Tony Stewart We're not in Kansas anymore or are we? ATLANTA (April 24, 2002) - Welcome to California Speedway or is it Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Michigan Speedway or Las Vegas Motor Speedway? Since it's the last weekend in April,...
We're not in Kansas anymore or are we?
ATLANTA (April 24, 2002) - Welcome to California Speedway or is it Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Michigan Speedway or Las Vegas Motor Speedway? Since it's the last weekend in April, it's time for the NAPA Auto Parts 500, which is indeed at California Speedway. But one could be easily confused by California's similar layout to those aforementioned tracks.
Granted, California is much more akin to Michigan, as both are two-mile ovals. Kansas, Chicagoland and Las Vegas, while comparable in design, are only 1.5-mile ovals. All however, are D-shaped ovals, with banking that varies by just a few degrees.
In 15 career NASCAR Winston Cup Series starts at D-shaped ovals, Stewart has recorded one victory - the spring Michigan race in 2000. But Stewart has another Michigan win to his credit - last year's IROC race. So while Stewart is all the way over on the Left Coast, his experience at other D-shaped ovals in Middle America will still come in handy.
Is racing at California just like racing at Kansas, Chicagoland, Michigan and Las Vegas?
"Yeah, it's essentially like racing at any of the other mile-and-a-half to two-mile ovals. The only difference is that the temperature is a little different, the settings are a little different and the food's a little different. But that's about it."
Of all those tracks, which one is the most alike to California?
"California is a lot like Michigan. I like to call it Michigan West. I'm not sure that it has the amount of banking that Michigan has, but it is a flatter track than Michigan. The way you approach the weekend is pretty much the same as far as setups on The Home Depot Pontiac go. You just don't have the banking to help you like you do at Michigan."
How much of a factor does fuel mileage play at Fontana, and what do you do to conserve fuel?
"Absolutely nothing. I'm not in charge of the Home Depot racing team's fuel mileage department. I'm in the driving department. Really, it's the engine tuners who work really hard during the weekend to try to get us the best fuel mileage as possible for the race."
Drivers have won at Fontana by taking two tires instead of four on their last pit stop. When and how do you make the decision to sacrifice tires for track position, or depending on the circumstances, track position for tires?
"I think it just depends on how your car is working. If your car is driving well, one that keeps you up toward the front all day because it's fast, then just two tires can keep you pretty quick. In that situation, you could make a big gain at the end by just taking on two tires and maintaining your track position. Even some guys who are behind and don't have their car the way they want, by taking on two tires, the track position they gain helps out more than four tires would. But when you get right down to it, I think Fontana is a track where if your car's good, then it doesn't matter whether you take two tires or four."
Some people might say that racing at Fontana is boring. What do you say?
"If a guy gets going and gets his car balanced, then he'll tend to run away. That's just the characteristic of that kind of track. It's fast, it's flat and momentum is so important there, that if a guy is off just a little, he's off a lot. The drivers like it from the standpoint that if you can find a way to get around it a little better, then it'll help them in the long run. You end up racing the race track instead of each other."
Will your time in the IROC race on Saturday help you in any way for the Cup race on Sunday?
"I don't think so, to be honest. The IROC cars drive so differently from our Winston Cup cars that it's hard to really translate a lot of information back and forth."
After coming so close to winning the IROC championship last year, how badly do you want to win it this year?
"Considering the start we've had in IROC this year and the fact that we've still got just three races left, if we can have a good, solid run at California that'll really carry some weight into the last two races."
What kind of advice can you give to Danny Lasoski, your World of Outlaws driver, in round two of this year's IROC series at California Speedway?
"I've only run the IROC cars there once, and they're quite a bit different now then they were back then. I'm kind of waiting to get a chance to run there myself before I tell him a lot because I don't want to tell him the wrong information."
Will the drafting experience Lasoski learned at Daytona help him in any way at California?
"With the IROC cars the draft plays a role everywhere we go. He definitely has a base of information from Daytona that he'll be able to take to all of the tracks this year, but for him it's just a matter of going out and logging laps. That's something he's not scared to do, and he enjoys doing it whenever he runs the IROC car. I think he'll be just fine out there. He just needs some laps."
Do you spend any extra time in California with acquaintances from your sprint car days?
"I normally see a lot of them during both of our trips to California. That's part of the fun in going out to California and the West Coast - being able to see a lot of the guys that I raced sprint cars and midgets with. It always feels good to go back out there just from that standpoint."