Ask and you shall receive ATLANTA (Aug. 19, 2003) - You may have heard that NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver Tony Stewart is not a big fan of the fuel mileage races that have played out in recent weeks. In case you haven't heard, here are some...
Ask and you shall receive
ATLANTA (Aug. 19, 2003) - You may have heard that NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver Tony Stewart is not a big fan of the fuel mileage races that have played out in recent weeks. In case you haven't heard, here are some Stewart excerpts:
"If we're going to keep fuel mileage racing, we might as well build solar cars and let the sun decide who wins."
"Between fuel mileage and track position being factors to win races, it's making Winston Cup racing pretty boring."
"We want to race by passing cars. We don't want to do it by fuel mileage. This fuel mileage racing sucks."
Thankfully for Stewart, the site of this weekend's race is Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, where fuel mileage is usually the furthest thing from a driver's mind. The tight and fast .533-mile oval with its 36 degrees of banking means that the most pressing concern for the field of 43 drivers is keeping your race car in one piece. That's no easy feat considering that in the series' last visit to Bristol in March, 17 caution periods for 121 laps were needed to clean up the detritus of battered race cars. Compare that to the number of cautions last Sunday at Michigan - eight for 46 laps - and you can understand why Bristol is more survival of the fittest than consumption of the fewest.
But Stewart may need to be wary of what he's asked for heading into Saturday night's Sharpie 500, for he might just get it.
In addition to his win at the 2001 Bristol night race, Stewart finished second in the 2000 night race and fifth in the 1999 night race. In those three races he led a total of 429 laps, or 28.6 percent of the 1,500 laps available. However, in his six other Bristol starts, Stewart has finished no better than 15th.
The silver lining in all of this is that Stewart's three best finishes at Bristol have come during the night race, a time which suits the nocturnally apt Stewart just fine. "I love the night races," said the driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet. "For me, the best hours of the day are when it's dark. I'm a lot sharper and a lot wider awake at night."
With his love of night racing ahead of him and his hate for fuel mileage racing behind him, Stewart comes to Bristol ready to live the track's slogan - "Racin' the way it oughtta be."
You've said from the time you were a rookie in Winston Cup that Bristol is your favorite race track. But with recent races at Bristol bringing less than stellar results, is the track still one of your favorites?
"It's one of those races that's feast or famine. I really enjoy going to Bristol, but with that being said, it's a tough track. If you're on, you're on. And if you're off just a little bit, it makes for a long night. You hope that you start the night off right and that you stay out of trouble. There are so many variables and so many things that can go wrong during your race that everything has to be absolutely perfect for you to even stay in the top-five. If you have a perfect day you might run fifth. It's awesome when you can come away with a win."
Is Bristol a welcome reprieve from the recent slate of fuel mileage races?
"Bristol is about what driver and which team does the best job and not about whose car is more aerodynamic or who gets the best fuel mileage. It's back to basics, really. You won't hear anybody talking about fuel mileage, aero pushes, downforce or dyno numbers. You'll hear them talking about handling and getting up on that wheel and making sure you keep the fenders on the car all night. It's nice to know that we can throw out some of those variables from the equation for one week and worry about beating guys because we did a better job of setting our race car up and I did a better job driving. If you can do that, it doesn't matter what you're driving."
Does Bristol's layout make it less susceptible to becoming a fuel mileage race?
"Yeah, because there's no such thing as fuel conservation at Bristol. You're on the gas hard and you're off it quick. It makes for exciting racing, that's for sure. I don't know how many people they pack in that place, but you know it's always packed. The racing is great, so I don't know why all these 1.5-mile, cookie-cutter race tracks are being built. How many of those do we go to? Six, seven, eight? It's pretty unimaginative. Bristol is where it's at. It's a driver's track, plain and simple."
Is the sense of speed heightened when you race under the lights at Bristol?
"I think it's more so for the fans. With the cars bottoming out they get to see sparks and everything else. That makes it a lot of fun for everybody involved. It's just a neat race."
How big of a win was your trip to victory lane in the 2001 Bristol night race?
"It was one of the most satisfying. I don't think it was the biggest. I still think the biggest was beating Dale Earnhardt in the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona (Fla.) in 2001. It would have been nice to have beaten him again that night at Bristol, but it still meant a lot just to win there. It was more of a personal triumph for me than anything. I've always liked Bristol and I've always wanted to win there. I'm just glad we had the opportunity to do that last year."
What were your thoughts the first time you came to Bristol?
"The first time I went there I was amazed. I went there in '96 with Harry Ranier's Busch Series team. We came through that gate and got down into the infield, I looked up and never saw a sight like what I saw that day. I felt like I walked into a football stadium with the stands the way that they are. I never even saw the track for the first 30 seconds. I saw all the grandstands and I thought, 'Man, they put that many people in this small race track?' I didn't think it could be done. Since then they've put in even more seats. Each year it keeps getting bigger and bigger."
Was there a track from you open-wheel days that prepared you for Bristol?
"Probably both Winchester (Ind.) and Salem (Ind.) prepared me for Bristol. We used to run on the top at those two tracks, whereas at Bristol we run on the bottom. But to run 14 to 16-second laps around there is just like it was in Indiana. It brings back a lot of memories. It's one of those tracks where you just don't get a chance to take a break. You're working all the time. That's what makes you proud when you can win a race like that - running in close quarters all day long and not having any major problems. You're just so excited when you accomplish something like that."
What part of your body hurts the most after a race at Bristol?
"You're physically worn out, but at the same time your head hurts. It's like being inside of an aluminum trash can with all your buddies hitting on it with ball-peen hammers. It's just loud all day. The atmosphere there is great - having the grandstands all the way around the race track with people so close to the track. It's just an unbelievable feeling. But when the race is over with, you're spent. It takes me a day to recover after that race."
Do you go into Bristol knowing that a little more give-and-take will be needed to ensure a strong finish?
"You've got to make sure that you keep the fenders on your car all night and that you're not beating up your race car. If that means a guy gets underneath you and you've got to let him go, then that's what you do. But at the same time, you still have to race hard and not give up track position and lap times because it doesn't take long before you're in lapped traffic. It's a track where you need to be really aggressive, but at the same time, taking care of your equipment all night is key."
Because things happen so quickly at Bristol, are your senses heightened more so than they are at other tracks?
"You just don't have time to relax. Everything happens so fast. At the end of the day when the race is done and your adrenaline wears off, you're worn out. But when you're in the car and the adrenaline's pumping, you don't get in that smooth, calm rhythm that you do at a place like Michigan or California where you've got big, sweeping corners and long straightaways. There's no time to relax. You don't get that luxury at Bristol. It's standard short track racing."