Long Pond II: Tony Stewart preview

Tony Stewart Pocono a Prelude to Indy and Beyond ATLANTA (July 23, 2002) - In his seven previous starts at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, Tony Stewart has only one finish outside the top-10. Take away the 26th place finish he recorded in the 2000 ...

Tony Stewart
Pocono a Prelude to Indy and Beyond

ATLANTA (July 23, 2002) - In his seven previous starts at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, Tony Stewart has only one finish outside the top-10. Take away the 26th place finish he recorded in the 2000 Pennsylvania 500, and Stewart's average finish at the triangular 2.5-mile track would be fifth.

That's the kind of consistency Stewart would like to have this season as a whole. His triumphs - two wins and a pole along with eight top-fives and 10 top-10s - have been countered with five DNFs (Did Not Finish) and a total of eight finishes of 15th or worse.

It's a roller coaster ride Stewart wants to stop. His most recent turn - a 39th place finish due to an accident last Sunday at New Hampshire - has dropped The Home Depot Pontiac driver to seventh in the championship standings, 227 points behind NASCAR Winston Cup Series point leader Sterling Marlin.

A little luck is needed to right The Home Depot Racing Team's ship, but much of the luck earned in Winston Cup racing is created by thorough preparation. As such, the #20 team is taking a short- and long-term approach toward creating some luck all their own.

In the short-term, the Pontiac Stewart will be racing at Pocono is the same Pontiac he used to finish third at Chicagoland Speedway. Following the race, Stewart called chassis No. 51 "the best car, or the second best car, I've ever had here at Joe Gibbs Racing". That's high praise from a driver who has raced 12 different Home Depot Pontiacs already this year.

In the long-term, crew chief Greg Zipadelli and Stewart have begun development work on a 2002 Chevrolet Monte Carlo that could see some action before the close of the 2002 season. If the Monte Carlo proves to be a better car in future test sessions, it may very well carry the familiar orange and black colors of The Home Depot at race tracks over a mile and a half in length.

Luck tends to follow preparation, and coming into the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono, The Home Depot Racing Team is leaving no stone unturned.

You tested a 2002 Chevrolet Monte Carlo at Indianapolis. What were the results and will we see it at Pocono or Indianapolis?

"The biggest thing we noticed with the Monte Carlo was straight line speed. The Monte Carlo went a lot faster in a straight line than the Pontiac did. That just showed us that the Monte Carlo has a more efficient body, but it should be since it's a much newer body style. But we still have some work to do with the Monte Carlo, so you're not going to see it a Pocono and you're not going to see it at Indy."

Is the Pontiac you used to finish third at Chicagoland the same car you'll be using at Pocono?

"Yes. That's one of the best cars we've ever had since I've been in Winston Cup. I think the only time, honestly, that I've had a car better than that was when we won Richmond (Va.) years ago (fall Richmond 1999 - first win as a rookie). I'm not sure where we're overcoming the aero issues we're facing with the Pontiac, but the fine-tuning that we're doing at the shop is really paying off. The fab guys at the shop - that's probably the best body they've ever built. We had asked those guys to get every last tenth of a percent that you could get from that body. Some of these other teams who run different makes don't have to work as hard to get the same kind of results we are."

Knowing how good that car is, do you feel better about returning to Pocono?

"I feel better going there this time with The Home Depot Pontiac than I did back in June, for sure. But I'm not overconfident by any means. I do, however, think we can run better than what we did in the spring."

Pocono seems to be a good indicator of how a team will perform at Indianapolis. Is that true?

"It's harder to pass at the Brickyard than it is at Pocono. There's a fair amount of room going into (turn) one at Pocono, and you can run two-wide there and you can go two-wide in (turn) three at the beginning of a run. But it's pretty tough to run two-wide through the corners at Indy. Still, a good run at Pocono shows your flat-track program is pretty good. But at the same time, it's no guarantee that you're going to run well at the Brickyard."

Explain a lap around Pocono.

"Turn one is probably the easiest of the three, but you've got the challenge of having to downshift in the middle of the corner. You go down the backstretch and into the tunnel turn and it's basically one lane. It's flat and very line-sensitive. You've got to make sure you're right on your marks every lap when you go through there. Then you've got a short chute into turn three. It's a big, long corner and it too is very line-sensitive. With it being line-sensitive and the fact that we've got a straightaway that's three-quarters of a mile long after that, it's very important that you get through the last corner well. You need to come off the corner quickly so that you're not bogged down when you start down that long straightaway. Each corner has its challenges, and each one tends to present a different set of circumstances with each lap you make."

Coming down that front straightaway, the racing can get pretty wide. When and where do you have to get back in line to make it into that first corner?

"It just kind of funnels itself back into line before we get into (turn) one. Everybody tries to get back on the high side to make their entry into the corner, but sometimes it does get a little tight in there. But most times, you just do what you have to do to get The Home Depot Pontiac back in line."

What's the most treacherous part of Pocono's layout?

"Probably the tunnel turn. Everybody realizes how fast they're going into (turn) one. And they know that if they wreck they're going to wreck hard. The tunnel turn is a little sneaky. It's a tight fit through there, and you don't really know how fast you're going until something bad happens."

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

You tested a 2002 Chevrolet Monte Carlo at Indianapolis. What were the results and will we see it at Pocono or Indianapolis?

"We're taking a Pontiac back to both places. We had some problems during the test with the motor pushing oil in the Chevrolet, so we didn't get as many laps as we needed to with it. It did show to be fast, though. It was a little better down the straightaway. The Pontiac drove better through the corners, but it's something we've been working with for four years as a team. I didn't find what Tony wanted in the Monte Carlo in a day and a half of testing. We didn't get to spend as much time working with it. But we are going to keep working with it. It did show some promise. If we get it to drive as well as the Pontiac, the car is going to be bad - bad fast. We got it to run about the same speed, but Tony was real comfortable with the Pontiac. I felt like with the notes we have from the last couple of years, we can control the variables that will inevitably be thrown at us a little more if we're in a Pontiac. Indy is an important race for Tony and this team. If we can go back and get our Pontiac driving as well as it did during the test, we'll have a shot at winning the race."

Since you're testing a 2002 Pontiac against a 2002 Chevrolet, is there the possibility that you will run a Chevrolet at select venues before the year is out?

"We'll schedule another test later on where we'll work on the Chevrolet a little more and then look at taking it to Michigan. Right now, we're not going to run it anywhere. If we can get it to drive better than the Pontiac, it certainly has the potential to be as good, or better, than what we have. We did see that in a day and a half of testing at Indy. We just didn't get it to drive, and that's important. Tony has a good feel for a race car. He knows what he's looking for. If I can get him that, we run well. If I can't, I don't want to take the chance of going back with a car that Tony can't get the feel of."

-jgr/hdr-

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