Tony Stewart Is it the car or is it the driver? ATLANTA (May 29, 2002) - In his six previous NASCAR Winston Cup Series starts at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, site of this Sunday's MBNA Platinum 400, Tony Stewart has finished no worse...
Is it the car or is it the driver?
ATLANTA (May 29, 2002) - In his six previous NASCAR Winston Cup Series starts at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, site of this Sunday's MBNA Platinum 400, Tony Stewart has finished no worse than seventh. In fact, of those six starts, two have been for the win, as Stewart swept both Dover races in 2000. Average all his Dover finishes together and The Home Depot Pontiac driver's average finish is third. It should also be noted that of the 2,400 possible laps available at Dover the past three seasons, Stewart has led 634 of them (26.4 percent).
But carrying Stewart to those wins and those strong finishes was Chassis 28, a car that has been with the #20 Joe Gibbs Racing Team since its inception in 1999. Chassis 28 is best described as the "concrete car," for it has only competed at Dover and Bristol (Tenn.) - the only two concrete tracks on the circuit. In its 13 starts coming into Dover, it has three wins (Dover, spring and fall 2000 and Bristol, fall 2001), eight top-fives and nine top-10s and has led 1,192 of a possible 5,900 laps (20.2 percent).
So, which is it - the driver or the car? Try both.
You race the same chassis at the concrete tracks - Dover and Bristol (Tenn.). Do you use the same kind of driving technique that you do at the asphalt tracks?
"I think there's just a sense as to how much grip the concrete has. I don't know why we take the same car, other than the fact that Bristol and Dover are kind of the same. It's really just a matter of figuring out the grip of the concrete and what you can do inside the car to maximize that."
Does Chassis 28 feel different or more comfortable than some of the other cars in your stable, or is just a matter of that car and you run really well at concrete tracks?
"I have no idea, to be honest. I don't pay attention to chassis numbers. Whatever car runs the best at a test is what we end up taking to the track. I don't even know our cars by number. I just say to Greg (Zipadelli, crew chief), 'That's the car I'm the most comfortable with.' But all these cars are set up for different race tracks. It's not like you can bring the same car to every race and run good.
"We used to run Midgets and Sprint cars to where you took the same race car to every track and it didn't always feel the same. Here, it's kind of comparing apples to oranges. We're at different race tracks with different cars all the time. It's just a matter of trying to get the feel that you want with the car that you have available."
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 Pontiac as happy as possible."
You swept both Dover races in 2000. How do you try to duplicate that kind of a performance?
"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."
You finished no worse than fourth in the two races at Dover during your rookie year. Was that another case of going to a race track where you felt comfortable right away?
"Yeah, I took to that place pretty quickly. I just felt comfortable there. Plus, Joe Gibbs Racing has always had a good setup for The Home Depot Pontiac at that track. It's one of those tracks that suits my driving style, and we always seem to be able to put together a good run there."
Before you raced at Dover in a Cup car, you raced there in a Busch car and in an Indy Racing League (IRL) entry. How did those experiences help you for when you first visited Dover in 1999?
"The Busch Series definitely helped. We had good race cars in the Busch Series. It was definitely a case of learning a lot with a good Busch car before going there with a good Cup car. We had one of our best runs in the Busch Series at Dover. The IRL is a totally different animal. So, I couldn't apply much, if anything, from that."
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."
Does Dover feel like a bigger version of Bristol Motor Speedway?
"To a certain degree, yeah, it is like Bristol. Those tracks share a lot of the same characteristics. It seems like the guys who run well at Bristol run well at Dover."
Does Dover put the same amount of physical strain on you that Bristol does?
"Definitely. The biggest thing is the fact that you're in the corners for so long and you run so fast there. It just keeps putting a lot of load on your body all day long. That's why Dover is such a physically demanding race."
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."
GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac:
What has made chassis No. 28 so good at Dover and Bristol?
"We built that car just for racing on concrete, and if I told you what we did to it everybody else would do the same thing to their cars. So sorry, but that's highly confidential information. It's really similar to our other cars with just some minor tweaks, which is why we can only run it at Bristol and Dover. But I think what really allows us to run well at those two places is that our chassis setup suits Tony's driving style really well."
What's the difference in setup between a concrete track and an asphalt track?
"The same principles apply. We don't treat things too differently than we would at an asphalt track. Concrete tracks don't seem to be affected by heat as much as an asphalt track. It seems to be more affected by rubber buildup. But there's nothing really out of the ordinary between concrete and asphalt tracks."