Tony Stewart Get a Grip! ATLANTA (March 30, 2004) - While Sunday's Samsung/RadioShack 500 will be the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' eighth visit to Texas Motor Speedway, it will mark only the third race since the track was repaved in August ...
Get a Grip!
ATLANTA (March 30, 2004) - While Sunday's Samsung/RadioShack 500 will be the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series' eighth visit to Texas Motor Speedway, it will mark only the third race since the track was repaved in August of 2001.
The new pavement led to increased speeds, as Bill Elliott shattered the track qualifying record with a lap of 194.224 mph around the 1.5-mile oval - a speed that was 2 mph faster than the previous track record. But it also led to a decreased racing groove, as the fresh pavement offered only one true line through the track's 24 degrees of banking.
But after two full years of Nextel Cup, NASCAR Busch Series, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and Indy Racing League machines running thousands of miles at Texas, a second groove has developed. With plenty of rubber now embedded into the racing surface, Nextel Cup teams enter this weekend fully expecting two-wide racing.
Aiding their cause is the reduced rear spoiler height for 2004 - measuring in at five-and-a-half inches, a decrease of three-quarters of an inch from 2003 - and the softer compound Goodyear tire. The combination of less rear spoiler and a softer tire has allowed for better racing this season, with race cars being less "aero dependent", a term used to describe the unique handling characteristics cars experienced while in traffic.
In the two races run this season where the new aerodynamic and tire package have been most evident - Las Vegas and Atlanta - Home Depot Chevrolet driver Tony Stewart has notched finishes of third and seventh, respectively, while leading a total of 172 laps (29 percent of the 592 laps available). He's looking for another strong performance at Texas, specifically, his first win of 2004 and the 18th of his career.
With the Las Vegas and Atlanta races behind you, how has the new tire and aerodynamic package worked out?
"It think it's all been for the better. I honestly think NASCAR has done a good job of working with Goodyear. And I really think Goodyear has done the best job of taking the challenge we all gave them - of coming up with a softer tire to create something we're all pretty happy with."
What can we expect at Texas in relation to the new tire and aerodynamic package?
"Last year we actually had two grooves to race on. And now with the way the performance of the tires fall off, hopefully the groove will move up even more and give drivers even more of an opportunity to pass, perhaps more so than we've ever had at Texas."
Where are the passing zones at Texas?
"I think you can pass anywhere, really. If you get a guy that misses the bottom of the corner and he bobbles, you can get around him. But even if someone doesn't make a mistake and you've got a little better car than they do, I honestly think the groove will move up a little bit this year to where it'll be a little wider and you'll have more room to get a run on a guy. But as the tires wear out and grip goes away, drivers will make mistakes and a car's handling will become more important. And when a guy makes a mistake you need to be there to capitalize on it. You can really pass anywhere as long as the right opportunity comes up."
Has Texas been one of the tracks on the Nextel Cup circuit where getting comfortable has been hard to achieve?
"It hasn't been a good track for us historically. It just seems like Texas is one of those places where we haven't figured out how to be a top-flight car. We've never set the world on fire at Texas, but we have had some solid runs. It's one of the places where we have to try and pick up our performance. For me, it comes down to just feel more than anything. A driver has to like the feel of his race car and the feel of the track. If one of those things doesn't mesh right, then you're probably not going to be as successful as you want to be."
Despite the relative youth of Texas Motor Speedway, it's had a history of being a treacherous race track. Why is that the case?
"I've run there in a Busch car, an IRL (Indy Racing League) car and in a Cup car with this Home Depot team. I never looked at it as a treacherous race track. For some reason, it seemed that the track's transitions were very line-sensitive. The entries and exits to the corners are very tricky, and that's what makes Texas difficult. I don't think it's treacherous. You just have to hit your marks every lap. Texas doesn't leave a whole lot of room for error."
Before you raced at Texas in a stock car, you raced there in an Indy Racing League car. What was the difference?
"The IRL car was nothing like driving a stock car. You could go anywhere on the track with the IRL car that you wanted to, and you could run wide-open while doing it. It was as easy as riding down the interstate. Whereas with a stock car, you're not off the gas very long, but you do have to lift. With the track being so line-sensitive, it's really important that you're doing the same thing every lap, and making sure you're very consistent in how you're driving the car."
The World of Outlaws will be with you in Texas, as they race at The Dirt Track behind the backstretch grandstands Saturday night. The series seems to be a lot more competitive as compared to year's past. As a World of Outlaws team owner, do you agree?
"I think there's some validity to that. You still have the same guys who are usually there, but now you have another group of guys who are coming on and making a name for themselves in this series. I think the Outlaw series has a lot to be proud of."
Where would you rank your World of Outlaws team this season in terms of competitiveness?
"I think we definitely have room for improvement right now, but at the same time I feel like we have a lot of good things going on with our program. Five fast times are a lot to be proud of. There's still a lot of racing left in the year, and we're not going to get too worked up over the points this early in the season."
What advice do you have for your World of Outlaws driver - Danny Lasoski - in the IROC race at Texas?
"I'll definitely sit down and talk with him about it. But at the same time, Danny runs more practice laps in IROC than any of the other drivers in the series do. I honestly think he's going to be just fine. But I'm always available to help out whenever he needs it. I'll try to give him as much knowledge about as many different tracks as I can."
What are some of the things Lasoski will need to look out for during the race?
"Probably just the way the banking falls off the corners. A lot of times the transition can get you in trouble in a real hurry if you're not paying attention. You need to hit your marks every lap."
GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief on the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet:
Your team tested at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway March 23-24 in preparation for Texas. How did it go?
"We went there for as much as Texas as we did for Bristol (Tenn.) last week. We worked on some front end stuff, specifically with the left front camber, and it seemed to pay off, as our car turned pretty well there at the beginning of the Bristol race. What we learned at Bristol we plan to take with us to Texas, and maybe build a little history with it. I'm pretty happy because it was a good test. We went there and had some lows, but then all of a sudden we found some stuff and it really picked our speed up, which made the car drive a lot better - they way Tony wanted it to drive. And we were also able to make some changes that hurt the car, where it allowed us to bring the car back the way we wanted it - essentially simulating what could take place during a race."
How does a test at Nashville relate to racing at Texas?
"With the left front camber stuff that we worked on at Nashville, we should be able to apply it at a lot of places where it'll make our car a little bit better. We'll have to see. Each tire will react a little differently with some of the stuff we did during the test, but at least it gives us something new to try that we didn't have before we went to Nashville. And if it doesn't work, well then no big deal, it doesn't work. But at least we know. And right now, everything seems like it's working."
How similar is Texas to its sister tracks in Atlanta and Charlotte?
"We had a package last year at the mile-and-a-half ovals that we were able to take to a lot of different places. That's what we're trying to develop right now. On race weekends, our practices are so short that we really don't have time to fine tune the car with springs and bars and shocks. You don't have time to deal with A-frame lengths and spindle heights and all those other things. That's why we test. We're just trying to develop those packages, so that when we go to a place like Texas, we can just throw some springs and shocks at the car and fine tune it. That way, we're not way off, searching and wasting a lot of time."
Can your strong run at Atlanta a couple of weeks ago translate into a good run at Texas?
"Texas is different. It's always been a place that's had a lack of grip. You don't have enough grip to get into the corners as hard as you want, and then it makes your car tight in the center and on exit. Unless you have a really well-balanced race car, Texas is a place where you can struggle. We've struggled with getting our driver comfortable in the car, to where he has a lot of confidence like he does at Atlanta, where he can just sail that thing down into the corner and know that it's going to stick. Hopefully, some of the front end stuff that we learned at Nashville will help us at Texas."