Martinsville: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART Plenty of Parts at Advance, but No Patience ATLANTA (April 5, 2005) - It's only appropriate that Sunday's 500-lap race at the .526-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway - the smallest track on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series circuit - is...

TONY STEWART
Plenty of Parts at Advance, but No Patience

ATLANTA (April 5, 2005) - It's only appropriate that Sunday's 500-lap race at the .526-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway - the smallest track on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series circuit - is sponsored by an auto parts chain. Bumpers, radiators, brake rotors, tires, transmissions and rear end gears will be in high demand during and after the Advance Auto Parts 500.

The beating and banging that was on display last Sunday at Bristol (Tenn.) - the second smallest track on the Nextel Cup circuit - will continue at Martinsville. The paper-clip shaped half-mile oval seemingly bursts at its seams when 43 race cars circle its confines. A good race car, along with a good level of patience, is essential if one wishes to have a good day.

And Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet, has had his share of good days at Martinsville, namely a win from the pole in the 2000 fall race. He has also scored five other top-10 finishes, and in doing so, learned that patience is indeed a virtue at Martinsville.

But with two straight weeks of short track racing - something that hasn't happened since 1999 when the series visited Bristol and Martinsville back to back - patience could very well be in short supply. And unfortunately for competitors, Advance Auto Parts doesn't stock patience.

From a driver's standpoint, is it a big deal to have back-to-back short track races?

"No, not at all. We're used to it. By the time drivers get to this level, they're used to challenges like that. The only thing that's difficult about having back-to-back short track races is that if you had a problem with someone at Bristol, you're going to remember it at Martinsville. That's about the only negative to it. But the schedule is the schedule. I don't really think it makes any difference."

You tested at Lakeland (Fla.) March 30 in preparation for Martinsville. How did it go?

"Lakeland is kind of a tough place to get a gauge on how you're going to run somewhere. It's not like any place on the Nextel Cup schedule. It's kind of a cross between Martinsville and Richmond (Va.). When we test Lakeland it's in preparation for those two tracks, and it's more to test part and pieces on the race car - like brakes - than it is to set the car up. But we still learned a lot, and hopefully when we get to Martinsville we'll see the rewards from the test."

Last fall was your first race on the new racing surface at Martinsville. How different was it compared to the way it used to be?

"It was different.  It was a lot smoother.  But I think the racing was
still the same.  The paving job wasn't really a huge deal because it was
mainly on the straightaways.  The corners were still concrete.  But
overall, the track is just smoother.  The curbing along the inside of the
corner provides a little smoother transition.  They just took what was
there and made it a lot nicer.  They did a really good job."

With the old track surface, the inside curbing was pretty abrupt. If you popped it with the right front tire, you risked altering your car's front end geometry. Is that still an issue with the new surface?

"It's nowhere near as bad as it used to be. If you hit the curb now it just kind of raises the car up and bounces you around a little bit. Before when you did it, typically the car would get up in the air and get really loose. It's definitely a more driver-friendly curb than it used to be."

Martinsville and Bristol seem to have a lot in common. They're both short tracks, where good days seem to be great and bad days seem to be horrendous. Is that a fair assessment?

"They're the kind of tracks where if you have a good qualifying run and you have a great race car, then the race is a lot of fun. If you have a car in the race that's not driving well and you have a bad qualifying run and a bad pit selection and you end up fighting the car all day, then a place like Martinsville becomes a very tough track. But that's also one of the reasons why when you do win there it means so much. Plus, their grandfather clock is one of the coolest trophies around."

You used to hate racing at Martinsville, but now you seem to tolerate it. What prompted the change of heart?

"You learn how to protect the car. You learn how to not beat it up. You learn it's a lot more fun racing when you use a lot more patience. Patience seems to be the biggest variable that can hold you up at a place like Martinsville. Needless to say, after going there a couple of times, I've learned how to be patient - out of necessity, basically."

Brakes are incredibly important at Martinsville. How does a driver conserve his brakes for 500 laps?

"You try to stay off the brakes as much as possible. You always hear the crew chief talking about floating the car into the corner, and what they mean by that is instead of driving it really deep into the corner and using a lot of brake pressure, the theory is to lift a little earlier and use less brake pressure. You'll end up running virtually the same lap time as you would if you drove hard into the corner. But when you've got a 500-lap race at Martinsville and you've got to use the brakes hard twice a lap, that's 1,000 times during a race where you're asking that brake system to slow down a 3,400-pound race car. If you can be easy on those brakes for the first half of the race or first three-quarters of the race, then when you really need those brakes to battle for the win at the end - you've got 'em."

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

How did the new pavement and the new concrete at Martinsville affect your setup for The Home Depot Chevrolet?

"The little characteristics and quirks that race track had that made it so hard to get around, the new pavement and concrete really got rid of most of them. They actually did too nice a job, if that makes sense. The way they did the curbs, the smooth surface, extending the concrete in the corners out further down the straightaway - it's a great race track."

Does Martinsville's quirkiness play to the strengths of The Home Depot Racing Team?

"Running well at Martinsville is all about the attitude you have when you walk in the gate Friday morning. That will dictate whether you have a good weekend or a bad weekend. I really think it boils down to that. As soon as you get frustrated, you get behind. Martinsville is one of those places where you can't ask your driver to drive harder, because that's what'll get you in trouble. Track position has always been a big deal, so qualifying well is important, not only in terms of where you'll start on the race track but for pit selection as well."

Did the faster speeds that resulted from the track's resurfacing affect your preparation and strategy?

"You still go there and try to get the car to drive as good as you can and you try to get it to roll the center of the corner as fast as you can, without hurting your forward bite. It didn't change what we were doing or what our goals were, but it did change how we go about reaching those goals. Any time they change the race track, you have to change the way you go about setting up your race car."

Did the faster speeds force you to bolster the car's brakes?

"Honestly, our brakes have never been better. Our car was so good at the Lakeland test that Tony didn't have to abuse the brakes. The key is to have a car where the driver is able to get off the brakes really early and then just let it roll through the center of the corner. The problem comes when the car doesn't roll and it doesn't turn. The driver has to drive it in deeper, use more brakes, and then you end up with no brakes. When we left the test, our brake temperatures were the best they've ever been. That's because our car drove really well."

Did the added concrete off the corners put more strain on the rear end gear as drivers were accelerating longer and harder?

"No. Before the repaving there was a ledge between where the concrete ended and the asphalt began. And when you hit that ledge you'd get a ton of rpm change, the car would snap loose for a moment, get traction and go on. Now you don't even know there's a bump there. Before you were just trying to get into the throttle before you hit that bump, and sometimes you'd have to lift before you got fully back in the gas. That was far more stressful on the rear end gear than the way it is now."

How much more driver-friendly is the new curbing?

"Now when you drive down into the corner you can actually hit the curb, because it's angled up and it doesn't upset the balance of your race car anywhere near the way it did before. It used to be if you were on the outside, you'd push the guy to the inside of you down onto that curb so that he'd have to check up and you could drive by him. That's not something that really exists anymore."

It seems as though Martinsville is one of the tracks most often mentioned as a place that really affects the point standings, because the track tends to produce so many variables that are out of a team's control. Do you agree with that?

"Yes, because at Martinsville you can get tore up real easily and you can have a problem on pit road real easily. You can go to Martinsville and qualify well, get one of the two or three good pit stalls that are available, have a good enough car to run up front all day, but still be like the '24' car was last spring, and have a big hole in the nose because a big chunk of concrete came off the track and hit their car. That's why they went back and fixed the race track, but it is an example of something being out of your control that ruins your day. Martinsville is the type of place where if something can happen, then it will happen to somebody, somehow. Plus, tempers and things tend to get stirred up there and it's really easy to get caught up in someone else's mess. Hopefully, we'll stay fast and get through it all and get a good finish."

-jgr/hdr-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart