Tony Stewart Looks to Regain Winning Ways

Friday, September 5th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Tony Stewart is hoping another victory at Richmond International Raceway in a race he ran for fun will help him get back to his winning ways in the series he runs for a living.

Stewart claimed his second consecutive NASCAR truck race at Richmond on Thursday night, passing Ted Musgrave with 16 laps to go and then holding off Robert Pressley over the final two laps for the victory.

``To be able to win like that, it's a really big boost to me for the rest of the weekend,'' Stewart said only hours before he was to begin practice for the main reason he came to Richmond _ the Chevrolet 400.

Despite winning three times in nine career Winston Cup starts on the three-quarter-mile oval, Stewart arrived with work to do. He's finished 30th and 41st in his last two races here and is looking for something.

``You can call it what you want. It's just a good feeling,'' he said of his victory Thursday night. ``Tomorrow morning when I go into the garage, the guys are going to congratulate me. We're all going to be pumped up.''

The Winston Cup champion hopes the momentum carries over and he can rediscover the Richmond magic that had served him so well previously.

``It's a track that I like,'' he said. ``I run a line around there that's kind of unique compared to some of the other drivers. It's just a fun place, especially in the fall after some of the sealer wears off.''

A 12th-place finish Sunday in the Southern 500 boosted him into the top 10 in points for the first time in seven races. Stewart is hoping to keep it going on the short track that drives like a superspeedway.

``Even though it's still a short track, you still have the ability to somewhat get away from each other,'' he said. ``You're able to put a little distance between yourself and the next guy when you're out on the track.''

Stewart is 782 points behind leader Matt Kenseth, too far back to win another title. But he knows a late run of success could keep alive his record of never finishing lower than sixth in the series standings.

``It's just a matter of putting all the pieces together to where we not only go out there and secure top-fives week-in and week-out, but start getting those wins a little more consistently, too,'' he said.

Stewart's only victory this year came at Pocono in June.

Among the drivers who have achieved the consistency Stewart is looking for is Kevin Harvick. He has finished second three weeks in a row.

Harvick also has one victory this year, but has finished in the top five for five straight races, and in the top 10 eight times in his last 10 starts. He's third in the points race, 415 behind Kenseth.

``It's a lot of fun to be in the race cars right now,'' Harvick said.

He also likes Richmond, where the cover of night makes it much cooler, and the vibrant colors and bright lights are more spectacular.

``I think you get a bigger speed sensation at night with the brakes glowing and the sparks flying everywhere,'' Harvick said. ``Believe it or not, it's actually easier to see from a driver's standpoint at night.''

While Harvick's streak of top-five finishes started with his victory in the Brickyard 400, Rusty Wallace looks at Richmond as place where he has a good chance to end the worst drought of his career and get his long-awaited 55th victory.

Wallace, now winless in 87 races, leads all active drivers with six victories here. Stewart and Terry Labonte are next with three apiece.

With 46-year-old Labonte winning Sunday, Wallace is hoping the veterans of the sport can take back a little of the success lost to much younger drivers.

``Hey, Terry got back to Victory Lane last week,'' said Wallace, 47. ``Maybe it'll be our turn this week. It's long overdue, I can tell you that.''