Homestead: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART Steadfast at Homestead ATLANTA (Nov. 14, 2007) -- What do Al Davis, George W. Bush and Vice Lombardi have in common? All have provided a famous quote that is appropriate to Tony Stewart's charge in Sunday's season-ending NASCAR...

TONY STEWART
Steadfast at Homestead

ATLANTA (Nov. 14, 2007) -- What do Al Davis, George W. Bush and Vice Lombardi have in common? All have provided a famous quote that is appropriate to Tony Stewart's charge in Sunday's season-ending NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

For Davis, mercurial owner of the NFL's Oakland Raiders, his motto is "Just win, baby!"

President Bush tells us all to "remain steadfast and resolute."

And the legendary Lombardi, former coach of the NFL's Green Bay Packers and whose name graces the Super Bowl trophy, famously said, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."

Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing, is out of championship contention. His only real goal, and care for that matter, is ending the 2007 season with a win. It's a mindset that would play well with Davis and Lombardi, and for our 43rd president of these United States, he would be proud to know that Stewart's mindset hasn't changed since the season-opening Daytona 500 nine months ago.

Stewart is already a race winner in 2007, in fact, a multiple race winner. During a four-race stretch from mid-July to early August, Stewart won three races -- Chicagoland, Indianapolis and Watkins Glen (N.Y.). Since then, Stewart has scored four top-fives and eight top-10s.

But if his end result isn't a win, Stewart isn't all that impressed. Like a master craftsman who would never utter the phrase, "That's good enough," you won't hear Stewart, a two-time Nextel Cup champion, say at the end of Sunday's season finale that he was "tickled to death just to be in the top-10."

Stewart wants to win, plain and simple. And if the only remaining option is a race win, then Stewart will remain steadfast on that pursuit at Homestead.

What is your mindset leading into Homestead ?

"We're just going out there to try and win the race. That's all we can do. We're not in a championship battle, but we're still in a battle for points. We still have to go out and do the best we can to get as many points as we can."

Knowing the pressure that comes with being in championship contention entering Homestead, will you enjoy the last race of the season simply because there is no pressure?

"Trust me, I'd much rather have the pressure of being the point leader, or even remotely close to the point leader. But being where we are does take a little bit of that edge off. Still, I'd much rather be right there in the middle of the championship knowing that we've got a shot of winning it. Pressure is a part of this business, and we're all used to it by now."

Going into the final race between Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, do you think Johnson has the edge?

"Well, does he have the point lead? Then it doesn't take a rocket science to figure out that he probably has the edge. But anything can happen. It's a 400-mile race and we'll see what happens at the end of the day."

When you won the second of your two championships in 2005, what did you do the week leading into the last race of the season at Homestead when the title was on the line?

"I went home. My favorite thing to do is to go home and be around my friends and my property. I did that until I absolutely had to leave to go to Florida. I don't know what Jimmie (Johnson) did this week, but my recommendation to him would be to go and do whatever his favorite thing is to do away from the race track and have fun. The more relaxed you are going into this weekend, the better off you'll be."

Were you better prepared to clinch the championship in 2005 at Homestead because of your experience when you ran for your first championship in 2002?

"We were so busy the first time, because we were never in that position. Granted, there wasn't a Chase then. There were only about three or four of us at that time that were even a factor. Then when the Chase came around, obviously it was a little different deal, because there were still four or five of us mathematically eligible for it. It's just one of those situations where what we learned from previous championships in the IRL and USAC and all of these other things, you can mentally drain yourself before you even get to that point. The way to combat that is to go out and do your favorite things and go have fun and enjoy the time that you have home before you have to go."

Going into Homestead during your first championship run in 2002, many people were questioning what kind of a champion you would be. Did that put any more pressure on what was already a very pressure-packed weekend?

"In regard to what people were saying about what kind of champion I would be -- no, it didn't put any more pressure on me, because I was the one making fun of everybody for saying that. I still don't know what it means to be a good champion and nobody has really given me a definition of what it means. I've just kind of blown it off, because I think it was some sort of fairy tale idea that a lot of people had in their mind. The last time I checked the champion was the guy who had more points at the end of the year than anybody else. So I don't know what makes a good or a bad champion. I think a champion is a champion, no matter what you're like afterward."

Have your almost nine years of Nextel Cup experience allowed you to know when to push for position and when to settle for what you have?

"I'm not sure when I actually realized all that. I think it's just common sense to know that if you make a mistake and don't finish, it's worse than losing one or two spots because you just don't have the car that's going to get it done that day. It's just something that's always made sense to us. If you wreck the car trying to maintain a spot or get a spot that you think you need, it's risk versus reward. The risk outweighs the reward at that point. A lot of times, it's just easier to let one spot go if you have to, and either wait for the next pit stop or realize that's just all we have for that day."

Explain a lap around Homestead.

"You go off into turn one, and when you get into the banking, you lift. If your car is good, you can go and not use any brake, or very, very little brake. You stay one lane off the bottom, past the transition -- it's a little less banking on the lower level toward the apron -- so you stay one level above that. As soon as your car settles in you can really just mash right back in the gas and just ride that second level around down onto the backstretch. And then you do exactly the same thing going into turn three. A lot of times in turn three, because of the wind direction there, you can actually go into the corner a lot harder and a lot further, actually turning into the corner before you get off the gas. And it's the same thing, once that car settles in, you get on the gas and ride it around to the frontstretch. It's a pretty smooth race track."

You've won two races at Homestead, but it was during its old configuration where it was a much flatter race track. How have you been since they reconfigured the track in 2003 and added more banking?

"They've added a lot of banking since I won there. We were really good there when it was flat, and I've been terrible since they banked it. But I'm looking forward to going there. Every time we've tested there, I've always enjoyed the test. It's a track where I've run well, so I have good memories when I go down there. And the other good thing is that it's the last one of the year, so we know we get a break after that."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing