Daytona II: Tony Stewart double-duty preview

Tony Stewart - double duty at Daytona ATLANTA (July 1, 2002) - You've heard the term "Double Duty" applied to Tony Stewart before, but in those cases in pertained to Stewart competing in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the ...

Tony Stewart - double duty at Daytona

ATLANTA (July 1, 2002) - You've heard the term "Double Duty" applied to Tony Stewart before, but in those cases in pertained to Stewart competing in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day.

Stewart made the double in 1999 and again in 2001 and decided that in 2002 he would forgo the double to concentrate on his full-time job in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series - driving the #20 Home Depot Pontiac toward a Winston Cup championship.

However, a Double Duty is still in Stewart's plans for 2002, it's just not that Double Duty.

In addition to practicing and qualifying The Home Depot Pontiac for Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Stewart will take Thursday night to team with veteran road racer Elliott Forbes-Robinson in the Rolex Sports Car Series Paul Revere 250. Driving for the Crawford Race Car factory team, the same outfit Stewart drove for in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, Stewart will once again satisfy his penchant for driving different race cars in different racing environments.

It's only fitting, for in the week leading up to Daytona, Stewart has wheeled a winged sprint car, a dirt modified, a winged supermodified, a CASCAR stock car and a dirt late model. Thursday night, it'll be a Judd-powered Crawford. It's all just Stewart's way of relaxing - a good way to be before the third restrictor plate race of the Winston Cup season.

By competing in races like the Paul Revere 250, where you're running a different car on the same weekend as your Winston Cup car, do you feel that it makes you sharper and more prepared for the Winston Cup race?

"I don't feel it makes me sharper, but it sure does let me enjoy my weekend a little more. I don't think it's any secret that I don't particularly enjoy restrictor plate racing that well. But being able to run the road course race gives me something to look forward to. There's not much enjoyment for us as drivers on qualifying day anyway because there's nothing we can do in the car. We just go out there and make sure we don't over rev the engine on the shifts and whatever the car runs is what it runs. It's not a deal where we have to worry about making mistakes as drivers. For qualifying on Thursday, I've at least got something to look forward to with the Paul Revere 250."

Veteran road racer Elliott Forbes-Robinson will be your co-driver. Have you worked with him before?

"I met him through 600 Racing when he was helping with the Legends car program. He's a really neat guy with a ton of experience and knowledge. He'll be able to make me a lot faster road racer in that car for the end of the race than what I will be when I first show up. He's a lot of fun to hang out with, and we hung out a lot in Daytona earlier this year for the 24 hour race. He's one of those guys who will definitely make this deal fun for us. I tested with him at Sebring (Fla.) before we went to Daytona for the '24' and he was really good at making the car better. So even though I won't be there for practice or qualifying, I know the car will be pretty good when I do get in it."

Do extra-curricular races like the Paul Revere 250 serve as a release for you?

"It gives me something to do. I'm kind of a night owl anyway, so I enjoy night racing. That probably is the one thing that is fun about running the restrictor plate race at Daytona in July. But running the road course race, there's no pressure. If we blow an engine, we're out. If we crash, we're out. There aren't any points and there aren't any big sponsor commitments to really worry about. Home Depot and Coke are going to be on the car and we do appreciate their help, but it's still a no pressure race. It's more about going out and racing for the reasons that made me start racing in the first place - go out, have a good time and compete."

Speaking of extra-curricular racing, you've seemed to have done a lot of it lately.

"My World of Outlaw team ran Wednesday night in Sedalia, Mo., and I ran a 360 winged sprint car, and I've never really run a winged sprint car before. That was definitely something new for me. Joe Gibbs likes to play golf in his spare time and I like to go drive race cars, especially cars that I've never driven before. I went to Grand Haven, Wis., a couple of weeks ago with Johnny Benson and I ran a super late model. I'd never driven one before on pavement and I ended up winning the race. I had more fun with that than I did during the entire Michigan race weekend."

Despite all the aero issues facing the Pontiac in recent years, you've still been able to perform very well in restrictor plate races. How?

"Beats me. I think we've just been lucky, to be honest. It's hard to do what we've been doing out there, and I think we've just been fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time. That's about all we can do going back this time. But probably our biggest asset in being at the right place at the right time is that we have a good crew chief in Greg Zipadelli, a good shock engineer in Ronny Crooks and a good aerodynamicist in Louis Duncan. We've worked really hard on our restrictor plate program and trying to get The Home Depot Pontiac more aerodynamically efficient. I think that showed during Daytona Speedweeks."

You've seemed to work with Dale Earnhardt Jr., a lot during past restrictor plate races. Has he become an unofficial teammate for you at Daytona and Talladega?

"We both know that we run really well together. I guess to a certain degree we are unofficial teammates. My teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing - Bobby Labonte - when we're able to run together we typically run well. I think Bobby's philosophy on running together is different than Junior's and mine. Basically, you just find guys you're comfortable running with, and I'm very comfortable running with Bobby whenever I can. But it seems like Junior and I somehow always find each other and get with each other and have the confidence in one another to know that whoever's leading, that the guy behind him knows that if the guys in front makes a move, the guy in second is going to go with him. That's the confidence Junior and I have together."

"It probably isn't always the smartest way to go about things, and I think Bobby showed me that at Daytona in our Gatorade Twin 125 race. We were together and I made a move and Bobby didn't go with me and everybody thought that it caused a lot of friction between us - but it didn't, especially when Bobby explained to me why he didn't go with me. It just showed me how much smarter Bobby Labonte is as a restrictor plate driver than I am.

"You've got to plan two different ways. When you have the pairing that Junior and I have, we trust each other and it gives us a level of confidence that not too many drivers have found with other drivers. He's real comfortable with me and I'm real comfortable with him. We've proven that we work well together, so it wouldn't surprise me if we hooked up in the draft again."

You seemed frustrated during your freshman and sophomore years on the circuit whenever the series competed at a restrictor plate race. How do you feel now?

"I feel like I'm a lot further along, but I don't ever feel like I'll ever know everything there is to know. Things are constantly changing so you have to keep changing with them. But knowing that you've got good drafting partners out there helps. And every time we go back to a restrictor plate track I feel like I return a little smarter. Whether or not I finish better doesn't necessarily show how much I've learned, but I do feel that with each restrictor plate race I get more confidence as a restrictor plate driver."

Patience is an obvious virtue on the short tracks, but how important is it at a restrictor plate track?

"It's the gospel, basically. There are a lot of times when you think you can pull out and pass, but if you do, once you get there you realize that you can't pass. It makes it real critical that you take your time and that you don't get caught up in trying to make a move too fast. Just stay in line, and sometimes you'll have more patience than 20 other guys."

-ts/me-

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Series GRANDAM , NASCAR-CUP