Tony Stewart Monster stats at the Monster Mile. ATLANTA (Sept. 17, 2002) - The one-mile oval that is Dover (Del.) International Speedway is touted as the "Monster Mile." Its 24 degrees of banking along with its concrete surface can chew up and...
Monster stats at the Monster Mile.
ATLANTA (Sept. 17, 2002) - The one-mile oval that is Dover (Del.) International Speedway is touted as the "Monster Mile." Its 24 degrees of banking along with its concrete surface can chew up and spit out the best prepared race cars wheeled by the most seasoned veterans simply because the strain on man and machine can often become too much.
But for one NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver, all the hype that surrounds the rigors of racing around Dover 400 times is lost. For Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac for Joe Gibbs Racing, Dover is just another race track staging yet another Winston Cup race.
Stewart's laid-back attitude toward a race track that gives most drivers fits is well fitting. With 15 career Winston victories since he appeared on the circuit in 1999, Stewart has proven that he's no ordinary driver. Only reigning Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon has more victories than Stewart since 1999, as 18 trophies line his mantle. It would take three wins apiece by Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett or Jeff Burton to tie Stewart's win tally since 1999, as all three drivers are behind Stewart with 12 wins apiece.
Looking specifically at Dover is where Stewart's statistics really stand out. In seven previous Winston Cup starts, Stewart has notched two wins, five top-fives and six top-10s. His worst finish is a respectable 11th, leaving Stewart with an average finish of fourth.
After a strong third-place finish at New Hampshire last Sunday brought Stewart to within 59 points of the championship lead, his Home Depot Racing Team comes to Dover with the short-term goal of garnering career win number 16, and the long-term goal of achieving their first Winston Cup championship.
How would you explain your success at Dover?
"I honestly don't know. We don't have any secrets. It's just a track where my crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, has come up with a setup that complements my driving style. I wish I knew what makes us so good there. It seems as though when the track gets slippery and you have to wrestle the car a little bit more, that plays into our hands. When the race track gets hot and slippery, you never end up having a perfect car. You've got to adjust as a driver, and for me, that's an advantage."
Does Dover's layout provide challenges that are unique to Dover?
"It's still an oval race track with a surface. It doesn't matter to me whether it's concrete or asphalt. You can make that place as abrasive or as slick as you want. It's still just another race track. Your car is either going to push, be loose, or slide all four wheels through the corners just as it might at any other race track we go to. You've just got to figure out how to make the car grip the track and you have to get your car's balance right."
With the slightly softer tire compound Goodyear is bringing to Dover, will you end up racing the race track more than you'll end up racing the 42 other drivers?
"It seems like the softer tire that they're bringing to Dover is a little bit faster for a lap or two, but then it tends to fall off. That'll take track position out of the equation a little and put the racing back to the way it used to be. I remember Mark Martin was the guy who taught me best about it. It was when I first started in Winston Cup, and even when I was in the Busch Series back in '98 and '97 that I learned a lot from Mark. Guys who would be really aggressive at the beginning of a run, Mark told me to just let 'em go. Forty laps into an eighty-lap run, the guy who you let go is now coming back to you because he wore out his tires and you conserved yours. Nowadays, most of the passing is done in the pits, because the tires don't fall off near as much as they used to where you could pass a guy back and forth on the race track.
"That situation really isn't Goodyear's fault. They're in a tough spot because our cars are producing so much downforce that it's hard to make a soft tire compound last without blistering it. It's put Goodyear between a rock and a hard place from that standpoint, because they've had to make the tire compounds harder and harder. If NASCAR took some downforce away from all four manufacturers - not just one or two of them, but all of them - Goodyear could go back and make a softer tire that would allow the racing to be better."
Explain a lap around Dover.
"What you do for qualifying is totally different from what you do in the race. Basically, a lot of the cars qualify down on the bottom of the track, but by the time you're about 40 or 50 laps into the race, there are cars all the way from the bottom of the race track to right up against the outside wall. That's a big difference in between. Basically, everybody just searches around on the race track looking for a spot that makes their car happy. So obviously, we're going to try and make The Home Depot Pontiac as happy as possible."
What are your thoughts on the championship chase after gaining a lot of ground last week at New Hampshire?
"It's like I've been saying all along, we're taking this thing one race at a time. I still want to run my race each week and I still want to have the mentality that I'm racing for the win. If you win the races the points will take care of itself. By going out there and doing our job, we're forcing Sterling (Marlin) and Mark (Martin) to race hard as well. We're forcing them to have to remain consistent, and that's hard to do. I look at where we are in the points and what we've been through this season, and I figure we've got everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose. We're the hunters and they're the hunted, which is why I feel like we're in a better position than they are right now."
You swept both Dover races in 2000. How do you try to duplicate that kind of a performance?
"You just try to keep up with the track conditions. Nothing else really changes. But that doesn't mean that you can get lazy. If you just assume that you're going to be good, then that's when you're going to get beat because guys are going to make changes and they're going to come back with better cars then they left there with. So, we have to keep up and make the same gains that they do in order for us to keep our advantage. We can't stop doing our work. We've got to do the same thing that they're doing, while trying to be a little faster yet. If you get complacent with the fact that you think you're good enough to win, then that's when you're going to get beat."
You finished no worse than fourth in the two races at Dover during your rookie year. Was that another case of going to a race track where you felt comfortable right away?
"Yeah, I took to that place pretty quickly. I just felt comfortable there. Plus, Joe Gibbs Racing has always had a good setup for The Home Depot Pontiac at that track. It's one of those tracks that suits my driving style, and we always seem to be able to put together a good run there."
Does Dover have some characteristics from other tracks that you've raced on in your career?
"Not really. Dover's pretty unique. First of all, it's the only one-mile track that we go to that's concrete. Then it has such big corners. You're in the corner there for a long, long time. You really don't get much of a chance to take a break and relax."
Does trouble happen faster at Dover than some of the other tracks on the circuit?
"I don't think it's any worse there than anywhere else. Where the problems normally happen as far as accidents are concerned, it's not usually getting into the corners and through the center of the corner, but coming off the corners. The straightaways have so much banking that a car that crashes into the wall coming off the corner - it's kind of a two-for-one special - you get the outside wall and then you slide down and hit the inside wall. That's where you can get into a lot of trouble as far as catching other drivers in the same accident."