TONY STEWART Just Win, Baby ATLANTA (Sept. 9, 2008) -- A lot is riding on the final 10 races of this year's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, but even more so for Tony Stewart and The Home Depot-sponsored No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing ...
Just Win, Baby
ATLANTA (Sept. 9, 2008) -- A lot is riding on the final 10 races of this year's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, but even more so for Tony Stewart and The Home Depot-sponsored No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team.
Still winless in 2008, Stewart wants -- needs -- a win. Not for the record books of keeping his streak alive of winning each season since joining the Sprint Cup ranks in 1999, but to satisfy the burning desire Stewart and Co. have for winning.
After the team's fourth runner-up finish of the year last Sunday at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, the disappointment of doing interviews on pit road instead of inside victory lane was palpable.
The silver lining on the team's frustration, however, was that the second-place effort locked them into the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the fourth time in five years. Only Stewart and 11 other drivers will vie for this year's title, with the first race of the final, 10-race championship dash this Sunday with the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
Stewart can get a jump on his championship aspirations and knock-out chore No. 1 on his to-do list with a win at New Hampshire. The 37-year-old from Columbus, Ind., has already shown a proclivity for winning at the Granite State's 1.058-mile oval.
Two of Stewart's 32 career Sprint Cup wins have come at New Hampshire -- July 2000 and July 2005. Before Stewart joined the Sprint Cup Series, he won an IRL IndyCar Series race at New Hampshire in 1998. And in his most recent jaunt to the New England track back in June, he won the NASCAR Nationwide Series race.
In Sprint Cup alone at New Hampshire, Stewart has seven top-threes, 10 top-fives, 11 top-10s and has led a total of 935 laps, second only to Jeff Gordon's total of 1,141 laps led at New Hampshire.
With a return trip to New Hampshire next on the docket for Stewart, he plans to make his 20th career Sprint Cup start win No. 33 for the No. 20 team.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing:
You've scored four second-place finishes this year, with the most recent one coming last Sunday at Richmond. You're still looking for that elusive first win, and coming in second so many times, does that get you and the team down, or does it make you and team more determined to get that next win?
"We don't settle for anything less than winning races. When we know that we let one slip away, that's something that we do let ourselves get down about, but that's also what got us 32 wins and two championships. We have such a high standard of what we feel our performance should be on the race track. I think that shows the caliber team that we have."
Does coming so close and not winning put additional stress on the team, or does it give the team more incentive to win because they know they're right on the cusp of getting that first win?
"That's just how competitive we are. Zippy (crew chief Greg Zipadelli) and I have been through the thick and the thin together. We understand each other well. We have the same passion, the same desire, the same frustrations. Not winning might add a little bit of stress, but if you look at Zippy's past before he came to NASCAR, he was pretty successful. I had good fortune before I came here. I think we've both had good fortune since we've been here. It's personalities. We're not two guys that are going to sit back and be happy with second or third. If that's detrimental, then that's what it has to be. That's just who we are. We can't change that."
How long does it take you as a driver to accept your finishing position?
"It depends on the day. If you've run between fifth and 10th all day, and at the end of it you get to third, you're pretty happy about it. If you've been leading the race all day and you end up third, you're disappointed about it. It depends on the circumstances that led up to it. There's days that it goes both ways. It just depends on the scenario leading up to it."
How do you like your chances going into this year's Chase?
"According to the odds, we've got a one in 12 shot. We've just got to work from there. There are so many variables that go on each week that you can't control. There's more variables that you can't control than you can. You've just got to hope every lap that everything goes alright. You don't want to have any bad luck or have anything bad happen."
You're the only driver to have won a championship under the old NASCAR Winston Cup Series format (2002) and a championship under the current Chase format (2005). Do you feel a sense of the history you can make by winning another Sprint Cup title, as you would become only the second two-time Chase champion while still holding on to the title as the only driver to win a Winston Cup and a Nextel Cup championship?
"Honestly, not as much as I should. It's such a good feeling knowing that we have that opportunity. Obviously, things have changed a lot in the last four or five years with the way the Chase is constructed. But just to have that opportunity each year is something every team is striving for. Now that we're locked into that position, we've got 10 weeks to go out there and make that become a reality again."
Does having won championships better prepare you for a championship run this year?
"By theory, yes. But you could have 50 championships under your belt and still finish 12th in points. But just knowing how to deal with the pressure is probably the biggest thing. Knowing what's going to happen and what positions you're going to be in when those last two or three weeks come up -- if you're one of those guys that still has a legitimate shot of winning the championship -- that's the kind of experience you'll want to have gone through."
Explain a lap around New Hampshire.
"It's a big motor deal. With the corners being so tight, you've got to put a lot of gear in the car to get it up off the corner. Forward bite is always an issue there too -- trying to get the car to go forward. So, it's hard to get up off the corners. Then you've got long straightaways where you can kind of relax a little bit. Coming into the corners, you use a lot of brake, and it's hard to not only get the car stopped, but to get it to turn. Then you go through that challenge all over again."
So, is a fast lap all about throttle control?
"No, not necessarily. A lot of times when you get in the gas, you're able to stay in the gas. It's just a matter of having a good enough handling car to where you can get into the corner, roll through the center, and then get in the gas and stay in the gas when you do get back in the throttle."
While you've won at New Hampshire, you've also had races where you've struggled. How can one race weekend turn out great and another turn into one you'd rather forget?
"If you miss on something it can be a miserable day. It seems like you don't see but three or four guys during the day that really hit it. That's what makes a day there miserable when you miss. It's just a matter of keeping a well-balanced car all day. And it seems like you can have bad track position, but if you have a car that drives well, you can drive your way to the front. It's not a situation you cringe at if you have a good driving car."