Man of many hats at Michigan ATLANTA (Aug. 12, 2003) - To say that Tony Stewart will be a busy man this weekend at Michigan International Speedway would be an understatement. The driver of the ...
Man of many hats at Michigan
ATLANTA (Aug. 12, 2003) - To say that Tony Stewart will be a busy man this weekend at Michigan International Speedway would be an understatement. The driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series will double-dip at Michigan, running the NASCAR Busch Series race and the Winston Cup race. He will also swap helmets for a headset when he visits Knoxville, Iowa for the 43rd annual Knoxville Nationals.
A regular on the Winston Cup circuit since 1999, Stewart's last Busch Series start came at Homestead (Fla.) in November of 1998. When Stewart takes the wheel of the #8 Three Doors Down Chevrolet for Chance 2 Motorsports in Saturday's Cabela's 250, he will make his 37th Busch Series start - four-and-a-half-years after making his 36th Busch Series start. The Chance 2 team - owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. - has won four times in its eight career starts, which is great news for Stewart, who looks to obtain his first Busch Series victory.
Soon after what hopes to be a victory lane celebration, Stewart will jet off to the Knoxville Nationals, where he will watch his World of Outlaws driver - Danny Lasoski - compete for a third Knoxville Nationals championship. On the line in Knoxville are points and pride. Lasoski is currently locked in a heated championship battle with 17-time World of Outlaws champion Steve Kinser, who recently took the lead from Lasoski after he led the points for 45 of the first 46 events. As the winningest driver in Knoxville track history with 81 career victories and seven track championships, Lasoski aims to get that point lead back.
And when Sunday morning finally dawns, Stewart the car owner will return to being Stewart The Home Depot Chevrolet driver for the GFS Marketplace 400. It's a whirlwind weekend of racing, but for the man who bleeds oil, it's the perfect weekend.
Will the time spent competing in the Busch Series race this weekend help in your preparation for the Winston Cup race?
"I don't think it'll hurt me, by any means. But still, the Cup car is the Cup car and the Busch car is the Busch car. They are different. What we learn with the Busch car might help us on the Cup side. But certainly running the Busch car isn't going to hurt us in any way."
Have you had the chance to run a Busch car since your last official start at Homestead in 1998?
"That's actually the last Busch race I've run, which was for Joe Gibbs before I moved to Cup. I kind of felt bad leaving that series and going into Winston Cup knowing that I had never won a Busch Series race. Now for me, this weekend is an opportunity to hopefully get that first Busch Series win under my belt. Of all the types of cars I've driven in my career, there are only two that I haven't won in yet - a Busch Series car and a sports car."
"The first time I see the Three Doors Down car will be this weekend. As much as we're gone traveling, the first time I even sit in the car will be this Friday for practice. But Bono (Kevin Manion, crew chief) and his guys do a great job every time they prepare a car. I've got a lot of confidence going into this weekend that everything will be right when I get there."
How much do you think the Busch Series has changed from when you ran there in 1998?
"I think the Busch Series has progressed the same way the Winston Cup Series has progressed. The sponsorship dollars have gone up and the level of competition has gone up. There are still a dozen good cars each week that can go out and win the race. You're still working with the same group of people who can go out and win each week."
Was there much of a difference in the feel of the two cars when you made the transition from Busch to Cup in 1999?
"It's hard to say. I had a different group of guys working on my Busch car than what I had, and still have, in Winston Cup with The Home Depot team. It'll be interesting driving for this team in the Busch Series versus my previous experiences in Busch cars. It seemed like it was quite a bit different in some ways, but at a big track like Michigan, I don't anticipate there being much of a difference between the two series."
Many Winston Cup races as of late have been decided on fuel mileage rather than actual racing for position. Is that frustrating to you as a driver, or do you consider fuel mileage to be just another part of the sport?
"Between fuel mileage and track position being factors to win races, it's making Winston Cup racing boring. It's pretty disappointing when the best cars don't always have a chance to win because of fuel mileage or bad track position. It's a trend that I hope comes to an end soon."
What percentages would you put on a comparison between the importance of horsepower and handling at Michigan?
"It's probably about 50/50. You need to have an aerodynamic car, but you've got to have the horsepower to pull it, too. You can't have one and not the other and expect to go to Michigan and win the race."
Track position and pit strategy seem to be the two biggest variables at Michigan. When and how do you make the decision to sacrifice tires for track position, or depending on the circumstances, track position for tires?
"I think it just depends on how your car is working. If your car is driving well, one that keeps you up toward the front all day because it's fast, then just two tires can keep you pretty quick. In that situation, you could make a big gain at the end by just taking on two tires and maintaining your track position. Even some guys who are behind and don't have their car the way they want, by taking on two tires, the track position they gain helps out more than four tires would. But when you get right down to it, I think Michigan is a track where if your car's good, then it doesn't matter whether you take two tires or four."
Michigan is a track where a driver can search for different grooves, as opposed to Indianapolis or New Hampshire, where there is really only one true groove. As a driver, do you appreciate that more?
"It's nice knowing that as a driver you can help yourself out and you're not relying so much on the car. Regardless of what everyone else is doing, you can find a way to help yourself out. It makes you feel good knowing that because the place is so wide, you can move around, and basically, earn your money that day."
At what point do you start to move around on the race track to find a better handle for your race car?
"As soon as you feel like you're not where you need to be. If you feel like you're slower than the pace you need to be running, you're going to move up the race track and find a place that helps balance your race car. Really, from the drop of the green flag, you do it from there on out."
In addition to running the Busch and Cup races at Michigan, you'll spend Saturday night in Knoxville, Iowa to watch your World of Outlaws driver - Danny Lasoski - compete for a third Knoxville Nationals championship. For those who don't follow the World of Outlaws, what makes the Knoxville Nationals such an important race?
"The Knoxville Nationals is our Daytona 500 or Indy car racing's Indy 500. It's the biggest sprint car race of the year. The best of the best come from all over the country. They even come from as far away as Australia to run at one venue for four straight nights. It's not like winning a weekly World of Outlaws event. You're racing in an all-star race with guys from all over the country. When you win the Knoxville Nationals, you've beaten the very best there is in winged sprint car racing."
As a car owner you won the 2001 Knoxville Nationals with Lasoski, then you went on to win the series championship.
"That was definitely my first big win as a car owner. I guess I was just more excited for our team more than anything because those guys had worked so hard to be competitive for that race. We had been competitive all year anyway, but to come out as a full-time Outlaw team and win the Knoxville Nationals in our first year together - that pretty much put us at a level not only in our minds, but in our competition's minds that we weren't there to mess around. We meant business. Everywhere we go we want to be a factor to win every race. After winning the Nationals as a rookie team, we proved that we had the right ingredients in place and that we made the right decisions in how our program was going to be built. Nobody doubted Danny's ability, Jimmy's (Carr, crew chief) ability or the crew's ability. It was just a matter of getting the right people and the right equipment in place."