Loudon: Tony Stewart preview

ATLANTA (July 16, 2002) - Tony Stewart, driver of the ...

ATLANTA (July 16, 2002) - Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, scored a pair of fifth-place finishes at New Hampshire International Speedway in 2001. The two-top five finishes at New Hampshire helped Stewart tally a total of 15 top-fives for the year, a mark that went a long way toward securing his second-place position in the season-ending point standings.

For Stewart's 2002 campaign, New Hampshire is again a pivotal stop on the Winston Cup schedule. Following a well-earned third-place finish last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, Stewart seeks the momentum needed to mount another challenge for the championship.

Only 157 points behind point leader Sterling Marlin, Stewart needs his typical late-season surge to begin anew. With a win, four top-fives and five top-10s in Winston Cup, as well as an Indy Racing League win to his credit at New Hampshire, the 1.058-mile oval is the ideal venue for career win number 15 and the much valued momentum that would accompany Stewart's third victory of the 2002 season.

You bounced back from your DNF (Did Not Finish) at Daytona with a third-place finish at Chicagoland. How good is it to go to New Hampshire, a track where you always seem to run well?

"Real good. New Hampshire's a place where The Home Depot Pontiac has really run well, and we need as many good runs as we can get if we're going to figure into this championship come November. People talk about momentum in this sport and how important it is - we'd like to create a little of our own with a strong run at New Hampshire to go with our finish at Chicago. This is typically a point in the season where we excel, and we need to make the most of it. We've got four DNFs already this year, so we need to take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way, and I consider racing at New Hampshire one of those opportunities."

New Hampshire added a second groove to its racing surface through the turns. Was it necessary and how do you see it being used to your advantage?

"I really don't know, to be honest. As long as they don't put a restrictor plate on the car there, we've run well. So, I'm not sure what that second groove has to offer. Obviously, we'll know a lot more after that first practice session."

Is New Hampshire becoming 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 really feel like we've got a shot to win every time we go there."

What do you think about New Hampshire? Is it 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 Pontiac 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 for Joe (Gibbs) in the Busch car there, we ran second to Buckshot Jones. We won an IRL race there. We were leading one IRL race. My first IRL race there we were leading by two and three quarter laps over the field, so it's just a place that we get around well. That always makes it fun to go to a place where you know you'll run 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."

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

New Hampshire added a second groove to its racing surface through the turns. Was it necessary and how do you see it being used to your advantage?

"I don't know if they needed it to make the racing better, but I think they felt like they had to do something. When I watched the Busch race up there, I didn't see that much more passing than I what I had normally seen. I talked to a couple of people who did run up there, and they said that it didn't change the way the cars drove that much. You actually still run the same line on the race track. There's just room below you now to go. There seemed to be a little more passing, but not a bunch. Maybe by the time we get there and some of the other series that run up there have laid some rubber down that there will be a second groove. But any time you make a race track a little wider and a little easier to pass on it usually makes for a better race."

New Hampshire seems to be two parallel drag strips connected to corners. As a crew chief, what are some of the things that you always face when you race at New Hampshire?

"The car is always tight in the corner. In the center of the corner you want to try and carry as much speed as you can and then pick the throttle up as soon as you can. That'll make the car really rotate through the center of the corner. But once you do get the car to rotate through the center, you're usually loose exiting the corner. New Hampshire is just one of those places where you have to slow down so much, but then you have to accelerate so hard, so you lose your forward bite. Usually the center of the corner and our exit off the corner are the two things we fight the most. We just try to find a happy medium for The Home Depot Pontiac."

Even before winning at New Hampshire with the Home Depot Racing Team in July of 2000, you had won there many times as a crew chief in the Featherlite Modified Tour, the Busch North Series and in Winston Cup as a car chief with Jeff Burton's #99 team. Can you explain your success at New Hampshire?

"Your thought process was always the same as to what you wanted to accomplish, whether you were running a Modified, a Busch North car or a Winston Cup car. The Busch North car - front spring, track bar, wedge - things like that, were honestly and truly very similar to what we do here in Winston Cup. The rear spring split is different because of the difference in the cambered tires, but there are a lot more similarities than there are differences.

"You try to drive the race track the same way. Tony is really good at the flat tracks. He's good at listening about not over-driving the car and he tries really hard to carry speed through the center, and those things fit that race track."

Because you're from New England and raced at New Hampshire since it was built, do you consider New Hampshire your hometown race track?

"Yeah, pretty much. It's been a fun place. I was there in 1990 when they opened it up. I've got a lot of memories from that place. I think I've got six or seven wins up there. I don't know how many exactly, but I know they were all hard-earned and fun."


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Tony Stewart , Sterling Marlin , Buckshot Jones