Las Vegas: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART Las Vegas Means Fast Living ATLANTA (March 1, 2007) -- Las Vegas' fast-paced lifestyle just got a lot faster. Located less than 20 miles north of the city, Las Vegas Motor Speedway has always been fast, but with a ...

TONY STEWART
Las Vegas Means Fast Living

ATLANTA (March 1, 2007) -- Las Vegas' fast-paced lifestyle just got a lot faster. Located less than 20 miles north of the city, Las Vegas Motor Speedway has always been fast, but with a multi-million dollar renovation that included a major reconfiguration to its 1.5-mile oval, the track makes the city it dwells in appear slow.

The main ingredient of change is a switch from the 12 degrees of banking previously employed in the track's corners to a much more robust 20 degrees. And with fresh asphalt augmenting the new banking, speeds in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series have jumped from the low 170 mph range to the high 180s, allowing drivers to cover a mile-and-a-half in under 29 seconds. Ricky Bobby's mantra of "I wanna go fast!" is now best realized at Las Vegas.

Thankfully, Ricky Bobby is a fictional character from the movie Talladega Nights. The guys who not only "wanna go fast" but can handle the ramifications of driving among 42 other drivers at speeds nearly three times the posted speed limit of nearby Interstate 15 will descend upon Las Vegas on March 9 when practice and qualifying gets underway for the March 11 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400.

For Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing, his ninth career Nextel Cup start at Las Vegas is sure to be an interesting one. The two-time Nextel Cup champion is a 6-to-1 favorite over defending Las Vegas race winner Jimmie Johnson, with oddsmakers giving Stewart the nod thanks to his back-to-back wins late last season at Atlanta and Texas. According to prognosticators, the new Las Vegas layout is akin to Atlanta and Texas.

According to Stewart, the new Las Vegas is akin to nothing. But don't tell that to his car. The No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet being brought to Las Vegas is the same No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet that won last year at Atlanta and Texas, as well as the fuel mileage shootout at Kansas. In fact, in seven career starts it's never finished lower than 15th, with two other top-10s to go along with its three victories and 457 laps led.

Stewart, crew chief Greg Zipadelli and the rest of the orange and black attack come to Las Vegas ready for a high-stakes game of high-speed action on the new high-banked oval that is Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

There have been major changes made to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. What did you like about the track before and what are you anticipating this weekend?

"We liked it before because you could actually move around on the race track. You weren't stuck to one groove. It's so fast that Goodyear had to bring a really hard tire. You don't have the mechanical grip that you'd like to have, and now when you get behind someone, you kind of get stuck. You could be two or three tenths faster than somebody and not be able to pass them, because once you get close to them your car gets tight, and then you end up running exactly the same speed as they're running. It's one of those things where it would have been better off if they'd have just left it alone. I guess to a certain degree you've got to at least give them credit for trying to make it better, but I'm not sure they did.

"The old track was really nice. It was relatively smooth with very few bumps in it and plenty of room to run. Now we have a track that's bumpier than we had before and narrower than what we had before."

While you're giving the race track mixed reviews, what do you like about the actual city of Las Vegas?

"I love going to Vegas. You've got the stock car track during the day. You've got the dirt track at night. If you want to stay up real late, you've got everything that Vegas has to offer. If you can't have fun in Vegas, then you're pretty hard to entertain."

You've raced at tracks and been successful at tracks that you weren't too fond of in your USAC and IRL IndyCar Series days. How did you go about preparing for those tracks?

"Easy. No matter where you go you want to win the race. No matter how much you dislike a place, the goal when you get there is to win. That's what our goal is when we go to Las Vegas."

Since Las Vegas is essentially a new race track, how will you approach the weekend?

"I can promise you one thing, I'll make more laps in my first run of the day in The Home Depot Chevrolet than I would if I were in a Sprint car or a Midget practicing at a new race track. Normally when you go to a Sprint car or Midget track, you only get four or five laps of practice on the dirt and that's it. At Las Vegas, I'll use all of the practice time they'll give us. It's just a matter of going out and using the track time as if you were testing. You go out and sneak up on it, steadily improving yourself with each lap."

What's a lap like around the new layout?

"It's almost wide open. When you enter the corner you get out of the gas and as soon as it cuts, you get right back in the gas wide open."

Does going to a new venue prove to be an advantage for the rookie drivers, as for once they have the same amount of seat time at that particular race track than anyone else on the circuit?

"It does. That's what I liked when we went to Homestead (Fla.) in '99. I felt like nobody had an advantage over me there. Nobody knows the secrets at a new race track unless they've tested, and even then they may not know the secrets. And for everybody that's going to Las Vegas, we all pretty much have the same amount of track time on the new layout. It's a whole new ballgame and it's totally up for grabs. It's really anybody's race."

A lot of importance was placed on the California race, and it seems an equal amount of importance is placed on the upcoming race at Las Vegas. Why?

"These early races teach you very quickly where your program is compared to the competition. If your cars are good, you'll run well at California, Vegas, Atlanta, Texas and so on. Everybody wants to know where they stack up and shake up right now. If you can get off to a good start, it shows that your program is really where it needs to be. This is a huge week."

Since the season is still very new, are you less worried about where you finish and more concerned with how you actually run?

"It's not so much that you worry about points as you worry about performance. We ran well at California, but we didn't finish as well as we would've liked. We seemed to stack up well against the Hendrick, Childress and Roush teams, but I'm anxious to do it again at Las Vegas. We want to know -- are we where we need to be? Are we competitive right off the bat? We feel like we're starting this year off well. Las Vegas will be another test, but if The Home Depot Chevrolet drives anywhere like it did at California, I'm going to be real excited about the year."

Joe Gibbs Racing development driver Aric Almirola will attempt to make his first career Nextel Cup start at Las Vegas. What are your thoughts on him and what are his chances at Las Vegas?

"I'm really impressed with him. His attitude is good. His approach to what he's doing is good. I think he's doing things the right way. He's got a good head on his shoulders and it seems like every week he just keeps getting better and better and better. The fun part for us is that he's kind of sneaking up on everybody. I don't think everybody quite realizes how good he really is yet. To see his Busch races last year at Dover and Indy and to see how well he did is proof of that. I think Las Vegas will be a track he'll like. He's run big tracks before with the Truck Series and the Busch Series, so he's got some experience, and with the Cup car I think he'll have a lot of fun."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson , Aric Almirola
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing