Tony Stewart Whirlwind Week Wraps at Darlington ATLANTA (Aug. 29, 2001) - There was no slowing down Tony Stewart last Saturday night at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, and that trend continued during the days leading up the Mountain Dew Southern...
Whirlwind Week Wraps at Darlington
ATLANTA (Aug. 29, 2001) - There was no slowing down Tony Stewart last Saturday night at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, and that trend continued during the days leading up the Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
After winning the Sharpie 500 under the lights at Bristol, Stewart made it back to his Cornelius, N.C., home as daylight broke Sunday morning. But there was little time for any kind of rest and relaxation. Stewart had to jet off to Sun Prairie, Wis., that afternoon for his induction ceremony into the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame.
>From Sun Prairie it was on to Talladega, Ala., where on Monday Stewart was one of a handful of drivers helping NASCAR test various parts and pieces on their race cars at Talladega Superspeedway. As soon as the test was over for the day, Stewart jumped back on his plane for a 20-minute flight to Atlanta. More driving would be in store, but this time it was at the Andretti Speed Lab in Roswell, Ga.
It wasn't his traditional Home Depot Pontiac, but the go-kart Stewart used to set fast time of the day was still plenty fast. Home Depot CEO Robert Nardelli was impressed, as was his family who came to race with Stewart at the indoor karting facility until 11 p.m.
Tuesday came early for Stewart, as the 12-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series race winner began making his post-win phone calls to select radio stations at 8 a.m. Two hours and eight radio phoners later, Stewart was doneâ^À¦with the phone calls. His day was far from being over.
At 10:30 a.m. Stewart rolled up to the World of Coke in downtown Atlanta. In a small conference room on the fourth floor, he gathered with boss Joe Gibbs and teammate Bobby Labonte along with a slew of executives from Home Depot and Coca-Cola. Merchandise was autographed and interviews were given before the entourage headed outside for the unveiling of the cars Stewart and Labonte would race at Talladega in October.
Stewart's Home Depot Pontiac was adorned with snow and Coca-Cola polar bears as part of a promotion Home Depot and Coca-Cola had made with Toys for Tots. Beginning with the Oct. 21 Winston Cup race at Talladega, fans can make donations of toys to Home Depot's Trailblazer. The massive orange and white hauler that displays tools and other Home Depot products will become a mobile drop-off point for Toys for Tots. The promotion will continue through the remainder of the season, and a portion of proceeds from the sale of themed merchandise will also go to Toys for Tots. Looking to spearhead the effort, Home Depot made an initial donation of 8,500 toys.
Stewart, Labonte and Gibbs made the announcement surrounded by snow - on the ground and in the air - thanks to some Hollywood wizardry that thumbed its noses at the 90-degree temperature. More interviews followed, including The Weather Channel, who arrived to get the scoop on the August snowstorm.
At 4 p.m. Stewart left the World of Coke only to head to Turner Field to watch a matchup between the hometown Braves and the Montreal Expos. But Stewart was no ordinary fan, and the Braves organization went out of their way to make Stewart's visit a memorable one.
Much of that was probably at the urging of Braves manager Bobby Cox, who is a huge racing fan. Stewart and Cox talked racing for nearly 20 minutes prior to batting practice before third base coach Ned Yost took Stewart for a tour of the field and clubhouse. Stewart shook hands with starting pitcher Kevin Millwood, traded stories of adversity with third baseman Ken Caminiti and received a bat from starting third baseman Chipper Jones. Prior to game time, Cox presented Stewart with an authentic jersey.
When the game commenced Stewart sat in Braves owner Ted Turner's seats - but only for a moment. After the first inning, Stewart was whisked up to the press box where he joined the television broadcast on TBS. An inning later, Stewart dined in Turner's personal suite. When the game ended, a spent Stewart retired to his hotel.
Wednesday morning meant another visit with Home Depot VIPs, but Wednesday night was free. Stewart was home, ready to relax just a little bit more - but not too much more. An appearance Thursday night at the NASCAR Cafe in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was still on the docket.
It's hard to believe that anyone would think of Darlington as a place to relax, but after the whirlwind week Stewart's had - a race track will be a welcome sight.
You've done a lot in a short time since winning at Bristol. How do you feel?
"I feel good, but I definitely know that I've been working. But when you win a race, especially Bristol, the work you've got to do afterwards is usually pretty fun."
Speaking of fun, you seemed to enjoy yourself at the Braves game Tuesday night.
"Yeah, they definitely took care of us. Bobby Cox was great. You could tell he was a racer. And Ned Yost was awesome. He showed us all around that place. They've got everything you can imagine in their clubhouse - a weight room, a physical therapy area with a training pool, a trainer's room, even a kitchen and a living room type area. It was different from our deal, but in a lot of ways it was the same. I mean, at our shop we've got a lot of specialized equipment and it's all laid out just right. It was the same deal there. Everything had a place and a purpose. You could tell a lot of thought went into the joint."
You had fun, but you also did a lot of work. How ready are you for Darlington?
"Really ready. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm ready to go to Darlington and relax. It's a tough track, but I'm in my element. I like the place, I like its attitude and I like to run there. We're capable of winning there, just like we were capable of winning at Bristol. Our finishes have shown that we're right there in the hunt almost every race. So, we'll see what happens this time around."
When you raced at Darlington back in March, you did so with a new tire compound. What did you learn, and will any of your notes apply to this weekend's race at Darlington?
"Every time you return to a race track you use the notes from the last time you were there, especially when you're going to a track where you've had a major change like a tire compound. Those are the notes you're going to rely on. You're almost not going to rely on anything else other than that one set of notes."
Does Darlington's track surface seem to change drastically from the time you were there in March to the time you go there in late August/early September?
"It seems like the track is a lot hotter and gives up a lot more grip in August. But that track has always been a tire management type of race track, so you're still going to have to worry about saving your tires. But if the tires are a little harder, like they've been this year, then it's easier to do that."
Is Darlington the one track on the Winston Cup circuit where you feel you have to work the hardest?
"It's one of the tracks where we seem to work the hardest. The way the tires fall off and as narrow as the track is - it's hard to pass. So, you've got to get your car driving well to be able to pass. You don't want to use up your tires too early in a run. It's definitely one of the harder tracks on the circuit, but there are a lot of hard tracks on our schedule."
Is Darlington a frustrating track for you, in that you run well - top-10 - but not as well as you'd like?
"No, because there are a lot of teams that aren't at the level that we are at Darlington. It's just one of those deals where the only way you're going to find a way to make yourself better is to go there and test and do your homework. We've tested The Home Depot Pontiac there ever year, because we feel like it's an important track. It takes a lot to get around that place consistently and fast all day. It's just a tough place to get around well, and there's a group of guys that get around there well every time we go there. It's like we're right on the verge of being one of those guys. We just need to find a little something that can help us get into that elite group."
Darlington pays the same amount of points as any other track on the circuit, but because of its history, it seems to be a race you want to win badly. Is that a fair assessment?
"I'd love to win the Southern 500. When I'm watching TV and I see an old race from Darlington, I'm able to see the history of Darlington and the Southern 500, along with all of the greats who have run there and won there and crashed out of the joint. There's some deep history there, and the race fans down there are some of the most dedicated race fans in our series. That makes it really enjoyable to run well, and hopefully win there."
It's been said that Darlington is a driver's track. Why is that?
"The way the tires fall off and the way that you have to change your driving style to compensate for what the tires lack at the end of a run. You've got to change your driving style each lap - change where you're lifting, how much you're braking, how much you're on the throttle. It all changes constantly every lap."
Harry Gant was known to run a high line around Darlington. Are there different lines that you can run at Darlington?
"Just depending on what your car is doing you can run different lines. Some guys from the beginning of a run will race right up against the wall just because that's where their car feels good. It's not so much as the run goes on that you get closer to the wall, it's more dependent on how your car is handling. For instance, my Home Depot Pontiac may start up there, but there might be another guy who starts his run at the bottom of the track."
TONY STEWART'S DARLINGTON PERFORMANCE PROFILE
Year Event Start Finish Status/Laps Led Earnings
2001 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 14 16 Running/293 0 $53,735
2000 Mall.com 400 9 4 Running/293 0 $68,230
Pepsi Southern 500 29 9 Running/328 0 $55,735
1999 TranSouth Financial 400 10 6 Running/164 0 $44,240
Pepsi Southern 500 19 12 Running/270 0 $46,620