@TonyStewart and crew chief Chad Johnston still haven’t found answers.
While Stewart can outline factors that work against his No. 14 Mobil 1 team, the three-time NASCAR champion said Tuesday they’ve been fighting the same issue on his Chevrolet every weekend. But in the midst of what could be described as the worst season in his 17-year career, Stewart admitted he feels he’s to blame for the team’s performance and not Johnston.
Partly because the current Sprint Cup Series package does not suit Stewart’s driving style. Calling it a radical change to have the reduction in horsepower this season after being used to something for so long. That, he feels, has hurt him more than anything because it’s not a feeling he’s not used to.
“I’m holding him (Johnston) and the team back versus vice versa,” said Stewart. “So it’s just a matter of me trying to figure it out, figure out how to go forward and get our cars better.”
Although NASCAR rolled out a new low downforce package this past Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, it didn’t help Stewart any. Admitting he’s been fighting the handling of the cars “so bad right now,” Stewart finished 33rd and didn’t feel he was the right person to ask about the package.
Entering the 5-hour ENERGY 301 at New Hampshire this Sunday, Stewart is 28th with just one top-10 finish (Bristol) in 18 races. Every weekend, however, Stewart arrives at the track believing it will be the weekend things turn around. Admittedly, though the longer the season goes without progress, the more frustrating and disheartening it becomes.
“We’re just kind of trying to get our program back on track. I don’t know that we’ve circled any track or anything,” Stewart said of New Hampshire and looking beyond. “It’s been a disappointing year up to this point. It seems like no matter what the package is, we seem to fight the same balance.
“So we’re desperately trying to figure out what it’s going to take to move the needle, so to speak. You hope you can get it done at a race like the Brickyard, for sure. The big thing is trying to figure out what’s going on and trying to find out what we got to do to move the needle a little bit.”
Winless since June of 2013, Stewart has found himself in a position in the past where a late season surge occurred. Midway through 2011, Stewart openly stated he didn’t feel his team was Chase worthy because of how they were running.
Not only did Stewart go on to make the Chase, he won five races and the championship. When that season was brought up on Tuesday, Stewart said the improvements made in 2011 came overnight and took him by surprise.
Now finding himself sitting far worse than once before, Stewart doesn’t know if improvements will come wholesale over the next 18 weeks or all at once. In the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t matter.
“To me, I don’t care how we get there. I don’t care if it takes one week or if it takes six weeks to get there, the main thing is just getting there,” Stewart said. “We’re going to keep working hard and keep pushing to try and find that. With the way this format is, all it takes it one good race for us to get in (the Chase), top-30 in points.
“If we can find whatever it is that we’ve been missing, one race can change our whole season. That’s the driving force every week.”
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