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Stewart, Stenhouse, Leffler discuss Chili Bowl challenge

At most places, Tony Stewart would be introduced as the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion.

Not in Tulsa.

Chili Bowl co-founder Emmett Hahn said at a Tulsa Sports Commission and Lucas Oil-sponsored press conference yesterday that the proper introduction in Tulsa is "two-time Chili Bowl champ."

We're not saying winning the Chili Bowl is tougher than winning the top series in NASCAR, but Stewart knows this is one of the most challenging races in his sport.

"Just do the math," he said. "There are a lot of very good cars, and this is a small track."

Stewart, the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, is the headliner for the Chili Bowl Nationals, which opened a five-day run on Tuesday night at the QuikTrip Center.

The midget cars running indoors on a short dirt track (one-fifth mile) is a long ways from a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega.

However, the Chili Bowl remains one of the most beloved and important dates in auto racing.

That's how the event continues to draw some of the biggest names in auto racing.

For the first time in the 26-year history of the event, the reigning champions in NASCAR's top two series are entered (Stewart in Sprint Cup and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in Nationwide).

In addition, Jason Leffler, another NASCAR regular, is entered this week.

There are 19 champions from either a series or track entered in the Chili Bowl.

"You've got the best of the best here," Stewart said.

Stenhouse said coming back to the Chili Bowl is a priority for everyone who loves racing.

"I'd love to be like Tony," Stenhouse said. "This is a race where you have to stay focused every time you get on the track.

"I know it is an opportunity for us to get back doing what we did growing up in racing. I know I'll put this on my schedule for next year."

The Chili Bowl, the first major race event of the year, has long been a draw for some of the biggest names in auto racing. Stewart has been perhaps the most loyal of the superstar drivers to run in the Chili Bowl.

This is the second time Stewart has run the Chili Bowl as the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champ.

Some fans question why Stewart, who won NASCAR's top series in 2002, 2005 and 2011, would take such risks outside of his major racing job in NASCAR.

Stewart always has a quick answer. He loves to race cars. All kinds of cars.

And, he considers the Chili Bowl one of the most prestigious championships in all of auto racing.

So, Stewart is back in Tulsa just a few months after one of the most dramatic NASCAR Sprint Cup championships in history.

Stewart is all business this week at the Chili Bowl. In the past, Stewart has called winning the event one of the most difficult things to do in his sport.

"You don't have to have the best car," Stewart said. "But, you have to be solid every time you go out there.

"It is almost more about the handling than anything else."

Stewart would know. He won the Chili Bowl in 2002 and 2007.

He has been running in the Chili Bowl over the past two decades.

"Tony was running here before it was even called the Chili Bowl," Hahn said. "Tony was running here back when you could walk in here, buy a ticket and sit just about anywhere you want in the grandstands.

"A lot has changed for us over the years. And, a lot has changed for Tony. He is a superstar in our sport. But he still comes back here every year. That's why he is a racer's racer."

To read the complete article from the Tulsa World, click here.

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