TONY STEWART Half-Full or Half Empty? ATLANTA (Sept. 3, 2008) -- Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Judging by the fact that Tony Stewart only needs to finish 36th or better in Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond (Va.) ...
Half-Full or Half Empty?
ATLANTA (Sept. 3, 2008) -- Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Judging by the fact that Tony Stewart only needs to finish 36th or better in Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, his glass is nearly full.
The 400-lap contest at the .75-mile oval is the cutoff race to determine what drivers vie for this year's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Only the top-12 drivers in points will be eligible to compete for this year's crown.
Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, enters the last race of the regular season eighth in points with a comfortable 138-point advantage over 13th-place David Ragan
The "half-full" theory says that Stewart will easily lock-up his fourth Chase birth since the inception of the Chase in 2004.
The "half-empty" theory says that Stewart is on defense at Richmond, for anything can happen at the Virginia short track, and even a 36th-place finish is far from guaranteed when the field consists of 43 cars.
But with three Sprint Cup wins, five top-threes, seven top-fives and 13 top-10s in 19 career starts at the .75-mile oval, along with a total of 792 laps led -- 10.4 percent of the 7,602 laps available -- Stewart's glass is just a few drops shy of capacity.
Add in his back-to-back NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series wins at Richmond in 2002 and 2003, along with the miles turned at Richmond wheeling a car in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and USAC's National Midget and Silver Crown divisions, and Stewart comes into Saturday night's Chase-deciding race with the confidence becoming of a two-time Sprint Cup champion.
With a Chase berth on the line and a 10-year string of top-12 point finishes to keep intact, Stewart views Richmond as the foundation for a third title run.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing:
In the past four years of the Chase format, you've been locked into the Chase entering Richmond three times, with the lone exception being 2006, where you ended up missing the Chase by only 16 points. Is there pressure this time around since you're not locked in yet, even if all you need to do is finish 36th or better?
"To be honest, I've never fallen into pressure. All 10 years we've been here in the points, we've just strictly dealt with it one week at a time. That's the easiest way to approach it. What you do this week is this week. Then once this weekend is over and done, you worry about next week. It's literally that simple for us."
Since you're not locked into the Chase, have you thought back to other races where you could've scored more points than you did?
"I just try to keep it real simple. I really don't try to over-think it. I don't try to over-calculate everything. I'm focused on Saturday night, then once Saturday is over with, I'll worry about what we're going to do for New Hampshire next week. I literally take it by a seven-day cycle at a time. California was last week, so it really doesn't matter what we did there. We are at a totally different track race this week. So no matter what happened last week or two weeks ago or two months ago, we can't change any of it. We're better off taking all of our energy and focusing on this coming week instead of focusing on something we can't change."
Since you've been in the Chase three of the past four years, does that give you an advantage at Richmond other drivers don't have?
"How you get into the Chase is the same way you win the Chase. You've got to go out there and you've got to be good. You've got to be good in 26 races to get in the Chase, and then you've got to be good for 10 races after that to win the Chase."
With three Sprint Cup wins and two Craftsman Truck Series wins, you've had a lot of success at Richmond. Is it one of your favorite tracks?
"It is my favorite track. It's not one of them, it's the favorite track of mine on the circuit. I've won two Truck races and three Cup races there. It's where I got my first win. It's definitely a place I enjoy coming to, and considering how it factors into the Chase, it's definitely an important stop for us."
Richmond is one of many races that begins in the late afternoon daylight and finishes under the lights. How do you handle those types of conditions, specifically, when the sun disappears and the race track's surface cools?
"I like night racing anyway. I always have. The good thing about night races is that I get to sleep in through the morning. But the challenge is the same for everybody as far as how the surface temperature of the race track will cool off. That's the good thing about it. It gives us a challenge that we don't normally have on a day when the sun is out and the track normally won't change a lot. So it just adds another variable that makes it more exciting for the fans."
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. 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 reminds me of some of the shorter tracks that I've run. It has kind of the same feel that three-quarter-mile tracks did with some of the other cars that I've run with. 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."
The heir apparent to the No. 20 car in 2009 -- Joey Logano -- is scheduled to make his debut at Richmond in a fourth Joe Gibbs Racing car sponsored by The Home Depot. What are your thoughts on the 18-year-old driver who will replace you in 2009 after you move to your own team -- Stewart-Haas Racing?
"I'm proud of Joey. I think his record in the last couple of years speaks for itself. I don't think you could ask for a better guy to replace me and I'm happy that's the guy that's going to be replacing me. He's in the perfect situation right now. He's a good kid, he's got a great family and he's going to do things right. I'm proud of who they got and I'm very supportive and behind him 100 percent."
Is there a little bit of sadness that the No. 20 car won't be yours when the 2008 season ends?
"Well, it's still mine until the end of the year. I'm excited about what I'm doing next year. As far as I'm concerned, I'm still a part of Home Depot's family. They're going to be a part of my family. If you have to have a guy replace you, you want a guy like Joey to take your spot. I'm happy about that."
What makes Logano so good?
"The great thing about Joey is we really haven't had to help him a lot. He's just one of those kids who has a lot of natural talent and he's got a natural feel for the car. If he's needed something, we've been available for him, but on a lot of these things, he's got the basics down. The stuff that he has to learn is stuff that you really have to learn firsthand. Every challenge that he's had, he's been successful, so I really believe that he's the best guy Joe Gibbs Racing can get in the car right now. I think what he can do in the future is unlimited there at Joe Gibbs Racing, and his crew, Zippy (crew chief Greg Zipadelli) and the guys, they are a proven commodity. It's a perfect situation for a guy like Joey to be in as a rookie to have an established team like that. I think it's going to be a good combination."