Tony Stewart Two paths lead to Texas. ATLANTA (April 2, 2002) - Texas Motor Speedway is one of eight stops on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit where the Pennzoil World of Outlaws series joins the Cuppers as an undercard. For Tony Stewart, that...
Two paths lead to Texas.
ATLANTA (April 2, 2002) - Texas Motor Speedway is one of eight stops on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit where the Pennzoil World of Outlaws series joins the Cuppers as an undercard.
For Tony Stewart, that means after a day of whipping his #20 Home Depot Pontiac around the freshly paved contours of the 1.5-mile oval, he'll head over to the dirt track to watch his reigning champion World of Outlaws team with veteran driver Danny Lasoski.
Just beyond the gleaming backstretch grandstands of the big track, the dirt track is home to round number 11 of the World of Outlaws series. Lasoski comes into the weekend with three "A" wins under his belt, as well as eight top-five and 10 top-10 finishes. The strong start to the grueling season has put Lasoski into the point lead, albeit a scant eight points over his nearest pursuer Mark Kinser.
Stewart, on the other hand, comes to Texas with one win to his credit and three top-five finishes. But with three other finishes being 15th or worse, Stewart sits 12th in points, 204 markers behind series leader Sterling Marlin.
But don't let the numbers fool you. Stewart and his Greg Zipadelli-led team have been strong all season, consistently running in the top-five. One mechanical failure and two doses of bad luck are the real reasons for the 12th place standing.
But just as Lasoski has a long way to go before his season ends, the same his true for Stewart. Lasoski has the burden of trying to hold on to a slim point lead through another seven months of racing, while Stewart has the burden of trying to pick his way back toward the front of the points before his season ends Nov. 17 in Homestead, Fla.
Two drivers in two different scenarios, but striving for one common goal. Their paths cross this weekend at Texas.
Has Texas been one of the tracks on the Winston Cup circuit where getting comfortable has been hard for you and your team to achieve?
"It hasn't been a good track for us historically, and it's typically in the part of the season where we struggle. It just seems like Texas is one of those places where we haven't figured out how to be a top-flight car. We've never set the world on fire at Texas, but we have had some solid runs. But I still wouldn't consider The Home Depot Pontiac to be a top-five car there. It's one of the places where we have to try and pick up our performance. For me, it comes down to just feel more than anything. A driver has to like the feel of his race car and the feel of the track. If one of those things doesn't mesh right, then you're probably not going to be as successful as you want to be."
You weren't able to test at Texas but your Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte was. What were you able to learn from his test?
"We'll really be relying on Bobby's notes and his feedback. Everybody who has tested there has said that it's fast - a lot faster than it was before, and that there's really only one racing groove. I think we'll all be paying attention to the Busch race on Saturday to see whether another groove forms on the top side of the track."
Can your win at Atlanta earlier this year translate into success at Texas?
"It seems like those mile-and-a-half ovals are all alike, but the entries into each of the corners are all different at each track. You still have to do your homework as to how the car transitions in and out of the corners, and Texas is no exception. Atlanta might look like Texas, but it doesn't feel like Texas."
Despite the relative youth of Texas Motor Speedway, it's had quite a history of being a treacherous race track. Why is that the case?
"I've run there in a Busch car, an IRL (Indy Racing League) car and in a Cup car with my Home Depot Pontiac. I never looked at it as a treacherous race track. It's so fast, and with the fresh pavement, it should have a lot of grip in it. For some reason, it seemed that the track's transitions were very line-sensitive. The corners' exits and entries were very tricky, and that's what made Texas difficult. I don't think it's treacherous. You just have to hit your marks every lap. Texas doesn't leave a whole lot of room for error."
Before you raced at Texas in a Winston Cup car, you raced there in an Indy Racing League car. What was the difference?
"The IRL car was nothing like driving a stock car. You could go anywhere on the track with the IRL car that you wanted to, and you could run wide-open while doing it. It was as easy as riding down the interstate, whereas with the Cup car, you're not off the gas very long, but you do have to lift. With the track being so line-sensitive, it's really important that you're doing the same thing every lap, and making sure you're very consistent in how you're driving the car."
How much time will you be spending with your World of Outlaws team while in Texas?
"I'll be able to do what I need to do with The Home Depot Pontiac and still have plenty of time to go over to the dirt track and watch Danny and the team. I'll be busy as a car owner working with the team, but that's something I look forward to. It's why I'm involved with the World of Outlaws."
What was the mindset of your World of Outlaws team as they opened their season as defending champions?
"We won the first race of the year, so right off the bat we got a good start to the year. It was a big momentum booster for the team more than anything, especially for Danny. Three wins later and leading the points, we're definitely where we want to be."
Does your World of Outlaws team have everything under control or do they still look to you for leadership?
"They're pretty much self-sufficient. The biggest thing for me is making sure they have all the equipment they need. Danny is a great driver so I don't really need to do anything to help him. Jimmy Carr is a great crew chief and we've got great crew guys. For me, it's just a matter of making sure the bills get paid."
As a car owner, what challenges do you see facing the World of Outlaws circuit this year?
"Knowing that Ted Johnson is the president of the World of Outlaws series gives you the piece of mind as a car owner that the series is in good hands. Ted has always made good business decisions for the series to not only benefit the World of Outlaws, but to benefit the race teams and the participants. As a car owner, I know that Ted is going to do everything he can to help himself with the series but also to help the people who allowed the series to get where it is today."
How do you balance your time between your World of Outlaws program and your Winston Cup responsibilities?
"There are seven or eight Outlaw races this year where we're going to be racing Cup at the same place at the same time. I'll do my job with The Home Depot Pontiac during the day, but at night I'll be with the Outlaw team. The biggest thing is just communication. We've got the right people to do the right jobs. I'm really confident in Jimmy Carr and what he does with the race car and Danny during the race. He has really good organizational skills too, with what he does at the shop in keeping the place organized. He makes sure that the things that need to get done are handled. The nice thing is that I'm never more than a phone call away. If they ever have questions, all they ever have to do is call."
The World of Outlaws season is still young and there's a long way to go. What will it take for your race team to maintain this front-running consistency throughout the rest of the season?
"You've got to be ready. Preparation is the biggest key to everything. Your motor program has got to be up to par and be ready to go and Danny's got to have the confidence in what's under him. When you get into that part of the season where you're running three and four nights a week, as a driver, as a crew chief and as a race team, you have to feel like you're on top of your game. You have to feel like when you go to the track you're the one everyone else has to beat. I think if we keep running like we are right now, even when the summer and those hot days come and the track starts drying out a lot, that's where we're going to be."
What's the toughest part of the World of Outlaws schedule?
"Just being consistent. We talk about consistency in the Winston Cup Series because of how many races there are and how competitive the series is to try to keep yourself in a good points position. But it's even worse when you've got over 100 races like the Outlaw guys do, because if you get one guy that's consistent out there, you're going to have a hard time beating him. Our consistency last is year is what won us the championship, and we proved that consistency is very hard to overcome. We've started this year off even better than we did last year. If we can maintain our consistency through the first two-thirds of the season, then everyone else will have to chase us through the last third of the season."
You've mentioned how owning a car on the World of Outlaws circuit is your way of relaxing. Is it still relaxing when your team is the defending World of Outlaws champion and they're leading the points again this year?
"I couldn't be more proud of Danny and the whole team. Every night when I get the phone call, even if Danny didn't win, he's really excited about how things have gone. That's what I store in the back of my mind until the next time when I get to the race track and can be a part of it again. I know things are in good hands, the guys are doing a great job with everything, which allows me to focus on what's going on with The Home Depot car."
Danny and you were friends long before you formed this race team, now that the team is in its second year, already having a championship under its belt, how proud are you of Danny and his success?
"I'm really proud of him. Last year he built a new house and a new race shop over the winter and started a new team, and that gave him a whole new set of responsibilities. Initially, he was really uptight and worried about it when we started this deal. But now, to have done what we've done and have come so far in such a short amount of time - that's given him the confidence that he needed to go out and do what we do each weekend."
How did you and Danny Lasoski get together?
"We met back in either '93 or '94 in Tulsa, Okla., at a race they call the Chili Bowl. We've just been friends since then and have had a great relationship with each other. It seems like every year that's gone by we've just become closer and better friends. With this venture, it was just nice to help a friend."
Why did you become a car owner in that series?
"Mainly just to help my friend Danny Lasoski. I've been in the same position he's been in as a driver, as far as at the end of the year having your helmet in one hand, your seat in the other and wondering who you were going to be driving for the next year. He's got a wife and two kids and a new house and a new race shop. We're just trying to help him a little bit financially and give him the opportunity to save some money for the future and put his kids through college. At the same time, he has the security of not having to worry about who he's going to drive for at the end of the year. He knows that as long as we're together and as long as he wants to do this, he'll always have a ride. He'll never have to worry about losing his ride and having to go look for a new job at the end of the season."
Through this venture, have you gained a better understanding of what you car owner - Joe Gibbs - goes through on a regular basis?
"No, because I'm still not sure what Joe goes through on a regular basis. But it's taken a lot of work to get the Outlaw team to where it is today, so I can only imagine what Joe had to do build JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) into what it is. A lot of man hours went into our Outlaw team, where guys were working 20-hour days day after day to get the team ready to go in a relatively short amount of time. I'm really proud of what they've done and how hard they all have worked. I'm proud of our sponsors with Hamm of America and J.D. Byrider. Their commitment and how excited they are to be a part of this, knowing that we've got a lot of growing to do, reminds me of the way Home Depot is with our Winston Cup team. It was exciting for all of us to come in at the ground level like we did, win the championship, and then come on as strong as we have this year."
Do you feel that your background and your hands-on approach gives your race team an advantage that other World of Outlaws teams don't have?
"I really don't try to play the car owner role during the race. I kind of play the crew guy role. If there's something that needs to be done, and everybody else is busy, then I'm the guy who does it - whether it's scraping mud off the car or grooving tires. I view myself as just a crew guy. I don't try to run the show. We hired the right guys to do the right job. I just stand back and help out when I can and stay out of their way when they're busy. I just have fun with it. There are a lot of other talented people, drivers and crewmen alike, in the Outlaw series that probably know more than I do. So, I think we're pretty even with everybody else."