TONY STEWART Seeking More Riches at Richmond ATLANTA (May 9, 2005) - 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...
Seeking More Riches at Richmond
ATLANTA (May 9, 2005) - 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 and two NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victories at the three-quarter-mile oval, pocketing $1,788,528 in Richmond prize money since becoming a full-time NASCAR driver.
The pilot 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 seventh year as a Cup Series driver, Richmond has arguably become Stewart's best venue. Hard numbers back that claim, because in 12 career Nextel Cup starts at Richmond he has scored three top-fives and seven top-10s while leading a total of 621 laps - 13 percent of the 4,793 laps available. And in Stewart's three Truck Series races at Richmond, he led 66 of a possible 609 laps en route to back-to-back wins in 2002 and 2003 and a third-place finish in 2004. In fact, the only years where Stewart failed to post a win at Richmond were in 2000 and 2004.
With such a solid track record, this weekend's stop at Richmond beckons The Home Depot pilot. He will pull double duty, competing in Friday night's Funai 250 NASCAR Busch Series race for Kevin Harvick Inc., and Saturday night's Chevy American Revolution 400 Nextel Cup race for Joe Gibbs Racing.
In both races Stewart will be going after the same item he sought when he first wheeled a go-kart at age seven in his home state of Indiana - a trophy. And even though NASCAR wins come with a nice paycheck - a far cry from the free ice cream wins earned him from his go-kart days with sponsor Dairy Queen - a trophy is all the incentive Stewart needs.
You're entering the second race of a four-race span where you begin in the late afternoon daylight and finish 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."
How do you deal with the setting sun and its affect on your vision?
"Sometimes it makes it a little difficult visibility-wise. But we've all run enough of these races where we've started in the daytime and ended in the evening. We put extra tape on the top of our windshield that helps shield the sun for us. But that's probably the only downside. For us as competitors, we realize the advantage that night racing gives us to be able to run in prime time like that. So if a little extra tape has to go on the windshield and we've got to deal with the sun for a couple extra laps, so be it."
Richmond was repaved prior to last year's spring race. What did you think of the new pavement and what do you expect of it this time around?
"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 used to run there, which has made the car more aerodynamically dependent, something you don't normally have at a short track. There actually was a second groove at the top of the track, and I think we were all surprised by that. The track is exactly where all of us want 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."
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 a couple of 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 three-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."
Early in your Nextel Cup career, you said that adapting to a Cup car was easier than adapting to a Busch Series car because of the extra horsepower that a Nextel Cup car provided. Now that you're competing in the Busch Series more often, has your opinion changed?
"I still think it was easier to get used to the Cup car just because of the horsepower differences. The Busch cars' straightaway speeds are a little slower, so you drive it a lot deeper into the corners than you do with the Cup cars. I still believe it was easier for me to make the transition from Sprint Cars and Midgets to the Cup Series versus going from Sprint Cars and Midgets to the Busch Series. Having the Cup Series experience on my side now, it does make it easier to go to the Busch Series because I know what to expect when I'm there. It was kind of a backward leap for me, because I feel I'm better in a Busch Series car now than when I was when I ran that series fairly regularly."