t-incap: not found Road Scholar ATLANTA (Aug. 7, 2001) - Tony Stewart's proficiency on oval race tracks is well known, as 10 of his 11 career NASCAR Winston Cup Series victories have come on ovals. It should also be noted that his 1997 Indy ...
t-incap: not found
ATLANTA (Aug. 7, 2001) - Tony Stewart's proficiency on oval race tracks is well known, as 10 of his 11 career NASCAR Winston Cup Series victories have come on ovals. It should also be noted that his 1997 Indy Racing League championship and his 1995 titles in the USAC National Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown divisions were also decided on ovals.
But when the Winston Cup Series descended upon the twists and turns of Sears Point Raceway (Sonoma, Calif.) in June for the first road course race of 2001, it was Stewart who wound up in victory lane. Apparently, he was just as adept at turning right as he was at turning left.
Those who had followed Stewart since his rookie year in 1999 weren't too surprised. After all, coming into Sears Point Stewart had never qualified less than sixth and had finished no worse than 15th in four career road course starts. His third-place qualifying effort and the resulting win in Sonoma only added to Stewart's impressive road course resume.
Now the driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac heads to Watkins Glen (N.Y.) for the second and final road course race of the season. Thanks to his win at Sears Point, Stewart is now void of the relative autonomy he enjoyed at road courses, making him a favorite to win the Global Crossing @ The Glen.
He won't be alone. Defending winner Steve Park is sure to be strong, as will Jeff Gordon, Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin - NASCAR regulars who have won the majority of road course races in the last decade. Joining this list will be the "ringers" - veteran road course specialists brought in as mercenaries to claim victory at The Glen. They include Robby Gordon, Ron Fellows, Scott Pruett, Boris Said, Brian Simo and Anthony Lazzaro.
Does your win at Sears Point help you in any way as you prepare for Watkins Glen?
"Not really. Watkins Glen is much faster than Sonoma. I think there are the same amount of passing opportunities, but because of the speeds that you're able to run at The Glen, brakes become a much bigger factor than I think they are at Sears Point."
How does Watkins Glen differ from Sears Point?
"The difference between Watkins Glen and Sears Point is that Watkins Glen is a more technical race track. The corners are a lot faster, and if you break your momentum just a little bit, it shows up big time. Right now, we're in a string of tracks where momentum is a big factor. It seems like forward bite is more of an issue at Sears Point because you've got to work so hard to get the car to turn. At Watkins Glen, you try to do as much as you can to try to keep your momentum up and not break it in any way."
Was your win at Sears Point a confidence booster for yourself and for Joe Gibbs Racing, as it was the first road course victory for each of you?
"It made us feel good, but Watkins Glen is really a whole new ballgame. It's just like Richmond (Va.) in a way. We won the spring race there this year, but when we go back in the fall, we know that it's going to be a different track. Not because they did anything to it, but because the heat from the summer and the races that they've run since we were last there will change how our car will react. Watkins Glen is just a different race track from Sears Point. You look at a guy like Jeff Gordon, the road course king, and see that he kind of missed it at Sonoma. He's probably not going to miss it again at Watkins Glen. So, he's going to make everyone better than what they were out in Sonoma. Everybody's going to have their work cut out for them. Robby Gordon is going to run well there again, as are the rest of the road course specialists. All those guys up the ante every time they come and run with us. That forces you to be better than the last time you ran with them."
How much of a presence is made by the road course specialists?
"You definitely know they're there. But if they really want to impress me they can come to Richmond or Bristol (Tenn.) and show me what they can do there. To come in and cherry-pick an event is one thing, but let's see what they can do at another NASCAR event."
Your performance on the road courses has always been good, even during your rookie year. How were you able to adapt to road course racing so quickly?
"I raced on road courses in go-karts when I was younger. So, I've driven road courses before. During my rookie year before the Sears Point race I went out to the Bob Bondurant Driving School and had Chris Cook as my instructor. He was really good at knowing what I needed to learn to drive a Cup car on a road course. He'd 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. That gave me the mindset that I could be good on the road courses."
How 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."
Because there are only two road course races on the Winston Cup schedule, do you feel that that aspect of the #20 team's overall program doesn't receive as much attention?
"Not really. Everybody's kind of in the same boat. We all only run two road course races a year. I feel like road courses are actually one of our strong suits, and we proved that at Sonoma. We've finished sixth at Watkins Glen both years we've been there. So overall, I feel like The Home Depot team has a pretty good road course program. I feel like that's one of our assets right now. It's just not something that we focus really hard on because we do only have two races on the schedule that are road courses."
Is it tough for a team to justify focusing their resources on a road course program and perhaps neglect an aspect of their oval track program?
"I think we do a pretty good job of allotting the proper amount of time to the road courses. It's not that you neglect the ovals. The road courses pay the same amount of points to win that the ovals do. You've got to prepare in the same way and you've got to prepare with the same intensity. We want to win both of those races just like we want to win everywhere else we go. It's important that you do concentrate on the road courses and not take the attitude that they're not as important as the rest of the races because there's only two of them."
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 2001 Sears Point 3 1 Running/112 11 $139,875 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