ATLANTA (Feb. 27, 2001) - You'll have to excuse Tony Stewart if he's not available after a day of practicing and qualifying his Home Depot Pontiac at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The third-year NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver won't be heading back...
ATLANTA (Feb. 27, 2001) - You'll have to excuse Tony Stewart if he's not available after a day of practicing and qualifying his Home Depot Pontiac at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The third-year NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver won't be heading back to his motorcoach to relax, nor will he be taking in the sights of the Las Vegas strip. Instead, Stewart will be working.
After changing out of his Home Depot firesuit, Stewart will don a pair of old jeans and a T-shirt before heading over to the dirt track located just a ways past turn four. There, Stewart the Winston Cup driver becomes Stewart the World of Outlaws team owner and crew member.
Like racing icon Roger Penske, Stewart is a racer who owns race teams. His World of Outlaws venture with driver Danny Lasoski is more pride and pleasure than it is a business, and Stewart tries to mix his outlet for fun into his hectic Winston Cup schedule whenever possible.
Thanks to track impresario Bruton Smith's ownership of the 1.5-mile Las Vegas oval as well his keen interest in the high-horsepowered, open-wheeled World of Outlaws circuit, Smith has transformed the Nevada desert into the ultimate playground for Stewart.
You like going to Las Vegas for a number of reasons, but how cool is it for you to race your Home Depot Pontiac during the day and work on the World of Outlaws car that you own at night?
"It's a good release for me to go out there and mess around with the car and just have a good time. It's just my way of relaxing. The whole time I'm over at the dirt track, I'm not worried about what's going on next door at the big track with my Winston Cup car."
Why did you become a car owner in that series?
"Mainly just to help my friend Danny Lasoski. I've been in the same position he's been in as a driver, as far as at the end of the year having your helmet in one hand, your seat in the other and wondering who you were going to be driving for the next year. He's got a wife and two kids and a new house and a new race shop. We're just trying to help him a little bit financially and give him the opportunity to save some money for the future and put his kids through college. At the same time, he has the security of not having to worry about who he's going to drive for at the end of the year. He knows that as long as we're together and as long as he wants to do this, he'll always have a ride. He'll never have to worry about losing his ride and having to go look for a new job at the end of the season."
Through this venture, have you gained a better understanding of what your car owner - Joe Gibbs - goes through on a regular basis?
"No, because I'm still not sure what Joe goes through on a regular basis. But it's taken a lot of work to get the Outlaw team to where it is today, so I can only imagine what Joe had to do build JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) into what it is. A lot of man hours went into our Outlaw team, where guys were working 20-hour days day after day to get the team ready to go in a relatively short amount of time. I'm really proud of what they've done and how hard they all have worked. I'm proud of our sponsors with Hamm of America and J.D. Byrider. Their commitment and how excited they are to be a part of this, knowing that we've got a lot of growing to do, reminds me of the way Home Depot is with our Winston Cup team. It's exciting for all of us to come in at the ground level like this."
Do you feel that your background and your hands-on approach gives your race team an advantage that other World of Outlaws teams don't have?
"I really don't try to play the car owner role during the race. I kind of play the crew guy role. If there's something that needs to be done, and everybody else is busy, then I'm the guy who does it - whether it's scraping mud off the car or grooving tires. I view myself as just a crew guy. I don't try to run the show. We hired the right guys to do the right job. I just stand back and help out when I can and stay out of their way when they're busy. I just have fun with it. There are a lot of other talented people, drivers and crewmen alike, in the Outlaw series that probably know more than I do. So, I think we're pretty even with everybody else."
How did you and Danny Lasoski get together?
"We met back in either '93 or '94 in Tulsa, Okla., at a race they call the Chili Bowl. We've just been friends since then and have had a great relationship with each other. It seems like every year that's gone by we've just become closer and better friends. With this venture, it was just nice to help a friend."
Your race team was essentially built from scratch. Now that's it up and running, where would you like to see it go?
"We'd obviously like to win an Outlaw championship, but our main goal this first year is to have fun. At the same time Danny wants to win races and that's how he makes his living, but we had a lot of fun two years ago down in Daytona when Danny won seven out of eight races at Volusia County Speedway. We feel like if we start this year by just going out and having fun, then we're going to win a lot of races. Once we start doing that, everything else will take care of itself."
How do you balance your time between your World of Outlaws program and your Winston Cup responsibilities?
"There are seven or eight Outlaw races this year where we're going to be racing Cup at the same place at the same time. I'll do my job with The Home Depot Pontiac during the day, but at night I'll be with the Outlaw team. The biggest thing is just communication. We've hired the right people to do the right jobs. I'm really confident in Jimmy Carr (crew chief) and what he does with the race car and Danny during the race. He has really good organizational skills too, with what he does at the shop in keeping the place organized. He makes sure that the things that need to get done are handled. The nice thing is that I'm never more than a phone call away. If they ever have questions, all they ever have to do is call."
Before you can head to the dirt track, you have to qualify and race on the asphalt track. What does it take to get around Las Vegas Motor Speedway?
"It's definitely a momentum track. It's different from the mile-and-a-half ovals that you see at Charlotte, Atlanta and Texas because of the fact that it doesn't have as much banking. It makes it very critical that you're able to roll through the corners as fast as you can, obviously. It's that way everywhere we go. At Vegas, every little bit where you break your momentum in the center of the corner, it shows up a lot more than it does at a place like Atlanta, Charlotte or Texas. With the corners being as flat as they are, if our Home Depot Pontiac is just a little bit off, it'll show up big on the stopwatch."
Is Las Vegas Motor Speedway similar to California or Michigan Speedway?
"No. The corners are tighter. It's tighter coming off turn four and tighter going into turn one than it is at either Michigan or California. That's why the handling is so important there. Because the corners are tighter, it makes it really important that The Home Depot Pontiac rolls through there free - not tight or loose. It's a real important track in terms of balance."
<pre> Tony Stewart's Las Vegas Performance Profile Year Event Start Finish Status/Laps Laps Led Earnings 2000 CarsDirect.com 400 16 2 Running/148 0 $221,250 1999 Las Vegas 400 20 36 Running/184 0 $46,200