BRISTOL, Tenn. — One year ago at a press conference in Indianapolis, Tony Stewart unveiled his new No. 14 Chevrolet and embarked on his journey as an owner/driver.
At the time, reporters asked Stewart what he was doing to prepare his fans for a 2009 season that was sure to feature a slim chance at a trip to Victory Lane and virtually no chance of winning a championship.
Twelve months later, a scene that seemed impossible a year ago unfolded at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Tony Stewart walked into the ticket office in the Bruton Smith Building on Thursday as the Sprint Cup points leader and he was there to help sell tickets to the Sharpie 500.
Before the recent economic slowdown, the only way to get tickets to the August night race at BMS was to put your name on a waiting list.
But the slow economy has left everyone at the track scrambling to sell the remaining tickets to next month’s Sharpie 500.
Stewart said he was more than happy to fly to Bristol, take a seat behind a ticket window for an hour or so and help the track attempt to sell out its 55th consecutive Cup race.
“It doesn’t matter if the times are bad or good, you still want to be out here with the people who support what you do and are passionate about what you do,” Stewart said. “Seeing these people come out in the rain and hang out to just see us for a couple seconds, that’s something that means a lot to us.”
In addition to selling tickets, Stewart was also handing out what was left of his allotment to some of the lucky fans who lined up in the lobby to get a glimpse of their favorite driver.
“I gave my buddies tickets right off the bat and what I have left is going to these fans,” he said. “This is the hardest ticket to get in racing. To be able to give tickets away is pretty cool.”
From an on-track standpoint, Stewart said the Sharpie 500 isn’t a tough sell. With drivers adapting to the new track surface and double-file restarts making their debut in Thunder Valley, Stewart expects that folks in the grandstands will get their money’s worth next month.
“(Double-file restarts) have been good everywhere and especially this place,” he said. “Now that we’ve got multiple grooves, it’s going to make it awesome here. It’s going to make the racing a lot more exciting.”
No matter what happens in the next few races, Stewart is virtually assured of arriving in Bristol this August as the points leader.
After all the uncertainty surrounding his decision to start Stewart-Haas Racing last summer, Stewart is amazed with how far his young organization has come.
“It’s all gone well,” he said. “To come to all these races the first time around and run well and be consistent, that’s the thing I’m most proud of. I can’t say I’m disappointed with anything.”
With a spot in the Chase all but locked up, Stewart is now focusing on winning as many races as he can before the Chase. Each win will give Stewart 10 bonus points at the start of the 10-race playoff, and Stewart is excited about being able to roll the dice.
“You know that if it comes down to taking a chance on fuel, you know you have that opportunity,” Stewart said. “For us, we can take that chance while guys who are just trying to make the Chase or are in a close points battle to get in don’t have that opportunity or freedom to take those chances like we do.”
As Stewart found out when he struck out on his own a year ago, sometimes it pays to roll the dice.