Tony Stewart rested and ready for Bristol ATLANTA (March 20, 2002) - Despite the harrowing accident in last Sunday's Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway that sent Tony Stewart via helicopter to the Carolinas Hospital System...
Tony Stewart rested and ready for Bristol
ATLANTA (March 20, 2002) - Despite the harrowing accident in last Sunday's Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway that sent Tony Stewart via helicopter to the Carolinas Hospital System in Florence, S.C., for an overnight stay, the driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac will be back in action at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway for this Sunday's Food City 500.
No relief driver will be standing by. No help from his crew members will be needed entering and exiting the car. No qualms about the physical nature of racing at Bristol. It's just another racing weekend for Stewart.
And if there were a perfect venue to return to after enduring such a hard accident, Stewart feels that Bristol is as good a place as any. "It's my favorite track. Why shouldn't I feel comfortable racing there?"
With that, Stewart comes to Bristol ready to pick up where he left off the last time he visited the .533-mile oval. It was the August night race where Stewart picked up career win No. 12, a win that was one of the more satisfying for Stewart.
"Bristol is one of those places where there are so many variables and so many things that can go wrong during the race that everything has to be absolutely perfect for you to even stay in the top-five," said Stewart after last year's Bristol stomp. "If you have a perfect day you might run fifth. It's awesome when you can come away with a win."
Come Sunday, Stewart plans to be awesome again.
How do you feel after your accident in Darlington?
"I feel fine. It's just the normal deal after a wreck. You're going to feel sore and you're going to have some bruises. The aftermath from my wreck was no different. But I've been cleared by the doctors to race and my intentions are to go out there and do my job this weekend."
Do you remember anything from the accident?
"I remember hitting Buckshot (Jones, driver of the #44 Dodge) and I remember hitting the wall. That's about it. I'm told that Jimmy Spencer helped me out of the car."
Are you aware of the amount people who expressed concern following your accident?
"Yeah, I am. It's pretty impressive and eye-opening. From everyone at Home Depot to NASCAR to fellow drivers to the fans, the amount of calls, e-mails and just well-wishes was pretty overwhelming. I wasn't expecting it to be such a big deal, but the fact that so many people made a big deal out of it made me feel pretty good."
Do you have any concerns about your very next race coming at one of the most physically demanding tracks on the Winston Cup circuit?
"Physically, I feel like I'm in good enough shape right now that I could handle it. It's my favorite place to race at anyway. If I'm going to go somewhere a little bit banged up I'd rather go to my favorite place. To me, that's comfortable."
Have you given any more consideration to using the HANS device since your accident?
"No, I'm pretty happy with what I've got with the Hutchens device."
After Daytona (Fla.) you said that the pressure was off to go out and lead the points the way many expected you to. You could race hard week-in and week-out, as you seemingly had nothing to lose. After going from fifth to 12th in points after Darlington, do you feel that way again?
"We've been running hard week-in and week-out. The good thing from our standpoint is that we've run well every week. I look at last week as just another bump in the road for us. We'll just go back to work this week and take it one race at a time like we've been doing all year. We're just going to stick to our program and control the things that we can control."
Even though Bristol is one of the more challenging race tracks on the Winston Cup circuit, you excelled there right from the start. Why?
"Probably because Bristol is similar to Winchester (Ind.) and Salem (Ind.), places where I always ran well in the open-wheel cars. It's just a half-mile track and I like tracks that size - especially with the banking Bristol has. I seem to be better on the high-banked tracks anyway."
Was there something, perhaps unknowingly, that better prepared you for the short tracks once you arrived at places like Bristol, Martinsville (Va.) and Richmond (Va.)?
"Probably just the fact that my background was in sprint cars, where throttle control was everything. It's more critical than it is in a Cup car. Having to go through those experiences where you're on the gas hard, using that throttle to really get around the race track, were invaluable. It showed up at Bristol, where you use your right foot a lot."
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 day 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 day is key."
How do you deal with lapped traffic at Bristol?
"You just have to be real patient. Most of the time they're pretty good about letting you go. It's hard. The track's crowded. But I felt that in traffic was where The Home Depot team excelled at times last year. We seemed to get through traffic at the right times and we were able to pull away afterward. I actually look forward to lapped traffic because I'm able to use it to my advantage."
How important is it to qualify up front at Bristol?
"It's real important. Track position is a big deal at Bristol because it's so hard to pass. It sure makes your day a lot easier if you can qualify up front and stay there during the race."
Because Bristol is so fast and so small and things happen so quickly, 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 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."