Fontana II: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART "You Better Lock It Up" ATLANTA (Aug. 27, 2008) -- The back-and-forth banter between Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson's characters during the Cleary-Lodge wedding reception in "Wedding Crashers" is appropriate dialogue for this ...

TONY STEWART
"You Better Lock It Up"

ATLANTA (Aug. 27, 2008) -- The back-and-forth banter between Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson's characters during the Cleary-Lodge wedding reception in "Wedding Crashers" is appropriate dialogue for this weekend's Pepsi 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

With Jeremy Grey (Vaughn) and John Beckwith (Wilson) telling each other to "lock it up," it's a conversation drivers in the top-12 in points are having with themselves as only two races remain before the 12-driver Chase for the Championship is set.

While Joe Gibbs Racing driver and current Sprint Cup point leader Kyle Busch has already clinched his spot in the Chase -- and with a series-best eight wins, the top spot to start the final, 10-race shootout -- those behind him can secure their respective spots in the Chase with a strong run at Fontana and some not-so-strong runs by those on the outside looking in at the 12-driver cutoff.

For Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota and teammate to Busch, his sixth-place point standing has him 170 points ahead of 13th-place David Ragan. Should Stewart pad his lead by 26 points over Ragan or whoever holds the 13th position following Sunday night's Pepsi 500, the two-time Sprint Cup champion will have locked himself into the Chase for the second consecutive season and for the fourth time since the Chase's inception in 2004.

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing:

With the Chase for the Championship almost upon us, how will you approach it?

"I'll tell you the same thing we told everybody from day one. We take each race one at a time. We just try to get the most amount of points and the best finish we can get each week. If you win races, the points take care of themselves. You just go out and take it one week at a time. You don't worry about what's going to happen the next week. You don't worry about what happened the week before. You do the best you can. When you leave the track you look at the point sheet. You know where you're at. You can't really plan ahead. As race car drivers and as race teams, our job is to go out and do the best we can each week. With that attitude in mind, that's how we've done what we've done in the Cup Series."

What do you think about the Chase opening up the championship to anyone in the top-12?

"I think the more people they add, the more it makes you appreciate what you've done, because you have to compete against more guys. It adds a different perspective to the Chase than what it's had in the past.

"For so many years the Cup Series was about winning the title based upon what guy had the most points at the end of the year because he was the most consistent. The Chase is just a change in time. I'm not sure it really matters what I feel about it. It is what it is. I think it's been a positive thing for our sport, but we'll just sit back and see what happens."

How different is the feel of the race track from when you were at California in February to now?

"It has a lot more grip in the spring because it's cooler. Now that it's hotter, it's a good bet that the track's going to be slick on race day, which is good. That's why the groove will widen out and that's why guys can move around on the race track the way they can."

It's been proposed that reconfiguring Auto Club Speedway would produce more exciting racing. What do you think?

"They need to let the race track be. You can change all the banking you want. It's still a two-mile track. The good thing is that the racing has become two- and three-wide and you can run on different spots on the race track. But that's all you can hope for. It is what it is there. If they wanted to do something, they should've been a little smarter and built a half-mile or three-quarter mile oval. But anytime you build something that big, you're going to spread cars out."

For many years, and even today among those who follow the traditional stick-and-ball sports, NASCAR has been perceived as a Southern sport. Is that accurate?

"I don't think anyone can call it just a Southern sport anymore. I mean, if you truly believe that, you just need to get on a plane, go to the Vegas race, go to the Fontana races, go to Sonoma (Calif.), go to Phoenix and see the crowds. I think that speaks for itself. It's a nationwide sport. We go from Watkins Glen (N.Y.) to Loudon (N.H) all the way to Texas, Kansas, Sonoma, Fontana, Vegas, Phoenix. It's East Coast to West Coast now. We don't just race in the Southeast. We're covering all four corners of the United States now."

California is a track where a driver can search for different grooves, as opposed to some other tracks on the circuit where there is really only one true groove. As a driver, do you appreciate that more?

"It's nice knowing that as a driver you can help yourself out and you're not relying so much on the car. Regardless of what everyone else is doing, you can find a way to help yourself out. It makes you feel good knowing that because the place is so wide, you can move around, and basically, earn your money that day."

At what point do you start to move around on the race track to find a better handle for your race car?

"As soon as you feel like you're not where you need to be. If you feel like you're slower than the pace you need to be running, you're going to move up the race track and find a place that helps balance your race car. Really, from the drop of the green flag, you do it from there on out."

Why is it that races at D-shaped ovals seem to be won in fairly dominating fashion?

"If a guy gets going and gets his car balanced, then he'll tend to run away. That's just the characteristic of that kind of track. It's fast, it's flat and momentum is so important there, that if a guy is off just a little, he's off a lot. The drivers like it from the standpoint that if you can find a way to get around it a little better, then it'll help them in the long run. You end up racing the race track instead of each other."

Track position and pit strategy seem to be the two biggest variables at California. When and how do you make the decision to sacrifice tires for track position, or depending on the circumstances, track position for tires?

"I think it just depends on how your car is working. If your car is driving well, one that keeps you up toward the front all day because it's fast, then just two tires can keep you pretty quick. In that situation, you could make a big gain at the end by just taking on two tires and maintaining your track position. Even some guys who are behind and don't have their car the way they want, by taking on two tires, the track position they gain helps out more than four tires would. But when you get right down to it, I think California is a track where if your car's good, then it doesn't matter whether you take two tires or four."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , David Ragan
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing