One Top-10 finish doesn’t mean Tony Stewart has turned the corner on his difficult start to the 2015 season.
His sixth-place finish at Bristol, Tenn., last weekend is certainly is a step in the right direction, however.
Stewart will need more of a long walk in order to pull himself out of the cellar of the Sprint Cup Series points standings this season. He’s mired in 28th after eight races, but that is eight positions better than where he began the year.
Stewart, who’ll start 13th in Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway, said he’s had a difficult time adjusting to NASCAR’s aerodynamic rules package.
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“I’m used to driving really high-horsepowered cars and when they took the horsepower away from us, that’s something that was different for me,” he said.
“So, I’m trying to figure out how to get used to it and how to make corner speed. It’s a matter of me changing my driving style to compensate for the rules package.”
Stewart’s teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing, particularly Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, have had a much easier transition to the 2015 rules. Their success have prompted many of Stewart’s fans to question why he doesn’t simply use set-ups from Harvick and Busch in his No. 14 Chevrolet.
“If it was that easy, everybody would do it,” said Stewart’s crew chief, Chad Johnston. “We’ve tried it several times this year and we tried it multiple times last year. It just doesn’t work for him.
“You have guys making speed with different things in the car this season. We just haven’t found what we need to put in there to get Tony comfortable and get him the feel that he’s looking for.
“Yeah, I wish it was as east as that – I’d sleep a lot better at night.”
Stewart said he simply can’t get comfortable with what Harvick and Busch run in their respective cars.
“It doesn’t matter how fast that set-up is, if you don’t get comfortable with it, you’re not going to make it go fast,” he said.
The situation is much akin to Stewart’s 2011 season, when he won five of the 10 races in the Chase on his way to his third Cup championship while several other Hendrick Motorsports-powered teams struggled with finding speed.
The intermediate tracks have been Stewart’s biggest difficulties and the upcoming schedule is filled with several such races, including Kansas and Charlotte.
“With Kansas being a recent repave and a harder tire, I don’t have a lot of confidence that where we need to be,” Johnston said.
“Tony is obviously cable of winning wherever we go if we can get him what he needs to do that. We’ll keep working hard to find the feel that he’s looking for.”