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What Have You Done For Me Lately? KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Feb. 18, 2009) -- Third in the Budweiser Shootout. Second in the Gatorade Duel. Eighth in the Daytona 500. And just for fun, a win in the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race. Not a...

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (Feb. 18, 2009) -- Third in the Budweiser Shootout. Second in the Gatorade Duel. Eighth in the Daytona 500. And just for fun, a win in the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race.

Not a bad Speedweeks for Tony Stewart at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, especially considering that despite it being his 11th year racing around Daytona's high banks during the month of February, it was his first trip to the 2.5-mile oval as a driver/owner, with his new Stewart-Haas Racing team showing extremely well in the opening salvo of the 36-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

The backslaps that came with such a strong performance felt good, but they were augmented with another feeling, one salespeople feel all the time -- the need to produce-- again. Such is the "What-have-you-done-for-me-lately?" world of NASCAR, where the exploits of a week ago don't mean much when another race and another chance to earn as many points as possible loom ahead.

Next on the not-too-distant Sprint Cup horizon is Sunday's Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., and it's there where teams will face their first true measurement.

Restrictor-plate prowess and drafting partners are of no help at California. California is about what a team and its driver does to go faster than 42 other team/driver combinations. What other teams do or don't do have no bearing on how a particular team will perform in front of NASCAR's No. 1 media market.

Horsepower and putting that power to the pavement through the track's 14-degree banked corners are of paramount importance -- not just at California, but for the rest of the season. Intermediate-type tracks such as California make up the majority of the 22 venues featured on the Sprint Cup schedule. How one performs at California is indicative of how one will perform at similarly styled tracks -- namely Las Vegas Motor Speedway the very next weekend.

Stewart comes into California in one of the best point positions he's ever had this early in the season since joining the Cup ranks in 1999. His eighth-place result at Daytona, combined with the five bonus points eared for leading a lap, slotted him seventh in points. And with some other potential championship challengers emerging from Daytona in a relative points hole, a quick start by Stewart in his No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala SS would allow for a greater cushion to make his fifth appearance in the final, 10-race the Chase for the Championship.

With the Auto Club 500 next up for Stewart, he views it as a stepping-stone to a club he expects to join 25 races from now -- the club of 12 Chase drivers competing for the Sprint Cup championship.

TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:

After spending so much time in Daytona for Speedweeks, how much of a relief is it to get back to a normal three-day race weekend?

"I think everybody's pretty worn out after being in Daytona for so long. California means a normal routine and a chance for the crew guys to get back to their families for a couple of days before heading to another racetrack."

Is too much emphasis placed on Daytona in terms of how teams are going to perform for the rest of the season?

"I think so. Daytona is a restrictor-plate race, and unlike Daytona, four guys can't get in a line at California and go to the front. Daytona and Talladega (Ala.) have always just been two different forms of racing. With the draft being so important at those two tracks, it's more of a team deal than an individual deal. What happens at California and the races after that has to be done on our own. You can't help each other at California. You just have to go race.

"Daytona does overshadow California and Vegas and some of the early tracks on the schedule. Once you get through Daytona, these next two or three races after that really set the tone for your season. It gives you an accurate assessment of where your program is right off the bat."

How hard is it to win at Daytona, specifically the Daytona 500?

"I think it's harder than ever to win, particularly because you have to rely on everybody else. As an individual driver in that race, you can't count on anything, except that your teammate will be there to work with you."

Why do you look forward to California so much after racing at Daytona?

"What you do at California is solely based on what you and your team can do with your racecar, not what drafting line you're in or how the car behind you is going to affect your next move. Once we get away from Daytona everything kind of settles into a groove. We're back in the weekly grind. I enjoy going to California because I really feel that's where our season starts. That's a track where you don't really worry about what everybody else's car is doing. You worry about what your car is doing. You're racing the racetrack. You're not racing everybody else. It's a good opportunity to get back into the swing of things. Once you leave California, you feel like the season has officially started."

Being a part of such a new program, how important is it for Stewart-Haas Racing to be solidly among the top teams in the sport once you leave California and Las Vegas and head back to the East Coast?

"Well, I think it's that way for everybody. It's important on everybody's scale. But for us, it's knowing that we're going through a transition and being realistic each week in knowing that we may not leave exactly where we want each week, but at the same time, we're still showing up at the racetrack with the attitude that we're just as good as everybody else. We've got the same opportunity everybody else has to win, and we expect to go out and have that opportunity. I think it's just about being realistic. At the end of the day, whatever the result is, there's a reason that it happened, and you go back at the end of the week and say, 'How can we do better next week?'"

DARIAN GRUBB, Crew Chief of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:

How much of a logistical juggling act have you performed as you raced in Daytona for nearly two weeks while preparing for the West Coast swing to California and Las Vegas?

"It's been a lot of headaches and a lot of work, since we came to Daytona with all new equipment -- basically, new everything -- and working out the bugs that go along with that and still having to get everything ready for California and Vegas. We're going to do a turn-around between those two races because the trucks won't come back home, so we have to make sure we have extra stock of everything we need just to be able to survive for two weeks out there after two having two weeks of ravaging the whole truck in Daytona. There was a lot of restocking that happened on Monday."

How did you manage to do your job in Daytona while making sure everything back at the shop was being prepared for California and Las Vegas?

"The engineers were sending lists back to the shop. The truck drivers were sending lists back to the shop. The car chiefs were keeping track of all the car parts we used as we switched things back and forth. Thankfully, there's not a whole lot of difference nowadays with the current generation car between a superspeedway and an intermediate track, so there's not as much stuff that you have to stock. But there's a whole list of parts we used while we were in Daytona that we had to restock."

Are you looking forward to getting back to a regular Friday-Saturday-Sunday show?

"Yes, it's a routine that we're used to as opposed to 11 days at Daytona. It's such a long, drawn-out week with all of the races -- the Shootout, the Duel and the 500 -- and now we're going to go into California and unload in race mode, do a quick qualifying run in qualifying setup and get Tony comfortable in the car. It'll be a practice each day with a qualifying session on Friday and a race on Sunday. Hopefully, there are no issues and we keep moving forward with a good start to our season."

-credit: shr

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing