CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Sept. 18, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the ...
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Sept. 18, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, returns to the site of one of the most dominating wins of his young career - Dover (Del.) Downs International Speedway.
After having led 224 of 800 possible laps last year at Dover without notching a win, Stewart arrived this year at the "Monster Mile" gunning for a victory. He did just that at this year's spring event, mowing down the competition by leading 242 laps en route to his first victory of the season. That win was backed up by another triumph at Michigan the very next week, and in the 12 races since that time, Stewart has finished outside of the top-10 just three times.
During that span, Stewart notched another win at New Hampshire in July and moved from ninth to as high as fifth in the championship point standings. The familiar orange and white colors of The Home Depot machine have been at the front of the pack ever since, but win number four has been just out of the grasp of Stewart and Co.
Knowing the dominance that the team displayed this spring, Stewart is looking for a repeat performance this Sunday at Dover's MBNA.com 400. Claiming that elusive fourth win would be more than just a win; it would serve as a catalyst for the team in the eight races remaining on the schedule.
Were you surprised by how dominant you were in the spring race at Dover?
"I was surprised that we were as dominant as we were. I had a feeling we were going to be good when we got there just from the past runs we had the year before. But I don't think we anticipated being as dominant as we were."
How do you try to duplicate that kind of a performance?
"You just try to keep up with the track conditions. Nothing else really changes. But that doesn't mean that you can get lazy. If you just assume that you're going to be good, then that's when you're going to get beat because guys are going to make changes and they're going to come back with better cars then they left there with. So, we have to keep up and make that same gain that they do in order for us to keep that advantage. We can't stop doing our work. We've got to do the same thing that they're doing, while trying to be a little faster yet. If you get complacent with the fact that you think you're good enough to win, then that's when you're going to get beat."
Even though you've been running very well, the wins haven't come since your last win in July at New Hampshire. How important would a win be at Dover in relation to the championship point chase?
"It's definitely important for us. We need to take every one of the tracks where we feel we're strong and we need to be able to capitalize on those days and gain as many points as possible. There are some tracks where we're going to struggle, because they're tracks where I struggle. So, we need to take advantage of tracks like Dover, where this Home Depot team does run well, and try to get as many points as possible."
You race the same chassis at the concrete tracks - Dover and Bristol (Tenn.). Do you use the same kind of driving technique that you do at the asphalt tracks?
"I think there's just a sense as to how much grip the concrete has. I don't why we take the same car, other than the fact that Bristol and Dover are kind of the same. It's really just a matter of figuring out the grip of the concrete and what you can do inside the car to maximize that."
Does Dover feel like a bigger version of Bristol Motor Speedway?
"To a certain degree, yeah, it is like Bristol. Those tracks share a lot of the same characteristics. It seems like the guys who run well at Bristol run well at Dover."
Does Dover put the same amount of physical strain on you that Bristol does?
"Definitely. The biggest thing is the fact that you're in the corners for so long and you run so fast there. It just keeps putting a lot of load on your body all day long. That's why Dover is such a physically demanding race."
Explain a lap around Dover.
"What you do for qualifying is totally different from what you do in the race. Basically, a lot of the cars qualify down on the bottom of the track, but by the time you're about 40 or 50 laps into the race, there are cars all the way from the bottom of the race track to right up against the outside wall. That's a big difference in between. Basically, everybody just searches around on the race track looking for a spot that makes their car happy. So obviously, we're going to try and make The Home Depot Pontiac as happy as possible."
You finished no worse than fourth in the two races held last year at Dover. Was that another case of going to a race track where you felt comfortable right away?
"Yeah, I took to that place pretty quickly. I just felt comfortable there. Plus, Joe Gibbs Racing has always has a good setup for The Home Depot Pontiac at that track. It's one of those tracks that suits my driving style, and we always seem to be able to put together a good run there."
Before you raced at Dover in a Cup car, you raced there in a Busch car and in an Indy Racing League (IRL) entry. How did those experiences help you for when you first visited Dover last year?
"The Busch Series definitely helped. We had good race cars in the Busch Series. It was definitely a case of learning a lot with a good Busch car before going there with a good Cup car. We had one of our best runs in the Busch Series at Dover. The IRL is a totally different animal. So, I couldn't apply much, if anything, from that."
Does Dover have some characteristics from other tracks that you've raced on in your career?
"Not really. Dover's pretty unique. First of all, it's the only one-mile track that we go to that's concrete. Then it has such big corners. You're in the corner there for a long, long time. You really don't get much of a chance to take a break and relax."
<pre> TONY STEWART'S DOVER PERFORMANCE PROFILE Year Event Start Finish Status/Laps Earnings 2000 MBNA Platinum 400 16 1 Running/400 $152,830 1999 MBNA Platinum 400 24 4 Running/399 $63,205 MBNA Gold 400 3 2 Running/400 $88,875