CHARLOTTE, N.C., (May 22, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the ...
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (May 22, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, heads into this year's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with one less thing to worry about… sort of.
Last year at this time, Stewart was in the midst of practicing and qualifying a Home Depot-sponsored Dallara/Aurora Indy Racing League (IRL) entry in Speedway, Ind., for the Indianapolis 500. At the same time, he was traveling back-and-forth between Indy and Charlotte to practice and qualify his #20 Home Depot Pontiac for the Coca-Cola 600. Both races were to be held on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, with the Indy 500 starting at 11 a.m. EST, and the Coca-Cole 600 starting just after 6 p.m. EDT. Not since 1994 had such a feat been attempted, when John Andretti drove to a 10th-place finish at Indy before flying to Charlotte to race a Billy Hagan-owned Chevrolet in the 600.
Stewart one-upped Andretti in his Double Duty stint by becoming the first driver to finish both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. Stewart drove to a ninth-place finish at Indy before soldiering home to a strong fourth-place finish in the 600, despite the physical attrition he was suffering from driving what would be a total of 1,090 miles.
This year, the Coca-Cola 600 is the only race that Stewart will be driving in. But that doesn't mean it's the only race he's competing in.
Stewart is part-owner of an IRL team called Tri-Star Motorsports, where his driver - Jeret Schroeder - has qualified 29th at a speed of 219.322 mph for the 84th running of the Indianapolis 500. Stewart won't have to endure the rigors of racing at Indy and Charlotte in one day, but he will have to endure the stress that comes with team ownership in one of the highest profile races in the world.
Nonetheless, Stewart will be much more focused for this year's Coca-Cola 600, albeit after he turns off the satellite feed from Indianapolis. Lopping 500 miles from his racing regimen was a big help in this, which could spell big trouble for his competition. Stewart was only three spots away from winning last year's Coca-Cola 600. Now that he has 500 less miles to drive, Stewart will be sharper than ever to bag the longest race on the Winston Cup schedule.
You're not competing at Indy this year as a driver, but you are competing at Indy as a car owner. How are you balancing your responsibilities in Indy with your driving duties in Charlotte?
"The ownership role is a little more frustrating at times. It's a lot easier when you're in the car and you can tell what's going on. It's a lot harder when you can't feel what the car's doing and you have to rely strictly on what the driver is telling you. As far as what we've got going on in Charlotte - that's instinctive. I'm in the driver's seat and Greg's (Zipadelli, crew chief) on the radio. I'm a lot more familiar with that situation."
You still have a pretty hectic schedule. Talk about that.
"It really hasn't been that bad. Basically, I was in Indy for five days straight last week prior to The Winston. I'm going back for Bubble Day on Sunday, and then I won't be back until Wednesday for Pole Night. It hasn't been hard at all travel-wise."
Do you consider not driving at Indy this year as a weight being lifted from your shoulders, or do you miss not racing in the 500?
"Probably both. My heart wants to be at Indy as a driver, but at the same time, I'm trying to take care of my responsibilities with The Home Depot team. I feel like I've got stronger responsibilities to those people, especially the guys on the team. They were all very supportive of me going back and running Indy last year. I feel like I let them down in the 600 last year. I felt like I could've and should've won the race. To be fair to those guys, I made the decision to not leave this year and go run Indy. I'm going to stay here and run the 600 instead."
Robby Gordon is attempting to do this year what you did last year, while Jason Leffler will run the Busch Series race on Saturday before running Indy on Sunday. What advice would you give to those guys?
"I think it'll be a little easier for Jason because he's running the Busch race on Saturday and he'll have a night to recover before he runs Indy. He doesn't have to do both in the same day. With Robby, he's a pretty sharp guy and he's pretty physically fit. I think he'll probably fare better physically than I did last year. He takes pretty good care of himself. I think nutrition-wise he'll know what to do to keep his energy up during the day. He runs well at both places, so I'm sure he won't have any problems."
What are some of the things that you and crew chief Greg Zipadelli tried during the course of The Winston race weekend that you'll put into place for the Coca-Cola 600?
"We're just going to try to get the car comfortable. It was a little easier to justify running some experimental stuff last weekend than it would be this weekend. But really, all we're looking to do is get the balance of The Home Depot Pontiac the way we want it for 600 miles."
A lot is made about the Coca-Cola 600 being the longest race on the Winston Cup schedule. How difficult are those last 100 miles to get through?
"It'll be a little easier to figure out what 600 miles feels like as opposed to 500. Last year, I was at 1,000 miles by the time I ran that last 100 miles. I'll probably have a better perspective on it this year than I did last year."
Do you drive more conservatively at the onset of the Coca-Cola 600 to save your equipment because it does have an extra 100 miles?
"No. The thing with the 600 is that when you start the race it's still daytime and it's still fairly warm. Throughout the race the temperature keeps going down and going down and the track conditions keep changing. It's just a matter of making sure that you're staying up with the changing track conditions. Whether the track's tightened up or loosened up, you've just got to make sure that for each segment of the race you know what you need changed on the car to get yourself ready for the next segment."
The Coca-Cola 600 tends to be an attrition-filled race on equipment and people. What do you do to pace yourself to go the distance?
"We're all used to running 500-mile races each week, and I really don't think that extra 100 miles is that big of a factor in all reality. You stay focused. You drive the car the same. You have the same intensity level. You approach the race in the same way. It just takes a little longer, that's all." <pre> TONY STEWART'S CHARLOTTE PERFORMANCE PROFILE Year Event Start Finish Status/Laps Earnings 1999 Coca-Cola 600 27 4 Running/400 $76,275 UAW-GM Quality 500 5 19 Running/331 $39,315