TERRE HAUTE —
At a time each summer when stock-car racing takes center stage in the heart of open-wheel racing territory, it was Tony Stewart who emerged the big winner last weekend.
No, not Tony Stewart the race driver but Tony Stewart the owner. He’s the undisputed leader on two racing fronts — the car owner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series with Ryan Newman as his driver and the owner-operator of Eldora Speedway. The popular Indiana native posted impressive showings in both ventures.
While he was modest in his affiliation with Newman’s win at the Brickyard and the way his Eldora staff pulled off the highly successful card of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series show at his half-mile dirt oval, Stewart had to be deservingly proud with the results of the two NASCAR events. Wearing the different hats in his many roles within the sport, Stewart somehow finds time to spread his talents to make his racing ventures winning ones.
His successful swing actually began a week earlier when his USAC sprint car team with Bryan Clauson his driver won the Indiana Sprint Week crown.
While his winning role at the Brickyard and the success of his truck race at Eldora may have been a little less predictable, the manner in which his winning USAC sprint-car efforts are unfolding have not come without its shaky moments in the always ultra-competitive open-wheel series.
When the USAC season opened in Florida back in February, the Clauson-Stewart Racing combination was labeled prohibitive favorites to run a way with the sprint-car points championship.
The results their first time out at Ocala, Fla., did little to dispel those high expectations as they won the season opener. Results over the next five months, however, had the team playing catchup to hard-charging newcomer Kevin Thomas Jr., who reeled off six wins.
Clauson was quick to concede that the team’s early win may have been misleading.
“We got off to that really good start there in Florida,” the Noblesville driver reflected, “but we knew we were kinda fooling ourselves.
“I’ve been in this business long enough to know it takes time to jell with a new crew chief and crew. We started the year with a new Bob East Beast chassis and the guys didn’t have a lot of time working with it. At the same time, we had brought over my shock package. There were a lot of changes to deal with.”
The team also had to deal with a different driving style — that of Clauson vs. its driver from a year ago, Levi Jones.
“Levi and I’s driving styles are quite a bit different,” Clauson explained. “That’s pretty noticeable to those who followed our racing. We knew it was going to take time for everything to come together.”
Almost five months after their Florida win, Clauson and his team appeared prime to return to their winning ways when the grueling seven-race Indiana Sprint Week series ushered in what would be the run for a pair of coveted championship titles.
His bid for a repeat national sprint title got a jump start with his ISW win at Lincoln Park Speedway followed by a win the following night at Bloomington Speedway.
The two checkered flags were good enough to win them the ISW crown after the seventh and scheduled series finale was canceled due to rain at Haubstadt.
Clauson reflected on his team’s early efforts and the high expectations and pressures related to driving for a two-car owner and a team the likes of Tony Stewart Racing.
“Being the series champion in 2012 and coming to what is the juggernaut team in our series, there is always going to be those high expectations but no more than I would have had on myself if I had come back with my own car,” he said.
“The scenery might have changed, but the high expectations are always there. We’ve had to work through some tough times, but I think what we accomplish tonight might have got us over the hump. We have the car and now I feel we have put everything together,” he said moments after his win at Putnamville.
Following a welcomed two-week layoff, the sprints will be back in action Tuesday at Oskaloosa, Iowa, followed by the three-day Sprint Car Smackdown II on Aug. 22-24 at Kokomo Speedway. Then they’ll return to the Terre Haute Action Track on Aug. 31.
Joe Buckles can be reached by email at email@example.com.