The Nextel: Tony Stewart preview

Tony Stewart All Set for All-Star Race ATLANTA (May 17, 2004) - The running of the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge Saturday night at Charlotte (N.C.) doesn't award any points, but it does award a trophy. And as far as Tony Stewart is ...

Tony Stewart
All Set for All-Star Race

ATLANTA (May 17, 2004) - The running of the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge Saturday night at Charlotte (N.C.) doesn't award any points, but it does award a trophy. And as far as Tony Stewart is concerned, that's all that matters. From the time the driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing began racing go-karts at the age of seven, a checkered flag and a trophy were all the motivation he needed.

Also up for grabs is money - lots of money - with over $1 million going to the victor. To put that number in comparison, there is only one other race on the Nextel Cup schedule that pays more than a million dollars to win - the Daytona 500. Coming in a distant second is the Brickyard 400, which paid out $418,253 to last year's winner Kevin Harvick.

You and The Home Depot Racing Team tested at Charlotte May 11. How did it go and has the track changed much since you won the UAW-GM Quality 500 there in October?

"The track feels the same. It's the one place where we feel like the new tire we've been using this year hasn't affected our setup a lot. We felt like we still had a very good, well-balanced race car, and the two cars we took there both drove well. Points or no points, we're definitely looking forward to getting back to Charlotte.

"As far as how the track changes, it just depends on the weather conditions. That track is very temperature sensitive, so you have to be constantly aware of what the track is doing and how hot or cool it is. But for the most part, Charlotte is pretty much the same race track as it was back in October or any other time we've been there."

Can the All-Star Challenge be used as a test session for the Coca-Cola 600?

"Absolutely. It always is. If your car is driving well, you're running for a million dollars. But if your car isn't driving well, you're learning from that and applying it to the 600 instead. I've always looked at it as however your car is driving in the All-Star race is relatively true to how your car is going to drive in the 600. I've always felt like it's a really good test because it's really the only time we have to run at night in race conditions."

With all the talk of schedule realignment and heading into new markets, is the All-Star Challenge still needed?

"I don't think we need to add another point race to replace the All-Star race. I think it's nice to dedicate a weekend to the race fans. We put on a race for them where we're not worried about points. We're all hanging it out every lap, instead of three-quarters of the way through the season, where some guys are hanging it out while half the field is points racing. It's good to have one evening where we all just get up on the wheel and put on a good show for the fans."

What are your thoughts on Texas and Phoenix getting second dates while Darlington (S.C.) drops to only one race and Rockingham (N.C.) falls off the schedule altogether?

"Texas race fans deserve a second date, and now they'll be able to enjoy two good races there each year. It feels like the race track is getting racy now to where you can run multiple grooves. And Phoenix is like my West Coast home, so I'm happy to go there twice. Darlington and Rockingham are both great places to race. Rockingham may not be on the schedule anymore, but Darlington still is. I really want a win at Darlington and hopefully the fans will support that track and we can keep racing there in the years to come."

Is the All-Star race less pressure-filled and more fun because there are no points to be won or lost?

"It's as fun as Nextel Cup racing can be, and I think that shows. The fans obviously seem to like it."

Do drivers attempt moves in the All-Star Challenge that they'd never think about using in regular point races?

"Nah, you just race hard and you don't worry about what happens."

-jgr/hdr-

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing