Stewart looks to build off best finish of season

Sunday’s 14th-place finish at Fontana, California, wasn’t the big breakthrough Tony Stewart was seeking, but at the least, it was his best finish of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

The Columbus native and his Sprint Cup competitors are in Martinsville, Virginia, this weekend for Sunday’s Martinsville 500. Stewart hopes to continue on last week’s improvement.

“We’re gaining on it a little chunk at a time,” Stewart said from pit lane following the race in a news release. “We didn’t need to get it all today, but this is a big gain for us.”

Stewart has had plenty of success at Martinsville. He has won three races there and finished in the top 10 in 16 of his 31 Sprint Cup starts.

“For a long time, we’d run really well there and hadn’t won a race; and then even after we’d won our first race, it took a long time to win our second,” Stewart said. “It’s a place where we’ve really run well at a lot. A lot of the races that were some of the most fun were races we didn’t win, but we ran in the top-five and had pretty good battles during the day.

“It’s a place where if you have a good driving racecar, it’s a blast to run; but if it’s off, it’s a long, long day,” he said. “You don’t think a half-mile track is physically demanding; but if your car’s not driving well, you’re pretty tired at the end of the day.”

Martinsville Speedway is a .526-mile bullring that caught Stewart by surprise the first time he saw it.

“I looked at it and thought, ‘I can’t believe they race stock cars here,’” Stewart said. “It’s what I was used to from a Sprint Car and Midget standpoint. I had seen it on TV, but the first time you’re here, you think, ‘This is really small,’ and you realize how close quarters it is.

“One thing about Martinsville is there is no lack of excitement,” he said. “I don’t care how flawlessly your day goes, you’re going to bump into somebody at some point, even on a perfect day. You put 43 cars on this half-mile track and it’s always going to be exciting. You will never have a race there where you don’t have some sort of drama during the day.

“I think every driver will say they will have some drama at some point. When you have 43 drivers with 43 dramatic moments, that’s a lot of action going on.”