Tony Stewart Welcome to Kansasland Speedway ATLANTA (Oct. 4, 2004) - The similarities between Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway are striking and numerous. Both are 1.5-mile D-shaped ovals. Both were constructed at the same time. Both...
Welcome to Kansasland Speedway
ATLANTA (Oct. 4, 2004) - The similarities between Kansas Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway are striking and numerous. Both are 1.5-mile D-shaped ovals. Both were constructed at the same time. Both opened for business in 2001. Both even look the same, with similar grandstand configurations that hold 75,000 spectators at each venue and similar infield layouts. All those similarities bode well for Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.
Stewart scored his first Nextel Cup win of the 2004 season and the 18th of his 19-win career when the series visited Chicagoland back in July. He started 10th and led five times for 160 laps - the most of any driver - and won using his backup race car. His primary chassis was crashed during the weekend's first practice session - the first and only time in Stewart's six-year Nextel Cup career when that has happened. But as his competitors soon found out, his backup car was secondary in name only. It's that car - chassis No. 83 - that Stewart will use in Sunday's Banquet 400 at Kansas.
It's only fitting that the same car Stewart used to win at Chicagoland is brought to Kansas. The two tracks do mirror one another, even though they are not carbon copies of one another. The backstretch at Kansas is straight, whereas at Chicagoland it's slightly rounded. And where the corners at Kansas are banked at 15 degrees, the corners at Chicagoland are banked at 18 degrees. Nonetheless, it's as close as two venues on the Nextel Cup circuit will ever be.
For years, that was a bone of contention for Stewart, with the 2002 series champion claiming that Kansas and Chicagoland were cookie-cutter race tracks that lacked originality. Winning has a way of changing that perspective, which is why Stewart has embraced - at least for this season - the commonality of the two venues.
Can your win earlier this year at Chicagoland translate to success at Kansas?
"I believe so and I'm hoping that it's going to. I'm real excited to go to Kansas. It's a track that we like anyway because we've got a lot of fans in that area. My World of Outlaws driver Danny Lasoski is from nearby Missouri, so a lot of his fans and my fans are right around that area. Hopefully we'll have another good run out there."
How similar is Kansas to Chicagoland?
"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 Chicago is a little bit rounded while Kansas' is straight. When we pull in there to go to the bus lot it's just like pulling into Chicagoland. I think the same guy designed and built both of them just by the way the two tracks look."
Have the two tracks matured in the same way since they were both constructed at the same time?
"It's been impressive to see how much the groove has matured, to where it's moved up, giving us more racing room and more options. At some tracks it takes years for the groove to move up, but Kansas and Chicagoland have been very similar in the way the groove has moved up the race track. It's made the racing better."
After restrictor plate racing at Talladega (Ala.), are you looking forward to racing at Kansas?
"Absolutely. What you do at Kansas is solely based on what you and your team can do with your race car, not what drafting line you're in or how the car behind you is going to affect your next move. There are too many variables out of your control in a plate race. At Kansas, we're back in control. There are still things out there that can screw up your day, but they're minimal when compared to what we dealt with at Talladega."
Has the new point system changed the way you race?
"Not at all. We take each race one week at a time just like we've done every other season. You can't be worrying about the points. If you do your job each week and try to win the race, it's like I've always said, the points will take care of themselves - no matter what the format is. If you change what you're doing just to adjust to the new points system, I think you're going to run into trouble. If you always try to win, then that means you're always trying to get as many points as possible. I don't know why anyone would go away from that."
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 Kansas. 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."
What percentages would you put on a comparison between the importance of horsepower and handling at Kansas?
"It's probably about 50/50. You need to have an aerodynamic car, but you've got to have the horsepower to pull it, too. You can't have one and not the other and expect to go to Kansas and win the race."
You'll be competing in the Busch race this Saturday at Kansas for Chance 2 Motorsports. How much does running a Busch car help you on Sunday when you climb into your Nextel Cup car?
"I think that running the Busch car gives us a bigger start on Friday because we have a lot more information to work with as we get ready for qualifying. Before we even start Cup practice I'll have been out on the track in the Busch car for two hours, so we'll have a good understanding as to what we'll need in our Home Depot Chevrolet when we're out there getting it ready for qualifying. As far as the race goes, running a Busch car doesn't hurt, that's for sure."
A Busch Series win is one of the few things missing from your resume. How badly do you want it?
"Really bad. There are only two divisions where I've run but I haven't won, and that's the Busch Series and sports cars. A Busch win would be one of the two and all that would be left would be a sports car race. After that I'll have won in every type of race car I've ever driven."
How much do you think the Busch Series has changed from when you ran there fairly regularly in 1998?
"I think the Busch Series has progressed the same way the Nextel Cup Series has progressed. The sponsorship dollars have gone up and the level of competition has gone up. There are still a dozen good cars each week that can go out and win the race. You're still working with the same group of people who can go out and win each week.
"The cars have changed quite a bit. They have more horsepower and they're a lot more similar to a Cup car than they used to be. And the series still has some really, really good teams out there. But there's a bunch of new guys out there that you don't really know too much about. So you always have to be careful when you go out there and run with guys you don't know. You've got to learn what they do and what they don't do."