CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Aug. 14, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the ...
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Aug. 14, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, plans to do at Michigan Speedway what Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte did in 1995 - sweep both races.
Labonte and crew chief Jimmy Makar played the fuel mileage game in the spring race, and since it was so successful, used a carbon copy of their strategy when the series returned to Michigan in the fall. In the eight races held at Michigan since Labonte's sweep, no driver has taken the win in both races in the same season.
After winning the rain-shortened Kmart 400 at Michigan in June for his second straight win of the 2000 season, Stewart has put himself in position to give car owner Joe Gibbs another Michigan sweep. If Stewart wins the Pepsi 400, he will become the sixth different driver to win both Winston Cup races at Michigan in the same year.
The first driver to win both Michigan races was Bobby Allison in 1971, driving a Holman-Moody prepared Mercury. David Pearson duplicated Allison's feat the very next year with the same make of car out of the Stuart, Va.-based Wood Brothers stable. Four years later in 1976, Pearson again took the Michigan double while still driving a Wood Brothers Mercury.
The 1980s saw six of the 20 Winston Cup races held at Michigan won by just two drivers. Cale Yarborough won both Michigan races in 1983 for Chevrolet car owner Harry Ranier, but the remaining four races were won by a man who simply dominated Michigan in the mid-1980s.
Bill Elliott owned Michigan in 1985 and 1986. He won four straight races for longtime Ford car owner Harry Melling during that time, leaving everyone else to fight for second.
As witnessed by Labonte, Allison, Pearson, Yarborough and Elliott, the Michigan sweep can be done. When the checkered flag falls on Sunday's Pepsi 400, Stewart looks to add his name to that short but venerable list.
What is it going to take to win again at Michigan?
"We just need to go out and do what we did there in the spring. It's a track where I've typically struggled in qualifying, but we qualified better there in June than we had in the past. Hopefully, we can qualify even better this time and get a little better starting spot to where I don't have to work so hard to try to get to the front. Our race setup on The Home Depot Pontiac has always been good there, and I always seem to find a spot on the race track that I like in the last half of the race that no one else seems to run. We'll just keep working on the setup for that spot on the race track to where I get all that clean air to myself. Hopefully, it won't come down to a fuel mileage race."
Why does a race at Michigan always seem to come down to fuel mileage?
"I don't know. I guess it's just a characteristic of that kind of track. I haven't really been around long enough to know for sure, but it just seems like that's the magic word there - fuel economy. You try to do everything you can to make the engine run as efficiently as possible all day."
You can't stand fuel mileage-type races. Why is that?
"Because I don't know how to save fuel, basically. I think the longer you race the more you learn how to save fuel. But it seems like we've got two speeds - fast and parked. So, we'll just stick with the fast part right now and worry about the fuel mileage later."
Does Michigan's track surface change a lot from the time that you were there in June?
"I think it's a little slicker when we go back. But the way the race turns out pretty much is the same as far as how the groove will change and how wide the track gets. The race pretty much runs the same way in both events."
Who do you think will be your biggest challengers at Michigan?
"It seems like there are five or six guys who always run up front there. Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte and we're pretty good there. Those are normally the guys that you have to deal with."
How big a role does drafting play at Michigan?
"It's big since Michigan is such a momentum track. You can work the draft pretty well, and if there are some guys racing up in front of you, it'll help you catch up to them. It's a place where you really have to watch and pay attention to the draft."
CHRIS "WOODY" WOODWARD, engine specialist on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix:
How do you balance getting the maximum amount of horsepower with the maximum amount of fuel mileage at Michigan?
"Generally, you've got to shoot for the maximum amount of horsepower. If you go too conservative all day, then you're just riding around. You're not going to be in contention to win. You can definitely lean 'em down to the point where your fuel mileage is going to be better, but you're not going to run very well."
How much of a factor does the weather play in a race car's fuel mileage?
"Quite a bit. The biggest factors that we look at are the vapor pressure number and the density altitude number, which determines how much fuel and timing we can use. Obviously, you need to use whatever amount of fuel you need to make maximum horsepower for the day. Then, you usually don't mess with that too much because disaster could occur if you try to go outside of those boundaries."
How do you adjust how much fuel an engine consumes over the course of a race?
"There are several things that we can play with on The Home Depot Pontiac. Carburetor jettings are one of them. Air bleeds are another thing that you can manipulate. There are a lot of little things that you can do. Generally though, the biggest factor in fuel mileage is the driver - when he gets on the gas and how hard he gets on the gas are key."
Out of all the races on the Winston Cup schedule, is Michigan one of the more stressful races for you?
"We've had a lot of stressful races. It's gotten to the point now where any track you go to can come down to fuel mileage, especially when cautions fall in odd places. Any race weekend, fuel mileage can be an issue. Martinsville (Va.) this year was a perfect example. We ran out of gas on our target lap. Fortunately, we were on our way in anyway. But it just goes to show that you can never go to a track and say, 'Fuel mileage won't be an issue here.' That's not the way it happens. Every week I lean on it just as hard as I can to the point where I'm comfortable that the engine will live all day."