Endurance is key as Pontiac looks for second straight win. DETROIT, Mich., May 22, 2002 - Compared to this point last season, the Pontiac Racing stable has tripled its win output in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, claiming the top spot three...
Endurance is key as Pontiac looks for second straight win.
DETROIT, Mich., May 22, 2002 - Compared to this point last season, the Pontiac Racing stable has tripled its win output in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, claiming the top spot three times in 11 outings. Sunday in Concord, N.C., the Grand Prix drivers will look to notch their fourth win of the year, but to do it, they'll have to endure the biggest durability challenge of the season in what stands as the longest race of the year.
This weekend's schedule, which includes the standard qualifying session on Thursday and a pair of 'Happy Hour' practices on Saturday, concludes with a 600-mile test of man and machine. The 400-lap affair, contested for the first time under the series' new one-engine rule, is certain to put Winston Cup engine builders to the test.
Pontiac driver Tony Stewart, who already has two wins this season, including a victory in the Pontiac Excitement 400 earlier this month, is one person who can actually look at Sunday's 600 miles as light duty when compared to the 1,100 he could be running. In 1999 and 2001, Stewart pulled off a GM Racing double, using Oldsmobile power to earn top 10 finishes in the Indianapolis 500 before going on to post a pair of top five finishes for Pontiac in the NASCAR event that evening.
Stewart also has added incentive this weekend, as he tries to become the first Pontiac driver ever to win the Winston No Bull 5 $1 million bonus.
Thoughts From Tony Stewart, No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix:
THIS RACE IS 600 MILES...HOW DO YOU LOOK AT IT?
"In all reality, no different than any other race. It is an extra 100 miles, but that's not that much longer of a distance, physically, to worry about running. It's probably more of a challenge for the engine builders this year than anybody right now."
HOW MUCH FUN IS IT FOR A DRIVER TO HAVE A CHANCE TO MAKE A FAN A MILLIONAIRE?
"The hard thing is that it breaks my heart when we haven't been able to accomplish that for someone and been able to help them become a millionaire. It's got its good points and bad points. If we're lucky enough to be successful and make Colleen a millionaire, then it's going to be one of the best feelings in the world. I don't know how you could feel any better than helping someone become a millionaire."
WHY NOT RUN INDY THIS YEAR?
"We're in a good position right now in the season. We've been running really good everywhere we've been this year. I had the back injury after the Darlington crash, have the opportunity to run for a million dollars and help a very nice race fan hopefully win a million dollars, also. We don't want to take a chance on doing anything that could jeopardize any of those chances for any of us. We feel like this is our best opportunity to win a championship. Our performance on the track has been good enough to do that. We just need a little luck on our side. We haven't had that, so why add another event that could be bad luck for us."
HOW DOES YOUR QUEST FOR THE WINSTON CUP TITLE AFFECT YOU PERSONALLY, AS OPPOSED TO RUNNING FOR AN IRL TITLE?
"It was probably harder to win the three championships I won in '95 in USAC running three different divisions. It's no different. To a certain degree, I'm actually happy about the position we're in in the point standings right now. We're not in the top three or four in the points right now. We're eighth and it really gives us a great opportunity as a race team to just worry about going out and trying to win races and not worrying about the points right now. We just need to go out and get top fives and try to win each race we go out and run right now. If we can do that, then the points will take care of itself. But, I would much rather be the hunter than the hunted right now. I think it would be a lot more stressful situation for the guys that are in the top two or three in points right now. The pressure is on them to stay there. The pressure is not on us to try to catch them as much as it is for those guys to stay ahead of us."
DOES YOUR RACE STRATEGY CHANGE AT ALL WHEN YOU'RE IN THE HUNT FOR THE TITLE?
"Even though it's the Brickyard 400 in the middle of the summer, when you're leading the point standings, if there is a guy that is 20 places back behind you in the point standings and he is a little bit faster than you, you're not going to take a chance on that guy taking you out of the race versus if you're just racing to win the race. You might race him a little harder and a little longer and take a chance on the possibility of crashing the car, versus sitting there, being careful, watching the point standings and saying, 'Well, he's not going to hurt me in the points and it's a lot easier to lose three points by letting this guy go by than it is to lose 60 points if he crashes us.'"
ARE YOU PREPARED NOW TO MAKE A RUN AT THE TITLE?
"We've been trying that since Daytona in February. I don't know why this the time of year that we really get going. I think a lot of it has to do with the temperature. It seems like when the racetracks gain a lot of temperature in the middle of the summer, that's when we start gaining a lot of strength - when the tracks lose a lot of grip. It's not something that we physically say, 'Well, now we're in a part of the season that we like. This is when we're going to start doing things.' We don't approach our race weekends any different now than we did when we started at Daytona or Rockingham in February. We're still doing the same things we typically do. It just seems like historically in the past, and we're somewhat optimistic and hoping that it goes along with the past, that this is the part of the year where we'll really start getting on a run and get some consistent top fives and hopefully some more wins here pretty soon."