CHARLOTTE, N.C., (March 6, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the ...
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (March 6, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, heads into this Sunday's Cracker Barrel 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway fresh of a strong second-place finish in the CarsDirect.com 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The 1999 Rookie of the Year winner looks to continue his hot streak by emulating the success of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte at Atlanta. Labonte has scored four wins at the 1.54-mile oval, including the season-ending NAPA 500 last November. While Labonte's Atlanta track record is an impressive one, it's a mark that The Home Depot team feels is fully within their grasp.
Your teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, Bobby Labonte, has enjoyed a lot of success at Atlanta Motor Speedway. How has the success of the #18 team helped you at Atlanta?
"You look at Bobby's record there and not only do they qualify well, but they race well. It makes the transition for me a lot easier because they have great notes for Atlanta. I know that when I go out in my Home Depot Pontiac, the setup is going to be fairly close to Bobby's to begin with."
You had two top-15 finishes last year at Atlanta. What areas are you and the team working on to improve upon that respectable mark?
"Last year Atlanta was only my fourth Winston Cup race. We didn't have a lot of time in a Cup car yet, and to be able to run 11th was a good run for The Home Depot team. We had a top-five car in the last race, but we had a pit stop late in the race that cost us. I think this year we'll be better just from the standpoint that we have more experience."
You're running speeds at Atlanta in the mid-190 mph range. Is that too fast, and is there any margin for error?
"I don't know. I haven't hit the wall yet at Atlanta - at least not hard. I've brushed it coming off of (turn) four. It's a pretty fast race track. I think as time goes on and the track surface ages, the speeds will probably slow down some. Right now it's a pretty fast race track, and when you do hit the wall you hit it pretty hard. There's not much room for error simply because of how fast the track is. The faster you go the more race track you need to get your car back under control."
What's the trickiest part to making a quick lap at Atlanta?
"It's got its set of bumps. You need to make sure your car gets over the bumps but still turns well. Normally, if you turn after you hit the bumps, you're tight. If you turn before you hit the bumps, you're loose. Just finding that common balance - getting the car over the bumps but having it turn at the same time - that's what you're shooting for."
GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix
How do you set your car up for 500 miles at Atlanta Motor Speedway?
"We get our driver good and comfortable and run as consistent as we can through a full fuel run. When it comes to pit strategy, we don't really do two-tire stops. Tony doesn't like it, and every time we've done one, it never seems to help us out. We just try to make the car handle as best as it can. About the only strategy that works out there is fuel mileage at the end of the race."