TONY STEWART: Pocono Means Points CHARLOTTE, N.C., (July 18, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the ...
TONY STEWART: Pocono Means Points
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (July 18, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, heads into the Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway riding a wave of front running consistency.
Thanks to his win two weekends ago at New Hampshire International Speedway, Stewart comes to Pocono as the winningest driver of the season with three victories. When The Home Depot pilot isn't winning, he's finishing in the top-10. In fact, Stewart has 13 top-10 finishes in 18 races this year, and he hasn't finished outside of the top-10 since finishing 14th at Charlotte in May. His average finish in the last six races is fourth, with all three wins coming during that time - Dover (Del.) on June 4, Michigan on June 11 and New Hampshire on July 9.
As a result, Stewart has steadily climbed up the championship point standings. He now stands fifth overall, 215 points behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and current point leader Bobby Labonte.
When you were at Pocono in June, you thought that the Winston Cup championship was still within your reach. You come back to Pocono a little over a month later, and you've gained 117 points since then. Now what do you think about your championship chances?
"I think we've got a good shot, but so do a lot of other guys. The racing's been tight every race week, so you expect the points to be the same way as competitive as the series is right now. It wouldn't surprise me to see the top three spots come back to fourth and fifth, or all the way back to seventh and eighth. And it wouldn't surprise me to see some guys like Jeff Gordon kind of close that gap in the other direction, too. I think it's going to be an interesting point race this year. We're a hundred points closer this year then we were at this point last year, and we thought we had a shot at it last year. Anything's possible. If you have a bad race in the Cup series you can lose a lot of points. If someone in front of us has two bad races then that could put us right there. I don't want to wish any bad luck on Bobby Labonte. I would love to see him win the championship. He would be a very deserving champion right now. I wouldn't mind being second to him. But if it came right down to it and I had a shot at the title, I'm not lifting for anybody."
How does this year's point battle compare to last year's point battle?
"I don't know. I only have a year and a half to compare it to. Compared to last year at this time, I feel like the whole series is more competitive and tighter. There's a lot better group of cars here then there were last year. Plus, I've learned a lot this year that held me back at the beginning of last year. We had a lot better team than we had a race car driver for the first half of last year. I started catching up a little bit as the year went on. This year I feel like I'm gaining more knowledge and I'm working with the same guys. There haven't been any changes to our Home Depot team. I'm familiar with them and they're familiar with me. I'm just starting to get smarter. Every time we make a change, Greg (Zipadelli, crew chief) lets me know why we're changing it and what it's supposed to do. I'm starting to get more involved in that. It makes me more confident as a driver knowing what the changes are and knowing how the car is supposed to react every time I go out on the race track."
Pocono has a lot of flat track characteristics along with some characteristics all its own. Is it a place that suits your driving style, considering your success at such flat tracks as Richmond (Va.), Homestead (Fla.) and Phoenix?
"I like it because it has three corners and they're all different. All three have different personalities. If you get the car good in one corner, then sometimes it's bad in one of the others, and yet tolerable somewhere else. The challenge is getting The Home Depot Pontiac to handle through all three corners all day."
Explain a lap around Pocono.
"Turn one is probably the easiest of the three, but you've got the challenge of having to downshift in the middle of the corner. You go down the backstretch and into the tunnel turn and it's basically one lane. It's flat and very line-sensitive. You've got to make sure you're right on your marks every lap when you go through there. Then you've got a short chute into turn three. It's a big, long corner and it too is very line-sensitive. With it being line-sensitive and the fact that we've got a straightaway that's three-quarters of a mile long after that, it's very important that you get through the last corner well. You need to come off the corner quickly so that you're not bogged down when you start down that long straightaway. Each corner has its challenges, and each one tends to present a different set of circumstances with each lap you make."
Coming down that front straightaway, the racing can get pretty wide. When and where do you have to get back in line to make it into that first corner?
"It just kind of funnels itself back into line before we get into (turn) one. Everybody tries to get back on the high side to make their entry into the corner, but sometimes it does get a little tight in there. But most times, you just do what you have to do to get back in line."
What's the most treacherous part of Pocono's layout?
"Probably the tunnel turn. Everybody realizes how fast they're going into (turn) one. And they know that if they wreck they're going to wreck hard. The tunnel turn is a little sneaky. It's a tight fit through there, and you don't really know how fast you're going until something bad happens."