TONY STEWART New Start in Charlotte ATLANTA (Oct. 11, 2006) - Of the 690 total laps available at Charlotte (N.C.) in May for the All-Star race, the NASCAR Busch Series race and the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race, Tony Stewart completed only 114...
New Start in Charlotte
ATLANTA (Oct. 11, 2006) - Of the 690 total laps available at Charlotte (N.C.) in May for the All-Star race, the NASCAR Busch Series race and the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race, Tony Stewart completed only 114 of them. Crashes in each of the races prevented Stewart from getting much time on the newly paved 1.5-mile oval.
Stewart looks to change that in his return trip to Charlotte for this weekend's Busch/Nextel Cup doubleheader.
The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing will again pull double-duty by competing in the Busch and Cup races at Charlotte. Whatever track time was lost back in May, Stewart will seek to regain this weekend by completing all 534 laps (200 laps in Busch and 334 laps in Cup).
Track time, and more specifically track time under race conditions, is crucial at Charlotte.
Since its repaving prior to this year's Speedweeks in May, Charlotte is still an unknown entity. Drivers such as Stewart used to know where the bumps were and how the track would react as the sun set and the cool of night set in. But fresh asphalt rendered that knowledge useless, because the new pavement made the 46-year-old layout new again.
As a result, Stewart's win at Charlotte in October 2003 has little bearing in October 2006. And those drivers who finished all of the races a little over four months ago have a much more comprehensive set of notes for this weekend's slate of races.
Stewart will be chasing those drivers as he chases his second win at Charlotte, his fourth this season and the 28th of his Nextel Cup career.
Some have said that the new pavement at Charlotte and the tire compound provided by Goodyear have 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."
Do you wish you had more track time at Charlotte?
"I'll take as much track time as I can get, but it is what it is. There are other teams with more experience on the new pavement, but that doesn't mean we're in a hole, by any means. We're an experienced team and we've dealt with all sorts of adversity. On a scale of one to 10, not having as much track time as the next guy barely registers a 'one.' We'll have plenty of practice, and I'll get even more time in the Busch car. To me, it's a non-issue."
Do you enjoy running the October Charlotte race on a Saturday night?
"I like it. I enjoy having Sundays off. The crew guys can have a day off. We as drivers can have a day off. Folks in racing can live like normal people for a day. When we race on Sunday, the crew guys don't get a day off on Monday. They have to be at the shop. Weekends where we have a Saturday night race gives the crew guys a bit of a breather on Sunday."
Is there much of an adjustment in racing under the lights at Charlotte as opposed to running during the daytime?
"I think everyone who has gotten to this level has had plenty of experience in racing under the lights. No one in this series just started running Nextel Cup cars. We all started at some short track somewhere running races at night, so I think all of us have plenty of experience running under the lights. And for me, I'm one of those guys who hates getting up early. I'm a lot better at night than I am at eight o'clock in the morning."
It's been said that the track surface at Charlotte changes a lot. How so?
"It's temperature sensitive, and depending upon when we practice and what time of day we make our runs, you kind of have to plan ahead for knowing what the track is going to do. We'll watch it, paying attention to what time the practices are and we'll set up The Home Depot Chevrolet accordingly. If the car's not driving perfect in practice that doesn't mean it's bad, because you know the track is going to cool off. You don't want to adjust a whole lot because you might overcompensate for a condition that's not even going to be there when the race starts. So, you really have to plan ahead."
What kind of role does aerodynamics play at Charlotte?
"Charlotte's not as bad as some of the other tracks. Aero does play a role, but Charlotte is still a handling race track. You've got to get your car to drive well and handle well. That's the main thing at Charlotte."
Despite being out of this year's Chase, you're coming into the mid-point of the Chase. With four Chase races under your belt, what are your thoughts on running with those top-10 drivers that are competing for the championship?
"This is the first year that we've been outside of the Chase, so I'm getting a different perspective this year. It's really awkward being out there on the race track with those 10 guys knowing that if we make a mistake around those guys, that it can cost them a chance at a championship. We try to just stay out of their way, but at the same time try to race as hard as we can.
"But I still think the Chase has been really good for our sport. The concept of having a playoff at the end of the year has really gained a lot of interest from the fans and the media, and from the drivers too."