Tony Stewart You Can't Stop Him, You Can Only Hope to Restrict Him ATLANTA (Oct. 17, 2001) - The restrictor plate, the thin piece of metal with four small holes that slips between the carburetor and the intake manifold, may be the only known ...
You Can't Stop Him, You Can Only Hope to Restrict Him
ATLANTA (Oct. 17, 2001) - The restrictor plate, the thin piece of metal with four small holes that slips between the carburetor and the intake manifold, may be the only known element that can slow Tony Stewart down.
The driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac has never been one for restrictions, but he's learned to live with the restrictor plate, just as many of his fellow drivers have.
Stewart's learning curve at restrictor plate tracks has been steep and quick. A rookie less than three years ago, he sat on the outside pole for the 1999 Daytona 500 in his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series start. In his four restrictor plate races that season, he finished in the top-10 three times. The 2000 campaign was a different story, as only one top-10 was earned in four restrictor plate races. In 2001, however, Stewart's confidence in restrictor plate races has grown, despite the results seen on paper.
He was racing toward the lead in the Daytona 500 when he was caught up in a harrowing wreck just 30 laps from the finish. But Stewart overcame that experience by leading 26 laps and finishing second to Bobby Hamilton at this year's spring race at Talladega (Ala.). And most recently, a solid sixth-place run at Daytona (Fla.) for the July night race became a 26th place finish due to a NASCAR infraction.
Sunday's EA SPORTS 500 at Talladega Superspeedway is the last restrictor plate race of the season, and the last chance for anyone to restrict Stewart.
Sunday marks the last restrictor plate race of the season. Does that come as a relief more than anything else?
"It's a relief when you climb out of the car after the race is over. Until you actually get the motor shut off at the end of the day, it's a very stressful situation."
You tested at Talladega about a month ago with some aerodynamic devices that NASCAR was trying out to slow the cars down. Will any of what you tested see the light of day?
"I don't know. But I'd like to see them do something - more than just trimming the roof strip like they've done with the Pontiacs. Every time we've gone to a restrictor plate track this year we've dropped to the back and ridden around until the last round of pit stops. Then we hold our breath for as many laps as we can at the end of the race and see if we can make it to the front. But you can't hold your breath there for 188 laps and expect to make it through the end of the day. So, I expect to do what we've typically done - ride around at the back, take care of our car, and when it comes time to go racing - at the end when it means something - we'll go race. But it's kind of boring for the fans to sit there and know that guys aren't really racing that hard until the last pit stop. It's like we only have one segment where we race."
Drivers at Talladega will complain of an "aero push" while racing in traffic. What exactly is an aero push?
"You have two types of balance on your race car. You have mechanical balance and aero balance. Your mechanical balance is comprised of springs, shocks, sway bars and suspension pieces. Your aero balance relates to the total aerodynamics of the car - how the air flows over the top of the race car and how it creates downforce in different areas. If you're running with a car right in front of you, you don't have the air hitting the front of your car as you would if you were running in clean air, where there's no one in front of you. When someone is in front of you and you're not getting that air pushing down on the front of the nose, the car isn't getting the downforce it needs to stick to the race track. That creates an understeer condition, which makes the car push out toward the wall. That's what's happening when you hear drivers complain of an aero push."
Do certain makes of cars, or more specifically, do certain team cars affect your car differently in relation to aerodynamics?
"Sometimes it does. It depends on what little things are done by each team to their car's bodies. Sometimes it makes it more difficult. Sometimes it makes it easier. You just have to go out there and run with guys during practice and find out which cars makes your car draft better."
What's the difference between racing at Talladega and Daytona?
"You can run two and three-wide all day at Daytona. At Talladega you can run three-wide all day easily and sometimes four-wide. Essentially, Talladega just has an extra lane compared to Daytona because its track is a little easier to get a hold of mechanically. Handling isn't near as big of an issue as it is at Daytona."
You mentioned at the beginning of the year that you still had a lot to learn when it came to restrictor plate racing. With 11 career restrictor plate races under your belt in your three years on the circuit, how do you feel heading into Talladega?
"I'm thinking about survival, really. The battle in the point standings between second and 10th is really close right now. If we have a bad race, like we did at Martinsville (Va.) last week, it's easy to drop in points. I mean, we came into Martinsville third and now we're fifth. So, we need to get out of there with a top-10 or hopefully a top-five finish. I'm not going to rule out that we can't win there, but I'm smart enough to know that it is going to be tough. If we can just get out of there with a decent finish and not tear up The Home Depot Pontiac, then that'll help us in the point standings and give us a little bit more to work of off for the last five races."
Patience is an obvious virtue on the short tracks, but how important is it at a restrictor plate track?
"It's the gospel, basically. There are a lot of times when you think you can pull out and pass, but if you do, once you get there you realize that you can't pass. It makes it real critical that you take your time and that you don't get caught up in trying to make a move too fast. Just stay in line, and sometimes you'll have more patience than 20 other guys."
You've performed drafting in Winston Cup and in the Indy Racing League (IRL). Are the drafting principles that you apply in both series the same or are they different?
"It's a lot more technical with the Cup cars because of how close you can run with each other. With the IRL cars, you would just line up straight behind a guy, get a run on him and go by. With the Cup cars it's a lot harder because you have to be real precise with your movements, and you always have to be aware that there are other cars around you all the time. It's not just one car versus another. It's one car versus 42 cars out there all in a big group. With that many cars around you, it just makes it that much harder."
What's up with that paint?
Stewart's #20 Home Depot Pontiac features a special paint scheme for Sunday's EA SPORTS 500 that features the Coca-Cola Polar Bears in a benefit for the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. Proceeds from the sale of die-casts and other related merchandise will benefit the Toys for Tots program, but sponsor Home Depot is taking the program one step further.
At The Home Depot's mobile display unit stationed at Talladega Superspeedway, a collection center manned by members of the U.S. Marine Corps will be accepting toy donations on behalf of the Toys for Tots program. Those donating toys will receive a five-dollar voucher good for merchandise on The Home Depot merchandise trailer. Collection centers will also be set up at The Home Depot mobile display unit at the Phoenix, Rockingham (N.C.), Homestead (Fla.) and Atlanta race venues. <pre> TONY STEWART'S TALLADEGA PERFORMANCE PROFILE
Year Event Start Finish Status/Laps Laps Led Earnings 2001 Talladega 500 7 2 Running/188 26 $137,630 2000 DieHard 500 39 34 Accident/138 0 $53,835 Winston 500 5 27 Running/187 12 $56,465 1999 DieHard 500 8 5 Running/188 10 $59,855 Winston 500 5 6 Running/188 1 $60,875