Talladega: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART A 'Fresh' Outlook on Talladega KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (April 21, 2010) - Fresh off his 400th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start Monday at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Tony Stewart has a "fresh" outlook coming into Sunday's...

TONY STEWART
A 'Fresh' Outlook on Talladega

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (April 21, 2010) - Fresh off his 400th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start Monday at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Tony Stewart has a "fresh" outlook coming into Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

That's because Stewart's No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala will carry the colors of Old Spice's Fresh Collection - specifically, its Matterhorn scent, which according to the scent experts at Procter & Gamble, smells like ice, wind and freedom.

The graphic of a Matterhorn-esque mountain range rising halfway up the sides of Stewart's red Chevy is emblematic of Stewart's rise to the peak of the Sprint Cup Series. The veteran driver has earned two championships and 37 wins since making his debut in the 1999 Daytona 500, and he capped off his 400th start at Texas by leading the 43-car field from the pole. In fact, Stewart led the race's first 15 laps, and ended up leading a total of 74 laps - second only to Jeff Gordon's 124 laps led - before getting caught up in a multi-car accident that ended his race 17 laps short of the finish.

It was a good run gone awry, something every Sprint Cup driver has experienced at some point in his career, and usually more than once. Often, a good day goes bad at Talladega, home of "The Big One."

The Big One is the term used to describe the seemingly obligatory crash that consumes as many cars as runners down carbs. The vast 2.66-mile oval makes Talladega the largest track on the Sprint Cup circuit and, with it being the second of two restrictor-plate tracks after Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, Talladega is an adrenaline rush for both fans and competitors.

Large, freight train-style pack racing is how the game is played at Talladega, but with each "car" piloted by its own "engineer," derailments are inevitable.

Stewart has been involved in his share of derailments at Talladega, but more often than not, he's been able to bring home the goods. In 22 career Sprint Cup starts at Talladega, Stewart has one win, six second-place finishes, nine top-fives, 12 top-10s and has led 269 laps.

In fact, Stewart actually has two wins at Talladega, for after recording six second-place finishes in Sprint Cup races at the Eastern Alabama track, Stewart scored a breakthrough victory on April 26, 2008, when he won the NASCAR Nationwide Series race from the pole. He did it in dominant fashion too, as he led five times for a race-high 81 laps in the 117-lap race.

Coming into Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Talladega, Stewart and the rest of his competitors will get a fresh take on restrictor-plate racing. That's because, for the first time since 2007, they'll compete with a traditional spoiler on the back of their racecars as opposed to the now-jettisoned wing. And while spoilers have been on the cars for the past three races at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Texas, Talladega is a different animal.

Horsepower-choking restrictor plates force the cars to run in a pack, whereupon aerodynamics dictate what you can and can't do with your racecar. So much about racing at Talladega and at its restrictor-plate cousin in Daytona is out of a driver's control. To go fast and advance toward the front, drivers must use their 3,400-pound racecars and the air they collectively split to draft off of one another. By using the vacuum created by the car cutting through the air in front of them, a driver can tuck up behind a fellow driver, and then, when the moment is right, slingshot by him with the momentum gained from riding in his wake. It was a move that became a bit diluted with the advent of the rear wing, but with the reemergence of the spoiler, expect the racing to go retro.

For that, Stewart is ready. Now in his 12th Sprint Cup season, the driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevy has pretty much seen and done it all. Yet, thanks to Old Spice, he can still bring a fresh perspective to his 401st career start by carrying Old Spice's Matterhorn scent for 500 miles at Talladega.

TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot "Matterhorn" Chevrolet Impala for Stewart-Haas Racing:

Does running the spoiler at Talladega provide a new variable to understand?

"You really don't think about it from a driver's standpoint as far as having a spoiler or having a wing on the back. All you care about is the balance of the car and how it's affecting the way the car drives, not only by itself, but how it's driving in traffic. That's what we'll work on in practice, just like we've done everywhere else we've been. We're not dealing with anything all that different because it's the same for everybody."

Do you expect to see another big crash in Sunday's race at Talladega?

"Well, if I knew that I would probably be a bookie in Las Vegas. I mean, nobody knows that for sure. Any time that you're in a pack where you've got cars on top of each other like we do, that potential is always there. It's no different now than it was 15 years ago when I was watching this series and they were doing the same thing. The game is the same. It hasn't changed that much. So, that potential is always going to be there."

How would you rate yourself as a restrictor-plate racer?

"Well, I'm not any happier about it than I've always been, but we've had a lot of success at restrictor-plate tracks, especially Talladega. We've run in the top-two there a gazillion times. I'm glad we're halfway decent at it, but it's still always frustrating when you have to rely on what everybody else does. It's not what you do. It's what you do along with somebody else who decides that they're going to follow you and help you. That's the part that frustrates you as a driver."

When you made your first Sprint Cup start back on Feb. 14, 1999, did you envision that you would win championships and contend for wins?

"No, I was just happy to be here. You dream of it, but I'm not sure when you start that you say, 'This is what's going to happen,' and you can predict that's what's going to happen. There are so many talented drivers and teams in this series that you can't start in this series and expect to have those kinds of results. I think if you are, you're being kind of foolish and being more ambitious than realistic. We've been really lucky to be with really good people for 12 years now in this series, and that's what's gotten us where we are."

Back in the day, restrictor-plate racing meant racing against Dale Earnhardt, at least if you were racing for the win. Do you have any special memories from your time racing against him?

"You just always knew that, if he was behind you, it wasn't going to be easy keeping him behind you. There was a reason that he got the nickname 'Intimidator.' When you looked in the mirror, you were intimidated by him. Not so much that you were actually intimidated, but you knew that it wasn't going to be like racing with someone else. If he got to you and if he didn't get by you in a couple of corners, then he was going to lean on you a little bit. You might wreck, you might keep going, but he was going to make it interesting. That's what made him so special. The first Bud Shootout we won at Daytona, we outran him there and that was as much as I ever wanted to see of that black '3' in my mirror. That was way too much stress. It was more mental stress than it was physical stress. My mind was wore out after winning that race because he had such a large bag of tricks at Daytona and Talladega that just watching what he was doing and trying to figure out what he was thinking or trying to set up just made you exhausted. Driving the car was easy, it was just trying to mentally figure out and trying to stay up to pace with what his thought process was at the time and knowing how to anticipate what his next move was going to be to beat him."

-source: shr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing