TONY STEWART D'Oh! It's Dover ATLANTA (Sept. 15, 2008) -- In his first 12 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, Tony Stewart scored two wins, five top-threes, nine top-fives and had only one finish ...
D'Oh! It's Dover
ATLANTA (Sept. 15, 2008) -- In his first 12 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, Tony Stewart scored two wins, five top-threes, nine top-fives and had only one finish outside the top-10, which was an 11th-place run in June 2002. Oh, and Stewart led a total of 1,066 of the 4,800 laps available (22.2 percent).
Ah, those halcyon days of yore, when Dover's dusty confines from the horse track it houses within its infield provided the perfect backdrop for when Stewart dusted the field.
But in six of his last seven visits to the "Monster Mile," the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota has finished outside the top-10, and in his last eight starts at Dover, he hasn't led a lap.
So, what gives? Well, Dover is a brutal track. Its corners are banked at a staggering 24 degrees and its teeth-chattering concrete seams have made it monster-like for its ability to chew up and spit out even the most talented race car drivers.
Stewart would be one of them. The two-time Sprint Cup champion and current Chase competitor has exchanged saying, "Whoo-hoo!" in Dover's victory lane for, "D'oh!" as he sits in Dover's cramped garage area looking at his battered and beaten Home Depot machine.
But perhaps the greatest part about the marathon-like Sprint Cup schedule is the fact that there's always next week, and for Dover, a second stop for guys like Stewart to amend whatever went wrong in their June visit to the track.
For Stewart, his June race went wrong on just the 17th circuit of the 400-lap race when he became involved in a massive pileup off turn two that claimed a total of 10 cars. And while the Herculean work of his Joe Gibbs Racing crew got him back onto the one-mile oval, he was 113 laps off the pace. The result was a 41st-place finish.
That was then. Stewart returns to Dover for Sunday's Camping World RV 400 with six top-10 finishes in his last nine Sprint Cup races -- three of which were second-place efforts. And in a point system that rewards front-running consistency, Stewart aims to keep up his up-front ways with a run at Dover reminiscent of the success he enjoyed there from 1999 to 2004.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing:
You've led a total of 556 laps this year, yet none have come on the last lap. With four second-place finishes so far this season, how many races do you think you should have won this year?
"I don't even know. I mean, there were five or six that we could have won and had the opportunity and were at least a threat to win at the end. The 'coulda,' 'woulda,' 'shoulda' -- if we all did that, then there would be about 90 or 100 race winners this year in 27 races. There are always ones that you think got away from you."
You currently have two USAC teams and two World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series teams, and beginning in 2009, two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams. You have a lot on your plate. Does all of that help distract you from looking at the point standings and over-thinking what you need to do at Dover and the remaining races?
"It doesn't hurt. It really doesn't. It may help actually. It's nice to go home and not be sitting there staring at the point standings on Monday. Obviously, five weeks from now that may be what we do everyday, and you may have it taped to your headboard at night and memorizing it. But for now, it's nice having it the way it is."
In past seasons where you've been running for the championship, have you caught yourself focusing on points?
"Oh yeah, absolutely. I could tell you exactly how many points everybody had. I could tell you how many points the spread was. I could tell you everything about it. You can worry yourself to death by doing that."
Do you believe it when drivers say they don't need to know where they are in the points?
"Yeah, because you just learn to focus on the stuff that's real important and what's going to help you concentrate on accomplishing your goal the next week."
Did you want to know where you stood in the points, or was it everyone around you asking about your point standing?
"It wasn't even everyone surrounding you. You just couldn't help but not be 100 percent focused on what it was and that would absolutely cause you to lose sleep at night. I did it in 2002. I didn't do it in 2005."
What were some of the things you learned from being in the Chase in 2004 and 2005 and 2007 that you'll apply this year?
"My approach to the Chase is the same way it's been any other time I've been in a point race -- you go out there, you lead laps, you try to win races and the points take care of itself. I know that sounds like a simple formula, but the reason we got to this point is by following that theory. Every week we go out and we try to lead laps and we try to win races. That's what got us here. There's no reason to change that. Now is not the time to reinvent the wheel."
How do you compete against 11 guys for a championship while still competing with 42 guys for a race win?
"For the 12 that are competing, we're still racing against 31 other guys just like we've been since the beginning of the year. Probably for the first three or four weeks, I don't think we'll be too conscious of where we are on the race track. It's still going to be business as usual. But as we get closer to the end of the season -- probably with two or three races to go -- you're going to be singling out guys a little bit more and paying closer attention to where they are on the race track, what position they're in, and how many laps they've led. The further we get into it, the more the points are going to separate the field, and you're going to see exactly who you're racing against for the championship. There probably won't be 12 guys with two or three races left. It'll be down to four or five guys who have a shot at it."
Do you see more aggressive driving during the Chase?
"Well, you still have 43 drivers who want to win races. The guys who are outside of that top-12, they still have sponsors to impress, programs to get on track, and for some, jobs to earn. Other guys just have something to prove. Guys aren't going to be content to just sit there and ride the rest of the season out. They're going to want to prove to everybody that they belong in this series. But I don't think there's more or less aggressiveness on the race track. It's always been aggressive."
Your teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch, came into last Sunday's race at New Hampshire with the points lead, but left in eighth after a broken chassis part led to a series of mishaps and an eventual 34th-place finish. You've endured similar disappointments in your 10-year Sprint Cup career -- what's your advice for him?
"Kyle just needs to go home and forget about it. He's been the dominant force all year, and New Hampshire was one of those odd days for him. You feel bad for him because you know they're better than that. But you know if there's anybody that can rebound from a day like that, it's that 18 car and Kyle and Steve Addington (crew chief) and those guys. They're not out of this yet."
Dover's surface is concrete. Do you have to alter your driving style when you race on concrete?
"I don't think you drive it any differently. But because it is concrete, the track has a lot more bumps than an asphalt track would. There are seams in Dover's surface and places where they've cut the concrete for expansion. Those sections shift and change, and every year when you go there the bumps are a little bit different than they were the year before. Dover is a track that's constantly changing. But it's one of those places where you really can't change your driving style. You still have to do the same things you always do. It's just a matter of finding the package that's right for that race track. 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."