CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Sept. 5, 2000) - It's hard to believe that Tony Stewart, driver of the ...
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Sept. 5, 2000) - It's hard to believe that Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, won his first Winston Cup race one year ago at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. In the 33 races since last year's fall race at Richmond, Stewart has scored five more victories and placed himself in championship contention.
Currently sixth in points, Stewart heads into Richmond trailing point leader and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte by a margin of 440 points. Fifth-place Rusty Wallace holds a 43-point advantage over Stewart, while fourth-place Jeff Burton is 215 points ahead, third-place Dale Earnhardt is distanced by 235 points, and second-place Dale Jarrett is up by 329 points.
"We're racing second through fifth right now. That's the way we're looking at it," said Stewart. "We'll try to get Rusty (Wallace), and if we can get Rusty, we'll go on to the next guy. We just take 'em one at a time now."
By glancing at the points, one might consider that Stewart's take on this year's championship chase is wishful thinking. But one may want to reevaluate those thoughts upon further inspection of Stewart's Richmond record, as well as the two races that follow Richmond.
Stewart has one Richmond win on his resume, but he should have two. A pit road run-in with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in this year's spring event resulted in a cut left front tire in the waning laps of the event. What had been a strong performance by Stewart in leading 69 laps including the time up until that fateful last pit stop, turned into an eighth-place finish.
With a bit of redemption on his mind, Stewart looks to Richmond as a springboard for The Home Depot team. A win in the Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400 could pay big dividends for Stewart and Co., as the momentum gained could transfer to the next two events on the Winston Cup schedule.
New Hampshire and Dover (Del.) are the two sites that follow Richmond, both of which saw Stewart score dominating wins this season when the series made its first stops of the season at those two venues.
With the points as tight as they are, laps led and wins mean everything - a potent combination when you add Stewart and The Home Depot Racing Team.
Richmond, New Hampshire, Dover. Is this the part of your season where you can make a serious dent in the championship chase?
"I hope so. I looked at the schedule and I looked at those three races. I thought, 'We've won a race there, we've won a race there and we've won a race there.' Those are three tracks where this Home Depot team knows we run well. It's just a matter of getting some luck on our side and being consistent. Hopefully, we'll get a couple more wins at those tracks."
Your teammate, Bobby Labonte, tested at Richmond two weeks ago, while you tested at Darlington (S.C.). With your cars and Labonte's cars virtually the same, what kind of information transfer takes place in situations like that?
"Even though Bobby and I have different driving styles, we may not go with the same setup that Bobby goes with, but we know what the difference in the tire will be because of what Bobby did. It's the same thing with us coming to Darlington. We tested with the new tire and relayed everything we learned back to Bobby. It doesn't necessarily give you a clear-cut answer as to what to put on the car when you go back, but it does give you a direction as to which way you'll have to go to find the proper setup. It saves a lot of time. It's more with the crew chiefs than anything, though. It doesn't really tell me how to drive the car. Bobby can't tell me how to drive the car differently. But he will tell the crew chiefs what the setup requirements will be between the two different sets of tires."
Are you hungrier to win the spring race after what happened in the fall?
"I think we've proven that we can win there if we get the car right. Being as close to winning there as we were in the spring makes me want to go back and kind of finish where we left off and try to get back the one that got away from us. The tracks where you run well - you always go into them with the anticipation that you're going to win - not just trying to run competitively, but to win."
Obviously, night racing is a lot different than racing during the day. With such a long day on Saturday, what kinds of things do you do to alter your schedule to best prepare yourself for the race?
"Right after the driver's meeting, I go back to my coach and take a shower and basically treat it like after happy hour, that's the end of Saturday. I go back to the bus, lay down and take a nap just like I would on Saturday night. Although I only get to sleep for three hours, it's kind of like what my Saturday evening and Sunday morning would be like. Right before driver introductions, I take a shower, get something to eat and then go change into my uniform. I just try to rest as much as possible and try to let my body recharge for the race."
CHRIS "SPIDER" GILLIN, mechanic on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix:
A lot is made of the driver's endurance during a night race, but what about a crewman's endurance?
"If it was the first night race at Richmond, at the beginning of the season, it's not near as bad because the season is still new. This race is worse because it's so late in the season. By the end of the night, you're worn slap out. When we won last year, by the time one o'clock rolled around and we finally went home, we were all junk. We were done."
Do you do anything differently to conserve energy because Saturday is such a long day?
"Not necessarily. There's always a chance that you're going to work just as hard as you would at any other race. So, you just kind of keep yourself in tune. The more and more you keep your body in shape the better off you'll be. If you're not at 100 percent, you're done."
How important is it to have a designated over-the-wall crew for night races?
"It's very important. The guys who work on The Home Depot Pontiac all day leading up to the race that night are worn out. Having some fresh bodies come in and changing tires, doing the whole over-the-wall deal, it's a whole lot nicer. The guys that work on the car don't have to worry about doing pit stops, too. You don't have to worry about any of that. The rest of us that don't go over the wall, we can help gather stuff up in case there's a problem and worry about other things."
How worn out are you after a night race compared to a day race?
"The biggest thing is that the night races are always on Saturday. So, you have all day Sunday to recuperate, as opposed to when you race on Sunday. Then, you have Sunday night and part of Monday morning because usually you don't have to go into work until noon on Monday. It kind of balances itself out. By not having to be at the race track on Sunday, you can just relax at home and not have to worry about anything else."
If you win or perform well enough at a night race and your race car has to be torn down by NASCAR as part of their standard post-race inspection, what time are you typically able to leave the race track? How tired are you?
"Last year when we won at Richmond, once we left the track and finally got back to the hotel that night, it was 1:30 a.m. We started that morning at either 7:30 or eight o'clock. We felt the effects of the long day, but because we won, we felt the effects later. When you finally get home on Sunday and your body says, 'All right, I'm done,' that's when you feel it the most." <pre> TONY STEWART'S RICHMOND PERFORMANCE PROFILE Year Event Start Finish Status/Lap Earnings 2000 Pontiac Excitement 400 7 8 Running/400 $49,350 1999 Pontiac Excitement 400 30 15 Running/399 $27,225 Exide NASCAR Select 400 2 1 Running/400 $135,160