NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career.


Out of championship contention with only five races left in his final season Stewart and his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) crew will hold nothing back in their bid to get Stewart his 50th career victory, as well as secure a 13th-place finish in the 2016 standings.  


“I still wish we were in the middle of the Chase but, since we aren’t, I guess the most positive thing is to go have fun these last five weeks and do everything we can to win a race, or as many as we can, before it’s over,” Stewart said. “We have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”


He enters the weekend after a 16th-place finish Sunday at Kansas Speedway. He’s winding down an impressive final season posting five top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 23 races after missing the first eight events recovering from an off-road vehicle accident in January. Stewart also earned his 49th-career victory with a dramatic last-lap pass at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway in June.


Big gains or big losses are synonymous with restrictor-plate racing, which gets its name from the NASCAR-mandated “restrictor plates” in the engines to cap speeds. But a byproduct of “plate racing” is that the cars stay bunched in packs, often spawning multicar accidents.


Twice Stewart has enjoyed the spoils of success at Talladega, both times 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.


Stewart has his own restrictor-plate strategy. More often than not, he has successfully worked the draft, flying under the proverbial radar and stalking the pace from behind the pack before ultimately positioning himself well for a win amid the almost inevitable last-lap chaos.


For his efforts, Stewart has scored six second-place finishes at Talladega, tying him with Buddy Baker for the most runner-up finishes at the track. Additionally, Stewart has nine top-five finishes, 14 top-10s and 328 laps led. He’s completed all but 182 of the 6,446 laps that have been run in his 34 Talladega starts since 1999 for a lap-completion rate of 97.2 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 in Daytona, where Stewart has four points-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.


Going into his final Sprint Cup restrictor-plate race, Stewart owns five wins, 18 top-fives and 28 top-10s on NASCAR’s current restrictor-plate tracks. He’s led 997 laps and logged 30,257.2 miles. He’d like to add to those numbers Sunday when the future Hall of Famer makes his final plate race start. 



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