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Nationwide - Stewart Looking For A Slam Dunk In Daytona With Oreo

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Feb. 22, 2012: If there’s anyone who’s just a kid at heart, it’s Tony Stewart.

That’s why there’s no better driver to help Oreo kick off its 100th birthday celebration than the three-time and reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.

While Stewart hopes to defend his Sprint Cup title in 2012, there’s one other title he hopes to retain as the season gets underway at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway – the winner of the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race.

Celebrating a win right out of the box on the Nationwide Series’ biggest stage has become second nature to Stewart. He has six total wins in the DRIVE4COPD 300, including the last four in a row.

Should Stewart win Saturday, he will tie the late Dale Earnhardt for the most wins in the Nationwide Series at Daytona with seven.

Beginning in 2005, Stewart has won the opening round of the Nationwide Series at Daytona every year with the exception of 2007, when Kevin Harvick proved victorious. In that race, Stewart finished eighth. Every other year, it’s Stewart who’s been to victory lane, and he’s done it driving for three different car owners – Joe Gibbs in 2008, Rick Hendrick in 2009 and Harvick in 2005, 2006, 2010 and 2011.

This year, Stewart looks to earn his seventh victory in the first race of the season with his fourth different owner as he pilots the No. 33 OREO 100th Birthday Chevrolet Impala for Richard Childress Racing (RCR).

Stewart’s relationship with Kraft Foods’ Oreo and Ritz brands is a byproduct of the company’s partnership with Stewart and the Sprint Cup team he co-owns with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas – Stewart-Haas Racing. The Oreo cookie and Ritz cracker brands are Stewart-Haas Racing’s official cookie and cracker, with Stewart and his Sprint Cup teammate Ryan Newman carrying the brand’s colors on their respective uniforms and cars.

This year, Stewart makes a return to the No. 33 Chevrolet, which is the same car number he piloted when he earned his first Nationwide Series victory at Daytona in 2005. That win was also his first career Nationwide Series win. Stewart also won in the No. 33 in 2006.

And while Stewart will be with a new car owner in this year’s Nationwide Series race at Daytona, he will have some familiarity with the team. Several of the current team members at RCR worked on the cars he won with from Kevin Harvick, Inc. (KHI), which sold its Nationwide Series operation to RCR at the end of the 2011 season.

There would be no better way to kick off the monumental 100th birthday celebration for Oreo, the sponsor of the No. 33 Chevrolet, than by celebrating a Daytona victory. Oreo officially turns 100 years old on March 6.

It’s almost become a February tradition to see Stewart pull into victory lane on the Nationwide Series’ biggest stage – just like Oreos have become a snack-time tradition in households around the country. While Stewart has won the last four February Nationwide Series races at Daytona, none would be bigger, at least in his eyes, than if he were to earn a fifth consecutive win this Saturday.

Stewart has loved to snack on the iconic Oreo brand of cookies since his childhood, and to celebrate its birthday with a big win at Daytona would be just as refreshing as enjoying an Oreo cookie dipped in a tall glass of milk. Simply put, a win would be a slam dunk for Stewart and Oreo.

Tony Stewart, Driver of the No. 33 Oreo 100th Birthday NASCAR Nationwide Series Chevrolet Impala at Daytona:

You’ve won the season-opening Nationwide Series race six times, including the last four. How nice is it to start the year with a win, and how much confidence does it give you going into the Daytona 500?

“The good thing is I’m probably the happiest guy going into the Daytona 500 if we get a win on Saturday. It shows that we can win, and it’s just a matter of whether the cards play out for you on Sunday. It’s always a bonus when you can win on Saturday before going into the biggest race of the year on Sunday. Getting a Nationwide win there, that’s how you like to go to bed the night before the Daytona 500, knowing that you’ve got that trophy sitting out there on your desk from what you did Saturday afternoon.”

This year you’re running the Nationwide Series race for a different team – Richard Childress Racing. What kind of difference does that make?

“There’s really no difference. In fact, a lot of the guys on the team are the same guys who had worked on my KHI cars that I have run in the past since Kevin and DeLana (Harvick) essentially sold their team to Richard (Childress). So I already have a comfort level and a relationship with the guys. Ernie (Cope, crew chief) and I have worked together in the past, too, so that’s a plus because we already are familiar with each other. As for driving for Richard (Childress), I’m pretty pumped about that. Richard is an icon in our sport and someone I’ve admired. It’s definitely an honor to be on his team at Daytona. When you think of Daytona, I think people automatically think of Richard Childress and Dale Earnhardt. Hopefully, I can add to Richard’s list of accomplishments there.”

Speaking of Dale Earnhardt, should you win the race on Saturday, you would tie his record for most wins in the Nationwide Series at Daytona with seven. What would being tied with Earnhardt for the record mean to you?

“That’s a pretty cool feeling to know we’ve closed in on something he’s done here. To me, this was his playground. You just watched him play with the guys here. He was the best at this place. To even be remotely close to him in the record books, in anything here at Daytona, is very humbling.”

How difficult is it to win one race at Daytona, never mind five in a row?

“Restrictor-plate races at Daytona are always a wild-card race. You never know who’s going to win. We were fortunate enough to win one and then back it up the next year. To do it back-to-back-to-back-to-back is something we’re really proud of. We’ve won six out of the last seven here, and none of them have been the same. It’s been different cars, different teams, different pavement. There wasn’t one of the six in that scenario that have been even remotely close to the same. To me, that’s the part that’s ironic. You think, ‘Man, the scenario has to double up, eventually.’ Six wins here and none of them have been alike. It really shows that you can’t predict what’s going to happen. It’s impossible to even try to do that.”

What makes you so successful at Daytona, particularly in the season-opening Nationwide Series race?

“I don’t know. I’ve had a lot of luck there. A lot of it has just been being at the right place at the right time, and making calls that were a little edgy on pit strategy to put ourselves in position at the end. I’ve had great cars to drive every time there. We’ve just been one of those guys everybody knows that when we’re out there, we’re a threat in that division. So when it comes to the end of it, we’ve had some pretty good help.”

In order to win a restrictor-plate race, you’ve got to have drafting help. How do you get that help?

“I think it’s more a situation of guys finding the fast cars, and you finding the guys you know are going to go with you because they know you’re quick. If they go with you, they’re going to get you to the front, which is going to get them to the front. It’s kind of ‘help me help you.’”

Are there certain guys you’ve worked with at restrictor-plate races in the past who you know you’re going to draft with?

“You have a list of guys you know you’re drafting with, and then there’s another list of guys you’re alright with, and there’s another list of guys you don’t want to be around. So you always know who the guys are you want to be with and who you’d rather not see anywhere near you.”

Is there any strategy involved in running a restrictor-plate race, or is it just a matter of taking advantage of the opportunities that are presented?

“The strategy is making sure you’ve got somebody you can draft with. You have to take the opportunities as they come but, with those opportunities, you have to make a very quick decision. You’ve got to think, ‘What happens if I try this and it doesn’t work? What are the ramifications going to be?’ You don’t have the luxury of sitting down and taking the time to analyze the situation. You’ve got to make a split-second decision. A lot of times it’ll work, but there are times when the decision you made doesn’t work. But once you’ve committed yourself to doing something, there’s not much you can do about it.”

What does it mean to represent such an iconic brand in Oreo, especially with a car celebrating Oreo’s 100th birthday?

“It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that I have always been a big Oreo fan. I remember eating Oreo cookies after school as a kid, and I’m proud to represent them as an adult on the racetrack. Since I’m a big kid, I guess you could say we’re a pretty good fit for each other because Oreo cookies definitely bring out the kid in everyone. Turning 100 is a pretty big deal, so to honor that with a special racecar celebrating their birthday is pretty cool. And I can’t think of a better way to help them celebrate such a big birthday than to get a big win on Saturday at Daytona.”

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