What Goes Bump in the Night ATLANTA (June 27, 2006) - Tony Stewart was scary fast in last year's night race at Daytona. The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing started from the pole and led all but nine of the ...
What Goes Bump in the Night
ATLANTA (June 27, 2006) - Tony Stewart was scary fast in last year's night race at Daytona. The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing started from the pole and led all but nine of the race's 160 laps to score his first point-paying restrictor plate victory.
The two-time and reigning NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion is back at Daytona for round 17 on the 36-race schedule, and he's driving the same car he used to win last year's race. Carrying the orange and black colors of sponsor Home Depot is chassis No. 70, which in its last eight appearances has led 383 total laps.
Last year's night race at Daytona was just one of many strong restrictor plate races for Stewart. In his last 11 restrictor plate races - five at Daytona and six at Talladega (Ala.) - Stewart has logged six top-threes, eight top-fives and 10 top-10s for an average finish of fifth. His lone finish outside the top-10 was a 22nd place result at Talladega in April 2004.
And even though last year marked Stewart's first point-paying win at Daytona, the Indiana native was no stranger to victory lane. Five times prior Stewart sprayed champagne inside Daytona's winner's circle.
Stewart added to his list of Daytona accomplishments by winning this year's season-opening Busch Series race. And in addition to defending his Nextel Cup triumph, Stewart will have two more opportunities to take some additional hardware away from Daytona. The versatile driver is set to compete in the IROC race on Daytona's road course and in the Busch Series race on the 2.5-mile oval.
Drivers in three different racing series will soon learn that what goes bump in the night is anything piloted by Stewart.
After a couple of disappointing races, are you looking forward to going to Daytona?
"We'll see what happens. We always seem to have a good driving car for Daytona. We're cautiously optimistic that we're going to run well. We need a good week next week. The good thing is that the morale of the team is up. This team has battled adversity so many times that it takes a lot to beat this team down. A lot of what we've seen is a reflection of my attitude. If I'm not down about what's happening, then the team doesn't get down about it."
Did the new front bumper configuration, which debuted in the most recent restrictor plate race at Talladega, help to alleviate the amount of bump-drafting you've typically experienced in restrictor plate races?
"It wasn't typical and it wasn't an example of somebody testing it out to find out how far they could go before they damaged their car. I think it just brought more awareness to what the goal was. It's not about trying to damage people's cars to keep them from bumping, it's to keep us from getting in a compromising position. And from that perspective, I think we all accomplished our goal."
After being so dominant last year, and continuing to run strong in the two restrictor plate races this year, what are your expectations for Daytona?
"That's the thing, you can be dominant at a track the year before, but technology changes. There are things that change all the time that keep you from going out and repeating, even though it's the same team and the same driver. There are definitely no guarantees. You still have to go out there and work and find the combination that's good for that day."
You led all but nine laps in last year's July race at Daytona? You made it look easy. Was it?
"It was last year because we had a car that just drove so well. We started on the pole and were able to get out front quickly. And pretty much the whole day, because of track position and because we had such a good handling car, we never had to work our way up there or battle our way up. So, the only time in that seven- or nine-lap stretch that we didn't lead the race, we got a great opportunity with cars that were three-wide and then we made it four-wide and got such a run that we got back to the lead and right back to where we were. We just picked up where we left off."
Can you describe that four-wide pass for the lead with 16 laps to go? Did you think it was a pretty daring move or was it something that made sense from behind the steering wheel?
"It was a huge moment. Obviously, four-wide at Daytona is not something you see a lot of. When you get cars three-wide like that, it creates a big hole in the air. We had a good push up until that point anyway, and with a car that was driving that good, we were able to keep a lot of momentum. Being able to use that big hole in the air, we were in the right spot at the right time to pull that move off. It got us where we needed to be."
Have you ever in your career enjoyed such a dominating performance?
"The only time I can remember was my first win at Richmond (Va., in Sept. 1999) when we led 333 laps of the 400. We were a young team and we didn't have the best of pit stops at the time, and when we got back out after pitting it seemed like we were always fourth or fifth. But we always came back and never got passed once we got in the lead."
What's the best way to describe racing at Daytona?
"It's a 190 mph traffic jam and a chess game with 43 players. It's a constant juggling match trying to figure out where you need to be, when you need to be there, who you go with, and who not to go with. And it seems like the July race at Daytona becomes more about handling, which you don't really hear about at restrictor plate tracks. A lot of times you don't see the three-wide or two-wide racing. A lot of times it straightens itself out, but that makes the strategy part a little bit more critical, because you know if you get out of line, you may not get back in."
How hard is it to pass?
"It can be very difficult to pass if your car isn't working right. That's what makes getting to the front as quickly as possible so important at Daytona, especially in July when the handling is so important. The cars get up there really quick and then you spend the rest of the day trying to figure out what you've got to do and what you can do."
Is there any strategy involved in running a restrictor plate race, or is it just a matter of taking advantage of the opportunities that are presented?
"The strategy is making sure you've got somebody you can draft with. You have to take the opportunities as they come, but with those opportunities you have to make a very quick decision. You've got to think, 'What happens if I try this and it doesn't work? What are the ramifications going to be?' You don't have the luxury of sitting down and taking the time to analyze the situation. You've got to make a split-second decision. A lot of times it'll work, but there are times when the decision that you made doesn't work. But once you've committed yourself to doing something, there's not much you can do about it."
Patience is an obvious virtue on the short tracks, but how important is it at a restrictor plate track?
"It's the gospel, basically. There are a lot of times when you think you can pull out and pass, but if you do, once you get there you realize that you can't pass. It makes it real critical that you take your time and that you don't get caught up in trying to make a move too fast. Just stay in line, and sometimes you'll have more patience than 20 other guys.
"It's such a chess match. You can be leading the race one second and you can be fifth the next second. I think it's just a matter of timing and getting yourself in the right place at the right time."
Is a fast car all you need to be successful in restrictor plate races?
"You have to have a fast car. But with that fast car, you've got to have a good team that gets you in and out of the pits fast, and you've got to have a driver who knows what he's doing. Get all that together, along with a little bit of luck, and you can have a good day."
IROC returns to a road course for the first time since 1991 when the series raced at Watkins Glen (N.Y.). You're known as someone who appreciates the road courses. What are your thoughts about running an IROC car on Daytona's road course?
"What I'm excited about is that I've spent a lot of laps on that Daytona road course. I don't know how many laps I have there, but it's probably 500-600 laps that I've personally driven on that track. That in itself makes it exciting for me. It's not a course that I'm not familiar with. It's a course I'm very familiar with. That will help me a lot."
"I look at that race as being one of the most fun races of the year because it really levels out the playing field. We're used to driving that heavy style of car, but at the same time, it gives these guys who are road racers the opportunity to use techniques that a lot of us don't necessarily know. It'll make it a lot of fun for all of us."
With IROC running a road course, road course drivers finally have a discipline to showcase their skills. Max Angelelli, who won the Daytona 24 Hour race and the Grand American Road Racing Association championship in the Daytona Prototype division last year with co-driver Wayne Taylor, will be the designated ace for the IROC race at Daytona. How will he perform?
"Running with Max Angelelli - he's a very aggressive driver, but he's also an awesome road racer. I think he'll be able to adapt very quickly to the heavier weight of the IROC cars. The biggest thing he'll have to worry about is not burning the brakes off. If he can keep from doing that, I think it'll be tough to run with him."