Tony Stewart Pocono Part II ATLANTA (July 22, 2003) - Seven short weeks ago Tony Stewart and the ...
Pocono Part II
ATLANTA (July 22, 2003) - Seven short weeks ago Tony Stewart and the #20 Home Depot Racing Team scored their 16th career victory by wining the Pocono 500 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. It was their first win at an oval race track more than two miles in length, and it marked a turning point in the team's roller-coaster season.
Earlier in the year, Stewart and Co. were dealt four DNFs (Did Not Finish) in the span of six races, which dropped the reigning Winston Cup champions to 20th in points after being as high as second following the Darlington (S.C.) race in mid-March. But a fourth-place finish at Dover (Del.) on the first of June signaled the team's turnaround, which was later punctuated by their Pocono triumph.
With very little dust settling on the 2.5-mile triangle since the #20 team's June 8 win, the Winston Cup Series' quick return to Pocono for this Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 bodes well for Stewart and those at Joe Gibbs Racing. The same car with the same chassis setup that earned the team's first and only win of the 2003 season returns ready to do what only Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott, Bobby Allison and the late Tim Richmond have done - complete a Pocono sweep.
Because no corner at Pocono is alike, do you have to give up handling in one corner to make yourself better in another?
"With Pocono's three corners, you're normally able to get two out of three, and the third one you struggle with a little bit. But we're starting to get to where we're right in all three corners now. With Pocono being as big as it is, you just have to really work hard and know how much momentum plays a role on that race track. 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 guys who's going to win the race.
"It's a three-turn road course. You're shifting like you do on a road course and it has three unique corners. For the most part, it doesn't have the big banked corners and two and three grooves like you typically see - the only turn that has that is turn one at the end of the straightaway.
"It just makes you focus and concentrate really hard. The tunnel turn is line-sensitive. You can't go down in there and miss your marks and expect to run a good corner through there. It's a very technical track. It makes you really focus on all three corners, and the hardest thing is getting the car to drive well in all three. That's the challenge. It seems like I always get two of the three fairly easily, but it seems like the third corner is the one I have trouble with. But in all reality, it doesn't matter which corner it is on the race track, it just seems like on every lap you're off on one of the three corners at least a little bit. That's the challenging part about Pocono."
When you won at Pocono back in June, how much adjusting did you have to do to the chassis during the race?
"We just had to keep freeing it up. We were pretty tight at the beginning of the race, but we wanted it that way to make sure we were on the safe side because the track was so green. As the race went on, we just kept freeing the car up. It was real tight on entry and we kept making some good changes and the car kept responding to it. We just kept sneaking up on it, even though we never got all the way there. But the guys on the pit crew got us track position and we were able to run our pace, not everybody else's pace."
With track position being so critical, how important was your pit crew in helping you earn your first win at Pocono?
"It won us the race. The crew won the race - not me. I just did my part by driving. They got me in position on that stop toward the end where we went back to green. I was able to run my pace, and not abuse the front tires chasing down the leader. I could run the way I wanted to run and lift the way I wanted to lift and do everything my way instead of trying to push hard and run those guys down. When it came time to come in and make our green-flag stop for fuel, they had another great pit stop. We got out ahead of Sterling (Marlin) and Mark (Martin), and the biggest thing was just getting right back into my rhythm. They had two really good stops right there at the end of the race that put us in victory lane."
If you're down on horsepower at Pocono, are you pretty much out of contention?
"Yeah. If you're down on power at Pocono you're a mid-pack car at best. You need power to go down that front straightaway, and if you don't have it, you're done."
Tony Stewart - Pocono Part II
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 The Home Depot Chevrolet 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."
GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief on the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet:
A lot has been made about safety as of late. What are your thoughts on rear fire extinguishers near the fuel cell?
"I think we might be able to take what we have in terms of fire extinguishers and put them in the back. Now I'll be honest, I don't know much about automatic fire extinguishers. Is it heat-sensed or is it triggered by an impact? I don't know. I do know that you don't want them going off if they don't need to go off. But I don't think you can ever stop thinking about ways to improve safety. It's kind of like working on your race car, it's just something you have to continually do - continuously changing things to make them better while taking everybody's input and looking at other situations. It's a shame that you've got to look at Bobby's (Labonte) crash at Chicago and see how badly that thing burned up and realize that you need to do something. But when things like that don't happen, it's hard to learn from something that doesn't happen. We can surely do something to prevent some of these fires, but what exactly that is still needs to be looked at. Is it a matter of putting a bigger fire extinguishing bottle in the car so that there's enough for the driver and plenty left over to put the fire out in the back? That's what we're trying to figure out now."
What are your thoughts on the proposed escape hatch installed in the roof of Winston Cup cars?
"If the escape hatch is done right then it'll be a great thing. Any way to get a driver in and out of a car easier is definitely a plus."