Stewart relying on crew chief's help at Bristol

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Stewart relying on crew chief's help at Bristol

Stewart-Haas Racing press release

TONY STEWART
The Addington Advantage

KANNAPOLIS, N.C., (March 15, 2012) – Call it the “Addington Advantage”.

Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Since 2008 in a span of 16 races – eight at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and eight at Dover (Del.) International Speedway – crew chief Steve Addington has notched four wins, six top-threes, seven top-fives and nine top-10s with two different drivers (Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch), who have combined to lead 1,398 laps (1,026 laps led for Kyle Busch, 372 laps led for Kurt Busch). Only three finishes were outside the top-20.

In those same races, Tony Stewart recorded zero wins, two second-place finishes and five top-10 results with 275 laps led. Seven other finishes were outside the top-20.

As the statistics show, Bristol and Dover have proven to be a concrete conundrum for Stewart, as he has struggled mightily in comparison at the only two concrete tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit.

Addington, meanwhile, has excelled. His knowledge of Bristol’s .533-mile bullring and Dover’s 1-mile oval helped deliver three wins to Kyle Busch (June 2008 at Dover, March 2009 at Bristol and August 2009 at Bristol) and one win to older brother Kurt Busch (September 2011 at Dover).

In 2012, the “Addington Advantage” is Stewart’s, as the veteran crew chief joined Stewart-Haas Racing and the driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala at the end of the 2011 season.

The pairing has already proven successful. The duo won the non-points Gatorade Duel in February at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and then scored their first point-paying victory in the third race of the Sprint Cup season last Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Now they head to Bristol, site of Sunday’s Food City 500. Addington plans to pick up where he left off with the Busch Brothers, while Stewart seeks a pick-me-up from Addington, a winner of 17 Sprint Cup races as a crew chief (12 with Kyle Busch, four with Kurt Busch and one with Stewart).

With the “Addington Advantage” now in his corner, expect the Stewart of old, who has led a total of 1,354 laps in 26 career Sprint Cup starts at Bristol – but only two laps led in his last six races in Thunder Valley – to come roaring back.

TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:

You’ve enjoyed success at Bristol in the past, but of late it’s proven to be a challenging venue. Why?

“Whatever we’ve had in the past, we’re not bringing back. I told Steve (Addington) at our competition meeting on Tuesday, I don’t care what package you put in the car, just make sure it isn’t what we ran the last two races there.

“It’s a track where we’ve struggled, but a track that I enjoy and like a lot. We’ve led a lot of laps there. We just don’t have the wins to show for it.

“We’ve run terrible there the last two or three races, so we’re looking forward to a new package, and coming off the win at Vegas is definitely the momentum we need to get started off on the right foot on Friday. I’m definitely looking forward to getting there on Friday.”

It’s still early in the season, but how has your relationship with Addington developed?

“Steve and I spent a lot of time in Daytona together, and we got to spend some time together between Phoenix and Las Vegas. A lot of the crew guys stayed out for that West Coast swing, too. We all got to spend time together as a team. When you have a new team leader like that, it’s important for myself and for all the guys to try and spend as much time with each other as we can, so that all of us to get to know him a little better and for him to get to know his guys. It was fun to watch while we were in Vegas. We’ve all been together a short amount of time, but it looks we’ve been together a lot longer than we really have.”

Can you summarize your history at Bristol?

“Bristol is one of those places where you’ve got to have everything kind of go your way. If you have one hiccup, it’s hard to recover from it. We’ve only won one race there and we’ve kind of been all over the board. It’s been feast or famine for us. It’s like if you have one problem in the first half of the race, it’s hard to recover from it. It makes for a very long day. We’ve had more long days than good days.”

How miserable is it when you get several laps down at a track like Bristol?

“It’s a place where it’s hard to have a good day. There are so many variables that can go wrong at Bristol versus other tracks. If you have that one bad incident that gets you in the back, it’s hard to recover from that. There are guys who have done it and do a good job at it, but you have to have a great racecar to be able to recover from something bad, especially if you get laps down. It’s like going from the bottom of the mountain and climbing and climbing and not getting anywhere. You fight and fight and fight and at the end of the day you’re right where you were when you had your problem.”

Has overcoming adversity at Bristol been made easier by the repaving job the track underwent in 2007?

“I definitely like the track the way it is now. I know there has been a lot of debate on whether it is better or whether it was better the old way. I like it because we at least get to use the whole racetrack now, and we don’t have to just sit there and drive through each other to pass. You actually get to race guys now. I enjoy that side of it. I think it’s a lot more fun. Sometimes because it’s more fun doesn’t mean you’re successful at it. That’s what makes it challenging.”

Bristol is the first short track race of the season. What are your expectations?

“I think the one thing Bristol does is reset all of the grudges from the short tracks. I think guys forget about someone who may have given them fits last year at Bristol or Martinsville. I think everyone starts at square one. It’s nice to start with our first short track at Bristol. It’s something we all look forward to because it’s a one-of-a-kind racetrack. There are high banks like Salem and Winchester in Indiana, but they are nothing like Bristol. Everybody gets excited just because it’s Bristol. It’s hard to win there. One of my favorite trophies is my Bristol trophy from the win in 2000. I keep asking myself why I only have one of them. It’s just a hard race to win. When guys win there, they don’t just stand on the car and go, ‘Whoo.” They usually scream when they get out of the car because it’s such a hard place to win.”

STEVE ADDINGTON, Crew Chief of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:

You’re a new crew chief for the driver and team that just won the championship. How important was it to get that first win?

“I’m going to tell you, everybody has been awesome. Nobody put the pressure on me except myself. I really didn’t realize how much I’d put on myself going to work for the championship team the very next year. It’s been a lot of pressure. I think that even when Tony feels good about the car, I’m still questioning. He’s just like, ‘Relax, dude. It’s going to be all right.’

“The night before the Vegas race, I texted him a couple of times and I told him a couple little things. He was like, ‘Ok, we’re good. Just go ahead and do what you feel like you need to do.’ He was real confident in the racecar. It was just me wanting to get that win. It was the first mile-and-a-half racetrack we’d run together and I was just a little nervous about it.”

Your record at concrete tracks is impressive. Can you describe why you’ve been so successful at Bristol and Dover?

“We worked mechanical grip into the car and that seemed to pay off for us. Plus, we learned some stuff. We had an accident with Kyle there at Bristol – the first time we were ever there together in ’08. We were leading the race and had a steering box issue, so we learned a lot with the steering and how he drove the racetrack. Hopefully, some of the stuff that we’ve learned over the years at those places and implementing them here for Tony will give him the feel he needs to pick the performance up at Bristol and Dover this year.”

How different is the setup for a racecar at a concrete track?

“Well, it’s a different animal just because of the speeds you carry at both of those places. Keeping our tires and tire geometry to where we really watch our camber wears and stuff like that because it’ll mislead you in places like that and you can get off. That’s the big thing – our front-end geometry and how we put the ride in the car.”

You’ve had success with Kyle and Kurt Busch at concrete tracks, and when you were at Joe Gibbs Racing you saw all the data and how Tony approached the concrete tracks. Now that you’re working directly with Tony, do you feel like you have the best of both worlds – your winning history at concrete tracks and who Tony Stewart is when he climbs behind the wheel?

“Yes. I’m really looking forward to it to see if we can implement the stuff that we’ve done before here with Tony. They’ve done a really good job with the way they’ve built cars here at Stewart-Haas Racing, so I’m looking forward to going there and seeing if some of the stuff that we’ve ran there in the past works even better with Tony now. He and Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing and former crew chief for Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing) were pretty successful there. I think we can get it back in a hurry.”

How similar are Bristol and Dover?

“You can be a little bit more aggressive at Dover with the way you’ve got to drive back up into the banking. At Bristol, it kind of falls away from you off of (turn) four. The difference between Dover and Bristol is you drive back up in the banking on corner exits, so you can get a little bit more aggressive with your rear-end package than what you can at Bristol. If you try something like that at Bristol, then you’re really loose because the part of the track falls away from you on exit. There are two different deals with the back of the car, though they’re very similar with what you do in the front of the car.”

When it comes to the actual race, how stressful is Bristol on a crew chief?

“Everything happens so fast there. You just about run three-quarters of a lap sometimes before it comes up on timing and scoring and you’re able to give your driver his lap time. You’re trying to watch that. You’re trying to watch your car come off the corner. You’re trying to keep up with lap times. You’re looking at your car and taking the driver’s feedback. Stuff happens so fast at Bristol, you just have to stay focused on that and not let any outside distractions get to you, especially on green-flag runs. You have to be on top of it and have in your mind 50 laps before a caution – are you going to try to come and pit or are you going to hold your track position? It just seems like you have such a short time from the time a caution comes out to decide whether you want to pit, so you’ve got to have that in the back of your mind the whole time. You look at your laps and how many laps you have on that set of tires and if the caution comes out in five more laps or 25 more laps, what are you going to do? It’s pretty hectic.”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags addington, chevrolet, stewart, stewart-haas