Joliet: Home Depot Racing preview

TONY STEWART Time to Go to Chicago-Thankfully ATLANTA (July 10, 2001) - The inaugural Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., probably couldn't come any sooner for Tony Stewart and members of The Home Depot Racing Team. The ...

TONY STEWART Time to Go to Chicago-Thankfully

ATLANTA (July 10, 2001) - The inaugural Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., probably couldn't come any sooner for Tony Stewart and members of The Home Depot Racing Team.

The penalty for being forced by another car below the yellow line five laps before the finish of the Pepsi 400 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway last Saturday night turned the sixth-place finish Stewart earned into a 26th place finish. Despite the #20 team's insistence that they were victims of circumstance and that it wasn't their intent to pass below the yellow line, the call by NASCAR to dock Stewart 20 positions and place him as the last car on the lead lap stood.

As crew chief Greg Zipadelli said following a closed-door, post-race meeting with NASCAR officials, "We were penalized for being forced below the yellow line. That was their rule. Do I agree with it? I do, but I think there are some circumstances at times that put people in that situation. It's a very sensitive situation and we were one of those people. But we've got to live with it and go on with the decision that they made. So, we'll just go on to Chicago."

In theory, there isn't a better venue on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series circuit for the #20 team to visit after enduring such a bitter disappointment.

Chicagoland Speedway is brand new 1.5-mile, D-shaped oval where everyone will be starting from a clean slate. There are no qualifying records. There are no race records. There are no favorites. Everyone is equal. It is a formula ideally suited to a team that wants to put the recent past behind them and focus on the present - the perfect prescription for The Home Depot Racing Team.

What do you know about the new Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.?

"I don't know anything about it, to be honest. I know the real race track there is the dirt track next door, but that's about all I know about Joliet."

Your teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, Bobby Labonte, tested at Chicagoland earlier this year. How valuable is the information they gathered?

"The data that they acquired, I'm sure that Jimmy (Makar, #18 crew chief) and Greg (Zipadelli, #20 crew chief) have talked about it, and that gives Greg a sense of where to start. It may not be exactly what they have, because we try not to go to the race track with exactly the same packages. So we'll start at Joliet with two different packages, and after that whole first day of practice, hopefully one of us will have found something that we really like."

As a driver, what do you do when you arrive at a race track that you've never seen before?

"I can promise you one thing, I'll make more laps in my first run of the day in The Home Depot Pontiac 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 Joliet, we'll have about five-and-a-half or six hours worth of practice on that first day before we even start the official weekend, so it's just a matter of going out and using your track time as if you were testing. You go out and sneak up on it, steadily improving yourself with each lap. With the knowledge of what Bobby learned when he tested there that'll hopefully get us up to speed a little bit quicker."

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, that's what I liked when we went to Homestead (Fla.) 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."

Did you race anywhere around the Chicago area back in your formative years on the USAC circuit?

"We raced Midgets and Sprint cars around there. We raced in Highland and Morris, Ill. We actually ran a lot of places in the Northern Illinois area. We're probably going to see a lot of people we haven't had the opportunity to see for a while."

Is Chicagoland a venue that you're looking forward to visiting because you do know you're way around the area?

"I always look forward to going racing. Just because it's a new place doesn't really add that much more excitement, with the exception being that we'll probably see people from that area that we haven't seen for a while."

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

Is the new Chicagoland Speedway similar to any of the other tracks on the Winston Cup circuit?

"I've heard a lot of people say that it's similar to Las Vegas and Michigan and has some characteristics of the banking at Texas. If you take a piece from each of those race tracks it sounds like you'll have Chicago. We're going in there with a couple of different game plans and we're ready for a couple of different scenarios. We'll go there in race trim and run a bunch of laps and get used to the race track and get Tony used to the track so that he can find some similarities to some other tracks that might help us while we're there."

What were you able to learn from the #18 team's test at Chicagoland?

"We took what they learned and put it toward our baseline setup on The Home Depot Pontiac, but some of what we do to our car is a little bit different from what they do to their car just because some of Tony's preferences are a little bit different than Bobby's. So, we altered some of what they had as we applied it our car. Overall, the test will probably help them more than it will help us, as far as Bobby getting the laps and seat time and them having the same car this weekend that they tested with. We're certainly going to look at what they have, but we're quite a bit different in a lot of areas at race tracks like that. Their test surely won't hurt us any, but I don't think there's any major advantage."

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 Thursday 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 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 the next day." <pre> TONY STEWART'S PERFORMANCE PROFILE at D-SHAPED OVALS Year Event Start Finish Status/Laps Laps Led Money 2001 Las Vegas (400 m) 5 12 Running/267 4 $86,875 California (500 m) 4 4 Running/250 0 $107,072 Michigan (spring 400 m) 37 25 Running/198 0 $57,490

2000    Las Vegas (400 m)       16      2       Running/148     0          $221,250
        California (500 m)      32      10      Running/250     0          $75,950
        Michigan (spring 400 m) 28      1       Running/194     13         $123,800
        Michigan (fall 400 m)   19      41      Accident/36     0          $41,250
1999    Las Vegas (400 m)       20      36      Running/184     0          $46,200
        California (500 m)      7       4       Running/250     1          $68,175
        Michigan (spring 400 m) 28      9       Out of Gas/198  0          $34,450
        Michigan (fall 400 m)   37      3       Running/200     4          $60,505


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing