Tony Stewart Good Credit from MBNA ATLANTA (June 1, 2004) - In his 10 previous NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series starts at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, Tony Stewart has notched two wins, eight top-fives and a seventh. His only finish outside of...
Good Credit from MBNA
ATLANTA (June 1, 2004) - In his 10 previous NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series starts at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, Tony Stewart has notched two wins, eight top-fives and a seventh. His only finish outside of the top-10 is an 11th place result, giving the driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet an average finish of fourth at the high-banked, one-mile oval. And to further add to those statistics, Stewart has led 832 of a possible 4,000 laps.
Needless to say, Stewart has good credit from longtime Dover race sponsor MBNA. In fact, instead of Stewart writing checks to MBNA to pay for his credit card, MBNA has been writing checks to Stewart - to the tune of $1,140,847 since he first ran Dover as a rookie in the 1999 MBNA Platinum 400. And with his 11th career Nextel Cup start at Dover looming with Sunday's MBNA America 400, Stewart is looking for some more cash rewards.
While still winless in 2004, the month of June has proven to be Stewart's catalyst for the rest of the season. Of his 17 career wins, only three have come before June. And in his five previous years of Nextel Cup competition, Stewart has won each race held in June - Dover in 2000, Michigan in 2000, Pocono (Pa.) in 2003 and Sonoma (Calif.) in 2001.
With June now upon us and Dover next up for Stewart and Co., the 2002 series champions look to make history repeat itself.
You've had some strong runs of late and you're enjoying the highest point standing you've had at this part of the season since your rookie year in 1999, yet people are still thinking you've had a slow start to the year. Why?
"We just haven't been to victory lane yet, and that's what everybody's looking at. But we're not worried about it, especially with the way the points system is now. I'm not totally satisfied with it, but I don't think anyone is totally satisfied with the way their season is going. You always want to be better than what you are. But it's not like the new points system has changed the way we're racing. We take each race one week at a time just like we've done every other season. You can't be worrying about the points. If you do your job each week and try to win the race, it's like I've always said, the points will take care of themselves - no matter what the format is."
Are tires perhaps the number one reason why the complexion of the Dover race has changed so much between now and the time you swept both Dover races in 2000?
"Tires are definitely the number one reason why that race has changed. Looking back, it was a tough situation for Goodyear. There were a lot of tire failures when we won in 2000, but we never had any problems with the tires. Goodyear had to deal with teams that were abusing their tires and causing tires to blow. It wasn't because of how the tire was manufactured. It was because of some team's inability to make their cars turn through the corners. With their chassis setup, they were asking the tires to do something they were never designed to handle. So Goodyear had to make a more durable tire, and that really changed the complexion of how we race at Dover. Goodyear has made some changes with the tire, and in all reality, probably made it safer for all of us. The teams that were struggling with the tires now have a tire that's harder for them to abuse. That helps protect Goodyear, which Goodyear had to look at because they had to take care of themselves too. We've got a tire that makes you slide around a lot more on the race track, and that makes the balance of the car very critical."
How do you expect this year's tire compound to react at Dover?
"It's hard to say. Everywhere we go it's kind of a new learning experience with the new tire. Dover's a place where new tire compounds tend to result in drastic changes. I guess it's just a matter of finding out once we get there."
How were you able to sweep the Dover races in 2000?
"You had to play the chess match of tire management, and that's what made it so fun for us and so exciting for the fans. You couldn't just start on the point and run away from the field. You had to play the chess match. You might've had a guy who was in a hurry at the beginning of a run and passed three or four cars, but at the end of that run he'd get passed by those same three or four cars, and maybe a couple more because he had used up his tires. The fans got to see a lot of racing, and hopefully with this new tire compound, they'll get to see the kind of racing we had back in 2000."
How much of a role does aerodynamics play at Dover in comparison to handling?
"Both are important. Air is free, so if your aero program gives you a lot of downforce, that's great. But at the same time, with all the bumps Dover has, you have to work on the mechanical balance too. It's a track that requires every aspect of your racing program for you to be on the money."
Is Dover the type of race track where a driver can make up for a race car that isn't handling well or an engine that's down on horsepower?
"I think so. With the way the cars slide around on the race track late in the day, there are times when a driver can make up for what the car won't do. They can move around on the race track and help themselves out by finding a faster groove."
Is Dover a bigger version of Bristol (Tenn.), in that it's a high-banked concrete oval, but just an extra half-mile in length?
"I don't think so, from the standpoint that at Bristol the groove is always along the bottom, all day long. At Dover, there are times when I run up at the top of the track, there are times I run in the middle of the track, and there are times when I run at the bottom of the track. It has more characteristics like Michigan, where depending on how your car is driving, you can move around on the race track and help yourself out."
How physical is a race at Dover?
"It's really physical. The banking, the bumps - it all takes its toll on your body after a race."
How do you feel after a race at Dover?
"I normally sleep pretty good that night after the race is over. It's probably a little tougher on your body than the majority of the other races we run, but that's also why it feels so good when you win there, because you know it's a tough race."
Is Dover a good track to have on the Nextel Cup schedule simply because it's different?
"Absolutely. It's a one-off track. You can't go anywhere in the country and find another track like Dover. I like the one-off tracks. I like the places that aren't copies off of somebody else's race track."
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 for a long, long time. You really don't get much of a chance to take a break and relax."
What is the difference between racing on concrete and racing on asphalt?
"It's pretty much the same. I guess the biggest thing is that the sun doesn't affect the concrete as much because the surface is white. It doesn't absorb as much heat as an asphalt track does. But other than that, you go through the same set of scenarios and challenges you would on any asphalt track - either the car is going to be tight or it's going to be loose."
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."