IRL: Tony Stewart Indy 500 Preview

STEWART PUTS TOTAL FOCUS ON WINNING AT INDY INDIANAPOLIS, April 27, 1998 -- Like a good Hoosier, Tony Stewart uses a basketball metaphor to describe his and Team Menard's plans for success in next month's Indianapolis 500. ...

STEWART PUTS TOTAL FOCUS ON WINNING AT INDY

INDIANAPOLIS, April 27, 1998 -- Like a good Hoosier, Tony Stewart uses a basketball metaphor to describe his and Team Menard's plans for success in next month's Indianapolis 500. "It's a full-court press this year for winning this race," said Stewart, who was born in Columbus, Ind., and calls Rushville, Ind., home. In the three seasons of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, Stewart has done about everything but win Indy. He's started on the front row two years in a row and took over the pole position as a first-year starter in 1996 when he was named Bank One Rookie of the Year. He's led 108 laps in two races and placed fifth in the final rundown last year. Still, that's not enough for this Hoosier charger who spends almost more time strapped in a race car during the season than he does sleeping. "I want to win the Indy 500," he said, plain and simple. There's no deviation from that goal despite driving in two diverse racing leagues this season. Stewart, the defending Pep Boys IRL champion, leads this year's point standings after winning the season opener at Orlando and finishing second at Phoenix. He's also driven in eight NASCAR Busch Grand National races, with a top finish of second at Rockingham, N.C. He ranks 19th in the standings. Stewart also continues to race in the prestigious International Race of Champions series and drives in USAC events, keeping touch with his short-track roots. He earned a historic double victory in the USAC Silver Crown and midget features at the Skoal Bandit Racing Copper World Classic in early February at Phoenix. He expects to compete in about 70 races overall by season's end. But when May rolls around, Stewart will have tunnel vision on Indy. "As soon as May 1 gets here, I can promise you that I can't tell you what any of those other 69 races are going to be," he said. "About 100 percent of my energy and mind set is going to be on that race. Every year it is probably the one month out of the year that I lose the most sleep, feel the most fatigued at the end of each day, and it is not that physical at the racetrack. It is probably 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. "It is a very grueling month, and you cannot have any distractions. We pretty much put everything else on hold and concentrate on the job at hand." That focus started earlier this month during testing at the Speedway. The team found that the Dallara chassis was faster than the G Force as Stewart turned a quick lap of 220.302 mph, fifth-fastest during the inaugural Open Test. Teammate Robbie Buhl also tested in the Glidden/Menards Special powered by an Aurora engine and riding on Firestone tires. Stewart later turned the fastest lap ever at the Speedway by a new-formula IRL car, 223.104 mph, in the Dallara during private testing April 20. "We pretty much made the decision that the Dallara is probably the way we're going to want to go," Stewart said. "So that frees us up in the shop to just work on the Dallaras. It frees the guys up at the track not trying to run two cars." Stewart, who turns 27 four days before the May 24 race, calls the John Menard operation a team effort, much like one you would find on a basketball floor. "There's not one of us who can do it without the others," he said. "All the ingredients have to be there, and they've been there so far." Stewart said it starts at the top with Menard, who also owns a large discount hardware store chain. He provides everything a team needs to prepare to win races. "There's no use for a guy like him to get in this form of racing if he's not going to do it to win," said Stewart, who provided his boss' first victory in 17 years of trying last June at Pikes Peak International Raceway. Stewart added that the desire for success then trickles down to team manager Larry Curry, his crew chief, Bill Martin, and Buhl's crew chief, John O'Gara, and to the rest of the team. He said everyone is willing to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week if that's what it takes to get the job done. "That's what it takes to win races," Stewart said. Stewart has led 1,163 laps in 15 Pep Boys IRL races, but he's learned that leading the most laps at Indy isn't the secret to victory. "Whether we can lead the most laps, we don't try to do that at Indy," he said. "We just want to make sure we stay in contention all day. At the end of the day we want to be up close enough that we can mount a challenge." Stewart drives for two high-profile owners, Menard in the Pep Boys IRL and Joe Gibbs in Busch Grand National racing. Gibbs coached the Washington Redskins to two Super Bowl titles. Stewart compares NASCAR, and what it demands from its drivers in regard to race conduct, as very similar to what the Pep Boys IRL has attained in its short history. This most likely will be Stewart's final full season on the Pep Boys IRL circuit as he aims to move to Winston Cup racing in 1999. He said that switch will not deter him from racing at Indy although NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 runs later in the evening of the Indy 500 race day. "Even if I start in Winston Cup, I still have the option of running the 500 each year so we're not going to stop until we get it, hopefully," he said. "But it's going to take a lot of luck and a lot of skill to get it done. And that involves the team and everybody, so it's nothing we think can be done very easily, because it can't be won very easily. But we're going to try real hard."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Robbie Buhl , Bill Martin