FONTANA, Calif. – A few hours after putting his footprints and signature in drying concrete on Fontana’s walk of fame, Tony Stewart hopped on his jet with Kyle Larson and flew 400 miles north to Stockton, Calif., where Larson beat him in a dirt-track race.
Just a typical Friday for Stewart – and just another indication he’s not worried about Stewart-Haas Racing’s slow start heading into today’s fifth race of the NASCAR season.
Wrecks, bad tires and simply unfortunate breaks have combined to keep Stewart in 24th place in the overall points standings next to the three-time Sprint Cup series champion’s similarly placed teammates, Ryan Newman (23rd) and rookie Danica Patrick (28th). Stewart isn’t exactly worried about it just yet, but it’s clear Smoke would love to figure out the new Gen-6 car in time to celebrate a third win in four years at Fontana heading into NASCAR’s off week.
Everybody wants an answer that nobody has an answer to right now, said Stewart, who starts eighth today. Every track that we’re going to is a learning deal right now. You’re going to go through a lot of races before we all figure out what the car likes and dislikes.
The hottest driver right now is Kasey Kahne, who won at Bristol last week after finishing second in Las Vegas two weeks ago in his debut season with Hendrick Motorsports.
Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson is a five-time winner at NASCAR’s closest track to his native El Cajon, Calif., and he’s a fan favorite in San Bernardino County.
Denny Hamlin won the pole Friday, and Brad Keselowski will chase his fifth straight top-five finish to start his series title defense from the back after engine trouble.
But while Stewart has frequently done well at Fontana, Patrick doesn’t appear likely to challenge after struggling in qualifying and practice.
I’m more comfortable at high-grip tracks, so I don’t know if this is necessarily something that suits my style as much, she said.