Richmond II: Tony Stewart preview

Tony Stewart Enriched at Richmond ATLANTA (Sept. 7, 2004) - Of the many trophies stacked upon one another in the home of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Tony Stewart, five have come from Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Stewart has scored...

Tony Stewart
Enriched at Richmond

ATLANTA (Sept. 7, 2004) - Of the many trophies stacked upon one another in the home of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Tony Stewart, five have come from Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Stewart has scored three Cup wins there while dominating the past two NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races held at the quarter-mile oval. In all, Stewart has cashed checks from Richmond totaling $1,166,220.

The driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet put his stamp on Richmond back in September of 1999, when he led a dominating 333 of 400 laps for his first Cup win. And since that inaugural win in the latter part of his rookie season, Stewart has secured 18 other victories in Cup competition.

Now in his sixth year as a Cup Series driver, Richmond has arguably become Stewart's best venue. Hard numbers back that claim, because in 11 career Nextel Cup starts at Richmond, he has scored three top-fives and seven top-10s while leading a total of 621 laps - 14.1 percent of the 4,393 laps available. And in Stewart's two Truck Series races - the only two Truck Series races he has entered at Richmond - Stewart has led 66 of a possible 400 laps en route to victory (16.5 percent). In fact, the only year where Stewart failed to post a win at Richmond was in 2000. But it was far from a disappointment, as he scored top-10 results in both Nextel Cup visits.

With such a solid track record, this weekend's stop at Richmond beckons The Home Depot pilot. He has a Truck Series win to defend before attempting to earn his 20th career Nextel Cup win. For Stewart, that's all the incentive he needs.

A lot of people thought the race two weeks ago at Bristol (Tenn.) might be an overly aggressive race because of its tight confines and its proximity to the cutoff for the Chase for the Championship. But Richmond is the actual cutoff for drivers to become eligible to compete for this year's championship, and it too is a tight and fast race track. Are you expecting a more aggressive race, simply because so much is on the line for a handful of drivers?

"I don't know because I'm really not in a position to where I have to be worried about it. I really don't know what the different scenarios are for different people to actually make the 'Chase'. But different guys will have different agendas that day, so maybe we'll see some aggressive driving and maybe we won't."

Does being locked into the Chase for the Championship provide you with a sense of relief because there is no cutoff for you to worry about?

"Oh yeah, for sure. It just lets us work on the stuff that we normally work on. We'll go out and worry about winning the race versus worrying about getting into the 'Chase'."

You have three career starts in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. One came at Indianapolis Raceway Park back in 1996 and the other two came at Richmond in 2002 and 2003. You're undefeated at Richmond, and you're going for a third straight win there Thursday night. Does your past success give you added confidence or does it supply added pressure?

"It's a little of both. Everybody is going to be watching us to see how we're running. We've had really good luck the last two years with a great team in Andy Petree Racing who gave me some good Trucks to run there. There's definitely no complaints about our program the last couple of years. This year we're with the All-Star Chevy Truck team and it'll be a different group than who I've worked with in the past. We'll just see if we can keep that string alive."

How competitive is the Truck Series?

"It just keeps getting better and better. The competition gets tougher each year. You don't just go in there and expect to win. You've got to go out there and earn it. When you have Bobby Hamilton, Ted Musgrave, Dennis Setzer and Carl Edwards and those guys that are running up front each week - Rick Crawford, David Starr - you can't take anything for granted. You have to have everything right to go out and win just like you do in a Busch race or a Cup race."

Will running the Truck help your efforts on Friday and Saturday when you're in the Home Depot Chevrolet?

"I don't think so. The Trucks are quite a bit different from the Cup cars. It just gives me some time on the race track and gives me a chance to get the feel that I want a little quicker than if I just got in the Cup car and started on Friday."

Richmond was repaved prior to this year's spring race. How was the new pavement when you raced there in May?

"It was really smooth, glass-smooth actually. I'm not sure I could find a bump if someone paid me to find a bump out there. It's really nice. And on top of that, we're running over a second faster than what we normally run there, which has made the car more aerodynamically dependent, something you don't normally have at a short track."

Did you find that a second groove developed?

"I think it did, if I remember right. There actually was a second groove at the top of the track, and I think we were all surprised by that. It got to where it was exactly where all of us wanted it to be."

Was the track noticeably faster than it had been in previous years? Did you have to adjust your entry and exit through the corners?

"Any time there's any change, whether it's with the tire or the surface, you've got to go back and redo everything - from your chassis setup to your racing line."

You and the team tested at The Milwaukee Mile Aug. 30-31 in preparation for Richmond. How does testing at Milwaukee translate to racing at Richmond?

"I'm not sure if it will, to be honest. It was a test that didn't count against us so we were able to try some things out. We ran through some changes on the chassis just to see how it would respond. That way, with the amount of practice that we have, we don't have to waste any of it trying things that we know won't work."

What's the key to being successful at Richmond?

"You want to make sure that your car is adjustable. We start the race at the end of the day where it's usually pretty hot, but as night comes the track cools down and it changes quite a bit. Old pavement, new pavement, the same theory applies, and that's not something you see at most of the races we go to. It's pretty much isolated to just the night races. When we tested there two years ago, we actually tried to make the car drive badly so that we could figure out ways to make it drive well again. You've got to have adjustability, because you know for a fact that the track isn't going to stay the same all night long."

Is Richmond similar to any other tracks that you've raced on in your career?

"It just reminded me of some of the shorter tracks that I've run. It had kind of the same feel that quarter-mile tracks did with some of the other cars that I've run with. It wasn't a big drastic change. It was like Phoenix the first time I went there. I hadn't been to a 1-mile oval but once in my life, but when I got onto Phoenix, I adjusted and adapted to it really quickly. It was a place where I became very comfortable right away. I had that same feeling when I went to Richmond for the first time with The Home Depot car. I think every driver has a track that they go to where they get that same feeling. There are just some places that you go to where you adjust, and it really suits your driving style."

Your sponsor, The Home Depot, has been very involved with the relief efforts following Hurricane Frances. Talk about that.

"Whenever there's ever some sort of natural disaster, Home Depot is always there, helping out in any way they can. They do whatever has to be done to get supplies to where they need to be, and their associates are always willing to volunteer to go wherever help is needed. There's always been a lot of pride in representing Home Depot on the race track, but it's even more so in times like these."

-jgr/hdr-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Tony Stewart , David Starr , Ted Musgrave , Dennis Setzer , Rick Crawford , Andy Petree , Carl Edwards