Indianapolis: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART Asked & Answered ATLANTA (July 24, 2007) -- Tony Stewart finally began to enjoy coming to Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he no longer had to answer the question, "How would it feel to finally win at Indy?" Stewart answered that...

TONY STEWART
Asked & Answered

ATLANTA (July 24, 2007) -- Tony Stewart finally began to enjoy coming to Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he no longer had to answer the question, "How would it feel to finally win at Indy?"

Stewart answered that question with an emotional victory in the 2005 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard -- a win that launched the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing onto his second NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series championship.

Now Stewart -- the only driver with a championship under the old points format in what we used to know as Winston Cup (2002) and a championship in the Chase-driven Nextel Cup Series -- comes back to Indy no longer having to answer a similar question that had dogged him for much of the summer -- "How would it feel to finally win this season?"

Stewart gave an emphatic answer to that question July 15 at Chicagoland Speedway when he scored his 30th career Nextel Cup victory and his first of the season by leading six times for a race-high 106 laps, including the final 36. The dominant win snapped a 20-race winless streak and allowed Stewart to come to Indy with good posture, for the pressure of having led 660 laps but not having ended any of the 18 previous races in victory lane this year was beginning to weigh on the Columbus, Ind.-native.

Back on his home turf, the former U.S. Auto Club (USAC) and IRL IndyCar Series champion enters this year's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard intent on nabbing a second Indy win. With no other distractions about, Stewart has a laser-like focus to kiss the bricks for a second time and use a strong performance at Indy to position him solidly for a third series championship.

Six times during the 13-year history of NASCAR's pilgrimage to Indy, the winner of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard has gone on to win the championship. Stewart did it in 2005, and carrying the momentum from his win at Chicagoland, he'll look to do it again.

Why does Indy seem to be such a barometer in determining who will win the championship?

"It just seems to be if you have the package that's right to win there, it's a package that pretty much keeps you ahead of the game at a bunch of the tracks that we run in the Chase too. It's just one of those places where if you can run well, it seems like your program is where it needs to be for the Chase."

The Allstate 400 at the Brickyard pays the same amount of points as any other Nextel Cup race. Why is it such a big deal for you?

"It's my home race, obviously. Growing up in Indiana and every year watching the Indy 500 and the whole month of May leading up to it, a race at the Brickyard is more than just a regular points race. It's always been a big race to all of the Cup drivers, but then when you grow up in Indiana, it just makes it that much more important."

What was your first childhood memory of Indy?

"I came with my father. We were in some bus that had a luggage rack in the top of it. You had to get up at o-dark-30 to get on the bus to ride up to Indy for race day. They threw me up in the luggage rack. Somebody gave me a pillow and everybody started throwing their jackets on top of me to keep me warm. The ride home wasn't nearly as cool, because after a long day at the track, everybody but my dad and I were kind of rowdy. I was probably five years old. We sat in turns three and four. We were two rows up, right in the middle of the short chute. The hard thing was you could hardly see anything. The cars were so fast. They were a blur. But to see those cars under caution and smell the methanol fumes and everything, it was still pretty cool."

What makes Indy such a hard track to get around?

"It's a place that is a momentum-driven track. You don't just have two ends to the race track and two big 180-degree corners. You've got four 90-degree corners to negotiate. If you have one bad corner at Indy and if your car's not right, you're going to be bad in four corners versus two corners a lap. And with it being two-and-a-half miles, you carry so much speed, if you lose momentum at that track, it just seems like it's really a big penalty."

On that note, how important is the team element at Indy -- from crew chief to engineers to tire specialists?

"That part of it is no different from any other race. You still need the same people in the same places and you need to have the right equation. Track position is important. Pit strategy is important. There's just a lot of variables and a lot of things that in 160 laps can either go right or go really wrong."

How much more enjoyable is it going to Indy now that you finally have a Brickyard win under your belt?

"It's a lot more enjoyable. Especially all the years before we won, that was the most frustrating part of going to Indy. It was increasingly more frustrating each year that went by before we won. Having to answer the question, 'What would it be like to win?' Since 2005, we've only been back once, but going back you don't have that big weight on your shoulders and that question of, 'What is it going to feel like?' You know what it's going to feel like if you win it. You know how much you appreciated it and in all reality it makes it easier to focus on what you're trying to do instead of having to deal with the circus that's going on around it."

There's a debate that Indy has become bigger than the Daytona 500. Do you think that's true, or do you think the Brickyard is just a bigger race for you?

"I don't know that I'm qualified to speak on whether it's bigger in the sport or not, but for me it's always been bigger, just because I know the history of the Indianapolis 500 a lot better than I know the history of the Daytona 500. They're both goals each year. It's not that you want to win Indy and you don't want to win Daytona. You want to win both of those races, because they're both marquee events."

Can you compare a lap around Indy in an Indy car to a lap around Indy in a stock car?

"In an Indy car you just don't lift -- if the car's right. But in a stock car, even if it's right, you've got to lift and you've got to brake for at least two of the corners. With the other two corners, you just lift, basically. It's a challenging track in a Cup car. It's a challenging track in an Indy car too, but if you can get it right in an Indy car then you can run it wide-open around there, and that's one less variable you've got to worry about when it comes to getting around the race track."

You get asked this every year, but is the desire still there to get back to the Brickyard in an Indy car despite the fact it's probably not realistic because you're a full-time Nextel Cup driver?

"Logistics-wise, it's impossible to do it and be a Nextel Cup driver. They moved the start time back two hours and that takes all the window away of being able to get done what needs to get done in Indy and get to Charlotte and be in the car in time to start the race. Can it happen down the road after my Cup career, if and when it ends? You never know. I've learned to never say never."

When you raced in USAC you had an eye pointed toward Indianapolis, but only in regard to running an Indy car. Now drivers running in USAC still seem to have their sights set on Indy, but it's in regard to running a stock car. What caused this change?

"Jeff Gordon was probably the biggest influence. He had a lot of success in USAC -- won a lot of races. He wasn't just handed an opportunity in NASCAR. He earned his way down there. When he got the opportunity to go to NASCAR, he opened up a lot of opportunities for drivers like myself. And the TV package that USAC had at the time with the Thursday Night Thunder Series on ESPN, it brought guys from all over the country because of the recognition that could be earned from running USAC. We had guys coming from Pennsylvania, California, Colorado, Wisconsin and Illinois to participate in USAC races because of Jeff's success and the opportunity that he had to come to NASCAR. Indy cars weren't an option at the time because unless you brought a big-dollar sponsor, you weren't going to get a ride. When Jeff had his success down South, it boosted everybody's spirits and helped show everyone in USAC that it was a reality and that if they had the same kind of results that Jeff had on the track, then it could happen to them too."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing