A Wildcat in Boomtown

In 22 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Tony Stewart has scored a pole, two wins, six top-fives, 12 top-10s and led 727 laps. The 1.5-mile oval has been a stout venue for Stewart, who first ran at the Texas track in 1997 as a member of the IZOD IndyCar Series.

In short, Texas has been a boomtown for Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing. That Stewart is sponsored by Mobil 1, the world’s leading synthetic motor oil brand, makes his return to the oil-rich state of Texas even more appropriate.

Just as roughnecks have come to Texas searching for black gold, Stewart enters the Lone Star State searching for a strong run after a rough start. Six races into the 36-race season – and 20 races away from the cutoff for the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup – Stewart is 22nd in points with only one top-10 finish.

Missed opportunities have dogged Stewart. Just 34 laps into the season-opening Daytona 500, Stewart was collected in a multi-car crash and finished 41st. After posting solid results of eighth and 11th in the series’ next two races at Phoenix and Las Vegas, respectively, a flat left-rear tire only nine laps into the 500-lap race at Bristol (Tenn.) sent Stewart into the wall and relegated him to a 31st-place finish. A rebound appeared in the cards in Round No. 5 at Fontana (Calif.), but after starting third for a restart with only 10 laps to go, Stewart was blocked by another competitor, lost momentum and finished 22nd. And in his most recent race at Martinsville (Va.), Stewart had a top-10 in hand before being caught in the slower, outside lane following a restart with less than 30 laps remaining. He wound up 17th.

Like a wildcatter drilling for oil, Stewart and Co. just want one hit. If they get that one solid finish, more will come. Stewart knows this well. For reasons unexplained, he’s streaky. Want proof? Eighteen of Stewart’s 47 career Sprint Cup victories have come back-to-back. The most recent instance came in 2011 with successive wins Oct. 30 at Martinsville and Nov. 6 at Texas. Those victories were a microcosm of Stewart’s 2011 season, as he was winless until the Chase, where in the span of 10 races, he won five times to secure his third Sprint Cup championship.

The knowledge that comes from that kind of experience, as well as the cumulative effect of competing in NASCAR’s elite series for 15 years, allows Stewart to persevere.

The beauty of a 36-race season is that there is seemingly endless opportunity to turn the tide, especially when that 36-race season is only six races old. It bodes well for Stewart that Texas is his next opportunity to begin his march toward the top-10 and resume his typical perch among the Chase combatants, because beyond his NASCAR success at Texas, Stewart has proven successful in other racing series that have visited the Great American Speedway.

Stewart has made three IZOD IndyCar Series starts at Texas. He started on the pole twice (June 1997 and 1998) and second once (September 1998). While Stewart never finished an IndyCar Series race at Texas (he suffered engine failures in June 1997 and September 1998 and mechanical troubles in June 1998), he still led 208 of a possible 624 laps (33.4 percent).

And prior to Stewart’s first Sprint Cup win at Texas, he scored a victory in the International Race of Champions (IROC). In April 2006, Stewart won round two of IROC XXX at Texas. He followed that win with a victory on the road course at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. And with a third-place finish in the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Stewart secured his first IROC championship – the last in the 30-year history of IROC.

With Mobil 1 pulsing through his Chevrolet SS, and some might say though his veins, Stewart is intent on making the most of his time in Texas.

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