Charlotte: Tony Stewart preview

ATLANTA (May 22, 2002) - While Highway 29 outside of Charlotte Motor Speedway may not be Wall Street, Tony Stewart is still bullish about his chances in round 12 of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series - the Coca-Cola 600. Stewart is a No Bull 5...

ATLANTA (May 22, 2002) - While Highway 29 outside of Charlotte Motor Speedway may not be Wall Street, Tony Stewart is still bullish about his chances in round 12 of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series - the Coca-Cola 600.

Stewart is a No Bull 5 driver, which means that he's eligible for a $1 million bonus if he wheels his Home Depot Pontiac to victory in the longest race on the Winston Cup schedule. Also bullish about Stewart's performance in Sunday's race is Colleen Moriarity, the fan paired with Stewart as part of Winston's "They Win, You Win" sweepstakes. If Stewart wins and collects a $1 million paycheck, so too does Moriarity.

Stewart has always run strong at Charlotte, as exhibited by his performance last fall in the UAW-GM Quality 500 where he finished a career-best second at the 1.5-mile oval. And in last year's Coca-Cola 600, Stewart finished third, despite having competed in the Indianapolis 500 earlier that very day.

With Indy out of the picture this year, Stewart's focus is squarely on Charlotte - and that's No Bull.

How much fun is it to have the opportunity to make a race fan a millionaire?

"The hard thing is that it breaks my heart when we haven't been able to accomplish that for someone and been able to help them become a millionaire. It's got its good points and bad points. If we're lucky enough to be successful and make Colleen a millionaire, then it's going to be one of the best feelings in the world. I don't know how you could feel any better than helping someone become a millionaire."

Why did you decide not to race at Indianapolis this year and pull Double Duty?

"We're in a good position right now in the season. We've been running really good everywhere we've been this year. I had the back injury after the Darlington (S.C.) crash, I have the opportunity to run for a million dollars and help a very nice race fan hopefully win a million dollars, also. We don't want to take a chance on doing anything that could jeopardize any of those chances for any of us. We feel like this is our best opportunity to win a championship. Our performance on the track has been good enough to do that. We just need a little luck on our side. We haven't had that, so why add another event that could be bad luck for us?"

Now that you're a third of the way into the Winston Cup season, is this the time of year when you start to think about picking up points?

"I look at it that every week is an opportunity to pick up points. It just seems like the past three years we typically never got off to a really good start, for some reason. This year has been a little bit different. Our performance on the race track has been good enough to keep us in the top-10 in the point standings, but we've had some bad luck with the blown motor at Daytona (Fla.) on the second lap, leading the race at Darlington and getting in a crash, having to get pulled out of the car at Bristol (Tenn.), the Talladega (Ala.) wreck. Those have been some bad races for us. But, if you look at the fact that we've had four bad races there out of 10 or 11 so far, and are still in the top-10 in points, I think that's pretty impressive and shows the strength of this Home Depot team."

Are you prepared to make a run at the title?

"We've been trying that since Daytona in February. I don't know why this the time of year that we really get going. I think a lot of it has to do with the temperature. It seems like when the race tracks gain a lot of temperature in the middle of the summer, that's when we start gaining a lot of strength - when the tracks lose a lot of grip. It's not something that we physically say, 'Well, now we're in a part of the season that we like. This is when we're going to start doing things.' We don't approach our race weekends any different now than we did when we started at Daytona or Rockingham (N.C.) in February. We're still doing the same things we typically do. It just seems like historically in the past, and we're somewhat optimistic and hoping that it goes along with the past, that this is the part of the year where we'll really start getting on a run and get some consistent top-fives and hopefully some more wins here pretty soon."

The Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race on the Winston Cup circuit. Do you approach it any differently than you would a standard 400 or 500-mile race?

"In all reality, it's no different than any other race. It is an extra 100 miles, but that's not that much longer of a distance, physically, to worry about running. We have short races, we have long races. This just happens to be the long one. It's probably more of a challenge for the engine builders this year than anybody right now."

GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac

Will the Coca-Cola 600 be the first major test for the one engine rule?

"The motor room is working 24 hours a day, basically, at looking to trying to make stuff more durable and make more horsepower. I'm sure some teams are going to elect to bring stuff that they know has run a lot of laps in the past. I know we are. It's maybe a few horsepower off of some of the better stuff we could have. But, that extra time on it - I guess you can look at how many practice laps you've run. We had The Winston the other night and a bunch of laps there to give you some ideas. Weather conditions will kind of determine how much you run, or at least for us, as far as if the weather is a whole bunch different. That race track seems pretty sensitive. Air temperature and track temperature will hopefully dictate if we need to run a bunch of laps or if we can kind of take what we learned at The Winston, put it in the race car and kind of work off of that."

Does the extra 100 miles of the Coca-Cola 600 mean as much as people make it out to be?

"Other than wear and tear on the motor and keeping your fingers crossed that with the new motor rules - which I think is a great thing for our sport - that you don't run into any problems. Not really - it gives you an extra 100 miles to adjust on your car. That's how we look at it. It may hurt some of the people that lose their concentration a little bit here and there and can't get back in the zone. That's a big part of this thing is driver's focus and concentration, crew members and everybody else. It's a little bit longer and a little bit more drawn out. But, you've got to focus and pay attention a little bit longer."

Are you looking forward to having Tony in Charlotte all week and not in Indianapolis?

"Obviously, he'll be 120 percent focused here the whole week and he'll be in The Home Depot car for all the practices. In the past, he's done a great job of trying to give us 150 percent, if that's possible, when he's there doing what he can. When he gets in the car, starting from the back, he's been good and we've had success with him doing that. It's a dream of his. I've got dreams of mine and I hope that someday, if I've got an opportunity to do some things, he'll support me in the same way that we have in the past.

"It will be good to have him here the whole week. I'm sure someday down the road he is going to want to do it again. Hopefully, things will go as smoothly as they have in the past for us. That's the only thing is you just put yourself at risk in a lot of different things when you do that. Him doing it - I think it's awesome and it's great to be a part of it, to know that he finished in the top-10 both times that he did it. And honestly and truly, if things had gone a little bit better in either one, he probably could have won both of them. He wasn't that far off. Knowing you were part of that, I take some personal pride in wanting to be a part of that and helping him any way I can. If that's what he wants to do, we'll support it again."

-jgr/hdr-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart