All-Star: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART All-Star Test Session ATLANTA (May 14, 2007) -- When Major League Baseball plays its All-Star game July 10 at the home of the San Francisco Giants, players won't be there to test out the field or develop a new bat that always...

TONY STEWART
All-Star Test Session

ATLANTA (May 14, 2007) -- When Major League Baseball plays its All-Star game July 10 at the home of the San Francisco Giants, players won't be there to test out the field or develop a new bat that always hits home runs. They'll be there to put on a show, plain and simple.

But the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge -- NASCAR's version of an All-Star game -- does all that and more. Fans will certainly be treated to a show at the 1.5-mile Charlotte oval, as top NASCAR drivers compete for a $1 million payout in a race with no point ramifications.

But overshadowed by the glitz of the event is a high-profile test session. Drivers and teams can use the track time garnered from participating in Saturday night's All-Star Challenge and put it toward next weekend's Coca-Cola 600 -- a point-paying race that is also at Charlotte.

For Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing, the All-Star Challenge represents the perfect test session. Unlike most test sessions that are lonely and monotonous, there's actual competition in the All-Star Challenge. And the incentive of a nice trophy augmented by an equally nice paycheck is not overlooked.

The winner of the All-Star race will take home $1 million. How does that sound?

"It sounds great. There are a lot of things I can do with a million dollars, and the fact that I own a race track (Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio), a lot of bills I could pay off too."

This year's All-Star Challenge format has been broken up into four 20-lap segments, with no inversions following any of the segments. Last year you had three segments at 40, 30 and 20 laps, respectively, with the field being inverted after the first two segments. Does the new format change your approach to the race?

"Not really. You still go out and try to win each segment. Obviously, the last one is the one that pays the big money. But if you can win any of those segments, it pays a little bit. If you can get up front in the first one, you've got a better shot at staying up front for the last three."

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. It's a really good test because it's really the only time we have to run at night in race conditions."

Has the still relatively new pavement at Charlotte and the tire compound provided by Goodyear made the cars harder to drive? Is it difficult to find grip?

"Grip is still an issue and the tires are still too hard, but now we're at least able to move around the race track. During testing, we were moving up to the high side on both ends of the track. It does have the potential to be better. It's just a matter of being able to try to work with the tires and do what you can to get in clean air.

"These cars are always hard to drive. If they were easy to drive, you and everybody could do it. When you're in the car, it still feels loose or tight. Sometimes you're in a four-wheel drift and you have to make adjustments based on that. That aspect of driving these cars really hasn't changed. It doesn't seem to me to have been a huge transition."

With other tracks wanting Nextel Cup races and NASCAR wanting to be in 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 others are 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."

-credit: jgr

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart