TONY STEWART Monster Mash ATLANTA (May 29, 2007) -- "Monster Mash," the 1962 novelty song by Bobby "Boris" Pickett, is the appropriate theme song for race weekends at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The high-banked, one-mile oval has been...
ATLANTA (May 29, 2007) -- "Monster Mash," the 1962 novelty song by Bobby "Boris" Pickett, is the appropriate theme song for race weekends at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The high-banked, one-mile oval has been dubbed the "Monster Mile" for its ability to chew up and spit out even the most talented race car drivers.
Dover is next up on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series docket, as the premiere stock car series travels up I-95 to Route 13 of the Delmarva Peninsula. Carried in the trailers of teams competing in this Sunday's 400-mile race is the new Car of Tomorrow (CoT). Dover marks the sixth race for the bigger and boxier generation of race car, and as the five previous races have shown, it's still a work in progress for teams other than Hendrick Motorpsorts.
The four-car Hendrick juggernaut has won all of the CoT races run this year. But lurking behind them is Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR). The organization owned by Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs and winners of three of the past seven Nextel Cup championships has led 973 of the 2,083 laps available in the five CoT races, 358 more laps than Hendrick. Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for JGR, lays claim to 401 of those 973 laps (41.2 percent). His teammate, Denny Hamlin, leads all drivers with 563 laps led in the five CoT races.
On the cusp of victory a handful of times already this season, Stewart wants to win now. And while victory lane has so far eluded the two-time Nextel Cup champion, Dover may very well be the place where he earns his 30th career Nextel Cup win. Stewart has two wins, nine top-fives and 11 top-10s in 16 career Nextel Cup starts at Dover.
While other drivers have seen their drives mashed by the "Monster Mile," the only thing Stewart plans on mashing at Dover is the gas pedal.
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'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."
How much of a role does aerodynamics play at Dover in comparison to handling?
"Both are important. Air is free, so you want your aero package to give you a lot of downforce. 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 much will the CoT change what you know about Dover? Did your test at Nashville (Tenn.) May 22-23 provide any answers?
"Guess we'll find out. I mean, we're going in there with a new car, but it's the same Dover. The characteristics of the track haven't changed. It's still tough, it's still bumpy and I think at the end of a run you're still going to be sliding around like you normally are. But the new car is a new variable, and even though we tested at Nashville, Nashville isn't Dover. So, there are some unknowns. But we've been to Dover a bunch of times and we've run the CoT in five races now, so it's not like we're totally in the dark."
You've proven to be very versatile, as you've won in every single racing series you've competed in with the exception of sports cars. Do you feel that gives you an advantage with the CoT?
"In this day and age, the technology is so much more important. It's getting like Indy car and Formula 1 racing. The technology and the engineers in the sport make it harder for the drivers to be the deciding factor. In this day and age, it's a 3,400-pound car and it's either right or it's wrong. If it's not right, it's hard to carry a 3,400-pound race car and make it do what it doesn't want to do. In Sprint cars and Midgets, because they're lighter, it's easier to throw them around and you can kind of make them do what you want. But in this day and age with NASCAR being as technical as it is and as advanced as it is technology-wise, it's going to be hard for the drivers to make the difference."
GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief on the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing:
You tested at Nashville in preparation for Dover. How did it go and what is applicable from Nashville to the Nextel Cup race at Dover?
"It was a good test because we took a brand new car that we wanted to run at the Dover test, which got canceled when the Darlington race got rained out. So we took it to Nashville and put some miles on it. We had a bunch of R&D stuff that we've been working on that we wanted to run at the Dover test, and again, we were able to get that done at Nashville. It's a similar race track, but the loads are so much different with the way the bump rubbers and things are today. It just gave us some direction and helped us learn more about the car. We didn't go there trying to find a setup for Dover. We went there trying to learn stuff about how to tune on the car. We wanted to learn about wheel travels and stuff like that."
There seems to be a bit of debate among Goodyear and some other race teams regarding testing at non-Nextel Cup venues with tires made by Goodyear's competitors, namely Hoosier. NASCAR rules prohibit you from buying Goodyear tires for testing, so if you want to test you have to use a different brand of tires. Would you prefer to use Goodyear tires?
"Oh, absolutely. Hoosier makes a good tire, but it's so different in construction compared to Goodyear. You don't really know how to compare the two of them. We had some old Goodyears, and we were on them for the test. But they're so different than what we're going to run on at Dover. But I think it's still better than the Hoosiers just because they're a similar tire than what we've run there in the past."
So was the test at Nashville really more about getting a baseline setup rather than doing anything specific for Dover?
"We just went down there with two different setups, and we worked on both of them and we got both cars to run the same speed, and to do that with two completely different setups was good. Then we took one car and put it like the other car and made it a little bit better. We learned some stuff. I wish we had a little more time, because we probably need to go back for another day or two to get to some of the other things we wanted to do."
With five CoT races under you belt and a couple of test sessions with it, are you more comfortable in tuning on it and working with it, and are you also comfortable with where your driver is with the CoT?
"We seem to be racing ok with it. I think sometimes it takes me a while to get us where we need to be, and Tony is adjusting to it. We're doing ok. We've had really good race cars. We should've won a couple of races with it, and we haven't. Hopefully, we can keep the performance end of it up and by the end of the year have a couple of wins with it."
Are you happy with where you are with the CoT, especially considering how it's still relatively new?
"If we had won one or two races this year, I'd be real happy with it. But since we haven't won with it yet, we're not happy. We feel like we should've won already. We're not really sure why. At Phoenix we had a really good race car and finished second. At Richmond and Darlington we had good cars, and so did the 11 (teammate Denny Hamlin). It's just that as a team we haven't been able to capitalize. But I think we're all working well together. We're working hard in that direction, and now we have the monster of a road course car we're thrashing on."
How are you handling all the testing? It's been a brutal couple of months with race weekends extended by rain and mid-week tests.
"It's been eight weeks straight that we've raced and tested every week. It's crazy. I enjoy it because I like testing because it's how you get better, but my problem is I can't come home. I need to stop testing and I need to spread them out so that I can come home and work and learn from the stuff that we did. We're getting to the point where we're not processing everything that we learn because we're on to the next test because we've got to prepare for the next race."
Now that the CoT will be implemented full-time next year, what will JGR do with its fleet of older, non-CoT cars?
"We'll send some cars to our development teams in the NASCAR Busch East Series. We gave them a couple of cars last year. Some we'll sell to teams in ARCA. And Tony will probably take a few of them that he's won with and put them in his museum."
Do you have to worry about proprietary information going to another team when you sell them one of your old cars?
"No, we change what we want to change on them before we get rid of them."