Richmond II: Tony Stewart preview

Tony Stewart Rich look to get richer at Richmond. ATLANTA (Sept. 3, 2002) - There is no question that Richmond (Va.) International Raceway is Tony Stewart's strongest race track of the 23 venues that make up the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. In...

Tony Stewart
Rich look to get richer at Richmond.

ATLANTA (Sept. 3, 2002) - There is no question that Richmond (Va.) International Raceway is Tony Stewart's strongest race track of the 23 venues that make up the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

In seven career Winston Cup starts at the .750-mile oval, the driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac has scored three wins, including his inaugural Winston Cup victory as a rookie back in September of 1999. All told, Stewart has only one finish outside of the top-10 and has led a total of 528 of a possible 2,800 laps (18.8 percent).

He comes into Saturday night's Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400 as Richmond's most recent Winston Cup winner, having won the spring race to secure his 14th career victory. Stewart has since added another win to his career total, the Aug. 11 road course race at Watkins Glen (N.Y.), while securing eight top-10 finishes to bring up him up to fourth in the championship point standings, 142 markers behind series leader Sterling Marlin.

With a Winston Cup championship very much within his sights, some telling statistics point to Stewart as one of the more serious threats to Marlin's long-held point lead. Of the 11 stops remaining on the Winston Cup calendar, Richmond marks the first of seven venues where Stewart has won. Loudon (N.H.), Dover (Del.), Martinsville (Va.), Atlanta, Phoenix and Homestead (Fla.) await the Winston Cuppers, and even more impressive is the fact that of Stewart's 15 career victories, seven have come in the last four months of the season (46.6 percent).

While already rich with impressive statistics at Richmond and in Winston Cup, Stewart plans to increase his wealth with another strong Richmond run.

You're running the Craftsman Truck Series race Thursday night in a truck prepared by Andy Petree Racing. Will that help you in any way for Friday's Winston Cup qualifying session or Saturday night's race?

"I haven't run the Trucks but once, and that was clear back in '96 or '97 at IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park). From what I understand the setups are quite a bit different from what we have in Cup, so we'll have to wait and see. I'm not sure it'll help much for qualifying, because with the Truck, you qualify it and then go right to the race. You have your race setup on the Truck to begin with. The race might give us an idea as to how the track will change on Saturday night, but for me, I'm running this race for the fun of it. I just want to go out and have a good time and not worry about points for a night. I've always enjoyed racing at Richmond, so I'm just looking forward to getting another race under my belt there."

Following this year's spring race, there were questions about whether it was the tire or the sealer that was the cause for the treacherous track conditions. You were able to test at Richmond after the spring race as part of a NASCAR/Goodyear test. What did you learn?

"We really didn't come to any earth-shattering revelations. We're probably going to end up with the same tire we had there back in the spring. I think part of the problem back in the spring was the amount of sealer they put down, but since then the sealer has had a chance to age. There have been some other races on the track since we were there, and I'm sure the track will have changed somewhat for the better. I think you'll see two-wide racing for sure this time around."

You now have three Winston Cup wins in seven career starts at Richmond. What's the key to winning there?

"You want to make sure that your car is adjustable. We start the race at the end of the day when it's usually pretty hot, but as night comes the track cools down and it changes quite a bit. 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 prior to the spring race, 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."

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Tony Stewart - Rich Look to Get Richer at Richmond Page Two

What do you like best about night racing?

"I like night races because I can sleep into 11 o'clock in the morning. That's probably my number one reason. I'm nocturnal, basically. I mean, the best hours of the day for me are when the sun goes down. I'm a lot sharper and a lot wider awake at night."

Do the track conditions at Richmond change much between the time when you race there in the spring and when you return in the fall?

"Of all the tracks that we go to, Richmond is one where the track changes quite a bit. To me, it's like going back to dirt track days, where you look at the race track and you look at the conditions and you adjust accordingly. The approach you used at the spring race at Richmond may not be the same way you go about setting up the car for the fall race, especially this year with the sealer they've put down. But overall, the approach you do use still is geared toward making the car rotate through the center of the corner and going forward when you get on the gas without spinning the tires. Those principles stay the same. But how you drive the track from a driver's standpoint is a little different, and that's what's fun about it. It's still a challenge for the crews, but it's a challenge for the drivers to figure out where they want to be on the race track."

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 one-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."

Because you won there in the spring, do you have higher expectations going into Richmond, or do you treat it as just another points-paying race?

"I think that with the way our season is going, we have to look at it like it's just another race. But it's going to be hard to not have in the back of our mind that because we've won there three times we should expect to run well. I'm not sure we'd go in there and expect to win again. I think we've got a shot to win, but to go there and expect it - we don't do that. But we do expect to run well and hopefully contend for the win."

GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac:

What is your approach going into the Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400?

"We'll go there with really high expectations, obviously because of what we were able to accomplish in the spring. That race will be all about track position, so the guys in the pits are going to play a big role, just as much as what we're able to do on the race track.

"Over the course of our three-and-a-half years of going there, we've been good enough to win all but one time. With that kind of momentum, we can't help but to expect a lot. But we'll just go there and do the best we can and try to win there.

"That's what we do every week. I don't think there is any one place that we look at as a better opportunity over another. I feel like we can pretty much unload anywhere and win right now. With the level that Tony is performing at, with the intensity level of this team, and with the 100 people that are preparing our stuff and supporting the effort back at home, it gives us a chance to be a contender every week."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Sterling Marlin , Andy Petree