Martinsville: Tony Stewart preview

Tony Stewart loves to hate Martinsville. ATLANTA (April 9, 2002) - "Tony Stewart Loves Martinsville - Driver of The Home Depot Pontiac Returns to Favorite Track." That title would be appropriate if the date on this press release read April 1,...

Tony Stewart loves to hate Martinsville.

ATLANTA (April 9, 2002) - "Tony Stewart Loves Martinsville - Driver of The Home Depot Pontiac Returns to Favorite Track." That title would be appropriate if the date on this press release read April 1, 2002. Alas, it does not.

Which means despite having scored one win, two poles and three top-10 finishes in his six previous starts at Martinsville, Stewart still dislikes racing at the .526-mile oval. His three other finishes of 20th or worse may have something to do with that, as Martinsville seems to be a feast or famine track for The Home Depot pilot.

But according to Stewart, Martinsville does have some saving graces. The grandfather clock he received for winning the 2000 NAPA AutoCare 500 is one of his favorites, and the fans that attend the Martinsville races are some of the most devoted in the sport - both of which make Martinsville bearable for Stewart.

And despite Stewart's previous recommendation that Martinsville's infield be filled with water and turned into a bass pond, the venerable raceway will remain the tight and fast bullring it always has been. And when the Virginia 500 gets underway this Sunday, Stewart will be ready.

Is Martinsville still just as you've described in the past a "parking lot with curbs around it," or has winning given you an appreciation for the place?

"No, it's still a parking lot with curbs around it. But now it's a parking lot with curbs where if you win they give you a really nice grandfather clock. And they should give you something really nice after winning a race there.

"Martinsville is Martinsville. It's a lot like Darlington (S.C.). It's a tough surface to get a hold of, but it's got a lot of tradition and history behind it. So, any time you can win a race on a short track you respect it, but especially when it's at a place like Bristol (Tenn.) or Martinsville. Those are two really hard tracks to win at."

Is there anything you like about racing at Martinsville?

"I don't know. I definitely don't dislike it as much as I used to. Winning did help that. But I tell you what, the one thing that saves that place is the people who are there and the fans that are there. You can see 'em every time you're out there practicing. Every time you get into the car you can look across the fence and see them and they're yelling good luck to you. That's the only thing that saves that place in my opinion. But it's just a tough place. I mean, if I can get through that whole day without getting a scratch on The Home Depot Pontiac, it'll be a miracle."

How hard is to hit to concentrate at Martinsville on hitting your marks, when you've got to hit your marks 500 times?

"You aren't going to hit your marks every lap. It's very hard. But if you get a car that drives well, it makes life a lot easier. If your car is a little bit off, then it seems like it's way off. It's probably one of the hardest tracks on the circuit to get the balance of your car really, really good."

How easy of a day can you have at Martinsville if your car is good? How hard of a day can you have at Martinsville if your car is bad?

"I wouldn't say that it's an easy day if your car is good, but it's tolerable. If your car is off, it makes for a very, very, very long day, and it can be a very frustrating day on top of that. Again, making sure the balance of the car is good makes you stay patient and calm for the duration of the race."

Are Martinsville and Bristol the same from a physical standpoint?

"You're running a lot faster through the corners at Bristol, so the g-loads are a lot higher there. At Martinsville, it's more of a mental challenge rather than a physical challenge. Your muscles are sore because for 500 laps, you just tense up. You're running so close to people all day long and it's easy to bump into the guy in front of you or get bumped into from behind. There's so much that can happen. It just drains you."

When you're racing at Bristol and there's a wreck, it tends to slide down the race track because of the banking. But what about Martinsville? Where do wrecks tend to wind up?

"You never know where they're going to go. Sometimes they slide up. Sometimes they don't slide out of the way at all. Sometimes they slide down to the inside. It's really unpredictable, and even if it happens four or five cars in front you, you're most likely going to get caught up in it somehow just because you're racing so close together. It's a tricky track to get around all day for 500 laps without getting some kind of battle scar on The Home Depot Pontiac."

CHRIS "WOODY" WOODWARD - engine tuner on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac:

How has the one engine rule worked out for you so far this season?

"So far, so good. We really haven't had any issues, and we're doing a lot of what we did last year. Last year we could have two motors, but we would still change valve springs after the first and second practice. We continue to do that now. The only thing we do now that's a little different is that we don't lean on the engine as hard as we used to for qualifying. We're pretty thorough at checking everything before a motor leaves the shop, and then doing a lot of re-checking over the course of a weekend."

Is Martinsville harder on engines than some other tracks because of the range of rpms the engine turns over the course of 500 laps?

"Believe it or not, Martinsville isn't as hard on an engine as Pocono (Pa.) or Michigan is. It's the timing that it takes to get through an rpm sweep that really tests the engine. At Martinsville, it's pretty quick. The driver gets on the gas for a short while and then he's off of it as he brakes going into the corner. But at Pocono, the driver comes off the corner at 8,000 rpm and it takes the entire length of the straightaway where he's running 8,900 rpm before he lets off to go into turn one. That's where you have more of a chance at hurting your valve train. At Martinsville, the only place where you'll hurt the valve train is if you over-rev the engine. If you rev the engine so much that the valve train can't keep itself in control, then you'll have an issue. When you hear a 'Pop! Pop! Pop!' and all sorts of funny things, that's when parts inside the engine are literally crashing into each other."

Do you use rev limiters to prevent the over-revving of an engine?

"We've started using rev limiters again this year. We don't use it to limit the motor. We use it more to limit the event of an accident, such as if you were to spin on pit road and you over-rev the engine trying to grab a gear and straighten the car out. We don't use rev limiters as a governor to limit how fast we want to go with the motor."

When you tear the engine down back at the shop, are you seeing more wear and tear on engine components than you did last year?

"So far, so good. The wear and everything seems to be the same. There hasn't been any particular thing that we've had to pay extra close attention to. Everything has looked the way it should."

Has the one engine rule made your weekend easier while making your weekdays harder?

"No, not really, although it is easier not to have to swap motors on race weekends like we used to. As far as preparation back at the shop, it's probably added a little bit more work to the guys running the dynos. Before an engine leave the dyno, we know that those guys have pulled the (valve) lifters and checked all of the push rod tips and rocker adjusters. They just look at all that stuff extra carefully now. It wasn't that they didn't look at it carefully before, but they're definitely more in tune to it now knowing that one motor has to last an entire race weekend."


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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart