Bristol II: Tony Stewart preview

Tony Stewart 200th Start Set for Bristol ATLANTA (Aug. 24, 2004) - Since sitting on the outside of the front row for the 1999 Daytona 500, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Tony Stewart has recorded 19 wins, seven poles, 76 top-fives and 118 ...

Tony Stewart
200th Start Set for Bristol

ATLANTA (Aug. 24, 2004) - Since sitting on the outside of the front row for the 1999 Daytona 500, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Tony Stewart has recorded 19 wins, seven poles, 76 top-fives and 118 top-10s, all while earning over $30 million in prize money. Stewart will add another milestone to an already impressive resume Saturday night at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway when he makes his 200th career Nextel Cup start in the Sharpie 500.

Bristol is the site of a few other career highlights for Stewart, as he scored a win in the 2001 night race and a pole for the 1999 night race. And despite posting five straight Bristol finishes of 15th or worse coming into Saturday night's race, Stewart's prowess at the .533-mile bullring is still impressive, as he has led a total of 583 of the 5,500 laps available (10.6 percent).

Leading is where Stewart has been of late. In the past seven Nextel Cup races, Stewart has finished in the top-10 six times. Two of those finishes were wins - Chicagoland on July 11 and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) on August 15. And of the 357 total laps in those two races, Stewart led 206 of them (57.7 percent).

With his recent momentum showing no signs of stopping, Stewart plans to turn his 200th start at Bristol into career win number 20 for The Home Depot Racing Team.

Bristol will mark your 200th Nextel Cup start. Does that number mean something to you or do you consider it to be just another number?

"It's pretty cool, but when you think of guys like Ricky Rudd and Terry Labonte and Kyle Petty, 200 starts seems pretty small to the accomplishments those guys have had. But it's still pretty neat to know that we've run 200 Cup races."

NASCAR recently announced a gear rule change for 2005. It will restrict teams to using NASCAR-determined gear ratios at each event to limit the maximum amount of rpms (revolutions per minute) an engine can produce. The rule is designed to reduce team costs associated with engine and research development. Does this new rule affect what you do as a driver?

"I don't think so. There are probably other rules that could be changed other than a gear rule. It's still going to cost teams a lot of money to figure out how they're going to get the most power for the two gear ratios NASCAR determines for use at a race venue. I think their (NASCAR's) thoughts are in the right place in terms of trying to find ways of reducing costs for these race teams, but there's still going to be a lot of money spent by teams as they try to figure out how to get the most power from the gears that are available."

NASCAR also announced that it will reduce the height of rear spoilers by an inch at all non-restrictor plate tracks beginning with the 2005 season in an effort to reduce aero-push and enhance a car's passing ability. What are your thoughts about having less rear downforce on your race car?

"I think it's great. I have no problems with them chopping some more off the rear spoiler. It's the same for everybody, whether you're a big budget team or a small budget team. Everyone is going to have to deal with it. Their (NASCAR's) hope and our hope is that it reduces aero-push. But it's going to be a trial-and-error-type process. I applaud NASCAR for trying to do something to make the racing better, to give us some more drivability in these race cars. Whether it's the right change or the wrong change, I support what NASCAR's trying to do by cutting an inch off the rear spoiler."

With the pressure upon some drivers to make the cut for the Chase for the Championship, will it make Bristol an even more aggressive race?

"I don't think it'll be any different. I still think when it comes to racing guys are simply just racing. I think at the end of the day they look at the point standings, but for the most part, the whole time you're out there you're worried about winning the race or doing as well as you can. I really don't think people's mindsets will change."

Now that the Chase for the Championship seems to be taking shape, have you thought about a strategy to use during the final 10-race stretch to the finish?

"If you win races the points take care of itself. Every week when we go to the track we're going to try to win the race, and if we can't win we'll finish as high as we can and get as many points as we can. Once we do that the points will just have to be what they are."

You've said in the past that Bristol is your favorite track. Is that still the case?

"It's one of my favorites, but Bristol is a track that's feast or famine. If you have a really good day, it's a lot of fun. But if you have one little problem, it normally makes for a very long day. Lately, we've had a couple of long days there. Obviously, we're looking to change that."

Do you go into Bristol knowing that a little more give-and-take will be needed to ensure a strong finish?

"You've got to make sure that you keep the fenders on your car all day and that you're not beating up your race car. If that means a guy gets underneath you and you've got to let him go, then that's what you do. But at the same time, you still have to race hard and not give up track position and lap times because it doesn't take long before you're in lapped traffic. It's a track where you need to be really aggressive, but at the same time, taking care of your equipment all day is key."

Because things happen so quickly at Bristol, are your senses heightened more so than they are at other tracks?

"You just don't have time to relax. Everything happens so fast. At the end of the day when the race is done and your adrenaline wears off, you're worn out. But when you're in the car and the adrenaline's pumping, you don't get in that smooth, calm rhythm that you do at a place like Michigan or California where you've got big, sweeping corners and long straightaways. There's no time to relax. You don't get that luxury at Bristol. It's standard short track racing."

GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief on the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet:

NASCAR recently announced a gear rule change for 2005. It will restrict teams to using NASCAR-determined gear ratios at each event to limit the maximum amount of rpms an engine can produce. The rule is designed to reduce team costs associated with engine and research development. What are your thoughts on the new rule?

"It's another one of the ways NASCAR is looking at controlling costs. They knew that we've been trying out all different types of metals to use in our engines, which, of course, becomes very expensive. We're going outside of our own country to Formula 1 to get a lot of the things that we're using in our engines today. I think this new rule is along the lines of going to the one engine rule and getting rid of qualifying motors. That was one of the biggest rule changes that saved race teams money. And I think that the new gear rule will be a good thing over the long haul. It'll be a better thing. It's helped other series in the past like the Modifieds where I came from where costs were getting out of control. Something needed to be done because you can't keep going back to sponsors and asking them for more money."

For a big team like Joe Gibbs Racing, is the new gear rule best described as short-term pain that will result in long-term gain?

"If this had come around two years ago, it would've been huge because nobody was getting into this high rpm stuff. We've gone from 8,800 rpm to now where we're at 9,800 rpm. Some cars are over 10,000 rpms. Where was it going to end? So yeah, we'll all have to go back to the drawing board a little bit, but I don't believe that it's going to be a huge financial suffering. The money that we've spent getting our motors reliable while we turn such high rpms is gone, but I think our motors will now be even more reliable as they turn at a lower rpm."

NASCAR also announced that it will reduce the height of rear spoilers by an inch at all non-restrictor plate tracks beginning with the 2005 season in an effort to reduce aero-push and enhance a car's passing ability. What are your thoughts about having less rear downforce on your race car?

"I think we also need a tire that's more aggressive than what we've had this year - something with a softer sidewall or a softer compound to give the driver a little more feel and control. But to run 200 mph at a lot of these race tracks we're going to with no rear downforce, you'll see more wrecks. You look now and you see a lot of cars wreck after barely being touched or not even being touched because there's such a lack of rear grip. And our hands are so tied with the way the templates are today that there's not much we can do about it. We used to go to work on the body and really overcome the things that NASCAR threw at us. That's not the case right now. We're struggling to find that downforce to get back to where we were."

-jgr/hdr-

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Kyle Petty
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing