TONY STEWART Always In for the All-Star Race KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (May 13, 2009) -- The name of the race has changed a handful of times, and its format seems to get adjusted each and every year, but the ultimate goal remains the same.
Always In for the All-Star Race
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (May 13, 2009) -- The name of the race has changed a handful of times, and its format seems to get adjusted each and every year, but the ultimate goal remains the same. Win.
That is the only mainstay of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, the non-points event for recent winners in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (2008-2009), as well as past All-Star Race victors and former series champions held annually at Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, N.C.
This year's edition totals 100 laps around the 1.5-mile oval, and it's broken into four segments of 50 laps, 20 laps, 20 laps and then a final 10-lap shootout.
Ask Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing, if he's familiar with the most recent tweak to the 25-year-old event and he'll simply shrug his shoulders and say, "No." The format is of little matter to Stewart, for as long as there's a checkered flag at the end, he knows what to do, as evidenced by his 33 career Sprint Cup wins and two series championships (2002 and 2005).
And while winless in the All-Star Race, Stewart is actually undefeated in the undercard Sprint Showdown, the 40-lap heat race for non-eligible drivers held two hours before the All-Star Race.
Way back in 1999 when Stewart was a rookie in what used to be known as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, he advanced into The Winston -- the event we currently call the All-Star Race -- by winning The Winston Open (now known as the Sprint Showdown). Stewart used the promotion for all it was worth, as he came from his last-place starting spot to finish second to Terry Labonte.
Now that Stewart has won at least one race in every season he's competed in the Sprint Cup Series, he's always been a member of the elite All-Star Race. Back in the All-Star race for an 11th straight season, Stewart is looking to improve upon the five top-five finishes he's earned in the event, with his best result being that second-place effort back in 1999.
For obvious reasons, a win would be ideal. But if victory isn't in the cards, 100 laps of track time at night is a precious commodity.
With NASCAR having banned testing at all tracks that host its top-three national touring series -- Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck -- time on the track in actual race conditions is impossible to come by, with the lone exception being Saturday night's All-Star Race.
While winning is at the forefront of each driver's mind, gaining valuable information for how their car will react in the following weekend's Coca-Cola 600 is just as important. With 400 laps being run on the same track, what's learned in the All-Star Race's 100 laps is applicable to what drivers will face in the longest race on the Sprint Cup schedule.
The All-Star Race literally provides a win-win scenario for drivers and their teams. The drivers get to vie for a $1 million victory with no points on the line and the teams they're racing for get a sneak peek at what they'll experience in one of the biggest races of the Memorial Day weekend.
For Stewart and his Stewart-Haas Racing team, they're going all in to this year's All-Star Race.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Are you familiar with the changes to this year's All-Star Race format?
"Nope, but I'm sure it won't be hard to figure out. I know that it's a no-holds-barred 100 laps and you could swear that we're short track racing on a big mile-and-a-half track.
"It doesn't matter to me what they do with the format. Whatever it is, the goal is still to win it. So, whether it's 10 laps, 40 laps -- it doesn't matter to us. The important thing is that it puts on a good show for our fans. At the same time, you'll figure it out. Whatever the format is, these teams figure out what's the best way to accomplish that goal, whether it's 10 laps or 20 laps or whatever."
Because the All-Star Race is a non-points event, does it take on the same kind of importance as a regular, point-paying race?
"It's an event for the fans and that's something that's very important to us, but there's a lot of bragging rights too. Charlotte is an area where 95 percent of the Cup teams are based, so when you go there, you want to run well. You're able to have guys come from the shop that don't get a chance to travel. They don't get a chance to come to the racetrack very often and see the fruits of their labor, so for them to come to the All-Star Race and see their cars run, especially when you have a good night, it really pumps up your organization. You do it for your fans, but at the same time, you do it for your organization and your team. That's why the All-Star Race is important."
When there are 36 point-paying Sprint Cup races, what makes the All-Star Race relevant?
"There's no points. Nobody's worried about how many points you're going to get and this and that. Guys take chances they don't normally take. You just know that it's going to be a wrestling match, and that's something you normally see reserved for Richmond or Martinsville or Bristol. This is a wrestling match on a mile-and-a-half track, and that's something that you just don't normally see. It's a Saturday night short track race at Charlotte. It makes it very, very interesting."
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."
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."
How would you feel about getting your first win as a driver/owner in a non-points race?
"I want to win everything every time, so I want to win the All-Star Race and all the races that come after it."
Your win in the 1999 edition of The Winston Open was your first trip, unofficially, to victory lane in NASCAR. What was that like?
"It was awesome. To do what we did, even though it wasn't with a full field...I mean just to win a race. Winning is winning to me. I was real appreciative of it and just excited that we got to victory lane once."
You ended up finishing second to Terry Labonte in The Winston. Did you think that you would have such a good shot at winning The Winston once you advanced into that race?
"There's no way I would've planned or predicted that. They had a big wreck that played a big role in that race. It took out a lot of good racecars. Even so, I don't think I could've sat there and said that we would even finish in the top-three. I just felt like we were really fortunate to get up there."
What kind of game plan did you establish for yourself once you made it into The Winston?
"We had no game plan. We went wide-open. We didn't have anything to lose. We started on the tail of the field and decided that we were gonna go out there and have fun. It was just like a Saturday night short track race. We were gonna race and have a good time doing it. That's what we did."