ATLANTA (Sept. 27, 2001) - Tony Stewart comes to the inaugural Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway riding a wave of front-running consistency. Since winning at Bristol (Tenn.) on Aug. 25, Stewart has finished no lower than seventh in the three...
ATLANTA (Sept. 27, 2001) - Tony Stewart comes to the inaugural Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway riding a wave of front-running consistency. Since winning at Bristol (Tenn.) on Aug. 25, Stewart has finished no lower than seventh in the three races run since notching his 12th career NASCAR Winston Cup Series victory.
The driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac followed up his Bristol win with a strong fourth-place run at Darlington (S.C.) Labor Day weekend before finishing seventh under the lights at Richmond (Va.) Sept. 8. In Stewart's most recent outing at Dover (Del.), he netted himself a hard-earned fifth-place finish that pushed him into third in the championship point standings.
Now Stewart enters the first Winston Cup race to be held at Kansas Speedway looking for more. With only nine races remaining on the 36-race Winston Cup schedule, each one becomes more and more crucial before the series finally winds up its marathon season in Loudon, N.H., on Nov. 23.
You've been consistently good as of late. Has that boosted your confidence as to where you'll finish in the point standings at the end of the year? "We've run well, but we still feel like some outside circumstances have let a few of these past couple of races get away from us. But at the same time, we're now third in points and hopefully we can stay there. There's still a lot of racing left and we need to take each race seriously, one at a time. Just as we're third this weekend we could easily be fifth or sixth two or three races from now. So, we need to take advantage of what's here right now. Then we'll go do the same thing next week and the week after that. Right up until there's snow on the ground, I guess."
Your teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, Bobby Labonte, tested at Kansas earlier this year. How valuable is the information they gathered? "The data that they acquired, I'm sure that Jimmy (Makar, #18 crew chief) and Greg (Zipadelli, #20 crew chief) have talked about it, and that gives Greg a sense of where to start. It may not be exactly what they have, because we try not to go to the race track with exactly the same packages. So we'll start at Kansas with two different packages, and after that whole first day of practice, hopefully one of us will have found something that we really like."
As a driver, what do you do when you arrive at a race track that you've never seen before? "I can promise you one thing, I'll make more laps in my first run of the day in The Home Depot Pontiac than I would if I were in a Sprint car or a Midget practicing at a new race track. Normally when you go to a Sprint car or Midget track you only get four or five laps of practice on the dirt and that's it. At Kansas, we'll have about five-and-a-half or six hours worth of practice on that first day before we even start the official weekend, so it's just a matter of going out and using your track time as if you were testing. You go out and sneak up on it, steadily improving yourself with each lap. With the knowledge of what Bobby learned when he tested there that'll hopefully get us up to speed a little bit quicker."
Does going to a new venue prove to be an advantage for the rookie drivers, as for once they have the same amount of seat time at that particular race track than anyone else on the circuit? "It does, that's what I liked when we went to Homestead (Fla.) in '99. I felt like nobody had an advantage over me there. Nobody knows the secrets at a new race track unless they've tested, and even then they may not know the secrets. It's a whole new ballgame and it's totally up for grabs. It's really anybody's race."
GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac:
Is the new Kansas Speedway similar to any of the other tracks on the Winston Cup circuit? "I've heard a lot of people say that it's similar to Las Vegas and Michigan and has some characteristics of the banking at Texas. It seems to be really similar to Chicagoland in that sense. If you take a piece from each of those race tracks it sounds like you'll have Kansas. We're going in there with a couple of different game plans and we're ready for a couple of different scenarios. We'll go there in race trim and run a bunch of laps and get used to the race track and get Tony used to the track so that he can find some similarities to some other tracks that might help us while we're there."
What were you able to learn from the #18 team's test at Kansas? "We took what they learned and put it toward our baseline setup on The Home Depot Pontiac, but some of what we do to our car is a little bit different from what they do to their car just because some of Tony's preferences are a little bit different than Bobby's. So, we altered some of what they had as we applied it our car. Overall, the test will probably help them more than it will help us, as far as Bobby getting the laps and seat time and them having the same car this weekend that they tested with. We're certainly going to look at what they have, but we're quite a bit different in a lot of areas at race tracks like that. Their test surely won't hurt us any, but I don't think there's any major advantage."
Does going into a new venue change the way you go about preparing for a race weekend? "Yeah, we'll take a larger selection of gears, some a little higher and a little lower than what we normally take. But really, you just go into it open-minded. You do whatever the car is asking and whatever the driver is asking. Whatever you come up with is what you come up with."
Will Thursday be treated as if it were a test session? Will you work on qualifying setups or race setups or both? "We're going to dedicate most of our time to race setup, just because our qualifying setup isn't that far off from our race setup, there are just a couple of little differences, but nothing out of the ordinary. If we can just get Tony comfortable with the race track and get our car driving well, Tony will be confident and comfortable about making qualifying runs the next day."