Michigan: Tony Stewart preview

Tony Stewart Poised to Deliver in DHL 400 ATLANTA (June 15, 2004) - Tony Stewart comes into Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn having logged three top-10 finishes in his last four races. The driver of the ...

Tony Stewart
Poised to Deliver in DHL 400

ATLANTA (June 15, 2004) - Tony Stewart comes into Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn having logged three top-10 finishes in his last four races. The driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series had a top-10 run in the making last Sunday at Pocono (Pa.) before transmission trouble less than 50 laps short of the finish dropped him off the lead lap and into a 27th place finish.

Michigan provides the perfect venue for Stewart to rebound, as the 2002 series champion has enjoyed some past success at the 2-mile oval. In June of 2002 he scored his fifth career Nextel Cup victory, and he followed that triumph with another win in 2001 when he visited Michigan's victory lane in an IROC car.

While Stewart is still winless in 2004, there is little worry that career win number 18 is right around the corner. History has shown that as the temperatures rise, so too does Stewart's season. Four of his 17 career wins have come in June, with only three coming before June in a Nextel Cup career that dates back to 1999.

With two second-place finishes already this season, Stewart is ready to win. Using a chassis that has led 23.7 percent of the 3,012 laps available in its 10 career starts, Stewart looks to deliver his first win of the year in Sunday's DHL 400 at Michigan.

What percentages would you put on a comparison between the importance of horsepower and handling at Michigan?

"It's probably about 50/50. You need to have an aerodynamic car, but you've got to have the horsepower to pull it, too. You can't have one and not the other and expect to go to Michigan and win the race."

Michigan is a track where a driver can search for different grooves, as opposed to Indianapolis or New Hampshire, where there is really only one true groove. As a driver, do you appreciate that more?

"It's nice knowing that as a driver you can help yourself out and you're not relying so much on the car. Regardless of what everyone else is doing, you can find a way to help yourself out. It makes you feel good knowing that because the place is so wide you can move around, and basically, earn your money that day."

At what point do you start to move around on the race track to find a better handle for your race car?

"As soon as you feel like you're not where you need to be. If you feel like you're slower than the pace you need to be running, you're going to move up the race track and find a place that helps balance your race car. Really, from the drop of the green flag, you do it from there on out."

How big a role does drafting play at Michigan?

"It's big since Michigan is such a momentum track. You can work the draft pretty well, and if there are some guys racing up in front of you, it'll help you catch up to them. It's a place where you really have to watch and pay attention to the draft."

Where does Michigan rank in terms of all the 1.5- to 2-mile D-shaped ovals that are on the Nextel Cup circuit?

"It's so wide and there are so many lines that you can run - that's what makes Michigan fun for drivers. You have to figure out how to gauge your momentum and know where you want to be on that race track when you enter those corners. Michigan's layout gives the drivers the flexibility to really make a difference in their car's handling."

Whenever you race at a track like Michigan - a D-shaped oval - aerodynamics are a factor, specifically the affects of an aero push. But the new tire compound introduced at the beginning of this season combined with the reduction in rear spoiler height was supposed to lessen the affects of an aero push. Fourteen races into the season, do you feel like that has happened?

"I don't think we're ever going to get away from aero push. That's just a result of technology, wind tunnels and big budgets. But there's no way of getting around it. You can't stop people from spending money. So something like an aero push is probably going to get worse before it gets better. But I do think what Goodyear has done with the tires is starting to work. The performance of the tires does fall off, and whether guys want to admit it or not, it's making for better racing because none of these races have been decided on fuel mileage or track position the way that they used to be. For some people to say that the new rules aren't working, I don't think is an accurate statement."

What exactly is an aero push?

"You have two types of balance on your race car. You have mechanical balance and aero balance. Your mechanical balance is comprised of springs, shocks, sway bars and suspension pieces. Your aero balance relates to the total aerodynamics of the car - how the air flows over the top of the race car and how it creates downforce in different areas. If you're running with a car right in front of you, you don't have the air hitting the front of your car as you would if you were running in clean air, where there's no one in front of you. When someone is in front of you and you're not getting that air pushing down on the front of the nose, the car isn't getting the downforce it needs to stick to the race track. That creates an understeer condition, which makes the car push out toward the wall. That's what's happening when you hear drivers complain of an aero push."

The idea of freezing the field the moment the caution flag comes out was enacted to prevent racing back to the start/finish line. But after two straight races of uncertainty and confusion, is freezing the field the right way to go?

"In NASCAR's defense, the first time we were told as drivers about freezing the field, they said it would be a work in progress. As frustrating as it's been for everybody, I think we have to be realistic about making rule changes. This wasn't just whacking a quarter-inch off a spoiler or changing the size of a restrictor plate. It was a pretty drastic change. And any time you change a rule like that you're going to run into a situation that somebody didn't think of, because there's only so many different scenarios you can think of.

"My job is to go out and take the rules they give us and try to win races with them. I don't want all of us to crucify NASCAR for what's happened the past two weeks. We just have to keep in mind it's all a work in progress. As every problem comes up, they're going to look at it and address it."

Do you have a solution to make freezing the field easier to understand?

"One of my favorite crew chiefs I ever drove for was Larry Howard, out in Arizona. He called me and said, 'Why do they not just do like every other series and every other race track across the country and when the caution comes out, go back to the last lap?' It's very simple. It's logged in the system. It's bulletproof. I don't know why they don't do that. Every race fan across the country understands that rule if they're a true race fan. That's an easy solution for the problem. I would go back to the last completed lap. Everybody knows where they were when they crossed the line. Every series we've run across before we got to NASCAR, that's what we had to race under. It's not something you would need to re-teach everybody."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart