Indianapolis: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART Round No. 20 to the No. 20? ATLANTA (July 23, 2008) -- 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 ...

TONY STEWART
Round No. 20 to the No. 20?

ATLANTA (July 23, 2008) -- 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 machine for Joe Gibbs Racing onto his second NASCAR Sprint 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 Sprint Cup Series -- comes back to Indy hoping he can answer a question that's been dogging him for much of the summer -- "How would it feel to finally win this season?"

Ironically, round No. 20 on the Sprint Cup schedule may be the perfect venue for Stewart and the No. 20 Home Depot Racing Team to secure that long-awaited win.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is Stewart's home turf, as the former U.S. Auto Club (USAC) and IRL IndyCar Series champion grew up about 45 minutes from the spacious 2.5-mile oval in the towns of Columbus and Rushville. In fact, before Stewart made his debut at Indianapolis in the 1996 Indianapolis 500 -- where he started on the pole no less -- he drove a tow truck while trying to make ends meet as an aspiring USAC driver.

Stewart would drive down Georgetown Road toward 16th Street, running parallel with the speedway's 3,330-foot-long frontstretch, and wonder what it would be like 300 feet to the left running at 200 mph.

He finally got to experience that feeling in 1996, but it would be an agonizing 10 years before Stewart experienced his ultimate wish -- winning at Indy.

But after standing inside the speedway's victory circle in 2005, it only took a year and 209 days for Stewart to score his second Indy triumph when he led seven times for a race-high 65 laps en route to a dominating win in last year's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

Stewart would love to score his breakthrough win of his 2008 campaign at the track where he's already won twice and led 345 laps in 17 races among three different divisions -- NASCAR, Indy car and IROC.

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

Now that you're a two-time winner of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, and what does it mean to go back to that track as a two-time and reigning race champion?

"You're obviously proud when you go back, especially after the first year. I don't think we got to enjoy that win as much as we did the second year. I think the first year it was more of just a huge weight lifted off our shoulders that we accomplished a lifelong dream of ours. And I think last year it was a chance that we really got to enjoy it with our team. We were able to enjoy the win that night versus just the emotional drain of just finally accomplishing a goal like it was the first time around."

Could you compare your first race at Indy in a stock car during your rookie season in 1999 to how it is today?

"The cars have changed a lot since I ran there in '99 as a rookie, and this year is going to be another landmark year of bringing the current-generation car there for the first time. Obviously, this is a significant year with bringing a totally new designed car into the series full-time, and to the bigger tracks. So this year will even be more different than last year and all of the races in the past.

"I think as times have gone on and as the series has evolved, it's kind of been neat to see. The one thing about the Brickyard is there's outstanding performances by teams when they're able to win. It's not a track where you can back into a win. Track position helps you, but it doesn't win you the race. It always boils down to who has got the best handling car and the best straight-line speed. That combination is very important there, and there's always been some really good one-on-one battles late in the race that have decided the winner of this event. That is what makes this race so special.

"You're not going to have one of those finishes where you've got two guys side-by-side coming to the checkered flag, but it's normally going to be decided before that, and it's always fun to watch a team when they have a good day there.

"The two races that we've won there, you pray that when you've got a lead and that when you're pulling away, that you don't get a caution late and that you just have to hit your marks. But you've got four opportunities to make a mistake, versus two opportunities a lap, so it always makes it more nerve-wracking. Those last 10 laps of the race seem like they take forever when you're leading."

The Allstate 400 at the Brickyard pays the same amount of points as any other Sprint 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 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."

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."

-credit: jgr

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