Homestead: Tony Stewart preview

Tony Stewart New Banking Leads to Level Playing Field ATLANTA (Nov. 10, 2003) - Homestead-Miami Speedway has been a part of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series since 1999, when a rookie by the name of Tony Stewart won the inaugural race. But four ...

Tony Stewart
New Banking Leads to Level Playing Field

ATLANTA (Nov. 10, 2003) - Homestead-Miami Speedway has been a part of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series since 1999, when a rookie by the name of Tony Stewart won the inaugural race. But four years later Homestead is all new. Gone are the relatively flat corners with only six degrees of banking, replaced by 20-degree variable banking, where the degree of banking progressively increases from the bottom of the turn at 18 degrees, to the middle of the turn at 19 degrees, to the top of the turn at 20 degrees, all done in an effort to create three distinct racing grooves.

And even with Stewart's win at Homestead - a feat he repeated in 2000 - he has no more experience than any other driver slated to qualify for Sunday's Ford 400. Other notable wheelmen such as Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon and recently crowned champ Matt Kenseth have as much experience at the new Homestead oval as rookies Jamie McMurray, Greg Biffle and Brian Vickers. For perhaps the only time in 2003, a fresh-faced rookie will have the same amount of experience at a Winston Cup venue as a grizzled veteran. Their cars may be whipping around Homestead on 20-degree banking, but the drivers will all be on a level playing field.

For Stewart, that helped him win at Homestead in 1999, a theory that could also be applied to Kevin Harvick, who as a rookie won the inaugural race at Chicagoland in 2001.

In an effort to give veterans and rookies alike as much track time as possible, Homestead opens for Winston Cup teams on Wednesday, offering up a full day of unrestricted testing. They get another day to work on their cars on Thursday, sans track time, before gearing up for the typical Friday, Saturday and Sunday grind of a Winston Cup weekend - the last one before cars hit the track again at Daytona (Fla.) in February 2004, some 80 days away.

Does going to a new venue prove to be an advantage for the rookie drivers, as for once they have the same amount of seat time at that particular race track than anyone else on the circuit?

"It does, and that's what I liked when we went to Homestead in '99. I felt like nobody had an advantage over me there. Nobody knows the secrets at a new race track unless they've tested, and even then they may not know the secrets. It's a whole new ballgame and it's totally up for grabs. It's really anybody's race."

As a driver, what do you do when you arrive at a new race track?

"I can promise you one thing, I'll make more laps in my first run of the day in The Home Depot Chevrolet than I would if I were in a Sprint car or a Midget practicing at a new race track. Normally when you go to a Sprint car or Midget track you only get four or five laps of practice on the dirt and that's it. At Homestead, we'll have about five-and-a-half or six hours worth of practice on Wednesday before we even start the official weekend, so it's just a matter of going out and using the track time as if you were testing. You go out and sneak up on it, steadily improving yourself with each lap."

Back in early July you were able to get a sneak peak of the construction of Homestead. Have you heard or seen anymore of the race track's construction since you were there?

"Not really. Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. got to drive around it in a rental car a couple of weeks ago, and I know Dave Blaney and Johnny Benson tested there. But when I went I was finishing up a diving trip in the Keys and I couldn't get on a plane for another 30 minutes. The airport was about 10 minutes away from the speedway, so I just drove over and saw it in the middle of the night. I didn't get a chance to see much, but I think we're all excited about going down and seeing the end result of the project. I'm anxious to get on the track and see what it feels like."

Going into Homestead last year many people were questioning what kind of a champion you would be. Did that put any more pressure on what was already a very pressure-packed weekend?

"In regard to what people were saying about what kind of champion I would be - no, it didn't put any more pressure on me, because I was the one making fun of everybody for saying that. I still don't know what it means to be a good champion and nobody has really given me a definition of what it means. I've just kind of blown it off, because I think it was some sort of fairy tale idea that a lot of people had in their mind. The last time I checked the champion was the guy who had more points at the end of the year than anybody else. So I don't know what makes a good or a bad champion. I think a champion is a champion, no matter what you're like afterward."

Will a run at a second championship be easier than the first?

"Hopefully I can take my experiences from last year and try to make some adjustments to where I'd relax a little more. I think the first championship is always the hardest one to win, just from the standpoint that you're trying to get that first one under your belt. I think anytime you're in that situation again, it makes it quite a bit easier to deal with, because you've got that first experience out of the way. You learn so much from that first experience."

GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief on the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet:

Does going into a new venue change the way you go about preparing for a race weekend?

"Yeah, we'll take a larger selection of gears, some a little higher and a little lower than what we normally take. But really, you just go into it open-minded. You do whatever the car is asking and whatever the driver is asking. Whatever you come up with is what you come up with."

Will Wednesday be treated as if it were a test session? Will you work on qualifying setups or race setups or both?

"We're going to dedicate most of our time to race setup, just because our qualifying setup isn't that far off from our race setup. There are just a couple of little differences, but nothing out of the ordinary. If we can just get Tony comfortable with the race track and get our car driving well, Tony will be confident and comfortable about making qualifying runs come Friday."

Do you know anything about Homestead that can better prepare the #20 team for its arrival at the new layout?

"It's going to be fast, I know that. We're going to take the car that we won at Charlotte (N.C.) with. It's just a good intermediate car with very good balance. We'll just go down there with an open mind. We've got a whole day to practice and we'll throw a bunch of scenarios at it, taking the banking angles and size of the place into consideration to kind of predict how the car might react. Then we'll make three, four or five different setups, thrown 'em on the car and see which ones we want to work with."

Can running for a championship wear out a race team?

"I think so. I know I was burned out at the end of last year and I don't know that I ever really had the chance to kick back and enjoy it. Monday and Tuesday after we won the championship in Homestead, we were testing the Chevy Monte Carlo, and once we got back to the race shop we were cutting cars apart. We left for the banquet, and as soon as we came back it was back to work. Switching from Pontiac to Chevrolet was a lot of work for everybody. It was draining. But I still felt like we were in pretty good shape at the beginning of this year. We went into Darlington (S.C.) second in points. We felt like we were going to have a shot at another title and then we just got off track a little bit through the mid-part of the year, and I don't really have a reason or an excuse as to why. We just struggled at some places and we had some terrible luck at other places. But the important thing is that we're back on track now and we're working toward building some momentum for next year."


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Johnny Benson , Jamie McMurray , Dave Blaney