Tony Stewart Nothing to Lose ATLANTA (Sept. 21, 2004) - For Tony Stewart, there is no better NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series venue than the next one. The driver of the ...
Nothing to Lose
ATLANTA (Sept. 21, 2004) - For Tony Stewart, there is no better NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series venue than the next one. The driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet suffered a disastrous DNF (Did Not Finish) last Sunday at New Hampshire International Speedway when he was caught up in accident caused by Robby Gordon's seemingly retaliatory strike against fellow competitor Greg Biffle. Stewart's 39th place finish dropped him from fourth to eighth in the playoff-style Chase for the Championship, 124 points arrears series leaders Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch. And with only nine races remaining before the season ends, time - like Gordon - is no ally of the #20 team.
But their title chances are by no means over, because as was evident at New Hampshire, anything can happen. That is why the series' next stop at Dover (Del.) International Speedway is of such importance to The Home Depot Racing Team.
Dover is one of Stewart's best tracks, with an average finish of fourth in his 11 previous races at the high-banked, one-mile oval. He has finished outside of the top-10 only once, and that was an 11th place finish in the 2002 spring race. Overall, he has two wins, nine top-fives and a seventh-place result. The strong finishes have coincided with Stewart's up-front presence, as he has led 1,066 of the 4,400 laps available in the past five-and-a-half seasons (24.2 percent). And most importantly, Stewart has completed all but one of those 4,400 laps while never suffering a DNF.
With nothing to lose at a track where they have gained just about everything, Stewart and Co. are primed to make a comeback in this year's championship chase beginning with Sunday's MBNA America 400.
In 2002, you overcame a 43rd place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 to win the series championship. You were 146 points down after that race but you ended up taking the point lead with six races to go - a span of 30 races. Right now you're down by 124 points with only nine races left. Can you make a comeback with so few races remaining?
"Probably not, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. Obviously, what happened at New Hampshire didn't help us any, but it didn't kill us either. Lots of things can happen between now and Homestead (Fla.). This team has never quit on anything and we're not going to start now. We're going into these last nine races with absolutely nothing to lose. There's no pressure, really. Every week when we unload at the track we'll be looking for nothing else but a win."
Has your philosophy on the Chase for the Championship changed any?
"My philosophy in my 25 years of racing has been that if you win races then the points take care of themselves. If we don't win then we try to get second. If we can't get second then we try to get third. The higher you finish the more points you get. It's a pretty simple theory. You just go out and finish as high as you can each week and let the points fall where they may."
Is there a favorite amongst the Chase for the Championship?
"Anything can happen. I wish it was as easy as saying, 'That's the guy we're going to have to beat or we're favored right now.' There are so many variables in each race that can determine the outcome - it's hard to pick anybody right now. The level of competition is pretty tough between the top-10. One bad pit stop, a DNF or a wreck that happens in front of you that you get caught up in that makes you ride around the rest of the day just gathering points - that's all stuff that's out of our control and out of everybody's control and nobody can predict it. That's why it's really hard to pick one or two guys that might have an edge right now."
Did last week's race at New Hampshire change your outlook on the Chase for the Championship?
"It's hard to say. This is kind of a new experience for all of us. It's the first time we've run under this format and none of us really know what to expect. You're going to see a lot of the things you've already seen this year. Guys are going to be racing hard like always, but with nine races to go I think you'll be seeing guys drive in a way that I like to call 'cautiously aggressive'. You're going to race hard to get everything you can get, but with the thought in the back of your mind being that you can't do anything that's going to jeopardize you finishing the race. Taking a chance to gain one position might cost you 20 or 30 spots if it doesn't work. That's why you'll see guys be cautiously aggressive from here on out."
Your track record at Dover is excellent. After last week's race at New Hampshire, are you glad Dover is next on the schedule?
"We've looked at the schedule and said, 'Okay, these are tracks where we've had success in the past. It definitely makes you feel better, but at the same time every week is a different week and you've got to take it one week at a time. You never know what's going to happen. There are always variables that are out of your control each week. Even though we've had some success in the past at some of these places it's no guarantee that we're going to have success this time around."
How much of a role does aerodynamics play at Dover in comparison to handling?
"Both are important. Air is free, so if your aero program gives you a lot of downforce, that's great. But at the same time, with all the bumps Dover has, you have to work on the mechanical balance too. It's a track that requires every aspect of your racing program for you to be on the money."
Is Dover the type of race track where a driver can make up for a race car that isn't handling well or an engine that's down on horsepower?
"I think so. With the way the cars slide around on the race track late in the day, there are times when a driver can make up for what the car won't do. They can move around on the race track and help themselves out by finding a faster groove."
How physical is a race at Dover?
"It's really physical. The banking, the bumps - it all takes its toll on your body after a race."
How do you feel after a race at Dover?
"I normally sleep pretty good that night after the race is over. It's probably a little tougher on your body than the majority of the other races we run, but that's also why it feels so good when you win there, because you know it's a tough race."
Is Dover a good track to have on the Nextel Cup schedule simply because it's different?
"Absolutely. It's a one-off track. You can't go anywhere in the country and find another track like Dover. I like the one-off tracks. I like the places that aren't copies off of somebody else's race track."
Does Dover have some characteristics from other tracks that you've raced on in your career?
"Not really. Dover's pretty unique. First of all, it's the only one-mile track that we go to that's concrete. Then it has such big corners. You're in the corner for a long, long time. You really don't get much of a chance to take a break and relax."
What is the difference between racing on concrete and racing on asphalt?
"It's pretty much the same. I guess the biggest thing is that the sun doesn't affect the concrete as much because the surface is white. It doesn't absorb as much heat as an asphalt track does. But other than that, you go through the same set of scenarios and challenges you would on any asphalt track - either the car is going to be tight or it's going to be loose."
Explain a lap around Dover.
"What you do for qualifying is totally different from what you do in the race. Basically, a lot of the cars qualify down on the bottom of the track, but by the time you're about 40 or 50 laps into the race, there are cars all the way from the bottom of the race track to right up against the outside wall. That's a big difference in between. Basically, everybody just searches around on the race track looking for a spot that makes their car happy."