CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Sept. 26, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the ...
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Sept. 26, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, gets to go from one end of the racing spectrum to the other this week.
After scoring a dominating win last Sunday at Dover (Del.), Stewart's statistics are beyond impressive at the "Monster Mile." In four career starts at the concrete oval, his average finish is second, thanks to two wins, one second-place finish and one fourth-place finish. Also, in the 1,600 possible laps that Stewart has completed, he has led 629 of them (39 percent).
This Sunday, however, the other end of the spectrum presents itself to Stewart. It comes in the form of a .526-mile oval known as Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. There, Stewart's average finish in three career starts is 22nd, where his best finish is sixth - a run which came at this year's spring race. Despite the numbers, including zero laps led, Stewart has enjoyed a little success at Martinsville, as it's the site of his first career Winston Cup pole. But, as Stewart is quick to point out, poles don't win a driver any points - finishes win points. Strong finishes, top-five or better, win a driver a lot of points.
Those kinds of runs haven't happened for Stewart at Martinsville, and his frustration as to why is readily apparent. Thankfully, it's tempered by the fervor of Martinsville's fans.
"The only reason I like going to Martinsville is the people," said Stewart before making his third trip to the venerable short track earlier this season. "They make it fun. But racing at Martinsville - it's like racing around a parking lot with a curb around it."
In the 19 races since his last visit to Martinsville, Stewart's opinions haven't changed.
The NAPA AutoCare 500 will mark your fourth trip to Martinsville. Do you still dislike going there?
"I like the people there. The race fans that go there, I would take anywhere in the country and put them up against anyone in the country. But as far as the race track goes, it's not my favorite race track. It's just one of those places where it's hard to get around without getting a doughnut on your door by the end of the day."
When there is a track where you don't necessarily like racing, how do you get yourself mentally prepared to go racing?
"I'll just go to Martinsville and worry about doing my job. We'll still go out and try to win the race just like we do every week. It's all about concentration. If you don't concentrate there and keep your mind focused on what you're doing lap after lap, you're going to have two long days and a lot worse day on Sunday. Even though it's not my favorite place on the circuit, we all work just as hard when we show up there. I still try to do the best job that I can in the race car to get the best finish that we can for The Home Depot team."
When there is a track where you don't necessarily like racing, how big a role does your crew chief (Greg Zipadelli) play in coaching you through the weekend?
"Greg's a pretty good cheerleader. If I'm discouraged about something, he always gives me a way to look at the positive side of a situation. If you have a bad run in qualifying, you just need to concentrate on the race. Once qualifying is over - it's over. You just have to shift gears and get in race mode at that point."
If you were to rank the short tracks in terms of beating and banging, where would you rank Martinsville?
"As far as where the most beating and banging occurs, I'd say that Martinsville is number one. Everybody's cars are torn up when they leave Martinsville - even the guy who wins, his car is half torn up by the end of the race. Martinsville isn't the easiest place on equipment."
Is Martinsville like Bristol (Tenn.) when it comes to dealing with lapped traffic?
"It's probably worse than it is at Bristol from the standpoint that the cars are so tightly bunched. Normally, the traffic isn't terrible there. The guys who are a lap down are pretty good about letting you by."
Why is anger management sometimes so difficult at Martinsville?
"It can be really hard. You've got to be patient, but you've got to race hard. It's one of those tracks that forces you to race hard. But at the same time, you've got to make sure you take care of your equipment. You'll make things rough on yourself if you tear your car up early."
>From a driver's standpoint, what's the most important part of racing at Martinsville?
"You obviously don't want to use any more brake than you have to. We'll work on getting The Home Depot Pontiac driving well up off the corner all day, because forward bite is a big issue."
Where are the prime passing spots at Martinsville?
"Anywhere that you can get by a guy. I mean, I've seen guys pass on the outside and guys pass on the inside. Anywhere there's an opportunity to pass, you need to take it. At the beginning of a run, you can make some moves on the outside if your car is working. The nice thing is that the track's a pretty racy race track - for a parking lot."
How does a qualifying lap differ from a race lap at Martinsville?
"Probably just with the chassis setup. You drive it about the same."
Is Martinsville similar to any track you've raced on before?
"Yeah, probably Calistoga, Calif. I think it's a strip mall now, so maybe that explains why Martinsville feels like a parking lot. It was the same thing. It had really long straightaways and really tight corners. The same things applied when it came to driving technique. It was easy to use too much brake there, and it was always hard to get forward bite. It was just on a smaller scale."
Do you have a love/hate relationship with Martinsville?
"I haven't loved it yet. I still hate it. If it's a love/hate relationship, then we're missing the love part of the equation. Like I said, the people make it fun because they're really enthusiastic. That makes racing there fun. But the track is just a tricky place to get around."