CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Oct. 17, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the ...
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Oct. 17, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, rolls into Rockingham's North Carolina Speedway determined to better the fourth-place finish garnered at this year's spring event.
To do that, Stewart and the #20 team of Joe Gibbs Racing tested at the 1.017-mile oval the Tuesday and Wednesday following the Oct. 8 race at Charlotte.
How did your test at Rockingham go and what did you work on?
"I felt like it went really well. The hard thing was that I didn't feel like we were as productive as we would've liked to have been as far as qualifying was concerned. But I felt like our race runs were real productive, as we ran some times that should be fairly decent when The Home Depot team returns this weekend."
Despite having a new tire for this weekend's race, will there be anything that you learned from the spring race that you'll be able to apply to the fall race?
"Well, we do have a new tire. So, we'll go back to racing, but we'll be starting all over. But spring and shocks will still be fairly similar. The shock technology keeps getting better every time we go to the race track. We did a lot of shock work when we tested. We didn't change a ton of springs really, but we did try to find out what the new tire would like. We saved a couple of tests for the end of the year just for this type of situation. So, when they changed the tire for Rockingham, we used one of our tests to try to get a little better handle on the tire before we head back to Rockingham for real."
What's the difference between the tire that you'll use this weekend and the tire that you used in the fall?
"It seems like it's a little harder and that it doesn't have quite as much grip. It's not as quick at the beginning of a run, but it doesn't fall off as much at the end of a run."
Is tire management at Rockingham going to be similar to tire management at Darlington (S.C.)?
"It's probably going to be the same type of game. The way the compound is, it's going to be a little easier to save the tires. You're still going to have to work really hard not to split the front tires to the rear tires, because every time you do, you're taking some life away from the tires."
(The term "split" is used to describe the difference in tire wear from front to rear. - Ed.)
Did you test with anyone else at Rockingham?
"We tested with Bobby (Labonte, Joe Gibbs Racing teammate). He saved a test session for this type of situation also. There were probably five or six Cup teams there. It was a good couple of days to gauge yourself against some other teams and see where you rank with them."
How much collaboration takes place between the #20 team and the #18 team during a test session?
"We park side-by-side in the garage, and every time we come in we tell each other what we did and how the car reacted. It's a little easier to do it at a test because it's a much more relaxed and controlled setting than what we have on a typical Winston Cup weekend. We still go through our same communication process, but it's easier to do at a test session because the pressure of having to get somewhere right away isn't there. Instead, we can take the time to compare our notes and say, 'This is the direction we're going right now,' and see what direction they're going as well. We can then compare those notes to where we feel like we've not only learned two things, but we can put our heads together and come up with what we think will be best for both of us when we go back."
What does it take to get around Rockingham quickly?
"Making sure the car has a really good balance to where you're not having to use the tires up by leaning on them hard to go fast. If you can get the car driving well enough that you can run a good pace without pushing the car, then normally halfway through a run you're really good and you're really starting to pull away from guys whose cars aren't quite as balanced as yours. They're having to use up their tires a little more than you."
What do you do if your car isn't balanced?
"You just make sure you don't lean on them (tires) any more than you have to. If you have to run hard to keep the pace, then you have to run hard. But you just try to be as easy on them as you can, maybe be smoother on the race track by finding a line that's a little less abrasive by changing the balance of the car. There are some spots on the track that'll make your car freer and some that'll make it tighter. Depending on what your car's balance is doing, you need to move around on the race track to help it out."
While the championship might be out of reach, the points are still tight. How high do you think you can climb in the points?
"To be honest, I'm not really worried about it right now. If we go out and do our job the way we feel like we can do it, the points will take care of themselves. We want to keep The Home Depot Pontiac in the top-five for sure. There's nothing that says if a couple of guys in front of us have a bad day that we can't capitalize on it and make our situation a little better."