Loudon: Tony Stewart preview

Wicked good comin' inta New Hampsha ATLANTA (July 15, 2003) - With a strong second-place finish last Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver Tony Stewart climbed to eighth in the championship point standings. It marked...

Wicked good comin' inta New Hampsha

ATLANTA (July 15, 2003) - With a strong second-place finish last Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver Tony Stewart climbed to eighth in the championship point standings. It marked his return to the top-10 in points - an area not visited since mid-April when The Home Depot Chevrolet driver stood seventh. In the span of seven races dating back to the May 25 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.), Stewart has gained 12 point positions, with his typical second half surge to the Winston Cup season seemingly underway.

"We're at that point of the season where the tracks are getting hot and slippery, and that's what we like," said Stewart. "When guys can't hold it wide open and they can't sit there on high-grip tracks and they actually have to drive these things - that's when we start getting fast."

Stewart's words ring prophetic coming into Sunday's New England 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, for the tight and fast 1.058-mile oval is notorious for its lack of grip. And in an effort to combat that lack of grip and add more durability to the track's surface, asphalt imported from Trinidad was laid down in the corners, giving drivers a new variable to deal with upon entering round 18 on the 36-race Winston Cup schedule.

In an effort to get a leg up on their competitors, Stewart and Co. road tripped to New Hampshire following the last off-weekend of the season and tested the new track surface June 30-July 1. With one New Hampshire victory already under their belts (July 2000), The Home Depot Racing Team looks for their test to pay off in career win number 17.

You had a chance to test at New Hampshire and try out the new track surface June 30-July 1. How was it and did it change your line through the corners?

"They paved the apron and made the apron part of the race track. It's hard to run on the flat down there, so you have to run where the banking is, which is up in the corner. Instead of staying low through the whole corner, you kind of take a diamond approach where you drive in low, hit the banking in the middle of the corner, then drive low off onto the straightaway."

Regardless of the complaints drivers have made over the years about the track surface at New Hampshire, the Bahre family - owners of the track - seem to have done everything in their power to improve it. Do you appreciate the efforts the Bahre family has put forth?

"Absolutely. They've worked really hard. I didn't think they ever had a bad race track, but I applaud them for trying to make it better. They aren't passive people. They won't just let things be the way they are. They had a nice race track to begin with and they've tried to make it even nicer. They're always looking to improve the place, and I know when we come back in the fall and they've got the SAFER barriers up that it'll be just one more example of how far they'll go to make their race track better."

Because New Hampshire is a difficult race track, are some drivers beat before they even make a practice lap because they have a negative outlook about the race track?

"It certainly doesn't help if someone has a bad attitude going in there. It kind of puts a strike against you, but I'm not going to say that you're already beat. There are tracks that I've been to that weren't my favorite tracks, but I still found a way to win there. You've just got to stay focused and work hard to find what it takes to be good."

From a driver's perspective, what makes New Hampshire such a difficult race track?

"Just getting used to the surface is hard, because it seems to take some time to put together a (chassis) package that gets you around that place well."

Is New Hampshire a track like Richmond (Va.) or Homestead (Fla.), where going into a race at that facility you're a threat to win before practice even begins?

"It's like Richmond. I look forward to going to Richmond every time. I look forward to going to Dover (Del.). I look forward to going to Homestead and Bristol (Tenn.), and Loudon is one of the tracks that's at the top of the list of places I really look forward to going to. There's something about the place that suits my driving style, and I feel like we've got a shot to win every time we go there."

Is New Hampshire a good place to race?

"Obviously, I like it because I run well there. But at the same time, it's a tough track to pass on. You can be a couple of tenths faster than a guy, but it still takes you 20 laps to get by him. There are other tracks on the circuit where it's hard to pass, but we still go out and put on good shows there, too. Every race at Loudon seems to be a pretty good race. So, I like it. I enjoy racing there even though it is hard to pass. The Home Depot Chevrolet is usually pretty good there, and when you've got a good car, it's always fun to race."

Does New Hampshire have some characteristics of tracks you raced at during your USAC days, or was it just one of those places where you felt comfortable right away?

"I think it was just one of those tracks where we were really good when we first got there. When I ran there for Joe (Gibbs) in the Busch car, we ran second to Buckshot Jones. We won an IRL (Indy Racing League) race there, and in my first IRL race at New Hampshire we had a two-and-three-quarter lap lead over the entire field before the engine blew. So all in all, it's just a place that we get around well."

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."

As a motorcycle enthusiast, is New Hampshire one of the better venues to bring your motorcycle?

"Oh yeah, we'll get on the bikes and check some things out up there. It's a nice area to ride motorcycles, so we always take our bikes up to Loudon. It's just a really nice area, and a motorcycle is probably the best way to see it."

New Hampshire and Homestead had similar layouts until Homestead decided to reconfigure their corners and add 20 degrees of banking. You've enjoyed success at both tracks - what do you think of the plans underway at Homestead?

"The surfaces of the two were the biggest difference, other than the size of the two, as Homestead is a half-mile longer than New Hampshire. The two tracks raced very similar in the old configuration, but now Homestead is changing their layout. The corners at Loudon are a lot smaller, where at Homestead the corners are a lot longer."

"I went and saw Homestead after we ran Daytona (Fla.). I had an opportunity to look at the race track, and to be honest, it looks nice. I think they're doing a good job with it. You can see that they're working very, very hard to get it all accomplished in time and make it nice for us by the time we get there. But I still liked it the way it was. I'm scared of it becoming another one groove race track, because every year we were there I felt like the groove was getting wider and wider and wider. We were able to run two, sometimes, three-wide last year. I thought it was a pretty good race, but I don't own the race track."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Buckshot Jones