CHARLOTTE, N.C., (July 5, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the ...
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (July 5, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, hasn't won a Winston Cup race at Loudon's New Hampshire International Speedway - yet.
In his two trips to the 1.058-mile oval last season, the rookie driver almost nabbed his first and third career wins.
Stewart had the July race in hand, leading 118 of 300 laps, before running out of gas with 11 laps to go. Despite the hiccup, The Home Depot pilot regrouped to finish 10th for what was then his tenth top-10 of the season. Nonetheless, it was a bitter disappointment for Stewart and the rest of his Joe Gibbs Racing team.
Following his dominating performance at Richmond (Va.) in September, Stewart returned to New Hampshire fresh off his first career victory. The Rushville, Ind., native seemed poised to grab career win number two, as he led twice for 40 laps. But Stewart was foiled once again - not by fuel mileage, but by a surprisingly strong Joe Nemechek, who scored his first career Winston Cup victory.
With a year's worth of experience under their belts, Stewart and Company look to erase the heartbreak of 1999, and replace it with a trip to New Hampshire's victory lane. Was New Hampshire a track that you just took to right away?
"I guess it was just someplace where I felt comfortable. I had the experience of running the IRL (Indy Racing League) car there,* and we ran second to Buckshot Jones with the Busch car there in '98. So, it was just one of those tracks. I wouldn't say we're a master at it by any means, but we've just found some things that work really well for us there."
(Stewart competed in three IRL races at New Hampshire between 1996 and 1998. In his last visit to New Hampshire behind the wheel of an IRL car in 1998, Stewart dominated the race. He led 93 of 200 laps en route to the win. - Ed.)
What do you think about New Hampshire? Is it a good place to race?
"Obviously, I like it because I run well there. But at the same time, it's a tough track to pass on. You can be a couple of tenths faster than a guy, but it still takes you 20 laps to get by him. There are other tracks on the circuit where it's hard to pass, but we still go out and put on good shows there too. Every race at Loudon seems to be a pretty good race. So, I like it. I enjoy racing there even though it is hard to pass. We've got a good car there, and when you've got a good car, it's always fun to race."
Last year, the race was yours. After what happened last year, do you go into this year's race with an even more determined attitude?
"No. I think we just go to the track with the same attitude that we always have. We just try to have a good qualifying effort so we can start up front. That way, we don't have to worry about trying to pass too many cars. The Home Depot Pontiac always seems to run well in the race. So, we'll just wait and see what it gives us."
Explain a lap around New Hampshire.
"It's a big motor deal. With the corners being so tight, you've got to put a lot of gear in the car to get it up off the corner. Forward bite is always an issue there too - trying to get the car to go forward. So, it's hard to get up off the corners. Then you've got long straightaways where you can kind of relax a little bit. Coming into the corners, you use a lot of brake, and it's hard to not only get the car stopped, but to get it to turn. Then you go through that challenge all over again."
How would you gauge the first half of your season, and what would you like the second half of your season to bring?
"I'd like to see the rest of the season be like the month of June was to us.* We had a really good month in June, and everything up to June was just like a roller coaster. It was up and down. We had good runs. We had bad runs. So, I think we're finally back on track. We're getting to the part in the season where last year we were really good and consistent. Hopefully we can repeat those steps again."
(Beginning with the June 4 Winston Cup race at Dover, Del., and ending with last weekend's race at Daytona Fla., Stewart has finished no worse than 10th. Included in that span are back-to-back wins at Dover and Michigan. His average qualifying position is 13th and his average finish is fifth. - Ed.)
<pre> TONY STEWART'S NEW HAMPSHIRE PERFORMANCE PROFILE Year Event Start Finish Status/Laps Earnings 1999 Jiffy Lube 300 10 10 Running/300 $55,715 Dura Lube/Kmart 300 5 2 Running/300 $114,790 </pre> On Another Note:
On page 100 of the July 10 issue of People magazine, the one touting America's 100 most eligible bachelors, you'll find Home Depot Pontiac driver Tony Stewart. The 29-year-old Winston Cup driver is profiled amongst Hollywood actors, prominent businessmen, various athletes, television personalities and other noteworthy professionals. Described as a "mother's dream: a polite, easygoing guy who loves to fish and recently bought a five-bedroom house on Cornelius' (N.C.) Lake Norman," Stewart sheepishly accepts his latest accolade.
"I'm grouped with some pretty impressive people," said Stewart. "CEOs, professional windsurfers, actors, cartoonists, country singers, baseball players, you name it. It's an honor, but it does make me feel kind of self-conscious."