Kansas City: Tony Stewart preview

Tony Stewart Déjà vu all over again. ATLANTA (Sept. 24, 2002) - Two-and-a-half months ago the NASCAR Winston Cup Series visited Chicagoland Speedway, a fairly new 1.5-mile D-shaped oval nestled outside of Chicago. This weekend the Cup ...

Tony Stewart
Déjà vu all over again.

ATLANTA (Sept. 24, 2002) - Two-and-a-half months ago the NASCAR Winston Cup Series visited Chicagoland Speedway, a fairly new 1.5-mile D-shaped oval nestled outside of Chicago. This weekend the Cup contingent heads to Kansas Speedway, a fairly new 1.5-mile D-shaped oval nestled outside of Kansas City. In the words of baseball legend Yogi Berra, "It's déjà vu all over again."

The Chicagoland and Kansas tracks were new to the circuit last year, as each held its inaugural Winston Cup race. The layout of both faculties is almost exactly the same. Chicagoland's corners are banked at 18 degrees, while Kansas' corners are banked slightly less at 15 degrees. However, the corners at both tracks are connected by a 2,400-foot long front straightaway and a 1,700-foot long back straightaway. Both races last year offered little passing, as just a single racing groove existed.

But as evidenced by this year's stop at Chicagoland, passing was much more prevalent. Thanks in large part to a year's worth of Midwestern weathering and a full season of racing that laid down plenty of rubber on the track's asphalt surface, the Chicagoland oval offered drivers far more grip than what they experienced last season. More passing opportunities, more side-by-side racing and more excitement were the order of the day.

With Kansas being a virtual clone of Chicagoland, teams travel to Sunday's Protection One 400 expecting a case of déjà vu.

For The Home Depot Racing Team and driver Tony Stewart, a recurrence of this year's Chicagoland performance would be just fine. Stewart led twice for a total of 35 laps and finished third, gaining some valuable championship points in the process.

Those points are at even more of a premium now, as only eight races remain on the Winston Cup schedule. Currently third in the championship standings, 74 markers behind series leader Mark Martin, Stewart is in the thick of the point chase. Only 281 points separate the top-10 in the Winston Cup standings, forcing drivers to race for the win each and every race, fighting to gain as many points as possible. And while no one in The Home Depot camp would complain about duplicating their third-place finish from Chicagoland, upgrading to a win is their top priority at Kansas.

After the Chicagoland race you said that your car was one of the best cars you've ever had at Joe Gibbs Racing. That car is chassis No. 51, and it's the same car you'll be racing this weekend at Kansas. What made chassis No. 51 earn such high praise?

"It just had a good feel to it. It had fairly good balance all day, a good feel out on the race track when we made changes - even with small changes, you could feel the reaction in the car. It was just a comfortable car to drive, and it was comfortable all day. There wasn't anything about it that I really didn't like."

Chicagoland and Kansas look exactly alike. Are they?

"They're about as close as you can get to being the same. You aren't going to find any two tracks that are more identical than Kansas and Chicago. The only difference between the two tracks - the backstretch at Kansas is a little bit rounded while Chicago's is more straight."

Are you able to take anything from earlier this year at Chicagoland and apply it to this weekend's race at Kansas?

"I won't look at the setup sheets, but I'm pretty confident that they'll be very, very similar."

Since a second racing groove seemed to develop at Chicagoland, do you expect the same to occur at Kansas?

"It's hard to say, but I feel a little more confident that a second groove will develop, just like it did at Chicago because the tracks are so similar."

Why is it that races at D-shaped ovals seem to be won in fairly dominating fashion?

"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."

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 Kansas is a track where if your car's good, then it doesn't matter whether you take two tires or four."

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

Tony spoke very highly of chassis No. 51 following the Chicagoland race. What made that car so good?

"It was a new Hopkins car that drove well and had good balance. We're taking that car back and we just had it in the wind tunnel last week. It's a competitive car, and we're probably going to wear it out between now and the end of the year."

Chicagoland and Kansas look exactly alike. Are they?

"There are some similarities. The transitions into the corners are a little bit different from Chicago to Kansas, so that'll make your front spring combinations a little bit different. But other than that, everything is real similar. You drive each track the same way. That's why we're taking the same car. We ran really good at Chicago this year and we ran well at Kansas last fall, so we're hoping to go back to Kansas and run well again. For years we've kind of struggled at the mile-and-a-half ovals, but it seems that this year we've kind of progressed a little bit at some of them."

How much information are you able to take from the Chicagoland race and apply to Kansas?

"Goodyear is bringing a little bit softer right side tire and that will allow a little more grip on the outside. You're not going to see Rockingham (N.C.) type side-by-side racing, but you'll be able to see some passing on the outside."

-jgr/hdr-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Mark Martin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing