Richmond: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART Wait a Second KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (April 29, 2009) -- The last time Tony Stewart raced at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, he finished second. And the last time he ran at a racetrack with the most similarities to Richmond...

TONY STEWART
Wait a Second

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. (April 29, 2009) -- The last time Tony Stewart raced at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, he finished second. And the last time he ran at a racetrack with the most similarities to Richmond -- Phoenix International Raceway on April 18 -- he finished second. And now that the driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet returns to Richmond for Saturday night's Crown Royal 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, he'll second the notion that he can vie for the 34th win of his Sprint Cup career and first as a driver/owner with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Stewart likes Richmond, mainly because it's the site of his first career Sprint Cup win along with four other victories -- two more in Sprint Cup and two in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Interspersed among those wins are plenty of strong drives.

Stewart has a total of six top-threes, eight top-fives and 14 top-10s with 815 laps led in his 20 Sprint Cup races at Richmond. And while May 2002 was the site of Stewart's last Sprint Cup win at the three-quarter-mile oval, the two-time Sprint Cup champion has finished among the top-10 seven times in his last eight starts, a number that includes two second-place efforts, the most recent of which came last September.

Stewart's body of work at Richmond and the one he's crafted so far this season has crew chief Darian Grubb and the rest of the Office Depot/Old Spice team primed for a race-winning run. They know what their driver is capable of just by looking at his Richmond box scores, but they've also seen it first-hand, for Stewart has rattled off six top-10 finishes in 2009, including a three-race streak of top-fives between late-March and mid-April.

During that run, Stewart finished third at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and second at Phoenix, flat tracks with nuances similar to what teams face at Richmond. Enriched with the information and momentum that comes with such strong performances, Stewart and Co. have their collective eyes set on wearing the race victor's crown come the finish of Saturday night's Crown Royal 400.

TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:

It's been 371 races since a driver/owner last visited victory lane -- Ricky Rudd on Sept. 27, 1998 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. With your strong runs to start the season, do you feel that you could be the one to end that streak?

"Having Ryan Newman as a teammate is a huge asset. We've worked well together from day one. His depth of knowledge of the car and why things do what they do has been a huge asset to me. It's been a huge asset to the whole organization. Bobby Hutchens (director of competition) and Darian Grubb (crew chief, No. 14 team) and Tony Gibson (crew chief, No. 39 team) -- having those key people in place has really been a huge help. Obviously, our resources at Hendrick Motorsports and not having to worry about our own engine package or developing our own chassis package are things that have really shortened our learning curve. We've got the equipment. We need to do our jobs and the results have shown. Both Ryan and I have had good runs this year in the first nine races. I think success has come much quicker than any of us anticipated it would've happened."

With three Sprint Cup wins and two Camping World 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 an important stop for us."

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 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. 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."

Veteran motorsports and Charlotte (N.C.) Observer writer David Poole passed away unexpectedly earlier this week. You and David got to develop a pretty good rapport over the years. How do you remember him?

"David was one of those guys that I always looked forward to seeing in the media center, because David and I always understood each other. We always gave each other a hard time, in a fun way, whenever we were in the media center and that normally got everybody laughing. It's going to be different without seeing him every week. He was a huge part of the sport. Being with The Charlotte Observer and with Charlotte being the hub of our series, he was right in the middle of it all the time. He's very well respected in our sport, and definitely in the media center. We're all just going to miss him. It was just a big shock to hear the news."

DARIAN GRUBB, Crew Chief of the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:

You had a strong run at Phoenix. How much of what you learned at Phoenix is applicable to this weekend at Richmond?

"I think a lot of it carries over, especially what we used in turn one and two at Phoenix. It's got a little bit of banking. It's got a hard-braking entry. It kind of matches what you do at Richmond for turn three. The banking and everything's a little bit different, but the speeds, the profiles and driver inputs and everything are very similar, so I think we can take a lot from there."

In terms of getting used to working with Tony, specifically with regard to how much he uses the brakes going into a corner, were you able to glean a lot from his tendencies at Phoenix so that you know what you need to do to prepare the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet Impala SS for Richmond?

"Absolutely. Taking Martinsville and Phoenix together, basically they're two short track races we've had, and be able to take some of the strong points from each race and understanding what he needs for forward bite and how much the car needs to turn in the center of the corner and how the braking needs to be and how the bump-stops interact and all those things, we've learned a lot and we've come a long way already since our first test at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway to start the year out. It's been a learning process every single week we go to the racetrack, and I think we're able to take something from all of those events and put them together. Richmond's kind of a one-off breed of its own with the banking and the corner entries and everything it has, but hopefully all of that stuff will correlate pretty well."

Do you look at Richmond as simply one race among 36 races, or do you take a two-pronged approach with what you've got to do now and what you've got to do 16 races from now, as Richmond is the final race of the regular season before the Chase begins?

"Absolutely. We're taking some of the lessons we've learned even at some of the intermediate tracks along with the things that Tony's liked. For instance, at Texas, we used some different suspension geometries and things. We're trying to carry that through to take our next step in our short track program, to take those lessons learned and hopefully improve the car's performance for him. At Richmond, we've got two good, long practices and we'll be able to go and do some major changes. We've got some stuff we're planning to try that we hope works out and carries us to the end of the year when we come back to Richmond to secure a spot in the Chase."

Richmond is a home race for you, as you grew up in Virginia in the tiny town of Floyd. Richmond is also the site of the press conference that was held last year where you were announced as Stewart's crew chief at Stewart-Haas Racing. Now that you're going to Richmond for the first time as Tony's crew chief, combined with the start to the season you guys have had, do you look at it now as another milestone race? Or do you put all of that on the shelf and not worry about it, and just attack it like it's any other point-paying race?

"We do attack it like it's any other race, but it's also a special place in my heart, because it is in Virginia, a couple hours from home, and a place where we did the announcement. But it's also a special place for me because we know how well Tony's run there in the past. He's got a very strong, long history there. It was pretty cool to see the way he's been able to run there in the past. You know we better be on our 'A' game when we get there. We've got to be ready to give Tony a car he can drive because we know he can get around that place. It's a little bit of extra pressure as well. We're using it and hopefully we can take that to the front."

Had you been to Richmond as a fan or had you worked on any teams before you became a mainstay in NASCAR?

"No. I'd only actually been to Richmond for the Late Model races. I hadn't been to a single Cup race until I actually started working for a Cup team. The very first time I was there was the last time it had Armco barriers, and then after that, it was the new configuration we're running now. It was just amazing to take our little Late Model team up there to that big, monster three-quarter-mile oval. It felt like you were racing with the big boys when you showed up to that place after they re-did it."

-credit: shr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Ryan Newman
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing , Hendrick Motorsports