Joliet: Tony Stewart preview

Tony Stewart Chicagoland Aplenty ATLANTA (July 9, 2002) - Tony Stewart has three good reasons to head to Chicagoland Speedway for the upcoming Tropicana 400. Reason number one is getting back behind the wheel of his ...

Tony Stewart
Chicagoland Aplenty

ATLANTA (July 9, 2002) - Tony Stewart has three good reasons to head to Chicagoland Speedway for the upcoming Tropicana 400.

Reason number one is getting back behind the wheel of his #20 Home Depot Pontiac to begin the second-half of the marathon-like NASCAR Winston Cup Series season - typically Stewart's strongest. Of his 14 career Winston Cup victories, eight have come between the months of July and November. Just 212 points arrears series leader Sterling Marlin, Stewart is still in the championship hunt despite suffering a DNF (Did Not Finish) last week at Daytona (Fla.).

Reason number two comes in the form of the International Race of Champions, or IROC as it is better known. After winning round one of IROC XXVI at Daytona earlier this year and finishing sixth at Fontana (Calif.) in round two, Stewart comes into round three at Chicagoland leading the points, 35 to 32, over fellow Winston Cupper Kevin Harvick.

While reason number three doesn't put Stewart behind a steering wheel, it's just as important to the Rushville, Ind., native. His World of Outlaws sprint car team driven by Danny Lasoski, reigning World of Outlaws champions, race just up the road Friday night at Route 66 Raceway. Lasoski has 10 "A" Main victories and is in a tight points battle with 15-time champion Steve Kinser.

As evidenced, Chicagoland is a land aplenty for Stewart.

The rules change you received from NASCAR before the Michigan race - did it help and what can you do with it at Chicagoland?

"Not much. Not the little bit that we've seen so far performance-wise from it. It's probably not going to be something that's going to make enough of a difference to get The Home Depot Pontiac where it needs to be. NASCAR doesn't ever do anything in big chunks and make any big changes all at once. It's always done in small increments. But hopefully what they gave us will get us a little closer to where we need to be. If it's not, hopefully NASCAR will be understanding about what's going on aerodynamically with the Pontiac and realize that we need more help."

Track position and pit strategy seem to be the two biggest variables at D-shaped ovals. When and how do you make the decision to sacrifice tires for track position, or depending on the circumstances, track position for tires?

"I think it just depends on how your car is working. If your car is driving well, one that keeps you up toward the front all day because it's fast, then just two tires can keep you pretty quick. In that situation, you could make a big gain at the end by just taking on two tires and maintaining your track position. Even some guys who are behind and don't have their car the way they want, by taking on two tires, the track position they gain helps out more than four tires would. But when you get right down to it, I think Chicago is a track where if your car's good, then it doesn't matter whether you take two tires or four."

Some people might say that racing at all these D-shaped ovals is boring. What do you say?

"If a guy gets going and gets his car balanced, then he'll tend to run away. That's just the characteristic of that kind of track. It's fast, it's flat and momentum is so important there, that if a guy is off just a little, he's off a lot. The drivers like it from the standpoint that if you can find a way to get around it a little better, then it'll help them in the long run. You end up racing the race track instead of each other."

Chicago represents three big races for you - the Cup race and the IROC race as a driver, and the World of Outlaws team you own with Danny Lasoski as your driver. Is that the best part about racing at Chicago?

"Yes. Being able to go to the World of Outlaws race, even though it's only one night of watching Danny run, and then being able to participate with him in the IROC race - that's about as much as the fun meter can take for a weekend. It's a good, fun weekend that I enjoy. I've got a lot of fans in that area from our open-wheel days. Being able to see those people that we don't get a chance to see that often and being able to spend time with Danny and actually race with him again - that's a pretty cool weekend for me."

How different is the IROC car compared to your Home Depot Pontiac?

"They're quite a bit different. The IROC car still a stock car, but it has a lot less horsepower and a lot more aero drag and downforce. It is the same overall, but with some significant differences. You also can't adjust the IROC car to each driver's style. I like a lot looser race car, and not being able to tune on it and adjust on it like I can with my Home Depot Pontiac is what makes driving the IROC car a little bit harder. But at the same time, that's what makes it fair for everybody too."

You seem to be one of the few drivers in IROC that can actually move up through the field at tracks where drafting is key. How do you do it and will that be the case again at Chicago?

"I think it's possible. A lot of it is due to the fact that the cars are set up so well. They drive so well that it gives you a lot of confidence in the handling of the cars. And with the rear spoilers as high as they are, it leads to cars really pulling a lot of air. So, you can get a lot of help from the car in front of you. Just being able to have that, and understanding what you can and can't do with the draft, is an advantage. A lot of times you can get through the crowds pretty easy early in the race because everybody is still all bunched up."

Where would an IROC championship rank in the many championships you've won?

"It would be a good feeling, because you know that you've beaten the best drivers in each of their respective fields. So being able to not only run with those guys from different series, but to be able to beat them at the same time would be a pretty gratifying experience. I honestly don't know where I would rank it, because I'm proud of all my championships, but an IROC championship would certainly be one to cherish."

Your World of Outlaws driver, Danny Lasoski, has two IROC races under his belt now. How's he enjoying the series? Has he made another personalized IROC T-shirt yet?

"I don't think he's made another T-shirt, but he really enjoys the series. You've got to keep in mind that Danny hasn't raced anything but sprint cars, and they've all been on dirt. He's done it for so long, and done it well, that he's really proud of the fact that he earned the right to become a driver in the IROC series. He's really taken a lot of pride in the fact that he earned his way there."

How is the Outlaw team doing as they reach the mid-point of their season?

"To be honest, after the year that we had last year - we pretty much had a dream season being able to win the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals, which is like our Daytona 500. That race, and winning the championship in the same year was a pretty remarkable feat for a first year, full-time World of Outlaws team. But we didn't have a lot of main event night 'A' Main wins. We had a lot of preliminary night 'A' Main wins, but not a lot of main event night wins. My goal for the team this year was to have more main event night 'A' Main wins. We've almost tripled that total already, and we're not quite to the halfway point of the season. Performance-wise, I'm very pleased with what the team is doing. They're going out and winning races. It's like I've always told them, if you win races, the points will take care of themselves. They've been really consistent this year again, and in my opinion, they're doing everything right. They're doing everything that we've asked them to do, and they have the right mindset to go out and win another championship."

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

The rules change you received from NASCAR before the Michigan race - did it help and what can you do with it at Chicagoland?

"We're never going to say we wish that we didn't get what we got, but we're happy they gave us something. We just felt like we needed more. I don't know. We've only been to Michigan with it. We need to go to some more race tracks and see if we can't make it a better package."

Are you able to take anything from Michigan and apply it to Chicagoland?

"We did some things at Michigan that we surely don't want to do at Chicago. But those two tracks are a little different. Michigan is two miles and Chicago is a mile and a half. Even the straightaways are different as far as the length of them is concerned. We tried some motor combinations at Michigan that didn't seem to work very well. Knowing what didn't work at Michigan will hopefully allow us to have a better package when we go to Chicago."

Are all the D-shaped ovals the same in terms of chassis setup?

"No, they're not the same. What they do have in common is that track position is important. That's what it seems like it always comes down to at these places, track position and fuel mileage."

As a crew chief, are these races more stressful just because their outcome does always seem to be determined by pit strategy and fuel mileage?

"At times it can be because it's so hard to pass at some of these race tracks. Tires don't give up. If you get behind in track position, it's real hard to make it back up. It takes you all day. A bad call in the pits can make for a very long day."

-jgr/hdr-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Sterling Marlin , Danny Lasoski