"WideTrack Attack" Expects 20-Race Marathon to Separate Title Contenders from Title Pretenders DETROIT, July 3, 2001 - As the NASCAR Winston Cup Series prepares for a 20-race stretch that will finish the 2001 season, three Pontiac Grand...
"WideTrack Attack" Expects 20-Race Marathon to Separate Title Contenders from Title Pretenders
DETROIT, July 3, 2001 - As the NASCAR Winston Cup Series prepares for a 20-race stretch that will finish the 2001 season, three Pontiac Grand Prix teams find their drivers planted firmly inside the tour's top 10.
The string of 20 consecutive races, which begins Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway, is the longest scheduled stretch of races ever in NASCAR's modern era (since 1972). It is expected to be a grueling test for drivers, team members and equipment, but Pontiac's three top 10 teams feel confident they can turn the challenge to their advantage.
Tony Stewart, who drives the Home Depot Pontiac, heads to Daytona as the series' latest winner. Stewart, who grabbed a win in the Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond in May and won again at Sears Point on June 24, is ranked fourth in the Winston Cup standings, 234 points behind leader Jeff Gordon.
Johnny Benson, who is off to the best start of his six-year career in the Valvoline Grand Prix, is looking for his first top 10 since the Pontiac 400.
Defending Winston Cup champion Bobby Labonte, who is coming off a seventh-place run at Sears Point, has been Pontiac's best threat at Daytona in recent years, scoring a fifth in the Pepsi 400 in 1999 and a pair of runner-up finishes in 1998.
If any driver from the Pontiac Grand Prix stable visits victory lane at Daytona on Saturday, it would mark Pontiac's first win there since Richard Petty won the Firecracker 400 in July 1984.
Thoughts From Tony Stewart, No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix
KNOWING HOW MUCH YOU LOVE TO RACE, IS THIS NEXT STRETCH OF RACES A DREAM SCHEDULE FOR YOU?
"I don't know if I'd call it a dream, but I'm probably one of the few guys who is looking forward to this last 20-race stretch. I think it's going to separate the teams out and show which teams are championship-caliber teams and which teams need to work on that a little bit. I'm pretty confident that we've got a championship-caliber team working on this Home Depot Pontiac. Hopefully this part of the season will be a point in the year where we can actually gain some points on this title and see if we can get a little closer to the front."
DO YOU THINK THIS PART OF THE SEASON FAVORS YOU ANYWAY?
"I think so. It just seems like we get to a part of the season where the tracks coming up are places where we run really well and that seems like it gives us a lot of momentum. Once we start winning races and running in the top five like that, it just seems like the rest of it falls into place for us."
YOU SCHEDULED MOST OF YOUR PERSONAL APPEARANCES FOR THE FIRST HALF OF THE SEASON. WAS PART OF THE REASONING BEHIND THAT TO PREPARE FOR THIS STRETCH?
"I had a really good off-season. When January came I was really anxious to get back to work, so we really loaded up heavy with two ideas in mind. First, since I was ready to go at the beginning of the season anyway, we definitely wanted to take advantage of that. But we also knew how grueling the schedule was going to be by this time of year and we knew we were going to need some personal time to offset that. Getting all our appearances out of the way when we did will give me the opportunity to have some free time. "If we get in a position to be there at the end for this championship, the media work is going to get a lot more intense toward the end of the year and we're going to be thankful that we've got some off-time to be able to accommodate those demands."
Thoughts From James Ince, Crew Chief, No. 10 Valvoline Pontiac Grand Prix
IS THIS STRETCH OF RACES A DREAM OR NIGHTMARE FOR YOU?
"At this point it could go either way, but we expect it to be a dream. We feel like we're better prepared than most teams probably are at this point. The only reason it could be a nightmare for us is that we're coming off a string of five races where we've had extremely fast race cars and things have gone wrong. If we start back out on the right foot at Daytona like we generally do, this could be a dream. But if things go to getting wrong, it could be a nightmare."
WILL THIS STRETCH SEPARATE THE POINTS CONTENDERS?
"Absolutely. Preparation is the main thing that this 20-week stretch is going to highlight. It's going to show everyone who is prepared and who isn't. There are a lot of great race teams out there. But if you don't have your race cars in order right now and are not good to go, it's going to be a struggle. We're a little bit excited because we were able to take advantage of the last off-week period and now we're actually two weeks ahead into the 20-race stretch. We're in good shape."
ARE YOU MORE CONCERNED ABOUT THE MECHANICAL ELEMENT OR THE HUMAN ELEMENT, WITH REGARD TO HOW THIS LONG STRETCH COULD IMPACT YOUR RACE TEAM?
"The people involved are always your biggest concern. But something that we've been able to do all year long is get our guys plenty of time off. We turned this last off-weekend into a five-day weekend for the road guys and a four-day weekend for the shop itself. We're just going to try really hard not to burn our guys out. If we can keep from doing that, I feel like we'll be in really good shape."
Thoughts From Jimmy Makar, Crew Chief, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac Grand Prix
DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS ABOUT THE UPCOMING STRETCH OF 20 CONSECUTIVE RACES?
"The 20-race deal to me is not going to be any harder than we've already done. We've had a few breaks in our schedule already, but not enough to say that there is going to be a big difference between running 20 and what we've already run the first 15 or 16. I don't see it as a major difference.
"I think we've got some things in place at Joe Gibbs Racing to help the guys that work on these Pontiacs day in and day out to get some rest, get away from work, get back home and get some personal time to keep them fresh and keep them excited about going for 20 weeks in a row.
"I am certainly not dreading what is coming up. We're as prepared as we can be for it. Not to say that we might not make some adjustments along the way, but I feel like we're as prepared as we need to be as far as being ready for this 20-race stretch."