KANNAPOLIS, N.C., (May 30, 2012) – Call it the “Addington Advantage”.
In a span of 16 races between 2008 and 2011 – eight at Dover (Del.) International Speedway and eight at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway – crew chief Steve Addington notched four wins, six top-threes, seven top-fives and nine top-10s with two different drivers (Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch), who combined to lead 1,398 laps (1,026 laps led for Kyle Busch, 372 laps led for Kurt Busch). Only three finishes were outside the top-20.
In those same races, Tony Stewart recorded zero wins, two second-place finishes and five top-10 results with 275 laps led. Seven other finishes were outside the top-20.
As the statistics show, Dover and Bristol have proven to be a concrete conundrum for Stewart, as he struggled mightily in comparison at the only two concrete tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit.
Addington, meanwhile, has excelled. His knowledge of Dover’s 1-mile oval and Bristol’s .533-mile bullring helped deliver three wins to Kyle Busch (June 2008 at Dover, March 2009 at Bristol and August 2009 at Bristol) and one win to older brother Kurt Busch (September 2011 at Dover).
In 2012, the “Addington Advantage” is Stewart’s, as the veteran crew chief joined Stewart-Haas Racing and the driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet at the end of the 2011 season.
The pairing has already proven successful. The duo won the non-points Gatorade Duel in February at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and then scored their first point-paying victory in the third race of the Sprint Cup season in March at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and a second point-paying win two weeks later at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
In between those wins was a 14th-place finish at Bristol. While a top-15 is typically nothing to crow about, it was for Stewart, who in his previous trip to Bristol last August qualified next-to-last and finished three laps down in 28th.
“Normally, 14th isn’t something we’re too happy about, but compared to how we’ve been, I thought we made big gains on it today,” said Stewart afterward, who was poised to finish among the top-10 until an out-of-control Brendan Gaughan tagged him in turn three on lap 479, sending him backward into the SAFER Barrier that lines the outside retaining wall.
“Brendan came down and told me and all of my guys sorry, which we really appreciated,” Stewart said. “He went down into (turn three) and the brake pedal went to the floor. It’s kind of good that I was there to somewhat slow him down a little bit, but at the same time, we had a top-10 run going there, which for the way we’ve run here the last couple trips, it’s a big improvement.”
Now Stewart and Addington head to Dover, site of Sunday’s FedEx 400 Benefitting Autism Speaks. Addington plans to pick up where he left off with the Busch Brothers, while Stewart seeks another pick-me-up from Addington, a winner of 18 Sprint Cup races as a crew chief (12 with Kyle Busch, four with Kurt Busch and two with Stewart).
With the “Addington Advantage” in his corner at Dover, expect the Stewart of old – the one who has two wins, which came in 2000 when he swept Dover’s slate of Sprint Cup races, along with three second-place finishes, 10 top-fives, 15 top-10s and a laps-led tally of 1,072 laps in 26 career Sprint Cup starts – to come roaring back.
TONY STEWART, Driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You’ve enjoyed success at Dover in the past, but of late it’s proven to be a challenging venue. Why?
“Whatever we’ve had in the past, we’re not bringing back. I told Steve (Addington), I don’t care what package you put in the car, just make sure it isn’t what we ran the last two races there.”
Dover’s surface is concrete. Do you have to alter your driving style when you race on concrete?
“I don’t think you drive it any differently. But because it is concrete, the track has a lot more bumps than an asphalt track would. There are seams in Dover’s surface and places where they’ve cut the concrete for expansion. Those sections shift and change, and every year when you go there, the bumps are a little bit different than they were the year before. Dover is a track that’s constantly changing. But it’s one of those places where you really can’t change your driving style. You still have to do the same things you always do. It’s just a matter of finding the package that’s right for that racetrack. But other than that, you go through the same set of scenarios and challenges you would on any asphalt track – either the car is going to be tight or it’s going to be loose.”
Dover is a pretty unique track being that it’s a high-banked, 1-mile concrete oval. How do you approach it?
“Dover is a track that is kind of a two-phase deal. It’s easy to get your car too tight in the center (of the corner) trying to get it to drive up off the corner nice, and it seems like if you get it to rotate through the corner, then it’s way loose off. Those are the two things that you really battle there. It’s the sacrifice of where do you want to be a little bit off to accomplish having a balanced car.”
Is Dover the type of racetrack where a driver can make up for a racecar that isn’t handling well?
“To a certain extent, yes. With the way the cars slide around on the racetrack late in the day, there are times when a driver can make up for what the car won’t do. They can move around on the racetrack and help themselves out by finding a faster groove.”
STEVE ADDINGTON, Crew Chief of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Your record at concrete tracks is impressive. Can you describe why you’ve been so successful at Dover and Bristol?
“We worked mechanical grip into the car and that seemed to pay off for us. Plus, we learned some stuff. We had an accident with Kyle there at Bristol – the first time we were ever there together in ’08. We were leading the race and had a steering box issue, so we learned a lot with the steering and how he drove the racetrack. Hopefully, some of the stuff that we’ve learned over the years at those places and implementing them here for Tony will give him the feel he needs to pick the performance up at Dover and Bristol this year.”
How different is the setup for a racecar at a concrete track?
“Well, it’s a different animal just because of the speeds you carry at both of those places. Keeping our tires and tire geometry to where we really watch our camber wears and stuff like that because it’ll mislead you in places like that and you can get off. That’s the big thing – our front-end geometry and how we put the ride in the car.”
How similar are Dover and Bristol?
“You can be a little bit more aggressive at Dover with the way you’ve got to drive back up into the banking. At Bristol, it kind of falls away from you off of (turn) four. The difference between Dover and Bristol is you drive back up in the banking on corner exits, so you can get a little bit more aggressive with your rear-end package than what you can at Bristol. If you try something like that at Bristol, then you’re really loose because that part of the track falls away from you on exit. There are two different deals with the back of the car, though they’re very similar with what you do in the front of the car.”