TONY STEWART Ready to Make His Point at Sears Point ATLANTA (June 19, 2001) - After Tony Stewart completed 1,100 miles by competing in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on May 27, no one doubted his toughness and tenacity behind the...
Ready to Make His Point at Sears Point
ATLANTA (June 19, 2001) - After Tony Stewart completed 1,100 miles by competing in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on May 27, no one doubted his toughness and tenacity behind the wheel of a race car. After all, he had just broken his own record of completing the most racing miles in a single day.
Attaining that milestone, however, didn't happen overnight. Stewart enlisted the services of Al Shuford, a certified physical trainer who put the third-year Winston Cup driver on a more health-conscious diet as well as on an increased exercise program in the months leading up to Indy. The effort paid off, as Stewart appeared more refreshed than Coke 600 winner Jeff Burton when his racing marathon was finally over.
Stewart's fitness and diet regimen didn't end on Memorial Day weekend. It continues to this day. A fact which bodes well for Stewart heading into the Dodge/Save Mart 350k at Sears Point Raceway, for it was during last year's race at the 1.949-mile road course where Stewart became uncharacteristically ill inside the race car.
While running second on lap 55, Stewart radioed to crew chief Greg Zipadelli that he was becoming sick. Despite running well enough to take the lead from Scott Pruett on lap 68, Stewart was not running well physically. The 90-degree air temperature exacerbated by the heat generated from the engine and exhaust of The Home Depot Pontiac conspired against Stewart finishing all 112 laps.
What also conspired against Stewart was a nudge from Pruett in turn one, who overdrove his Ford into Stewart's left rear quarterpanel after Stewart had passed him for the point. The #20 machine spun backward into the dirt, while Pruett continued on before stuffing his ride into the turn-10 tire barrier while dueling with Jeff Gordon.
Pruett's wreck provided the opportunity for The Home Depot team to give their driver some needed relief.
John Andretti, whose day had ended on lap 15 when he was taken out in a wreck not of his making, was on hand to relieve Stewart. The driver change took place on lap 70, and Andretti wound up piloting The Home Depot Pontiac to a respectable 10th place finish.
While Stewart was grateful for the helpful hand lent to the team by Andretti, he has no intentions of yielding the wheel in this year's Dodge/Save Mart 350k.
With the diet and fitness regimen you have in place, how do you feel physically going into Sears Point?
"I guess some people assume that I was out of shape last year because of what happened at Sears Point. But I've never had to get pulled out of a race car during a race in my life until Sonoma (Calif.) last year, and that's just because I was flat-out sick. Every year you see drivers having to get pulled out of race cars because they get sick, but that's because we don't call in sick. We get in there and do the job anyway. To me, it's a non-issue. The training that I've been doing this year really isn't any different than what I've done in past years. I feel good."
What were some of the things that you made you so ill in last year's race at Sears Point?
"I really don't know. I woke up race morning and didn't feel good, but I had felt fine the night before when I went to bed. As the day went on I started feeling worse, and when the race started I just felt miserable. When I started getting sick it made me claustrophobic."
Your claustrophobia is heat induced. When it occurs, how does it make you feel inside the race car?
"I feel like I'm trapped, like I can't get out. It's something that hasn't even been an issue since Homestead (Fla.) of last year, where it was really hot. But any time I've gotten hot since then, we've had an immediate cure."
What has your race team done to help keep you cool inside the race car?
"We've had instances where I've gotten really hot inside the race car, but since Sonoma we've found some better ways of keeping me cool. Plus, we've made some changes in our cooling system. I get more cool air to my helmet than I ever have, and it's steady and constant throughout the entire race. So, I don't anticipate any kind of problems like we had last year. If a problem does arise during any part of the race, we've got a solution for it. I feel really comfortable with what we're doing."
You tested the Tuesday and Wednesday preceding Pocono (Pa.) at the 3.27-mile Virginia International Raceway road course. How did that test go and what did you work on?
"I think it went really well. We ran faster than what we ran last year when we tested there, and the tire that we had this year was a little bit harder. I think that's a good sign. I think there were some areas were we could've been even faster if we were in a race situation. But considering it was just a test, we weren't all that concerned with setting fast time. We were there to learn. It was definitely a productive test and we're looking forward to taking The Home Depot Pontiac to Sonoma."
You seemed to adapt very quickly to road racing, as you have finished within the top-10 in three out of the four road course races you've run in you career. Why is that?
"I raced on road courses in go-karts when I was younger. So, I've driven road courses before. I went out to the Bob Bondurant Driving School during my rookie year and had Chris Cook as my instructor out there. He was really good at knowing what I needed to learn to drive a Cup car on a road course. He had run a couple of Busch races, so he really knew what areas I needed to focus on. Having him as an instructor gave me things to think about before we went to Sonoma and Watkins Glen (N.Y.). That gave me the mindset that I could be good on the road courses. I just do what I think is right out there and it seems to be fairly good and fairly quick. If you have that along with a crew that can put together a good, solid race car, it makes life a little bit easier."
Why do you think your crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, adapted so quickly to the road courses in terms of finding the proper chassis setup?
"Well, he's run in the Busch North Series a bunch and run the Modifieds, and both of those divisions have to run at Watkins Glen. He's got some experience from both of those divisions. Obviously, he's been with a Cup team (Roush Racing, #99) in the past that's run road courses. He's got a really good ability to adapt quickly, like I do in some cases behind the wheel. I'm just fortunate to have a guy like that who can adapt so quickly to different styles of racing."
This question is often asked when the series visits Sears Point, the first of two road course races on the schedule. Does NASCAR need road racing as part of its schedule?
"I think we need dirt races, but I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon. It doesn't matter to me. All I care about is that every week I've got to go out and beat all the other guys that are out on the race track when they drop the green flag on Sunday. I enjoy it. To me, it's kind of a nice change of pace. It's nice to do something different twice a year."
Do you feel that, as a NASCAR driver, you're more well-rounded than drivers in other series?
"I don't know. There are a lot of guys who are in the Cup Series who came from different forms of motorsports or have driven different divisions in the past. They've all probably road raced at some point in their careers. You look at Jerry Nadeau (driver, #25 Chevrolet), he's got a good road racing background. There are a lot of guys who have driven road races before they got here. So, I don't think I'm any better than anyone else." <pre> TONY STEWART'S ROAD COURSE PERFORMANCE PROFILE Year Event Start Finish Status/Laps Laps Led Earnings 2000 Sears Point 4 10 Running/112 2 $73,610 Watkins Glen 6 6 Running/90 0 $53,190 1999 Sears Point 2 15 Running/112 0 $43,965 Watkins Glen 4 6 Running/90 0 $45,240