Dover: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART Good Credit from MBNA ATLANTA (June 1, 2005) - In 12 career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series starts at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, Tony Stewart has notched two wins, nine top-fives, a sixth and a seventh. Stewart's only finish ...

TONY STEWART
Good Credit from MBNA

ATLANTA (June 1, 2005) - In 12 career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series starts at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, Tony Stewart has notched two wins, nine top-fives, a sixth and a seventh. Stewart's only finish outside of the top-10 was an 11th place result back in the 2002 spring race, giving the driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet an average finish of fourth at the high-banked, one-mile oval.

Dubbed the "Monster Mile," Dover's bumpy concrete surface with corners banked at 24 degrees has been the bane of many a driver's existence. But it has proven to be a boon for Stewart.

The 2002 series champion has led 1,066 laps at Dover and has completed all but one of the 4,800 laps available in the past six seasons. The lone Dover race where Stewart finished a lap down was the 1999 spring race, yet he still managed a strong fourth-place finish.

And while most teams in Nextel Cup have seen their investments in cars and equipment chewed up and spit out by the "Monster Mile," the #20 Home Depot Racing Team has been spared such grief. Stewart has never recorded at DNF (Did Not Finish) at Dover, giving Joe Gibbs, his car owner and coach of the NFL's Washington Redskins, one less thing to worry about.

As a result, Stewart has received good credit from longtime Dover race sponsor MBNA. In fact, instead of Stewart writing checks to MBNA to pay for his credit card, MBNA has been writing checks to Stewart - to the tune of $1,485,993 since he first ran Dover as a rookie in the 1999 MBNA Platinum 400. And with his 13th career Nextel Cup start at Dover looming with Sunday's MBNA RacePoints 400, Stewart is looking for some more cash rewards.

While still winless in 2005, the month of June has proven to be Stewart's catalyst for the rest of the season. Of his 19 career wins, only three have come before June. And in his six previous years of Nextel Cup competition, Stewart has won each race held in June - Dover in 2000, Michigan in 2000, Pocono (Pa.) in 2003 and Sonoma (Calif.) in 2001.

With June now upon us and Dover next up for Stewart and Co., The Home Depot Racing Team looks to make history repeat itself.

You've had some strong runs this year and you're solidly sixth in the championship point standings, yet people are still thinking you've had a slow start to the season. Why?

"We just haven't been to victory lane yet, and that's what everybody's looking at. But we're not worried about it, especially with the way the points system is now. I'm not totally satisfied with it, but I don't think anyone is totally satisfied with the way their season is going. You always want to be better than what you are. But it's not like the new points system has changed the way we're racing. We take each race one week at a time just like we've done every other season. You can't be worrying about the points. If you do your job each week and try to win the race, it's like I've always said, the points will take care of themselves - no matter what the format is."

Dover has been dubbed the "Monster Mile". How aggressive are you at a race track with a moniker that exemplifies it's difficult nature?

"I like to be aggressive at Dover. It's one of my better tracks and I feel like we run really, really well there. It's a track where Zippy (crew chief Greg Zipadelli) and I feel like we have a really good package that works pretty well for us. It allows me to be aggressive to where I can go out and lead a lot of laps and put pressure on the leaders when I'm not out front."

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."

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."

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."

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."

-jgr-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart