DETROIT, Aug. 14, 2001 - With everything that Pontiac Grand Prix driver Tony Stewart has accomplished during his NASCAR Winston Cup career, he usually enters an upcoming race knowing he is a favorite to win. In 90 starts during his first two and...
DETROIT, Aug. 14, 2001 - With everything that Pontiac Grand Prix driver Tony Stewart has accomplished during his NASCAR Winston Cup career, he usually enters an upcoming race knowing he is a favorite to win.
In 90 starts during his first two and a half years competing in NASCAR's top circuit, Stewart has been to victory lane 11 times, including twice this season and once last year at Michigan International Speedway. He ranks second among active drivers in career winning percentage (12.2 percent), trailing only series points leader Jeff Gordon and stands fifth in the 2001 Winston Cup point standings.
But after a couple of changes to the series' rules this summer, Stewart heads into this weekend's return trip to Michigan feeling a little like an underdog.
Thoughts from Tony Stewart, No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix
HOW MUCH CAN YOU IMPROVE ON THE 25TH-PLACE FINISH YOU POSTED AT MICHIGAN BACK IN JUNE? "Our motor program has come along a little better since the first race [at Michigan] and that (horsepower) is normally one of the biggest factors there, so I think we're going to fare better than we did the last time we were there. But, how much better? I don't know."
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU AS A DRIVER TO HAVE MORE THAN ONE GROOVE TO WORK WITH AT A TRACK LIKE MICHIGAN? "It's nice knowing as a driver that you can help yourself. You're not relying so much on the car and what everybody else is doing. You can do your own thing and help yourself out as a driver. It makes you feel good knowing that the place is so wide that you can help your cause out and earn your money that day for doing your job."
HOW SOON DO YOU START SEARCHING FOR A DIFFERENT LINE ON THE TRACK? "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 start moving around, seeing if you can find a place that helps it out and helps get you caught back up. You do it from the drop of the green on."
WHAT DID IT DO TO YOUR RACE TEAM WHEN THE NEW BUMP-STOP RULE WAS INTRODUCED BACK IN LATE MAY? "We had to start over. It's the only series I've ever been a part of where they change the rules halfway through the season. It makes it hard. It basically means that if you used any of your tests early in the year, you wasted them. That's the disappointing part and the part that I don't really understand, yet."
WILL YOU CHOOSE YOUR TEST DATES DIFFERENTLY NEXT YEAR BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU'VE GONE THROUGH THIS YEAR? "You never know when NASCAR is going to do what they're going to do, so you really can't try to plan around that. They do things on a whim and it really hurts us as a race team."
AERODYNAMICS WILL PLAY A BIG ROLE AT MICHIGAN...DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE GOING IN THERE AT A DISADVANTAGE? "We've been at a disadvantage all year. NASCAR keeps helping everybody, but the teams that need it - I shouldn't say that. They are helping the teams that need it, but it's because they (the teams) are not doing their work. They're not doing their homework. Our team has done everything they can do and massaged as much as they can on our Pontiac. It's not a bad car. It's just a five or six-year-old car that is racing against a brand (Dodge) that just came out this year and just got a major aero change to their car in six months. It's awful hard to compete against things like that when they were pretty good to begin with."
IS AERODYNAMICS THE MOST IMPORTANT VARIABLE? "Technology - if you look at what it's done in Formula I, you look at what it's done in CART and in the IRL - it was just a matter of time before it caught up to Winston Cup racing. The technology has taken our sport to a whole new level. It's become a very big role where 10 years ago it wasn't that big. Now, it plays a huge, huge role in what we do each week."