ATLANTA (March 27, 2001) - Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, will be doing his own version of the Texas Two Step when the series rolls into Texas Motor Speedway for the Harrah's 500.
He'll practice and qualify his Home Depot Pontiac during the day, but at night he'll step over to the dirt track located just behind the backstretch grandstand. There, the World of Outlaws circuit is making its 11th and 12th stops March 29-30 on their 104-race schedule with Stewart's very own World of Outlaws team, piloted by Danny Lasoski, leading the championship point standings.
Stewart began assembling his World of Outlaws team at the beginning of the 2000 season. His hard work came to fruition in a big way, when Lasoski won the "A" Feature in just the team's fourth outing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway March 4. Since then, Lasoski has posted one preliminary feature win (March 9 in Mesquite, Texas), four top-fives and six top-10s, and leads second-place Craig Dollansky by 25 points.
Known throughout the motorsports community as a talented race car driver, Stewart is quickly becoming known as an equally savvy race team owner.
This team that you spent all last year building is now leading the point standings. How satisfying is that?
"The thing that I'm most impressed about with the success that we've had so far is Jimmy Carr's (crew chief) philosophy that we don't even talk about points or where we are in the point standings. There are three times as many races in the Outlaw series as there are in the Winston Cup Series. We only have six races under our belt and we're leading the points. It does make you feel good as a car owner, and I think Danny's got a lot of confidence and he's happy and Jimmy's happy as well as all the guys on the crew. That probably means more to me right now then where we are in the points. It's just the cherry on top of the ice cream that we're able to lead the points right now."
Are you surprised by how quickly this team has proven itself as a championship contender?
"I watched those guys last year when we were building this team. We didn't run any World of Outlaw races, but we ran against some tough guys at some tough tracks. Danny has run long enough that he knows when the car feels really good. He was excited about it and I knew the team was capable of doing it. It was just a matter of going out and doing it, so when spring got here I made sure that I did everything as a car owner that I could to help the guys have all the tools, parts and everything they needed to get prepared for the season - because it's a long, grueling season. The guys did a better job then their owner did. I struggled getting the guys engines. I struggled getting them some parts. But the guys have really come through and they're starting to get caught up now to where they don't have to thrash anymore. Now they can get down to the fine-tuning aspect of the car."
The World of Outlaws season is still young, and there's a long way to go. What will it take for your race team to maintain this front-running consistency throughout the rest of the season?
"You've got to be ready. Preparation is the biggest key to everything. Your motor program has got to be up to par and be ready to go and Danny's got to have the confidence in what's under him. When you get into that part of the season where you're running three and four nights a week, as a driver, as a crew chief and as a race team, you have to feel like you're on top of your game. You have to feel like when you go to the track you're the ones everyone else has to beat. I think if we keep running like we are right now, even when the summer and those hot days come and the track starts drying out a lot, that's where we're going to be."
What's the toughest part of the World of Outlaws schedule?
"Just being consistent. We talk about consistency in the Winston Cup Series because of how many races there are and how competitive the series is to try to keep yourself in a good points position. But it's even worse when you've got 104 races like the Outlaw guys do, because if you get one guy that's consistent out there, you're going to have a hard time beating him. His consistency will be very hard to overcome. If we can maintain our consistency through the first two-thirds of the season, then everyone else will have to chase us through the last third of the season."
You've mentioned how owning a car on the World of Outlaws circuit is your way of relaxing. Is it still relaxing when your car is leading the points and has the potential to win the championship?
"It was relaxing for the first couple of races, but it's stressful to me right now because they're outperforming me. I feel like I'm not doing my job here with The Home Depot team. With the success the Outlaw team is having, it's making me look bad over here - like I'm not getting my part of the deal done. I couldn't be more proud of Danny and the whole team, though. Every night when I get the phone call, even if Danny didn't win, he's really excited about how things have gone. That's what I store in the back of my mind until the next time when I get to the race track and can be a part of it again. I know things are in good hands right now, the guys are doing a great job with everything - it just allows me to focus on what's going on with The Home Depot car right now."
Danny and you were friends long before you formed this race team, now that the team is up and running and winning, how proud are you of Danny and his success?
"I'm really proud of him. He's built a new house and a new race shop over the winter and starting a new team has given him a new set of responsibilities. He was really uptight and worried about it when we started this deal. But now, to have done what we've done and have come so far in such a short amount of time - that's given him the confidence that he needed to go out and do what we do each weekend."
Why did you become a car owner in that series?
"Mainly just to help my friend Danny Lasoski. I've been in the same position he's been in as a driver, as far as at the end of the year having your helmet in one hand, your seat in the other and wondering who you were going to be driving for the next year. He's got a wife and two kids and a new house and a new race shop. We're just trying to help him a little bit financially and give him the opportunity to save some money for the future and put his kids through college. At the same time, he has the security of not having to worry about who he's going to drive for at the end of the year. He knows that as long as we're together and as long as he wants to do this, he'll always have a ride. He'll never have to worry about losing his ride and having to go look for a new job at the end of the season."
Through this venture, have you gained a better understanding of what you car owner - Joe Gibbs - goes through on a regular basis?
"No, because I'm still not sure what Joe goes through on a regular basis. But it's taken a lot of work to get the Outlaw team to where it is today, so I can only imagine what Joe had to do build JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) into what it is. A lot of man hours went into our Outlaw team, where guys were working 20-hour days day after day to get the team ready to go in a relatively short amount of time. I'm really proud of what they've done and how hard they all have worked. I'm proud of our sponsors with Hamm of America and J.D. Byrider. Their commitment and how excited they are to be a part of this, knowing that we've got a lot of growing to do, reminds me of the way Home Depot is with our Winston Cup team. It's exciting for all of us to come in at the ground level like this."
Do you feel that your background and your hands-on approach gives your race team an advantage that other World of Outlaws teams don't have?
"I really don't try to play the car owner role during the race. I kind of play the crew guy role. If there's something that needs to be done, and everybody else is busy, then I'm the guy who does it - whether it's scraping mud off the car or grooving tires. I view myself as just a crew guy. I don't try to run the show. We hired the right guys to do the right job. I just stand back and help out when I can and stay out of their way when they're busy. I just have fun with it. There are a lot of other talented people, drivers and crewmen alike, in the Outlaw series that probably know more than I do. So, I think we're pretty even with everybody else."
How did you and Danny Lasoski get together?
"We met back in either '93 or '94 in Tulsa, Okla., at a race they call the Chili Bowl. We've just been friends since then and have had a great relationship with each other. It seems like every year that's gone by we've just become closer and better friends. With this venture, it was just nice to help a friend."
You won't be spending all of your time at the dirt track, as you've got another job to do over at the Winston Cup track, so let's talk about that. Despite the relative youth of Texas Motor Speedway, it's had quite a history of being a treacherous race track. Why is that the case?
"I've run there in a Busch car, an IRL (Indy Racing League) car and in a Cup car with my Home Depot Pontiac. I never looked at it as a treacherous race track. It's so fast, and with the fresh pavement, it has a lot of grip in it. For some reason, it seemed that the track's transitions were very line-sensitive. The corners' exits and entries were very tricky, and that's what made Texas difficult. I don't think it's treacherous. You just have to hit your marks every lap. Texas doesn't leave a whole lot of room for error."
Before you raced at Texas in a Winston Cup car, you raced there in an Indy Racing League car. What was the difference?
"The IRL car was nothing like driving a stock car. You could go anywhere on the track with the IRL car that you wanted to, and you could run wide-open while doing it. It was as easy as riding down the interstate. Whereas with the Cup car, you're not off the gas very long, but you do have to lift. With the track being so line-sensitive, it's really important that you're doing the same thing every lap, and making sure you're very consistent in how you're driving the car."
Robert Cortez, a renown wood sculptor and creator of the trophy that will be presented to the winner of the March 31 Jani-King 300 NASCAR Busch Series, Grand National Division race, will show off his talent to race fans throughout the NASCAR weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Cortez spent more than 60 days carving the 27x22-inch red mahogany cowboy boot, and he will demonstrate his wood carving techniques on Sat., March 31 and Sun., April 1 from 9-11 a.m. on the Home Depot Racing Trailblazer located approximately a half-mile behind the frontstretch grandstand. The 53-foot long specialty transporter is outfitted with a #20 Home Depot Winston Cup show car along with interactive tool workshops and displays led by representatives from RIDGID and Husky.
- Home Depot Racing