Originally-Originally-Originally-From: Mikearning@aol.com CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Oct. 30, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the ...
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Oct. 30, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, has had a bulls-eye marked on Nov. 5 of his personal calendar since the beginning of the 2000 season. That date marks Stewart's return to Phoenix International Raceway as the defending race winner of the Checker Auto Parts/Dura Lube 500k.
The one-mile oval in the Arizona desert is home to Stewart's second career Winston Cup victory, a triumph he earned in last year's race by holding off a strong challenge from Mark Martin. The win was an important one for Stewart and The Home Depot Racing Team, as it proved that their win seven races ago at Richmond (Va.) was anything but a fluke. It also added to the mystique of Stewart's spectacular rookie season. At the time, the Phoenix win tied Stewart with the late Davey Allison for the most wins during a rookie year, a feat that Allison attained in 1987.
Career win number two was really a culmination of successes for Stewart at Phoenix, as the Rushville, Ind., native began racing at the desert mile in 1993 in a USAC Silver Crown car. Since that time, Stewart has continued to drive USAC Silver Crown and Midget cars at Phoenix, but he has also wheeled an Indy Racing League entry as well as a Super-modified car during the Copper World Classic.
In his most recent trip to Phoenix earlier this year in January for the Copper World Classic, Stewart one twice - once as a driver in the Midget race, and once as a car owner with Jason Leffler in the Silver Crown race.
What are some of the cars and divisions you're raced in at Phoenix?
"The first time I went there was in '93 and I ran a Silver Crown car. Since '93 I've run USAC Midgets, USAC Silver Crown cars, Indy Racing League, Super-modifieds, and of course, the Winston Cup car."
You scored your last USAC win at Phoenix in January of this year. Talk about that.
"It was pretty cool because I actually won twice that day, once as a driver and once as an owner with Jason Leffler. The Midget race is the one that I won as a driver. I drove for Steve Lewis, who's the same guy that I'll be driving for on Turkey Night at Irwindale (Calif.). I ran against Leffler, Davey Hamilton, Ryan Newman, Dave Steele, Billy Boat - all the USAC regulars."
(Turkey Night is scheduled for Nov. 23-24 at Irwindale Speedway. - Ed.)
Did all those laps that you had made over the years at Phoenix prepare you better for when you first went there in a Cup car?
"I think so. With every different division of car that I've run there, I've ended up running a different line. With that, I've learned a lot about that race track and where the sweet spots are on that race track. I was used to the place when it came time run The Home Depot Pontiac. I knew a lot about that race track and the different places that can make you go fast or slow. It gave me an opportunity to adapt a lot more to the car than to the race track."
When you talk about "sweet spots," what do you mean?
"You learn about all the bumps and where all the bumps are on the race track. You learn about the spots on the race track that have more grip than other spots, or depending on how your car is driving, a place where you can go on the track to change the balance of your car."
Phoenix is a flat track, but is it like the other flat tracks on the circuit, or is it an entity all its own?
"Everybody calls it a flat track, but to me one end is flat and one end has banking to it. It's a unique place because the radius of the corners are different on each end, the banking of the corners are different on each end, and then you have that neat dogleg on the backstretch which adds a lot of character to Phoenix."
How important was that win for you and the team last year at Phoenix?
"It was great to show everyone that the first win wasn't a fluke. I mean, I was happy about my first win, but the biggest pleasure I got out of it was giving the guys their first win. Then to go to Phoenix and get that win, that was a personal victory because that track is like a home away from home for me."
With Phoenix being a home away from home, is this weekend's race one that's been circled on your calendar for some time?
"Absolutely. I've got a lot of friends and a lot of fans out in that area, so it's a place that's very important for The Home Depot Pontiac to run well."
Is racing in the Southwest like a family reunion of sorts for you, because there are so many people in that area who you've met through your racing career?
"With the racing I've done with USAC out west, I've developed a lot of friendships and relationships with people. Running Winston Cup, we don't have the opportunity to go out to that area but a couple of times a year. The small amount of time that we get to spend out in Phoenix for the Cup race is very valuable to me and all my friends out there."