Pocono II: Tony Stewart preview

Pocono a Prelude to Indy ATLANTA (July 18, 2005) - It's been just five weeks since the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series last visited Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, and with the quick turnaround to the quirky 2.5-mile triangle, Pocono represents both short- and...

Pocono a Prelude to Indy

ATLANTA (July 18, 2005) - It's been just five weeks since the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series last visited Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, and with the quick turnaround to the quirky 2.5-mile triangle, Pocono represents both short- and long-term goals for teams entering this weekend's Pennsylvania 500.

The short-term and most obvious goal is a win, but Pocono's unique layout provides teams with a bit of a prelude as to how they'll perform at the following race - Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

Pocono's long straightaways and flat corners - at least in turns two and three - is the closest teams get to competing on a race track that mimics Indy's long straights and flat corners. It's by no means a perfect comparison, but it's the best that's out there. And with Pocono's proximity to Indy on the Nextel Cup schedule, the weather - hot, humid and a chance of afternoon thunderstorms - is fairly consistent with what teams will experience at Indy.

That means the chassis setups used at Pocono can give teams a rough idea as to how those setups will work at Indy. It's a two-for-one deal - teams compete for a win in a point-paying Nextel Cup race while also obtaining data for one of the most prestigious races on the Nextel Cup schedule.

For Tony Stewart and the #20 Home Depot Racing Team, it's a deal they aim to exploit.

Pocono seems to be a good indicator of how a team will perform at Indianapolis, which after a rare off-weekend, follows Pocono on the Nextel Cup schedule. Is that true?

"It's harder to pass at the Brickyard than it is at Pocono. There's a fair amount of room going into (turn) one at Pocono, and you can run two-wide there and you can go two-wide in (turn) three at the beginning of a run. But it's pretty tough to run two-wide through the corners at Indy. Still, a good run at Pocono shows your flat track program is pretty good. But at the same time, it's no guarantee that you're going to run well at the Brickyard. Pocono is quite a bit bumpier than Indy is, and with this new style of (chassis) setups that we're using, a good run at Pocono won't guarantee you anything for Indy. But it certainly won't hurt you, and the aero stuff that we do at Pocono will be used at Indy. So yeah, you can learn some stuff to take to the Brickyard."

These new chassis setups that you're running, what do you mean?

"We're using softer front springs and stiffer rear springs to adjust the attitude of the car. When the car goes down the straightaway it looks like the nose is dragging the ground and the rear end is way high in the air, versus years where the cars looked really flat and they were up off the ground a little bit. It's just a different style. Everybody has learned how to utilize the air more to their advantage by adjusting the attitude of the car."

Did not shifting at Pocono back in June make any difference in how you drove the race track in comparison to year's past?

"Nope, the line is the same line. You just don't shift."

What presents the biggest challenge for you at Pocono?

"All three corners are different - that's the most challenging part. It seems like you can always get your car good in two of the three corners, but the guys who are contending for the win are the guys who can get their car good for all three corners. That's a very hard thing to do - get you car good through all three sections of the race track. This year it's a little different because we haven't gone through transmission and gear changes like we have in the past where we tried different combinations to find more speed. It's a totally different style of racing compared to what we've had in the past at Pocono. It's evened things out for everyone."

Since Pocono has three distinct corners, where do you start with your race setup?

"We always go out and figure where I feel like I'm struggling the most, because that's where I feel like I'm going to make up the most time. It seems like if we can get our car to go through the tunnel turn well, then we're normally able to get The Home Depot Chevrolet to go through the rest of the race track well. The tunnel turn seems to be our toughest turn on the race track. Getting through turn two and the last corner of the race track that's flat, long and sweeping - those seem to be the toughest two corners to get through. And if you're a little bit off, you're a bunch off. If there's a guy who can get all three of those corners right, then that's the guy who's going to win the race."

Explain a lap around Pocono.

"Turn one is probably the easiest of the three - you drive it in kind of deep and then try to float the car through 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."

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

Pocono seems to be a good indicator of how a team will perform at Indianapolis, which after a rare off-weekend, follows Pocono on the Nextel Cup schedule. Is that true?

"It used to be when we went to Pocono we had the same tire that we'd run at Indy. If you were good on the tire and had a good setup on the tire you could go to Pocono and run well and know that you were probably going to be okay for Indy. Right now, it's a different tire. You'll take the same type of car and work on the same type of attitude. Indy has so much grip right now from the new pavement and the grinding it underwent, while in relation, Pocono has no grip. You can still learn things at Pocono to help you at Indy, but I don't know that you're just going to leave Pocono and go to Indy with your stuff and run well."

Is the recent slate of flat tracks - New Hampshire, Pocono and Indianapolis - helpful in that you're able to work on the same things for three straight race weekends?

"I think so. Loudon (N.H.) is a really flat, smooth race track. Obviously, the speeds are significantly higher at Pocono and Indy than they are at New Hampshire and you take a little bit different car - you don't have brake ducts and all the window openings and stuff like that. But it's still a flat track, and the same principles apply, as far as getting the attitude of the car right."

You've been testing a lot as of late, with a two-day test earlier this month at New Hampshire, a single-day test at Indianapolis and another single-day test planned for Watkins Glen (N.Y.). How are you managing your test dates and deciding what race tracks to visit and when?

"We didn't do much testing at the beginning of the year. We went to California and Las Vegas before the season started and had a pretty disappointing test. Because of that, we elected not to test because I didn't feel like our cars were where they needed to be. Our balance was off and we didn't have what Tony needed. What we learned at Vegas and California was that we really needed to go to work. But there was no reason to go burn up a bunch of tests until we felt like we could learn from our tests. And it took us until probably Michigan in June, which is a pretty big spell there, to go and test. But we were prepared to go to Michigan, better than I think we were at the beginning of the year when we went to Vegas and California, and we were able to learn some things. We tested at New Hampshire and we learned some things. And we elected to come to New Hampshire because we figured it would be an important track - both to stay in the top-10 before the Chase but also to make some gains when the Chase starts since it's the first race. Then we saved a bunch of our tests for the last 10 races. I wanted to test at every race track at some point in time that we were going to go to during the Chase. I think Martinsville (Va.) is the only one we're not going to get to, because we elected to go to Kansas instead. But we're going to Atlanta, we're going to Homestead, and we're going to Watkins Glen just because we want to go in there and win again."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart