ATLANTA (April 3, 2001) - Tony Stewart earned his first career NASCAR Winston Cup Series pole position in just his eighth start at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, but that doesn't mean Stewart developed a fondness for the .526-mile oval. Stewart...
ATLANTA (April 3, 2001) - Tony Stewart earned his first career NASCAR Winston Cup Series pole position in just his eighth start at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, but that doesn't mean Stewart developed a fondness for the .526-mile oval.
Stewart has had a love/hate relationship with the shortest track on the Winston Cup circuit since he first visited Martinsville as a rookie in 1999. After qualifying on the pole for that year's spring race, Stewart finished a distant 20th. When the series returned to Martinsville that fall, a 37th place starting spot and 41st place finish was all that Stewart could muster.
So when the 2000 season began, it was no wonder that Stewart described Martinsville as a "parking lot," for it was the track on the Winston Cup circuit that Stewart loathed.
But a funny thing happened in 2000 - Stewart ran really well at Martinsville. After starting way back in the 37th spot for the spring race, Stewart rallied to finish sixth. And when the series returned to Martinsville for the fall race, Stewart sat on the pole, led 179 laps, and scored his eighth career Winston Cup victory.
Has Stewart finally found the love in this love/hate relationship? Well not exactly, but at least his sense of humor remains intact.
Even with two poles and one win in four starts at Martinsville, do you still dislike racing there?
"Yes, I still wish that they'd just fill it up with water and put bass in there. I would be the first person to drag my Nitro 911 bass boat up there and I'd be the first entry in the inaugural Martinsville bass fishing tournament."
Your lack of love for Martinsville is well-known, yet you overcame it in a big way at last year's fall race. Was there another race track somewhere in your career where you had similar difficulty but eventually overcame it?
"Oh yeah. The last time I went to Louisville (Ky.) Motor Speedway. It was the worst race track I've ever been to in my life and I won the last race that I ran there. It was a nice parting gift. I was glad to win it and say, 'Thank you for the trophy. I will never be back.' That was in a USAC Midget back in '95. The layout of the track was just absolutely terrible. There were two different elevations. It was like going up a ramp to the upper elevation and going down a ramp to the lower elevation. It was just awful."
Knowing what you know about Louisville, what makes Martinsville such a tough track?
"I don't know. I definitely don't dislike it as much as I used to. Winning did help that. But I tell you what, the one thing that saves that place is the people who are there and the fans that are there. You can see 'em every time you're out there practicing. Every time you get into the car you can look across the fence and see them and they're yelling good luck to you. That's the only thing that saves that place in my opinion. But it's just a tough place. I mean, if I can get through that whole day without getting a scratch on The Home Depot Pontiac, it'll be a miracle."
The fall Martinsville race was a demonstration of your patience. From the time you first drove a Winston Cup car in early 1999 to now, how have you learned patience behind the wheel?
"A lot of it is confidence and comfort, because when you gain those it makes the patience element a lot easier to fulfill. While I may not be 100 percent where I need to be in terms of patience, I would say that I'm getting a lot better about the patience aspect of this whole deal."
How important has Greg been in becoming more patient through the course of a race?
"He's been really good, especially from the aspect that he knows that when we're at a track like that, he knows what to look for with my driving style as far as how I might overdrive the car. He'll coach me along during a run to take care of my race car and to not overdrive it. So, to have him on the radio is a big comfort to me."
How much does your win at Martinsville aid your mindset for when you return there this weekend?
"Well, I hope it does. We're struggling with the tires this year, which is the same thing we were struggling with last year, and that caused me a lot of frustration early last year. It's just something that we have to overcome. I know that Goodyear is doing it for the right reasons. It's hard to make a tire that suits everyone's driving style, and we've struggled trying to find that balance this year. So I'm hoping that when we go there this time, we're able to find that balance like we did the last time we were there. If we can do that, then we'll have the potential for similar results."
You said after winning Martinsville that beating Dale Earnhardt made you appreciate your win more. Would a win at Martinsville, or anywhere for that matter, carry the same weight now that he's no longer here?
"I can tell you that the two biggest wins that I'm most proud of now are this year's Budweiser Shootout and last year at Martinsville. We dominated two races at Homestead (Fla.), but to beat Dale Earnhardt at Martinsville and to beat him at Daytona (Fla.) in the Bud Shootout - those are by far the two biggest single day accomplishments that I've ever had in my life. To be able to beat Dale at two tracks that he's so tough at that means a lot. Dale was the guy that you knew that if you beat him, you did it honest. I mean, you're not going to luck into a win at Martinsville and you're not going to luck into a win at Daytona with him running second. If he ran second, then you flat beat him that day. That's why those two races mean so much to me."
GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac:
Tony mentioned that a big reason for his increased amount of patience behind the wheel now is your voice on his radio. Talk about that.
"I think it's a matter of me getting to know him better, as well as always trying to do a better job of communicating with him. When you're in one of these cars, you're focused on certain things, mainly driving as hard as you can, but sometimes at some places that's not necessarily what it takes. Being smooth, being consistent and hitting your marks will sometimes pay off more than driving the hell out of your race car. Tony's one of those guys who wants to drive and run hard, but there's certain places like Martinsville where that's not always the thing to do. Last year at Martinsville he really did everything that we asked him to, and it paid off. I wish it were that easy all the time, but we still have a lot of growing to do as a team. This is still only our third year together, and the way I look at it, we're only going to get better."
-Home Depot Racing