Home Depot Racing Phoenix preview

Tony Stewart 100th Winston Cup Start Comes at Phoenix ATLANTA (Oct. 23, 2001) - When you race well over 30 times a year, year after year, making your 100th career start comes quickly. Such is the case with Home Depot Pontiac driver Tony...

Tony Stewart
100th Winston Cup Start Comes at Phoenix

ATLANTA (Oct. 23, 2001) - When you race well over 30 times a year, year after year, making your 100th career start comes quickly.

Such is the case with Home Depot Pontiac driver Tony Stewart, who in less than three full years of NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing, will make his 100th career start in Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500k at Phoenix International Raceway.

Since sitting on the outside pole for the 1999 Daytona 500, Stewart has recorded 12 wins, four poles, 38 top-fives and 62 top-10s, all the while earning just under $10 million in prize money.

It's quite fitting that this 100th start comes at Phoenix, a track where Stewart made a name for himself in the open-wheeled ranks of USAC and the Indy Racing League before joining NASCAR.

What are some of your thoughts on starting your 100th Winston Cup race?
"It's kind of hard to believe that it'll be my 100th start, but I guess when you look at how many races we have each year it's not hard to believe at all. We're running 36 races this year, 38 if you count the Bud Shootout and The Winston, and we had 34 races in 1999 and 2000. So, add it all up and 100 comes pretty quick."

Is it fitting that Phoenix is the venue where you'll make your 100th start?
"Yeah, it is. I started racing there in '93, when I ran a Silver Crown car. And since then, I've run USAC Midgets, USAC Silver Crown cars, Indy Racing League, Super-modifieds, and of course, Winston Cup with The Home Depot Pontiac. So, I've logged a bunch of laps there. To have my 100th start there, I guess you could say my career has come full-circle."

Your last win at Phoenix came behind the wheel of a USAC Midget in January of 2000. Talk about that.
"It was pretty cool because I actually won twice that day, once as a driver and once as an owner with Jason Leffler. The Midget race is the one that I won as a driver. I ran against Leffler, Davey Hamilton, Ryan Newman, Dave Steele, Billy Boat - all the USAC regulars. I drove for Steve Lewis, who's the same guy that I won with at Irwindale (Calif.) last year on Turkey Night, and this year at South Boston (Va.) on the Saturday night before the (fall) Martinsville (Va.) race."

Did all those laps that you had made over the years at Phoenix prepare you better for when you first went there in a Cup car?
"I think so. With every different division of car that I've run there, I've ended up running a different line. With that, I've learned a lot about that race track and where the sweet spots are on that race track. I was used to the place when it came time to run The Home Depot Pontiac. I knew a lot about that race track and the different places that can make you go fast or slow. It gave me an opportunity to adapt a lot more to the car than to the race track."

When you talk about "sweet spots," what do you mean?
"You learn about all the bumps and where all the bumps are on the race track. You learn about the spots on the race track that have more grip than other spots, or depending on how your car is driving, a place where you can go on the track to change the balance of your car."

Phoenix is a flat track, but is it like the other flat tracks on the circuit, or is it an entity all its own?
"Everybody calls it a flat track, but to me one end is flat and one end has banking to it. It's a unique place because the radius of the corners are different on each end, the banking of the corners are different on each end, and then you have that neat dogleg on the backstretch which adds a lot of character to Phoenix."

The second win of your Winston Cup career came at Phoenix in 1999. How important was that win for you and the team?
"It was great to show everyone that the first win wasn't a fluke. I mean, I was happy about my first win, but the biggest pleasure I got out of it was giving the guys their first win. Then to go to Phoenix and get that win, that was a personal victory because that track is like a home away from home for me."

With Phoenix being a home away from home, is this weekend's race one that's been circled on your calendar for some time?
"Absolutely. I've got a lot of friends and a lot of fans out in that area, so it's a place that's very important for The Home Depot Pontiac to run well."

Is racing in the Southwest like a family reunion of sorts for you, because there are so many people in that area who you've met through your racing career?
"With the racing I've done with USAC out west, I've developed a lot of friendships and relationships with people. Running Winston Cup, we don't have the opportunity to go out to that area but a couple of times a year. The small amount of time that we get to spend out in Phoenix for the Cup race is very valuable to me and all my friends out there."


Year    Event                   Start   Finish   Status/Laps   Led   Earnings

2000 Checker Auto Parts 500k 37 14 Running/312 1 $62,500
1999 Checker Auto Parts 500k 11 1 Running/312 154 $168,485


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Jason Leffler , Ryan Newman , Davey Hamilton , Billy Boat