TONY STEWART Smooth Sailing at Bristol ATLANTA (March 12, 2008) -- For the longest time, the word "smooth" was never used to describe racing at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. The .533-mile oval shaped like a cereal bowl was surfaced with...
Smooth Sailing at Bristol
ATLANTA (March 12, 2008) -- For the longest time, the word "smooth" was never used to describe racing at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. The .533-mile oval shaped like a cereal bowl was surfaced with concrete in 1992, and as that concrete aged, it yielded a teeth-chattering, one groove race track.
But all that changed in the spring and summer of 2007, as track crews at the "World's Fastest Half-Mile" dug up the old concrete and resurfaced the track with new concrete while adding variable banking to the track's corners, beginning at 26 degrees near the apron and topping out at 30 degrees by the outside retaining wall.
The result was old-school short track racing, but with an etiquette that would make Emily Post proud. Drivers no longer had to knock one another out of the way to advance their position. They could actually race side-by-side, competitively, while still managing to keep their fenders intact.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, emerged from last year's debut race on the fresh concrete with a solid fourth-place finish. It was his first top-10 result since finishing eighth in the 2005 August night race, and only his sixth top-10 in 18 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts at Bristol.
And while Stewart had his share of rough days at the "old" Bristol, the two-time Sprint Cup champion also had some shining moments, namely when he earned just his second career pole as a rookie in August 1999 before topping that achievement with a win in the 2001 August night race.
But those moments were overshadowed by eight finishes of 20th or worse, where either crashes or mechanical problems made Stewart feel as if he'd been "Bristol Stomped."
Needless to say, Bristol's new surface was welcomed by Stewart with open arms, and as he returns to Bristol for this weekend's Food City 500 and his second start on the resurfaced oval, he'll look to improve his finish from last August by just three positions so that he can score his 33rd career Sprint Cup win.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Last year's night race at Bristol, where you finished fourth, was your first race on the resurfaced oval. After the race, you enthusiastically endorsed the hard work of the Bristol Motor Speedway staff. What was it that made the racing so good?
"It was an ace job. Bristol is awesome. I had so much fun at last year's night race. You could go from the bottom to the top. I don't know what it was like to watch, but it was fun from where I was sitting. You could run all over the race track, which is what was so fun about it. You could race. Guys weren't running over each other to pass each other. You could work the outside, you could work the inside, you could go and race people instead of the normal, just-bump-people-out-of-the-way-and-go-on-by style we used to have. You weren't having to root guys out of the way. You could race. It was the most fun I've had at Bristol in my career, and that includes the night I won. We should thank everybody at Bristol Motor Speedway for doing what they did. It worked, and it worked well. I can't give it a better grade than A-plus."
Even with the new surface, things happen 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."
Last year's Food City 500 marked the debut of the Car of Tomorrow, or as it's now known, the "current-generation car." What's the one thing that most separates this car from the older-generation cars you used to race?
"Well, from recent experience at Las Vegas where we blew a tire and wrecked -- when these things get down on the splitter there on the front of the car, they go dead straight. They don't turn at all. It used to be with the other cars that you could at least get them to turn a little bit before the hit and it would at least take some of the angle away from the impact. Now with these cars, as soon as that tire goes down and that splitter hits the ground, it's going to go in the direction it's pointed."
Your new teammate, Kyle Busch, is the defending winner of the Food City 500, and he's coming into the race after winning last week at Atlanta. What makes him so good?
"He's amazing to me, and I'm proud to have him as a teammate. He's been a huge asset to Joe Gibbs Racing. It's fun to watch him. I mean, the nights that he runs the Truck race and we're sitting in the bus, I mean, I normally don't pay as close attention to those races, but when he's running them, I do. He'll get everything that car is capable of. That's what you want out of a guy. That kid loves racing more than anybody I know. And he is very much a team player. He's so willing to give information and talk about what his car is doing. Having that information and having three guys that are up front, with our cars driving fairly similarly, makes us that much stronger of a race team. We have three guys that have very similar personalities, and it meshes really well."
One of the many hats you wear is that of radio talk show host, as you have your own show, Tony Stewart Live, that is now well into its second year on SIRIUS Satellite Radio. After a history of sometimes sparring with the media, what made you decide to become a member of the media, at least from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET on Mondays?
"It hasn't changed my opinions about things. I just get to voice them in my own forum. The thing about the radio show that I like is that we can take stuff and show angles that other people never see. It gives me an advantage over the media, because I get to see things from a different perspective. And that's probably the only reason the show works, because as far as journalism goes, the media is 1,000 times better than I could ever try to be. I couldn't do what those guys do, but I can sit there and just talk about the stuff that I see. People tuning into the show want to see the sport from the side that I'm on. It's a format I feel really comfortable with."
Greg Zipadelli, crew chief of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing:
Last year's Food City 500 marked the debut of the Car of Tomorrow (CoT), or as it's now known, the "current-generation car." Despite having to learn the "newness" of the car, is it still less of an undertaking than it was last year, when you had to simultaneously campaign CoTs and the older-generation cars?
"Well, we're not behind on building cars, but by no means are we ahead of schedule on building cars. We lost a car at the Vegas test and another one at the Vegas race and that really hurt us. We changed a lot of things at our shop, basically implementing new programs and processes to build cars, which took a lot of time. We lost probably a month or so going through all that this winter, but the end result is that we're better and we're going to get better cars the first time. But as we get everything together, we're scrambling to get cars and motors and motor parts, but at the same time, I'm sure a lot of other teams are in the same boat."
Do you feel that eventually the CoT will do part of what it was designed to do, and that's lessen the amount of car inventory you need to campaign a full Sprint Cup season, since the car is designed to be more versatile and able to compete on short tracks, intermediate tracks, superspeedways and road courses?
"I think that theoretically you can use these cars for just about any type of race track, but it doesn't work that easy. The problem is that anytime you put a clip on these cars, anytime you update them or you build a new car, they have to go and get certified by NASCAR. There's just different processes now. They're no easier to build. They're very time-consuming. They're more time-consuming to build than the cars we had, so if we wreck one, we can't just go home and put a snout on it and bring it back next week. It has to go to NASCAR first to be checked. You can run different cars at different places, but you're going to have to have enough cars so that if you have a bad week or two where you wreck a couple of race cars, you have enough cars to get you through. You're not going to get those cars fixed as quickly as you need to because of the process. You'll be forced to use other race cars. At first we thought our car count would be down, but after the Vegas test where we wrecked a car and then seeing all the things we had to go through, I don't know if that's necessarily going to be the case."