TONY STEWART Monster Mile Mojo ATLANTA (May 27, 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 ...
Monster Mile Mojo
ATLANTA (May 27, 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).
But up until Stewart finished ninth in last year's September visit to Dover, Stewart hadn't logged a top-10 or led any laps in the five races since finishing sixth in September 2004.
While it was a modest rebound, it was still a welcome one, for 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 Sprint Cup schedule, as the premiere stock car series travels up I-95 to Route 13 of the Delmarva Peninsula, no doubt with the radio at some point playing the 1962 novelty song by Bobby "Boris" Pickett -- "Monster Mash." Carried in the monstrous transporters of the teams slated to compete at the "Monster Mile" are the current-generation race cars, recently neutered thanks to a NASCAR rule change that takes effect this weekend.
To make their cars turn better, teams had been adjusting the rear end housing, which allowed them to alter the angle of the wheels. The result was a car that tracked through the corners exceptionally well, but then tracked sideways down the straightaways. While odd-looking, the out-of-the-box setup gave drivers a comfort level they hadn't previously experienced with the current-generation car.
Some teams, however, took this newfangled approach to extremes, and NASCAR finally called everyone on the practice. Beginning at Dover, teams will only be able to adjust the toe of the rear end by one degree, essentially putting teams right back where they started when they ran this car at Dover last year.
For the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing, this isn't bad news. Sure, Stewart felt more comfortable with the now outlawed setup, but considering he regained a bit of his "Monster Mile" mojo back in September, the old-is-new approach should suit the two-time Sprint Cup champion well.
And while other drivers may feel mashed by the new rules, the only thing Stewart plans on mashing is his gas pedal.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing:
How much has the current-generation car changed what you know about Dover? And will the recent rule change regarding team's ability to adjust the rear end housing affect your preparation for Dover.?
"Guess we'll find out. I mean, we're not going to have a tool that we've used to make these cars handle better, but last year when we raced at Dover this car was still so new that we hadn't even started messing with the rear end housing. So in all reality, 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."
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 as drivers and team find ways to make the current-generation car better?
"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 advanced as it is technology-wise, it's harder for the drivers to make the difference."
Your teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing -- Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin -- have each won twice, but you have yet to record your first win of the season. Is it frustrating to you that your teammates are having so much success?
"We're still where we need to be in the points. We're eighth right now. We should've won last week (at Charlotte). We should've won Bristol in the spring again and didn't. We were one of the best cars at the end of Martinsville, which was a lot better than we were at this point last year. We're running better than we were last year, but our teammates are too, which is great. Even if we were running this good and our teammates weren't running as good, I don't think I would feel as good about it. Knowing that they're running as good as they are, it's a confidence booster for me knowing that our stuff is right where it needs to be and that we have the opportunity to win every week. I guess I've been part of a multi-car team long enough to know the value of it as a driver. When your teammates are running good and even if they're running better -- that's a good sign that you know your stuff is the same as theirs and you've got that same opportunity every week. It's just a matter of putting the day together, and we just haven't been able to do that yet. We're not into our part of the season yet either."
When does that part of the season come where you and this team typically excel?
"When it starts getting hot and humid and the tracks get hot and slippery, that's what we like. When guys can't hold it wide open and they can't sit there on high-grip tracks and they actually have to drive these things -- that's when we start getting fast."
After you're done competing at Dover, you'll put on your track promoter hat and get ready to host the fourth annual Old Spice Prelude to the Dream Wednesday, June 4 at your race track -- Eldora Speedway. Talk about that.
"It's a lot of fun. The biggest part of the gratification for me is just seeing the guys that come up there and how much fun they have driving these dirt late models on a night where we get to race with guys we're typically racing with every week. But we get to do something a little different, and that takes the edge off I think."
Greg Zipadelli, crew chief of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing:
With the recent rule change made by NASCAR severely limiting the amount teams can adjust the rear end housing on their race cars, which allows you to alter the angle of the wheels, how does it affect your preparation going into Dover?
"They change it to where we have to change what we've done a little bit, but we've actually never been to Dover with the rear-end housing adjusted the way it has been this year. So, we're kind of going back closer to the way we were this time last year. It's just the way this sport is. They don't have any problem taking away anything that they think people may have an advantage with, or if something creates a safety issue due to its lessening the life of a part. They've been pretty consistent with things like that over the years."
Is it a bit of a cat-and-mouse game between the teams and NASCAR to get this current-generation car to handle better?
"Believe it or not, what we found wasn't a huge speed thing, but it was a fairly sizeable balance change that gave drivers a little more comfort with the car. Some drivers liked it, some drivers didn't. For us, wherever we put it in, Tony liked it and it seemed like it made our box to work within a little bit bigger and not so sensitive. From that aspect, we liked running what we had. We're obviously going to have to change that, and a lot of other people in the garage are going to have to do the same thing. But it's all the same for everybody."
So was altering the rear end housing more about giving the driver a better seat-of-the-pants feel to the race car rather than making the car demonstrably faster?
"Yeah, absolutely. We've done it many places, and anytime we've done it, he's liked the feel of it and it allowed us to work and adjust in other areas. So, it kind of opened up our box a little bit bigger. They kind of put a few nails in the lid and closed that box back up, but we'll find other areas to work in."
Why did NASCAR decide that teams had ventured too far outside the box with adjusting their car's rear end housing?
"I think it was a combination of a number of things. I think that where some teams had gone, it had become -- I don't know if it was necessarily a safety issue, but it could potentially have been with parts failures and things of that nature. I think that the cars kind of looked ridiculous on the race track. They were tough going through the garage stalls and getting in and out because they were skewed so much. From that aspect, they had to do something."