Rookie Tony Stewart captured the Pontiac Grand Prix's sixth win of the season in Saturday night's Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400 at Richmond. With one more victory, Pontiac can match the total it accumulated in the previous four seasons ...
Rookie Tony Stewart captured the Pontiac Grand Prix's sixth win of the season in Saturday night's Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400 at Richmond. With one more victory, Pontiac can match the total it accumulated in the previous four seasons combined. The six wins already give Pontiac its third-best season in the modern era (since 1972), tying the six victories the manufacturer scored in 1989. Pontiac had 11 wins in 1993 and eight in 1988.
After 25 races, Pontiac has six wins, 30 top-five and 66 top-10 finishes.
At the same point last season, Pontiac had two wins, 11 top-five and 33 top-10 finishes. That represents an increase of 272.7 percent in top-five and 200 percent in top-10 finishes. Saturday's victory was Pontiac's 60th of the modern-era and 129th overall in NASCAR Winston Cup competition.
'Rushville Rocket' vs. 'Wonder Boy': Because they both hail from Indiana and stepped into the Winston Cup Series following championships in the USAC division, comparisons are inevitable between Stewart and three-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon. Twenty-five races into their rookie seasons, Stewart compares favorably. Stewart has one win, two poles, eight top-five and 16 top-10 finishes with one DNF. At the same point in his rookie season, Gordon had no poles, no wins, six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes with eight DNFs. Stewart is fourth in the point standings; Gordon was ninth.
Stewart is vying to become the first rookie since James Hylton to finish his rookie season ranked among the top-five drivers in the point standings. Hylton finished second in 1966. Stewart stands just 80 points behind second-place Mark Martin.
GIBBS PONTIACS VS. MULTI-CAR GIANTS: Saturday night's 1-2 finish by Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte was the first time this season multi-car team drivers finished 1-2 in a race. Here's how the top two teams from the multi-car teams compare:
DRIVERS POLES WINS TOP-5s TOP-10s PTS. AVG. Labonte/Stewart 6 5 24 33 3.5 Gordon/Labonte 7 6 16 23 7.5 Martin/Burton 0 6 27 27 3.5 Jarrett/Irwin 2 5 21 24 10.5
Note: Tony Stewart heads to New Hampshire, where he was leading the race in July before running out of gas with three laps remaining.
TONY STEWART (No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix): "It's so hard because people only see the professional side of me. They don't get a chance to see the personal side. I didn't run the race Friday night and Jason Leffler ran the Busch race. I wanted to support Jason (by spotting for him). I own half of the Silver Crown car he drives. I feel like Jason deserves a good shot. I got him hooked up with Joe Gibbs and MBNA. I could have gone back to my coach and sat their and relaxed, but I had my spotter from the Winston Cup car and spot for Jason and I came up just to kind of watch him and be there in case he had any questions or anything like that. That's what Bobby (Labonte) used to do for me. It was like clocking out that night. I got to do what I wanted to do and act the way I want to act and have a good time. It would be nice if everyone could write stories about what we do outside the race cars and away from the race track."
DID HAVING A TEAMMATE BEHIND YOU AT RICHMOND HELP ASSURE YOU THAT YOU WOULD BE RACED CLEAN FOR THE WIN?
"Let's put it this way, I would have been very disappointed if he had just given it to me. I would expect him to race me just as hard as anybody else, if not harder. But I knew he was going to take care of me. I knew he wouldn't put me in any compromising positions, he would race me clean. I knew that. I'm not going to call it an insurance policy, but it gave me a sense of security knowing he was back there and knowing that he was one of the team."
IS TOO MUCH MADE OF TEAMMATES IN THIS SPORT?
"I really don't think about it too much. I think about it as at the end of each practice session we all get together and compare notes. There are days when Bobby is really good and I'm struggling at the beginning of the day and there's been days where I'm really good at the beginning and he's struggled. By the end of the weekend both cars manage to be pretty good at the end. That's just a normal routine for us and something we don't really think about. That's what is so unique about these race teams, Bobby's car and my car, is that you don't see that (teamwork) a lot. I guess the only team I see that a lot is Mark Martin and Jeff Burton. You see the success they've had in the past. I've got a lot of respect for Bobby Labonte because I can imagine what he felt like and I can't imagine what his thoughts were going into the season like 'I've got another team and now I've got a rookie to deal with.' He's been a babysitter all season and he's done a great job all season with me. He's been very patient and he's always made sure he's taken time out of his schedule as busy as it has been to make sure I've got everything I need and if I have any questions he makes sure he has time to answer. It's just a great position to be in. I hope we'll be in this position where we'll run 1-2 more often."
IS THIS AS HAPPY AS YOU CAN MAKE JOE GIBBS?
"I know he wants to win Daytona and I'm sure he wants us to be 1-2 in the points championship eventually, but this is a pretty good start."
HAVE YOU REACHED A POINT WHERE YOU FEEL YOU REALLY BELONG ON THIS LEVEL?
"I was really surprised at the beginning of the season. Nobody was really rough with me at the beginning of the year. You had guys that were testing you a little bit, but nobody was really roughing me up and taking me out. I thought the first half of the season was going to be really rough. It's hard to pick a point in the season where I think things changed because everything went so smoothly at the beginning of the year and everybody treated me so nice and were so open with information, there really wasn't a transformation. I never really thought about if I belonged. I felt if Joe Gibbs believed in me and Bobby Labonte believed in me than I belonged because they felt like I belonged, so I really didn't think about that aspect. But I was surprised how they accepted and how well they treated me at the beginning of the season up until this point."
IF YOU HADN'T WON A RACE THIS YEAR, WOULD YOU HAVE A HOLLOW FEELING?
"I wouldn't have looked back and regretted any of it. Like I said, we always talk about how competitive the series is. I never expected to win a race, even with as close as we've been. I still didn't expect to win a race by the end of the season. It's a luxury to win. If we can still finish top-five in points, I'm going to be doing back flips across the stage at New York, if I can learn how to do them. I might sprain something. Like I've said, it's like a dream come true for me to be involved in this series. It's been more than I dreamed could have happened in a rookie season. It's not because of Tony Stewart. It's because of Joe Gibbs and Greg Zipadelli and the people at Home Depot. It's definitely a team effort. I'm a rookie in Winston Cup and I'm not a rookie in racing. I've been racing 20 years and I know what it takes to win races with race teams and how that chemistry has to be there and the team has to gel. From Day One, this race team, we came out of the box and we acted like we'd worked with each other all our lives. We never felt like we had to learn each other. We all just got into the deal and acted like we'd known each other all our lives. I've only had about three teams like this. We've really got something special here. This is one of those situations where I'm going to monitor all my guys' phone numbers and phone calls and make sure nobody is calling them and trying to hire them away. This is a team that has a lot of potential for the future, I believe."