ATLANTA (May 30, 2001) - If one were to look at Tony Stewart's track record in 2000, the race that made the biggest impact on Stewart's season was the MBNA Platinum 400 at Dover (Del.) Downs International Speedway. Prior to the spring 400-miler...
ATLANTA (May 30, 2001) - If one were to look at Tony Stewart's track record in 2000, the race that made the biggest impact on Stewart's season was the MBNA Platinum 400 at Dover (Del.) Downs International Speedway.
Prior to the spring 400-miler at Dover, Stewart hadn't won a race and was 10th in points. He wasn't down and out, but he wasn't on a hot streak either.
But after leading 242 laps at the one-mile oval en route to a dominating win, Stewart became the hottest driver in Winston Cup. The Dover win led to another win the very next week at Michigan. Three top-10 finishes at Pocono (Pa.), Sears Point (Calif.) and Daytona (Fla.) followed before Stewart won again at Loudon (N.H.). During that span, Stewart led a total of 452 laps and climbed to fifth in points. When the series returned to Dover in the fall, Stewart won again, leading 163 laps.
He became the seventh driver to sweep both Dover races in a single season, joining David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Bill Elliott, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon. Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Harry Gant were also quite proficient at Dover, as each was able to score back-to-back wins in successive years. But when Stewart returns to Dover this year, he has the opportunity to join Pearson, Wallace and Gordon as the only drivers able to win three straight Dover races.
To help aid this cause as well as his point tally, Stewart tested at Dover May 14-15. Currently sixth in points, 149 behind series leader Dale Jarrett, Stewart looks to capitalize on his Dover success much in the same fashion he did last year.
How do you feel about the possibility of extending your winning streak to three at Dover?
"It's a place that I'm looking forward to going back to, but the tire is different again. It can always change the variables around just as easy as anything can. We went and tested The Home Depot Pontiac there and felt like we had a pretty good test, so I'm excited about going back. I would love to keep the streak going."
Did the recent spring rubber rule change make your test obsolete, or are you still able to benefit from your notes?
"I think we're still able to take quite a bit away from it. Our cars have always have always driven well there, so I don't think it's really going to matter to us which package they make us run. We'll adjust around it."
Were you surprised by how dominant you were last year 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 for the spring race just from the past runs we had the year before. But I don't think we anticipated being as dominant as we were at both races."
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."
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 know 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."
Does trouble happen faster at Dover than some of the other tracks on the circuit?
"I don't think it's any worse there than anywhere else. Where the problems normally happen as far as accidents are concerned, it's not usually getting into the corners and through the center of the corner, but coming off the corners. The straightaways have so much banking that a car that crashes into the wall coming off the corner - it's kind of a 'two-for-one special.' - you get the outside wall and then you slide down and hit the inside wall. That's where you can get into a lot of trouble as far as catching other drivers in the same accident."
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 at Dover during your rookie year. 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 had 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 in 1999?
"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."
After everything you did during the month of May, from winning at Richmond (Va.) to going back and forth between Charlotte (N.C.) and Indianapolis, is it good to get back on a regular schedule again?
"Yeah, definitely. It's just going to be nice to get back to the normal deal. My schedule during the first half of the year is extremely busy. I'm really looking forward to the last half of the year. My schedule opens up and I get to do some things I want to do. I'll get more of a chance to relax, and at that point it will start getting a lot easier.
"The reason we booked everything early in the year and tried to do as much stuff as we're doing is because since January 1, I've felt like getting stuff done. I'm excited about getting it all done and getting it out of the way. That way I can focus on hopefully trying to get caught up in the points the last half of the year."
It seems as though Joe Gibbs Racing has undergone a resurgence as of late. Why do you think that is?
"We've done a lot of testing and we've tried a lot of things that we've never tried before, and some of it has helped. I'm not sure what the reason is. I just know we're doing better. We're not scared to try new things and I think with this tire you have to try things that are a little bit off par and a little bit different. Some other guys have already done that and been successful with it. It's not trying to re-invent the wheel, but you just kind of get stuck in a rhythm and get stuck with a certain way of setting the car up for different tracks. Now this tire has forced you to drive different, to set the car up different for that. I'm not sure we've got it yet, but I think we're getting a little better handle on it right now."