Darlington Pontiac Racing preview

DETROIT (August 29, 2000) - Drivers and crew chiefs will all turn into managers of one form or another this weekend as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series heads to Darlington Raceway. Drivers will manage their tires and their cars, while crew chiefs...

DETROIT (August 29, 2000) - Drivers and crew chiefs will all turn into managers of one form or another this weekend as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series heads to Darlington Raceway. Drivers will manage their tires and their cars, while crew chiefs will manage set-ups and their drivers. Darlington is a place where everyone talks about racing the racetrack instead of racing the competition, and for anyone to beat the 50-year-old South Carolina oval they have to take care of their own equipment for 500 grueling miles.

Home Depot Pontiac driver Tony Stewart tested at Darlington one week ago in an effort to learn more about the track and put himself in a position to get his seventh career victory in one of NASCAR's most prestigious events. Caterpillar Pontiac driver Ward Burton broke into victory lane at Darlington last spring for his second career win and is returning this week with the same car that led 188 of 293 laps in March.


...on testing at Darlington - is there any substitute for experience?: "It's one of those tracks that is so hard on tires that any time you can go there, you've got to keep trying to find something that makes the tires live longer. I keep learning things every time I go there. I think we learned more this time. We learned a lot with shocks and I learned a lot as a driver trying some different things that I had an opportunity to try. Hopefully those are little things that will add up and make us just a little bit better when we go back for the race."

...on the new tire at Darlington: "I think it's going to make the drivers more important and make the set-ups more important because the tires just seem to have a little less grip. I think that was in an effort to try to make them live longer. But that's the tire we're on and we've just got to do what we can to try to make the thing as consistent and durable as we can, and make it last as long as we can right now."

...is car management one of his strengths?: "I hope it will be. We're kind of in a situation there where we don't really know how everybody else is going to be when they get there, but it seems like when we do get in that situation, we're fairly decent. I'm hoping that will help and play to our favor."

...on the Southern 500: "I've learned a lot about the history of Winston Cup racing and NASCAR, and I know how important the Southern 500 is to a lot of people. I understand how big of a race it really is. It's one of the few you can put in that kind of a category. It's a race that everybody wants to win. Now, it's not the Daytona 500 and it's not the Brickyard 400, but it ranks up there with the Coca-Cola 600. It's just one of the more important races of the year, and it's at one of the toughest places of the year."

...which does he prefer: winning a race by a big margin or beating someone by a nose?: "I'd much rather just blow the field away to be honest. There are so many things that can happen late in the race if the field is real tight. You hope that you can just get away from everybody to STEWART, BURTON 2-2-2-2

where it's just you and the racetrack, and you're racing the stopwatch versus racing other guys at that point. If it gets down to the end and you've got guys around you, then it's going to get pretty interesting those last couple laps, so I'd much rather just go on and be ahead of everybody."


...on the team's test at Darlington the week after Michigan: "The test seemed to go alright. The track conditions were probably real similar to the way they'll be when we go back. It was hot and sunny. Goodyear brought a new tire. It didn't seem to have as much grip, but it's supposed to last a little longer so we had to work on our car to get it where it drove good and the balance was good. It was pretty difficult with the tire as hard as it is and as hot as it was, but we felt like we left there on a fairly high note."

...is the tire supposed to last a little longer during a run at Darlington?: "That's what their goal is. We didn't see that it lasted, as far as the speed staying much longer than it had in the past. It just had less grip and the wear wasn't as bad. It seemed like it worked a little bit, but I think we gave up a bunch of grip, so it was a little frustrating."

...will it make any difference in the racing there?: "You'll just have to race the racetrack. You won't be racing anybody all day. It will be the same. It actually may be worse because the tire has less grip. The drive has a lot less confidence in his car than when it's stuck to the racetrack, so I don't know what the race will be like. There will most likely be four or five cars like normal that are good, that will swap positions throughout the run. Some of them will be better at the front (of a run) and some will be better in the back (of a run). That will probably be it."

...why did you decide to test at Darlington?: "We went to Darlington last spring and it went really well. It was rain-shortened and we finished sixth, but ran third and fourth all day. We went back in the fall and basically couldn't hit our butt. We struggled. It was hot. The track was slick. That's what is so different about Darlington. A lot of that is a driver having laps and confidence at that place, so we went back and burned another test for that, and because they changed the tire. "I think it was a plus. We're looking at going back there and running in the top five all day. That's what our goal is. He (Tony) learned a ton just going there. We ran 365 laps and he learned about the racetrack - where to run, his runs became more consistent at the end of the day when we first got there. If we didn't learn anything, I still think it was a very positive thing just because he got more laps on that racetrack."

...can they win there this week?: "I believe we can. I think the thing we showed in the spring is that we probably had a car as good as Ward Burton's, maybe sometimes even better. We just had terrible pit stops. We had a shot at winning it. We were running right there. We were within a couple seconds of the leader, and we had a 28-second pit stop. I think we lost like eight spots or something like that. We ran all those guys back down and finished fourth, so we did have a good car. "I don't think there is any place that we can't win. Whether we will or not is another thing, but you have to have that confidence going to these racetracks. If you don't think you can win somewhere or you don't expect to go there and win, then you probably won't."

...does Tony make his job as a crew chief easier because of his ability to take care of his own equipment at a place like Darlington?: "Sometimes it's very difficult, sometimes it's very easy. He seems to do well at Darlington. If we're good at Darlington and we run good like we did in the spring, he did a great job. Last fall, he got frustrated really easy and then it's really hard to try and get him back focused. I think it all depends how our car is, how our pit stops go - all of those things like that kind of dictate how confident the driver is all day long. That's a big part of it."

...is it tough to call a race as a crew chief while also trying to manage a driver?: "Yeah, but you just do what you can. It's your job. Sometimes you have good days at it and sometimes you feel like maybe you didn't do enough at it. That's all part of the sport. That is why it is so interesting. It takes everybody - the guys over the wall, the guys behind the wall, me making decisions, Tony making the right decisions. It is truly a team effort."


...on returning to Darlington after dominating there in the spring: "Darlington has been a good track for me. My Caterpillar team has been able to give me some good cars there. We're taking the same car back, so we're hoping that we'll have the chassis working similar to when we were there last time."

...does a new tire change the set-up equation: "It certainly does. I wish Goodyear would leave the tires alone. It doesn't seem like these tires are nearly as consistent as the brand that we had before, so it creates some problems for us at times. But it definitely throws a whole other dimension to not only using your notes, but also to trying to do your homework properly before you take a car to the racetrack."

...would winning the Southern 500 mean more than winning the spring race at Darlington?: "No. A race is a race, as far as I'm concerned. To win at Darlington was awful special and it was awful special to win with the relatively new team and all of my new sponsors. Putting them in victory circle for the first time was real special for us."

...does he like running races where the driver has to really manage his car?: "Yeah. We have seemed to do pretty well on tracks that wear the tires out like Rockingham and Darlington. Obviously the driver plays a part in managing the tires and not using the car up too quickly. But I'll tell you what; the last couple times at tracks like that where we eat the tires up pretty quickly, the car set-up manages the tires probably more so than the driver. Like last time (at Darlington) when I was racing the '24' (Jeff Gordon) at the beginning of the race, he was as quick as I was the first five to 10 laps and it wasn't anything that he was doing. It was just that his car gave up and mine didn't. Car set-up is of the utmost importance at those kinds of tracks that eat tires up."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ward Burton , Tony Stewart