Watkins Glen: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART You Want a Piece of Me? ATLANTA (Aug. 8, 2006) - Of all the parts and pieces that make up the 2.45-mile Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International road course, no one can get a piece of Tony Stewart. The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot ...

TONY STEWART
You Want a Piece of Me?

ATLANTA (Aug. 8, 2006) - Of all the parts and pieces that make up the 2.45-mile Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International road course, no one can get a piece of Tony Stewart. The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing has won there three times, including the last two occasions when the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series has raced at The Glen.

Stewart has five road course victories altogether, with his other two wins having come at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., the only other road course the Nextel Cup Series visits.

In 15 career road course starts dating back to his rookie year in 1999 - eight at Sonoma and seven at The Glen - Stewart has six top-twos and nine top-10s. He has only two finishes lower than 15th - 26th at Watkins Glen in 2001 and 28th earlier this year at Sonoma when engine woes canceled a probable top-three effort. The result? An average road course finish of 9.066 thanks to having never recorded a DNF (Did Not Finish).

Coming off back-to-back top-10 efforts at Pocono (Pa.) and Indianapolis that returned Stewart to the top-10 after a one week layoff due to a 37th place finish at New Hampshire in July, Stewart is back in championship form.

Last year, Stewart used the month of August as a springboard to his second Nextel Cup title, as wins at Indianapolis and Watkins Glen gave him a healthy point lead and plenty of momentum to take with him in the chase for the championship. Currently ninth in points but very much in the championship hunt, Stewart views this August as another opportunity to secure a third NASCAR title. And a win at The Glen would put everyone on notice that while down in the top-10, Stewart is certainly not out.

Have you and The Home Depot Racing Team found a successful road racing package that no one else has, or is it a matter of all of the team's hard work paying off?

"I don't think we've put any more emphasis on the road courses than we have any other race, but I've got a crew chief (Greg Zipadelli) who is very versatile and we have good people that work really hard to make the best road course cars we can. It's just the classic case of Zippy and I working so well together that we can always get where we need to be. He gets the car driving really good for me and he can make that car do what I want it to do. Then when I'm on the track, I'm probably one of the most comfortable drivers on the race track. And at that point, I can go out and do the job. I think a lot of it is due to Zippy because he puts as much emphasis on the road course races as he does at Indy or anywhere else. Even though there are only two road courses on the schedule, it shows how dedicated Zippy is as a crew chief to every disciple we race at."

Since you race on ovals 34 times a year, do you have to adjust your mindset to run road courses twice a year?

"We've won at both of the road courses on the circuit. I always look forward to the road courses just because it's a weekend of something different from what we've done the past five or 10 weekends. We go to a road course just like we do any track. We go there to win. I take it just as seriously as I do any of the other races. I think we, as an organization, take a lot of pride in our track record on the road courses. I know it's just another race out there, but with the fact we've won two in a row, that's a string we're pretty proud of and we'd like to keep going, obviously."

Is there anything about The Glen's layout that suits you and the No. 20 Home Depot Racing Team?

"It's just like anyplace else. If you get the combination right you can go out and win. If you miss something and you're a little bit off, you're not going to win. The three races we won there we had a very, very good race car that drove well all day. In between those races there was a year where our car didn't drive real well and we didn't win. It's just a matter of doing the same things you do at any other race track. If you get the package right and your driver is good at road courses, then you've got a shot at winning a road course race."

You've won three of the last four road course races and five altogether - two at Sonoma and three at Watkins Glen. Does success at one venue transfer to the other?

"The two tracks, while both road courses, are still pretty different. At Watkins Glen you don't have to finesse the throttle near as much as you do at Sonoma. When you get the car turned, you can get in the gas and then stay in the gas. Watkins Glen is much faster than Sonoma. I think there are the same amounts of passing opportunities, but because of the speeds that you're able to run at The Glen, brakes become a much bigger factor than I think they are at Sonoma. It's pretty much a horsepower track. It's horsepower and aerodynamics just like it is anywhere else we go. It just happens to be in the form of a road course. Sonoma has a lot less grip in the race track. You have to really be careful with the throttle there, and that puts more of the race in the driver's hands. If anything, Sonoma is probably more technical than Watkins Glen because there's hardly any time where you get a chance to rest. You're always either shifting or accelerating or braking or turning or doing something. At Watkins Glen, at least on the frontstretch and on the backstretch, there are three straightaways where you get a little bit of time to take a break. Watkins Glen seems to be more in the crew's hands and the engine builder's hands. Obviously, there's still a job that I need to do in the race car, but I'm relying on the equipment and the crew a lot more at Watkins Glen."

Is a race at Watkins Glen more physical than a race at Sonoma?

"No, I don't believe so. You've got a couple of long straightaways at Watkins Glen to let your body relax, stretch out your arms and catch your breath. I feel like I have more opportunities to relax a little bit at Watkins Glen."

After Denny Hamlin - your teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing - credited his first career Nextel Cup victory at Pocono (Pa.) to playing racing video games, much has been made about how much video games can actually help a driver. Can video games aid a driver?

"I think it helps you see what a race track looks like from inside the car, especially if you've never been there before. But as far as the physical aspects of it, I'm not sure it's all that it's cracked up to be. Guys like Denny who love to play video games - they'd play even if they weren't learning anything from it. I think they want to believe that they're learning something from it. It justifies them playing the games a little more. I've raced sprint car games and I've raced NASCAR games and I haven't learned anything on a NASCAR game that's helped me in a real race car on a real track."

Considering how unique road course racing is, would a video game help prepare for Watkins Glen?

"Yes, but just to learn the layout of the race track. It's not that it's not going to teach you some things, but it's not going to make you win a race at a race track. It's going to give you an idea as to what to expect as far as what the track actually looks like from inside the car, and it gives you an idea how you're going to drive the car. But there hasn't been a video game yet that can replicate what the real race car feels like. You're only going to learn so much from a video game."

Does road racing require more finesse or more manhandling depending on where you are on the race track?

"Track position dictates where and when you need to finesse and when you need to just go at it. Track position is a big deal anywhere these days, but it's definitely a big deal on the road courses. It's hard to pass there from the standpoint that there are a couple of good braking zones where you can pass. But the thing is, everyone is so even that you've got be able to out drag race them down the straightaways after you out brake them going into a corner. Getting the car to turn and handle is a big part of it, but you still have to be able to run well down the straightaway. At Sonoma, you've got to get your car handling or else it doesn't really matter how much horsepower you've got. Handling well at Watkins Glen is an important factor, but it seems like horsepower is a much bigger part of the equation versus Sonoma."

You've made quite a few starts in the Rolex Sports Car Series. How much has racing in that series helped for when you head to places like Sonoma and Watkins Glen with your Home Depot Chevrolet?

"I would like to believe I've learned some things. I'm not sure there is any one particular thing that I've noticed, but I do feel like the more you do it the better you are at it. Road racing isn't something I have to get acclimated to because running them feels pretty natural to me. I enjoy the road courses, and as we get ready to go to places like Sonoma, I really look forward to it."

With seemingly half the field having a diverse racing background and with many of the Nextel Cup drivers having joined you in competing in the Rolex Sports Car Series, is there such a thing as a road course ringer anymore?

"Yes and no. There are road course guys who are good at road course racing, but they're not used to running stock cars. But there are guys who are used to running stock cars who aren't used to running road courses. But if you look at the history of road course racing, the guys who come from a road racing background seem to be able to get into any kind of car and do fairly well. So I think they do have an advantage, but maybe not as much as they had six or seven years ago."

Considering your recent history of racing sports cars on road courses, do you consider yourself a road course ringer?

"I don't think so. If you look at how many Nextel Cup races I've run on road courses (14), there are a lot of veterans who have run two or three times the amount of road course races I have. I don't think you can call me a ringer. I think you can call me a guy who is solid on the road courses because we've won at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, but I don't think you can call me a ringer."

If a driver hates racing at road courses, is he already beaten simply because he doesn't have the proper mindset to compete there?

"They've already got a strike against them for that reason. If a guy goes there with the attitude that they're not going to enjoy it no matter what, then that's probably what'll happen. Until they get the mindset that they're going to enjoy running a road course and that they're going to have fun with it, they'll have a strike against them. Success on a road course breeds success. If you have some success on a road course you're probably going to like racing there. If you don't have success on a road course, it's probably a style of racing you're not going to like."

What is your favorite aspect of the Nextel Cup Series running road courses?

"There's such a diverse talent of drivers - guys that do not like road racing, guys that love road racing, guys who are road racing specialists that come in who typically don't run the Cup cars very often. It's fun to see those guys and the top Cup guys at road races go head to head with each other. It's kind of like a traveling series that goes to a local track, where the series regulars take on the local talent that knows the ins and the outs of the race track. It's neat to see the road course specialists get in our type of cars and race against guys that don't have a chance to race road courses as much."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Denny Hamlin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing