All-Star: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART All Set for All-Star Race at Charlotte ATLANTA (May 14, 2008) -- When Major League Baseball plays its All-Star game July 15 at Yankee Stadium, players won't be there to test out the field or develop a new bat that always hits home...

TONY STEWART
All Set for All-Star Race at Charlotte

ATLANTA (May 14, 2008) -- When Major League Baseball plays its All-Star game July 15 at Yankee Stadium, 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 Sprint All-Star Race -- 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 Race 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 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, the All-Star Race represents the perfect test session. Unlike most test sessions that are lonely and monotonous, there's actual competition in the All-Star Race. And the incentive of a nice trophy augmented by an equally nice paycheck is not overlooked.

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing:

Is your mindset going into the All-Star race akin to what your mindset was back in your USAC days when you ran big money races, with the only difference now that your winnings can go to buying another car for your car collection rather than buying gas for your car ride home?

"The All-Star Race is a totally different deal. When I was running in USAC it was how I made a living and paid my rent. Sometimes it was my gas money to get home. I don't think if I crash out of the All-Star Race on the first lap that I'm going to have trouble getting gas money for the ride home.

"The mindset going into it is that you don't have to worry about points and you know that everybody is going to be on the edge a little more. I'm not going to say it's acceptable to crash cars, but I think a lot of people go into that race knowing that there's a good possibility that you can get wrecked because guys are going to take more chances than they normally would."

This year's All-Star Race format has been broken up into four 25-lap segments. Last year, you had four 20-lap segments, and in years past you had three segments at 40, 30 and 20 laps, respectively, with the field being inverted after the first two segments. Have the frequent format changes altered your approach to the race in any way?

"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 Race 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.

"At the same time, the style of racing is very different. Guys that run well in the All-Star race will run well in the Coke 600, but they're not going to beat and bang like they might in the All-Star race."

With other tracks wanting Sprint Cup races and NASCAR wanting to be in new markets, is the All-Star Race 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."

Greg Zipadelli, crew chief of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing:

You've done a ton of testing this year. Do you feel like you're getting a better handle on the current generation race car?

"These cars are just different. It seems like we're still learning and you're always going back with different things. Obviously, it's a lot better than last year at this time when we were going to race tracks where we really didn't have a lot of experience with this car. The All-Star race gives us another opportunity to learn what this car likes in similar conditions to what we'll have next week when we come back to Charlotte for the 600."

Are you surprised with how much you've learned about the current generation car from the 16 races you ran last year to going full-time with it this year?

"It's funny. We did learn a lot, but you still feel like you don't have anywhere near the knowledge you need to fix them sometimes when you have problems. They are so different than what we had before. There's a lot of ways to skin a cat right now with these cars, so choosing the right way with the practice time you have is really important."

-credit: jgr

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart