CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Sept. 11, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the ...
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Sept. 11, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, has led 314 of a possible 873 laps in his three career starts at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon. That means that Stewart has led 36 percent of all the laps he has completed during his still short but illustrious Winston Cup career at New Hampshire.
When one leads a lot of laps, one tends to win. Such is the case with Stewart, who has one win and an average finish of fourth at the 1.058-mile oval. That win came in this year's rain-shortened thatlook.com 300 in July, where Stewart outlasted the weather and 42 other competitors to take his third victory of the season.
Heading into the tour's second stop at New Hampshire, Stewart is certainly the favorite to win the Dura Lube 300. If he does, he will join Rusty Wallace as the only drivers to sweep the spring and fall Winston Cup races at the same track. Wallace pulled the trick three weekends ago when he won the Bristol (Tenn.) night race after having won the April event at Bristol.
The one uncertainty facing Stewart and crew chief Greg Zipadelli is the mandate by NASCAR that teams will run restrictor plates for the first time at New Hampshire. Formerly reserved for the two superspeedway races on the schedule - Daytona (Fla.) and Talladega (Ala.), restrictor plates will be used by teams for the Dura Lube 300 in an attempt to curb speeds.
The five-inch by five-inch plate, with a thickness of 3/16th of an inch, contains four one-inch holes and fits between the carburetor and the intake manifold. It restricts the amount of air that flows between the two components, substantially reducing the amount of horsepower an engine can create.
How will the restrictor plate effect your preparation for the New Hampshire race?
Stewart: "It changes everything. Now the motor guys have to go back and build a special restrictor plate engine, and that's a strain on them. And it's going to make me less comfortable as a driver because now I'm going to have to drive in harder (to the corners) than I had to go in before. I'm going to have less time to react if the throttle does stick. It just puts us in a bad spot."
Zipadelli: "I think it's more frustrating than anything. I guess it's a way to slow the cars down, but personally I don't think it's the right answer. But I don't know if there's an easy fix for it. What's frustrating for us is that all of our Home Depot Pontiacs are done, sitting there in the shop waiting to be loaded. The motor department worked until 11 o'clock Friday night. They're working Saturday, they're working Sunday, they're working Monday when we were supposed to have a company picnic - all because of something that they (NASCAR) just decided to do without even talking to anybody about it. And I understand that they don't have to. They're in the position to do whatever they think is right. But there aren't many people who are excited about it from talking to people in the garage."
How will the restrictor plate effect performance?
Stewart: "It's going to make us run slower, but it's also going to make us run harder into the corner because we won't see the straightaway speeds that we're used to. I know that this is all in an effort to keep us safer, but now if we do have a problem where the throttle sticks, we're going to be driving four car lengths deeper into the corner than we were before. Now we're going to have less time to react and still hit the wall just as hard."
Zipadelli: "New Hampshire is a tough race track to pass. They're going to take all the acceleration away from us. I don't know. I may be wrong, but I don't think it's going to be a very good race. It's going to be a frustrating weekend for everybody. You can only drive your car into the corner so deep there. That's the thing that I'm scared of. Now, drivers have to go to the limit every lap to make up as much time as they can. You can't get in the gas as early as we're used to, and there isn't going to be any horsepower to accelerate. So, the driver's going to try to make it up by driving deeper into the corner."
How much work is involved with having to put restrictor plates on an engine with such short notice?
Zipadelli: "I don't think anybody knows how it'll work yet. We've never run a one-inch plate other than the (NASCAR) test we did at Daytona (Fla.) on a restrictor plate motor a few weeks back. But there's a big difference between Daytona and New Hampshire. You don't need the torque at Daytona and Talladega (Ala.) that you need at Loudon (N.H.) and some of these other race tracks. So, our engine department is analyzing that now. They're going to make the decision that they feel is best for us. At this time (morning of Sat., Sept. 9), I don't know what we're doing. I've heard a lot of different things. They're working in a lot of different areas. I know we're going to try and adjust to be quicker and better than anybody else, and hopefully we will."
Are there any alternatives to restrictor plates at New Hampshire?
Stewart: "Put foam walls up. I think the fans would much rather see a couple extra caution laps to clean that kind of a mess up than they would anything else."
Zipadelli: "I think if they're just looking to get rid of overall speed they could put a gear rule in. I think they ought to look into this brake/throttle position sensor that Jack Roush has built and that CART Champ Cars currently have. Stuck throttles - that's the problem. The problem is that we had two throttles hang, supposedly. We haven't done anything to fix that. All we're doing is trying to slow them down. I understand that it's (the restrictor plate) a crutch for the weekend. People are upset about going back there. But I think what we really need to concentrate on is why throttles stick and is there anything we can do to stop a throttle from sticking again. It can happen at Richmond (Va.). It can happen at Bristol (Tenn.). It can happen at Dover (Del.). But we're not going to restrictor plates at those tracks. It just happened that it happened at Loudon, and I think they're (New Hampshire International Speedway) taking a bum rap for circumstances that no one really had any control over. It's not the race track's fault that throttles stuck in two cars. That's ridiculous to put the blame on the track. Loudon is a great place. It's a great race track. The accidents that happened at New Hampshire could happen anywhere. If you want to go back and look at how many people have died at race tracks, I doubt that Loudon would rank in the top-five or top-10 in this country. That's what kind of frustrates me."
Now that you're going to New Hampshire with restrictor plates, what will your game plan be?
Zipadelli: "We're still excited about going back to Loudon. We're taking the same car and the same package that we've had the last three times and run really well. I don't expect to go there and run bad no matter what the rules may be. We're going to do whatever we have to do and rise to the top again, and if we don't we'll just have to work harder the next time we go back. These are the circumstances that we've been dealt. NASCAR has its reasons for its decisions and I have mine. Everybody has an opinion. It doesn't mean that I'm right and they're wrong or vice versa. It's just frustrating, that's all. We were looking forward to going back to New Hampshire just like we were the last time we were there. When my driver sits there and says that this isn't what he wants to doI mean, he's the man that has to make the call, along with a lot of other drivers who have said that this isn't the right thing to do. If Tony told me that that, 'Yeah, this is a good idea. We'll be all right. I'm comfortable with it,' my opinion would be different. But when my driver doesn't think that it's the right thing to do, well then obviously it bothers me."
How much does the track change between the July race and when you return in September?
Stewart: "Normally it's a little bit slower and slicker."
Zipadelli: "It hasn't changed for us a whole lot. Last year we went there and ran really well in the spring, then went back in the fall and ran well with pretty much the same stuff. We went back there this spring with real similar stuff and won. If we go back and we find that the track has given up a little bit of grip, then we'll work a little harder with our shocks and things like that. Overall, the track doesn't change a whole bunch."