STEWART SAVORS STRONG SEASON WHILE PREPARING FOR BRICKYARD INDIANAPOLIS, July 19, 1999 - Tony Stewart already has won $378,143 more in his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series season than three-time champion Jeff Gordon did in his rookie ...
STEWART SAVORS STRONG SEASON WHILE PREPARING FOR BRICKYARD
INDIANAPOLIS, July 19, 1999 - Tony Stewart already has won $378,143 more in his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series season than three-time champion Jeff Gordon did in his rookie 30-race season of 1993. Gordon finished 14th and didn't win a race that first year. Stewart is sixth in the standings - only 45 points behind his fellow former open-wheel driver Gordon - and probably would have won his first race July 11 at New Hampshire if he had another couple of gallons of gas in the fuel cell of his The Home Depot Pontiac. His season earnings are $1,143,311. Of course, Gordon's 1999 winnings already are a staggering $3,866,451. But Stewart isn't comparing himself to Gordon, who offers his fellow Hoosier weekly advice, or anyone else. With only Sunday's race at Pocono left before his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series experience at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - the Brickyard 400 on Aug. 7 - Stewart considers himself the luckiest rookie on the premier stock-car circuit. Why? Because he races for one of the strongest teams, Joe Gibbs Racing, and with one of the toughest competitors, teammate Bobby Labonte. "I'm just a small piece of the puzzle," he said. "I'm the weakest link." He quickly amended the latter statement during a Monday-morning press conference that took place before the beginning of a two-day testing session for General Motors teams at the Speedway. "I didn't say because I was the weak link that I was a bad link," he said. When comparing Stewart and Gordon, there is another striking similarity in their rookie campaigns. Gordon and crew chief Ray Evernham both joined the Winston Cup circuit together as newcomers. Stewart and his chief mechanic, Greg Zipadelli, also have come into NASCAR's big time together as first-timers. Stewart thinks this is a good thing. "Greg and I stood at the ladder looking up and saying, 'OK, how do we get up there?'" he said. "This is my 20th year in racing, and there's probably been three or four crew chiefs that I had a relationship with like I have with Greg. "Larry Curry (his crew chief for three seasons while driving in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League) was one of them also, and there were two guys I ran midgets for that were the same way. It's all about chemistry. You sit here thinking you put a crew chief and driver together working for the same cause, and how could they not get along? "We're both eager to win races and win championships." Stewart called the way their friendship developed as weird. Stewart knew of Connecticut native Zipadelli -crew chief on Mike Stefanik's Busch North championship car in 1997 - but had no idea what he looked like until they were united as Winston Cup rookies for this season. Again, Gordon got his opportunity driving for Rick Hendrick, a top-flight operation. And Stewart's chance came with Joe Gibbs, who provides the same high-level program. "It's like winning the lottery," Stewart said. Stewart praised Gibbs, who coached two Washington Redskins' teams to Super Bowl championships, for his skill in selecting the right people for the jobs they are assigned and then allowing them to do their tasks without interference, whether it be sweeping the shop floor or driving the race car. Driving in the Indianapolis 500 was Stewart's goal since he first climbed behind the wheel of a go-kart in his native Columbus, Ind. That dream came true in 1996, when he became a second driver on the Pep Boys Indy Racing League team owned by John Menard. That big chance came after scoring an unprecedented sweep of the USAC Silver Crown, sprint and midget championships in 1995. He qualified third fastest at 233.100 mph, but wound up starting on the pole when pole winner Scott Brayton was fatally injured in a practice crash and Arie Luyendyk had his second-place speed disqualified because the car was underweight. Stewart led 44 laps that year but fell out in 24th place due to engine failure. In 1997, he finished fifth in a quintet of racers that crossed the line only seconds apart. He led 64 times in that race. In 1998, he qualified fourth fastest and took the lead on Lap 22 only to have the engine expire a short distance further down the track as he approached Turn 1. Then last May 30 he did auto racing's daily double. He started 24th and brought his The Home Depot Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear home in ninth place in the Indianapolis 500, then immediately flew to Charlotte, N.C., jumped into his stock car and charged from 27th to fourth in the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. He drove 1,090 racing miles in less than 12 hours. "Once was enough," Stewart said about trying a repeat of that feat. But that certainly hasn't lessened his desire to win at Indy. It's just that now he'll have to do it in a stock car. "Growing up in Indiana, you want to win Indy," he said. But he doesn't expect his first Brickyard start to be as emotional as it was when he took his first green flag in the Indianapolis 500. Unless he should win this Sunday at Pocono, a victory at Indy would be his first in Winston Cup. "I don't care where we win the first one," he said. "It would be great to win here." Gordon scored his initial Winston Cup victory in the Coca-Cola 600 in 1994. Two months later, he won the inaugural Brickyard 400. "It'll be fun on Sunday morning (after the Brickyard) to say this is what I did at Indy in an Indy car and this what did at Indy in a stock car," he said. Stewart should join John Andretti, Geoff Brabham, A.J. Foyt, Robby Gordon and Danny Sullivan as the only drivers to start in both races. Oddly, Stewart has not seen any of the five previous Brickyards in person, only on television. He's been racing somewhere. Stewart, who has four top-five finishes and 10 top 10s, could become the first rookie to finish in the top 10 in the Winston Cup point standings since Jody Ridley in 1980. Also, he could become the second straight rookie of the year from Indiana. Last year's winner, Kenny Irwin, was born and reared in Indianapolis. The only rookies to win races during their first season have been the late Davey Allison (two), seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt (one) and lesser knowns Ron Bouchard (one), Earl Ross (one) and Shorty Rollins (one). James Hylton finished in the top 10 32 times out of 41 races in 1966, but he never won. Stewart isn't concerning himself with what people have done in the past. "I'm just trying to stay off the fences every week," he said.
BRICKYARD 400 NOTEBOOK
Event schedule: The sixth annual Brickyard 400 starts at 12:15 p.m. (CDT) Aug. 7. Pole qualifying starts at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 5. Qualifying for starting positions 26-36 begins at 1 p.m. Aug. 6. The first practice session will take place from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. (CDT) Aug. 5. Practice continues from 4-4:45 p.m. Aug. 5 and 9:30-noon Aug. 6. Final practice takes place from 2:15-3:15 p.m. Aug. 6. *** Broadcast schedule: The Brickyard 400 will be broadcast live on ABC and the Indy Racing Radio Network at 1 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 7. ESPN's prerace show starts at noon Aug. 7, while the Indy Racing Radio Network prerace show starts at 12:30 p.m. Aug. 7. ESPN will televise pole qualifying live from 2:30-4 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 5. ESPN2 will offer live pole qualifying coverage from 4-5 p.m. Aug. 5 and live second-day qualifying from 1-2 p.m. Aug. 6. The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast live pole qualifying coverage from 2-4 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 5. Qualification wrap-up shows will be broadcast from 6-6:30 p.m. Aug. 5-6. The "Brickyard Live" talk show will be broadcast from 9-10 p.m. Aug. 4-5. ESPN and ESPN2 also will provide thorough coverage of Brickyard 400 practice and race previews Aug. 6. Highlights of "Happy Hour" practice will be shown on ESPN2 from 6-7 p.m., while the "Before They Go Green" preview will be shown on ESPN from 7:30-8:30 p.m. *** Monday's General Motors testing speeds (GM testing to continue Tuesday):
Pos Car # Driver Car Time Speed 1 22 Ward Burton Pontiac 50.535 sec. 178.094 mph 2 43 John Andretti Pontiac 50.598 177.873 3 45 Rich Bickle Pontiac 50.604 177.852 4 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 50.627 177.771 5 60 Geoffrey Bodine Chevrolet 50.802 177.158 6 1 Steve Park Chevrolet 50.925 176.730 7 42 Joe Nemechek Chevrolet 50.991 176.502 8 40 Sterling Marlin Chevrolet 51.001 176.467 9 7 Michael Waltrip Chevrolet 51.098 176.132 10 18 Bobby Labonte Pontiac 51.106 176.105 11 25 Wally Dallenbach Chevrolet 51.118 176.063 12 44 Kyle Petty Pontiac 51.138 175.994 13 36 Ernie Irvan Pontiac 51.262 175.569 14 33 Ken Schrader Chevrolet 51.280 175.507 15 20 Tony Stewart Pontiac 51.303 175.428 16 31 Mike Skinner Chevrolet 51.324 175.357 17 5 Terry Labonte Chevrolet 51.363 175.223 18 41 David Green Chevrolet 51.454 174.914 19 55 Kenny Wallace Chevrolet 51.543 174.611 20 3 Dale Earnhardt Chevrolet 51.590 174.452 21 4 Bobby Hamilton Chevrolet 51.647 174.260 22 00 Buckshot Jones Pontiac 51.757 173.890 23 91 Dick Trickle Chevrolet 51.792 173.772 24 30 Derrike Cope Pontiac 52.050 172.911 25 93 Dave Blaney Pontiac 52.214 172.368 26 01 Jeff Green Chevrolet 52.242 172.275 27 50 Ricky Craven Chevrolet 52.323 172.008 28 71 Dave Marcis Chevrolet 52.383 171.811 29 05 Morgan Shepherd Pontiac 53.019 169.750