Tony Stewart Wicked Good Comin' Inta New Hampsha ATLANTA (July 20, 2004) - So far, the month of July has been good to NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Tony Stewart. His fifth-place finish July 3 at Daytona (Fla.) and his win July 11 at ...
Wicked Good Comin' Inta New Hampsha
ATLANTA (July 20, 2004) - So far, the month of July has been good to NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Tony Stewart. His fifth-place finish July 3 at Daytona (Fla.) and his win July 11 at Chicagoland gave the driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing back-to-back top-five finishes for the first time this season. He is solidly in fourth-place in the championship point standings, and with 2004 being his sixth year in the sport, it's his best point position ever with 18 races in the books.
Another 18 races remain, however, and with the series' final off-weekend just concluded, that means 18 straight weeks of racing. That suits Stewart just fine, as the second half of the Nextel Cup schedule is where he typically takes off.
"We're at that point of the season where the tracks are getting hot and slippery, and that's what we like," said Stewart, the 2002 series champion and 18-time race winner. "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."
And at the next stop on the series' schedule - New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon - Stewart has proven to be fast. He has three top-threes, five top-fives and six top-10s in his 10 career Nextel Cup starts at the 1.058-mile oval. Amongst that total was a win in July of 2000, and not amongst that total was his 1998 victory behind the wheel of an Indy car when New Hampshire played host to the Indy Racing League.
Stewart's penchant for winning is obvious, and he looks to improve upon his New Hampshire statistics as well as his career statistics in Sunday's New England 300.
NASCAR recently announced that it would attempt to finish all its Nextel Cup races under green, with a green-white-checkered type format at the end of the race in the event a caution falls just before the race's scheduled completion. What are your thoughts on this new policy?
"I think it makes sense. It takes some of the obstacles of having multiple green-white-checker finishes or multiple cautions in that last two-lap period out of the equation. We won't have to worry about that because we'll have one shot to get it right, and if we don't then that's it, the race will end under caution. It's something the fans have been wanting. This is a way of accommodating their wishes without putting ourselves in a bad position on fuel mileage.
"You know that you need to plan for probably five to six laps of racing after the scheduled distance in the event that there is a caution at the end and we've got to go to a green-white-checker finish. You're just going to have to know how much fuel you'll need to have. It's just like adding seven or eight laps to the end of the race. You need to have in your mind that's how many laps you need to make. So what used to be an 80-lap run, you now need to plan for an 88-lap run. Instead of pitting at 80 to go you need to pit at 72 to go, and you should be in a reasonable spot to make it to the end of the race.
"But at least everybody's prepared for it. It's not like it's an endless number of green-white-checker finishes. It's a way of elevating our sport to another level while doing things that are in the best interest of our fans. I'm pretty pleased with the decision."
If you had built up a healthy lead and a caution came out in the last couple of laps, would you feel wronged that the race wouldn't end under caution and that your win wouldn't be assured?
"It's the same for everybody. You may be the leader one week and the second-place guy the next week. If you're the leader you're probably disappointed, but if you're the second-place guy you know you have another chance to catch the leader. Scenarios like that all have a way of coming out in the wash. It's the same for everybody, just like the new points system. I think it's going to work out to be a good thing."
In the two races you ran at New Hampshire last year, did you find that a second groove developed with the repaving of the corners? Did your entry and exit change through the corners as the race progressed?
"I think it did. Depending on how our car drove we were able to move around on the race track and find ways to make The Home Depot Chevrolet work. It wasn't impossible to pass, by any means. It started widening out a little bit, and every time we go there it'll continue to widen out."
Was the racing at New Hampshire last year an improvement over what it had been in previous years?
"Time will tell. If they just leave the track alone for a while, give it a couple of years to cure, we'll see what happens. But I think it'll keep getting better and better. It's something that only time can take care of."
Regardless of the complaints drivers have made over the years about the track surface at New Hampshire, the Bahre family - owners of the race track - seem to have done everything in their power to improve it. It seemed like they finally succeeded last July. 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. Proof of that are the SAFER walls they put up. They were one of the first tracks to do that. It's just one more example of how far they'll go to make their race track better."
Is New Hampshire a good place to race?
"Obviously, I like it because I've had success 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. But when you've got a good car, it's always fun to race."
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."
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."
With three NASCAR touring divisions racing at New Hampshire in addition to the Nextel Cup Series, will we see you doing any extra-curricular racing?
"I'd love to run a Modified there. I've run with some of those guys in the past. I haven't had the most stellar Modified career by any means, but I did win a race in an SK Modified for Ted Christopher at Thompson (Conn.) last year. I really have a lot of respect for the Modified drivers after I had the chance to run with those guys. I'd love to have the opportunity to go race with them again."