Tony Stewart Defiant at Dover ATLANTA (May 28, 2003) - What's the difference between running well and finishing well? Four hundred and ninety-four points. That's the amount of points Tony Stewart has lost in the past seven races, despite ...
Defiant at Dover
ATLANTA (May 28, 2003) - What's the difference between running well and finishing well? Four hundred and ninety-four points. That's the amount of points Tony Stewart has lost in the past seven races, despite leading a total of 179 laps in three of those events. If Stewart finished where he was running in those races, he would be second in points - 75 points arrears series leader Matt Kenseth - instead of his current point position of 20th, where he trails by 569 points.
The hemorrhaging began at Bristol (Tenn.) on March 23, and despite a slight reprieve at Martinsville (Va.) on April 13 where Stewart finished sixth, it continued through last Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.).
Turning this all around is priority number one for Stewart and The Home Depot Racing Team, and with this Sunday's MBNA Armed Forces Family 400 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, the time is now.
Dover is home to two of Stewart's 15 career NASCAR Winston Cup Series victories. And when Stewart isn't winning at Dover, he's at least contending for the win. His average finish at the high-banked, one-mile oval is fourth, thanks to six top-fives, one seventh-place finish and one 11th place result. He has led 668 of 3,200 possible laps (20.9 percent) in his eight previous starts, and has never recorded a DNF (Did Not Finish).
The worst point finish The Home Depot Racing Team has ever produced was a sixth-place result in 2000. With 24 races still remaining on the Winston Cup calendar, they aim to keep it that way. Their perseverance and persistence carries on at Dover.
Do you feel that the next two or three months of the Winston Cup schedule are where this team can make the most headway in the point race?
"Yeah, we're coming up on a string of tracks where we run well, for whatever the reason. It just seems like this is the part of the season where we get going. If we're going to make any kind of run back into the top-10 in points, then this is the time. We don't have time to wait any longer. We have to make the most of our races starting right now. You need to make the most of it every week, but last week is past and we need to make the most of this weekend and every weekend after that. We just need to get everything we can get for the rest of the year."
What are some of the technical aspects of the sport that have changed since you swept both Winston Cup races at Dover in 2000?
"The tires are probably the biggest thing. There were a lot of tire failures when we won in 2000, but we never had any problems with the tires. Since then, Goodyear has made some changes with the tire, and in all reality, probably made it safer for all of us. The teams that were struggling with the tires now have a tire that's harder for them to abuse. That helps protect Goodyear, which Goodyear had to look at because they had to take care of themselves too. We've got a harder tire that makes you slide around a lot more on the race track, and that makes the balance of the car very critical. If you miss it a little bit, you've missed it a lot."
How much of a role do aerodynamics play at Dover in comparison to handling?
"Both are important. Air is free, so if you're 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 a good track to have on the Winston 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 there 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. So obviously, we're going to try and make The Home Depot Chevrolet as happy as possible."
You're average finish at Dover is fourth and you have two Winston Cup wins. How do you explain your success at Dover?
"You just try to keep up with the track conditions. Nothing else really changes. But that doesn't mean that you can get lazy. If you just assume that you're going to be good, then that's when you're going to get beat because guys are going to make changes and they're going to come back with better cars then they left there with. So, we have to keep up and make that same gain that they do in order for us to keep that advantage. We can't stop doing our work. We've got to do the same thing that they're doing, while trying to be a little faster yet. If you get complacent with the fact that you think you're good enough to win, then that's when you're going to get beat."
Does trouble happen faster at Dover than some of the other tracks on the circuit?
"I don't think it's any worse there than anywhere else. Where the problems normally happen as far as accidents are concerned, it's not usually getting into the corners and through the center of the corner, but coming off the corners. The straightaways have so much banking that a car that crashes into the wall coming off the corner - it's kind of a 'two-for-one special.' You get the outside wall and then you slide down and hit the inside wall. That's where you can get into a lot of trouble as far as catching other drivers in the same accident."