All-Star: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART All-Star Test Session ATLANTA (May 15, 2006) - When Major League Baseball plays its All-Star game July 11 at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, players won't be there to test out the field or develop a new bat that always hits home runs. ...

TONY STEWART
All-Star Test Session

ATLANTA (May 15, 2006) - When Major League Baseball plays its All-Star game July 11 at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, players won't be there to test out the field or develop a new bat that always hits home runs. They'll be there to put on a show, plain and simple.

But the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge - NASCAR's version of an All-Star game - does all that and more. Fans will certainly be treated to a show at the 1.5-mile Charlotte oval, as top NASCAR drivers compete for a $1 million payout in a race with no point ramifications.

But overshadowed by the glitz of the event is a high-profile test session. Drivers and teams can use the track time garnered from participating in Saturday night's All-Star Challenge and put it toward next weekend's Coca-Cola 600 - a point-paying race that is also at Charlotte.

For Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing, the All-Star Challenge represents the perfect test session. Unlike most test sessions that are lonely and monotonous, there's actual competition in the All-Star Challenge. And the incentive of a nice trophy augmented by an equally nice paycheck is not overlooked.

The winner of the All-Star race will take home $1 million. How does that sound?

"It sounds great. There are a lot of things I can do with a million dollars, and now that I own a race track (Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio), a lot of bills I could pay off too."

Can the All-Star Challenge be used as a test session for the Coca-Cola 600?

"Absolutely. It always is. If your car is driving well, you're running for a million dollars. But if your car isn't driving well, you're learning from that and applying it to the 600 instead. I've always looked at it as however your car is driving in the All-Star race is relatively true to how your car is going to drive in the 600. It's a really good test because it's really the only time we have to run at night in race conditions."

Some have said the new pavement at Charlotte and the new tire compound provided by Goodyear has made the cars harder to drive. Is that the case?

"These cars are always hard to drive.  If they were easy to drive, you
and everybody could do it.  When you're in the car, it still feels loose
or tight.  Sometimes you're in a four-wheel drift and you have to make
adjustments based on that.  That aspect of driving these cars really
hasn't changed.  It doesn't seem to me to have been a huge transition."

With other tracks wanting Nextel Cup races and NASCAR wanting to be in new markets, is the All-Star Challenge still needed?

"I don't think we need to add another point race to replace the All-Star race. I think it's nice to dedicate a weekend to the race fans. We put on a race for them where we're not worried about points. We're all hanging it out every lap, instead of three-quarters of the way through the season, where some guys are hanging it out while others are points racing. It's good to have one evening where we all just get up on the wheel and put on a good show for the fans."

Is the All-Star Challenge less pressure-filled and more fun because there are no points to be won or lost?

"It's as fun as Nextel Cup racing can be, and I think that shows. The fans obviously seem to like it."

Do drivers attempt moves in the All-Star Challenge that they'd never think about using in regular point races?

"Nah, you just race hard and you don't worry about what happens."

-jgr

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Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart