TOWN OF RUTLAND — Tony Stewart enjoys an escape from his hectic NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule like the one he has Tuesday night at Madison International Speedway.
Matt Kenseth also likes the break, though Tuesday was hardly a vacation as he faced questions about his regular gig following an Internet report that Robbie Reiser would return as his crew chief in 2011.
When Jimmy Fennig assumed the job from Todd Parrott on the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford Fusion last week, he became the third crew chief this season with Kenseth’s team.
Reiser, who won the 2003 Cup title with his former Wisconsin short track rival, became general manager at Roush Fenway at the end of the 2007 season. A Sirius Speedway report said Reiser would take over again as crew chief next season and Robbie Loomis would be the new GM.
“First of all, unless I don’t know something about it, that’s a total rumor,” said Kenseth, who has worked with five crew chiefs since Reiser’s departure.
“Unless it isn’t and they haven’t told me yet, which is entirely possible because more times than not I feel like I don’t know what’s going on.”
Kenseth is seventh in the Cup standings and has eight top-10 finishes through 17 races. He said that Reiser volunteered to assume GM and crew chief responsibilities, but Kenseth said the workload was too much for one person to handle.
Kenseth and Stewart were on hand at MIS to take on some of the state’s top late model drivers in the sixth annual Swiss Colony All-Star Challenge. The race marked the fifth time Stewart competed at the half-mile oval. He finished fifth in 2009.
Besides the All-Star race and the Prelude to the Dream event earlier this month at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, Kenseth’s only other extra race will be July 11 at Slinger Speedway.
Stewart, on the other hand, can’t get enough competition into his schedule. The 39-year-old is in the midst of a stretch in which he will compete in five non-Cup races in five states over two weeks.
Stewart said he doesn’t mind the chaotic schedule, which included a Cup race last weekend in Loudon, N.H., and includes one Saturday in Daytona, Fla.
“It’s only stressful when you’re not running good,” Stewart said. “When you’re off a little bit, that’s when you’ve got to put the full-court press on.
“It just seems like when I do (the extra races), I show up a little more relaxed on the weekends. This is kind of a busy month, with school being out and everything, we get to do a lot of side races during the week. I take full advantage of it when I can.”
Stewart was a critical player in Kenseth’s first career Nationwide victory and said his admiration for the Cambridge native has grown over the years.
“Matt and I were racing for our first win at Rockingham (N.C.) when he got his first Nationwide win (in 1998), and I was the guy he passed on the last corner of the last lap,” Stewart said. “We got our start in NASCAR at the same time, and Matt is somebody I really have a lot of respect for.”
Stewart won championships in 2002 and ’05, while Kenseth won the title in ’03. This season, Stewart has climbed to ninth in the Cup standings on the strength of five top-10 finishes in the past six races. Kenseth, meanwhile, hasn’t been pleased with his team’s performance but hopes to get back in championship form in the second half of the season.
Kenseth said he doesn’t think his team is even good enough right now to make the Chase for the Cup.
“It’s kind of one week at a time,” Kenseth said. “We need to get some momentum back and get running better first. If we get a couple top-10s, that would have me feeling better and then start building on that. First, we’ve got to get back to being a little more competitive and get that first top-10 again and kind of get rolling toward the goal of winning.”
Stewart was more interested in enjoying a night at the racetrack away from Cup pressures.
“They have a special beverage on ice for me right now,” Stewart said. “We have as much fun after the race as we do during the race. Tomorrow is a long recovery day for me, so I normally take full advantage of having a good time out here.”