IRL: Tony Stewart gets new perspective at Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, Thursday, April 20, 2000 - Dr. Jack is back and guess who his chief mechanic is? Tony Stewart! The same Tony Stewart who clinched the Indy Racing Northern Light Series championship in 1997 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway....

LAS VEGAS, Thursday, April 20, 2000 - Dr. Jack is back and guess who his chief mechanic is? Tony Stewart! The same Tony Stewart who clinched the Indy Racing Northern Light Series championship in 1997 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The one who was runaway winner of the NASCAR rookie-of-the-year award in 1999. The one who finished second in the Winston Cup race at LVMS on March 5. The one who scrambled out of a burning stock car last Sunday at Talladega. Easter weekend is a time of rest for NASCAR. Not for racer Tony Stewart. Stewart instead is again at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to supervise the return of driver Dr. Jack Miller to the Northern Lights Series. Stewart shares ownership with Larry and Bobbi Curry, Rick Ehrgott and Andy Card in Tri Star Motorsports. Miller is using Saturday's Vegas Indy 300 as a warmup for next month's Indianapolis 500 and brought along sponsors Milk Chug, Century 21 and Opalescense to help foot the bills on his Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone machine. Stewart made his debut as a crew chief at the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway in January working the pits for Robby Unser. "It's just a different set of challenges," Stewart said. "It's a lot of fun. I've been racing 21 years, and now I'm at a point in my career where I'm able to do some different things. To be a car owner with Larry, Rick and Andy, I mean, that part by itself is a lot of fun for me. I can't be there a lot. "Coming here this weekend and being a crew chief adds a little more stress to the weekend. But I know after I did it at Orlando, and I'm sure after I do it this weekend I'll have a greater appreciation for what my crew chief (Greg Zipadelli) does on the Cup series." The Stewart and Miller (a working dentist) association is not a new arrangement. They were teammates last May when Miller qualified for his third straight Indy 500. "He wanted me to state in this interview that he is the expert crew chief," joked Miller, who will drive a 1999 car for the Vegas 300. Turning serious, Miller continued, "Oh, I have 100 percent faith and trust in what he says. He's a good guy. We've become friends. "He has racing totally No. 1 on the agenda, going fast out there. And what we're going to try to do this weekend is just get some more laps and get ready to go into Indy. The '99 car will be at a little bit of a disability, but we're going to try to do some things to make it equal during the race. That's what we're concentrating on, race set up and not qualifying right now." Stewart said that when a person gets in racing mode as a driver he doesn't think about the functions the crew chief must execute in the pits. When he is in the car, Stewart is worrying about how the car is handling on the track and passing this information on to the crew chief. "Now, I've got to worry about fuel mileage, pit strategy, track position, think about all those things that Greg has to think about," Stewart said. "I think it's just a different set of circumstances that you have to think of and kind of switch your mindset." Stewart has driven in four straight Indy 500s. Last year he charged from 24th to ninth before flying to Concord, N.C., to drive to fourth in the Coca-Cola 600 Winston Cup race. He raced 1,096 miles in 10 hours and admits that it was too arduous of a task. So he won't be racing at Indy this year although the 500 still is the one race he dearly would like to win. But he'll be there. "I'll probably be there in the same capacity that I am here this weekend," he said. "It's going to be hard to not go back as a driver, but I'm really committed to my Cup team right now, and Home Depot and all the guys. Even though it's going to be hard, I know it's the right thing to do right now." Stewart placed fourth in last year's final Winston Cup standings, winning three times. He sits 13th after nine races this season, with three top five finishes. At Talladega, he was involved in the massive mid-race accident and had to quickly exit his car as flames poured out of the engine and smoke filled the cockpit. "It wasn't hot, it just got smoky," he said. "It got to where I was starting to choke so I felt I was better off getting out of the thing where I could breath again." NASCAR has had nine winners in nine races this year. "I just hope I'm the next one," he said about winning the tenth race. The Indy Racing Northern Lights Series has had five different winners in its last five races stretching back to 1999. Stewart remains a staunch supporter of the league and sees a bright future for it. "Absolutely," he exclaimed. "Every year that goes by they keep sinking their feet in the ground deeper, establishing that base for themselves, so I think they keep gaining momentum. There are no big gains being made, but the big things are not losing ground, and that's the important thing. Northern Light has come into the series and that's helping, so I think they've got a great future"

-IRLNS/IMS-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Robby Unser , Jack Miller