Stewart, Zipadelli interview

DETROIT, May 2, 2001 - Tony Stewart heads into this Saturday's Pontiac Excitement 400 on a roll. His fourth-place finish at California on Sunday gave him back-to-back top-five finishes for the first time since last October and extends his streak...

DETROIT, May 2, 2001 - Tony Stewart heads into this Saturday's Pontiac Excitement 400 on a roll. His fourth-place finish at California on Sunday gave him back-to-back top-five finishes for the first time since last October and extends his streak of races with a top 10 to three.

With that momentum in hand, the driver of the Home Depot Grand Prix will hit the three-quarter mile D-shaped oval Friday at Richmond International Raceway, where he collected his first Winston Cup victory in just his second Richmond start. Stewart has led 407 of the 1,200 laps run in the past three Richmond events and appeared to be on his way to victory in the 2000 Pontiac Excitement 400 before a late-race pit road incident dropped him to eighth in the final running order.

Stewart, who has nine Winston Cup victories and is tied with Jack Smith for fourth on Pontiac's all-time win list, is hoping a combination of past success and present momentum leads to his first win of 2001. It would also give Pontiac its first win of the season and its first victory in its own event since Rusty Wallace drove a Grand Prix to the winner's circle during his 1989 championship run.

Tony Stewart, By The Numbers (After 10 Races)

Top Fives
2000: 3
2001: 3

Top 10s
2000: 6
2001: 4

Laps Led
2000: 0
2001: 30

DNFs
2000: 3
2001: 2

Points Position
2000: 11th
2001: 9th

Points Behind Leader
2000: 333
2001: 234

Tony Stewart, No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix:

HOW DID YOU ADAPT TO RICHMOND SO QUICKLY?

"It just reminded me of some of the shorter tracks that I've run. It was like Phoenix the first time I went there. I hadn't been to a one-mile oval but once in my life, but when I got to Phoenix, I adjusted and adapted to it really quickly. It was a place where I became very comfortable right away.

"I had that same feeling when I went to Richmond for the first time with The Home Depot Pontiac. I think every driver has a track that they go to where they get that same feeling. There are just some places that you go to where you adjust, and it really suits your driving style."

SINCE YOUR FIRST WINSTON CUP WIN WAS AT RICHMOND, DO YOU HAVE HIGHER EXPECTATIONS WHEN YOU RACE THERE?

"I think that with the way our season is going, we have to look at it like it's just another race. But it's going to be hard to not expect to run well when it's in the back of your mind that this is where you won your first Winston Cup race. I'm not sure we'd go in there and expect to win again. I think we've got a shot to win, but to go there and expect it - we don't do that. But we do expect to run well and hopefully contend for the win."

HOW DO YOU ASSESS YOUR SHOT AT BECOMING A CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER AT THIS POINT OF THE SEASON?

"Well, we still need to find some things that are hurting us right now. But if we can find those variables, I definitely think that we're a serious contender and still a threat. You're never out of it until you're out of it. We got two more races added onto the schedule, so that's two more opportunities to help us get caught up. We still have time to do this."

WHY DO YOU THINK YOU AND YOUR TEAMMATES START TO MAKE A MOVE UP IN THE POINTS EACH YEAR AT THIS TIME?

"I think we're in a part of the season where the tracks are starting to get hot and slippery, and it seems like when the tracks get slippery is when we start coming on."

CAN YOUR TEAM MAKE A BIG PUSH TOWARDS THE TOP OF THE POINTS IN THE NEXT THREE MONTHS OR SO?

"Yeah, and I'm excited. We're coming up on a string of tracks where I run well, for whatever the reason. It just seems like this is the part of the season where we get going.

"If we're going to make a run for the championship, then this is the time. We don't have time to wait any longer. We have to make the most of our races starting right now. You need to make the most of it every week, but last week is past and we need to make the most of this weekend and every weekend after that. We just need to get everything we can get for the rest of the year."

Zipadelli, Crew Chief, No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix:

HOW DO YOU ASSESS YOUR SHOT AT BECOMING A CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER AT THIS POINT OF THE SEASON?

"If we had just finished where we were running in most of our races this year, we'd be about third or fourth in the points right now. But we are further ahead then we were last year at this time, and we're coming into a couple of good tracks where we can pick up some more momentum. Seventh at Martinsville was actually a good run for us. Then to go to Talladega and run as good as we did, along with qualifying and racing well at California, it's put us in pretty good position.

"As far as the championship goes, our position does make it a little tougher because the '88' has been so consistent. But not wishing them or the '24' to have a bad day, but they're all going to have bad days. If we get on a tear like we did in the middle part of last season -- obviously our goal each year is to do better than the year before. We met part of that last year by winning more races and leading more laps, but we didn't do as well in the points because of a little bit of inconsistency. We're trying to keep our consistency and still win as many races. We're looking forward to it. We've got a bunch of good tracks coming up here in May and June."

CAN YOUR TEAM MAKE A BIG PUSH TOWARDS THE TOP OF THE POINTS IN THE NEXT THREE MONTHS OR SO?

"We may think that a little bit once in a while, but this sport is so humbling that you just need to take it day by day, race by race.

"We've always run well at California, and we've always seemed to run well at Bristol (Tenn.). We didn't qualify very well at Bristol, but we eventually got the car really good in the race and we were headed for a fourth-place finish. But with a quarter of a lap to go we ended up 25th after our incident with Jeff Gordon. We lost 80 points that day just because of somebody else's greediness. If you look at that, you can say, 'That was out of our control.' But give me that back, and we'd be fifth in the points now, never mind giving me back that 10th at Atlanta or that top-five at Darlington. Now I know there are a lot of people who can look at their season that way, but you've got to look at yourself every week and say, 'Did we run better?' If the answer is yes, then maybe you can sleep that night.

"I know this sport is still a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kind of sport, but that's why we're here. We're all paid to perform. Excuses are easy. We just need to keep digging."

-GM Racing

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Jack Smith