Tony Steward Michigan II preview

ATLANTA (Aug. 14, 2001) - Michigan International Speedway has been hot and cold for Home Depot Pontiac driver Tony Stewart. He has three top-10 finishes in five career starts at the two-mile oval, including a win in the 2000 Kmart 400 and a ...

ATLANTA (Aug. 14, 2001) - Michigan International Speedway has been hot and cold for Home Depot Pontiac driver Tony Stewart. He has three top-10 finishes in five career starts at the two-mile oval, including a win in the 2000 Kmart 400 and a third-place run in the 1999 Pepsi 400. But in Stewart's last two Michigan starts, he's endured finishes of 41st and 25th.

The reversal of fortune has been frustrating for Stewart and The Home Depot Racing Team, but nothing that can't be overcome.

According to Stewart, Michigan provides a driver with a lot more leeway when it comes to the handling characteristics of a race car. A simple change of one's racing line can improve lap times just as well as a chassis adjustment performed during a pit stop. Combine the two successfully, and an ill-handling race car at the beginning of the race can become the winning car at the finish.

The hands-on approach that Michigan allows for drivers is a welcome one for Stewart, who excels whenever a driver's capabilities trump a vehicle's performance.

<B>Has anything changed for you and your race team since the last time you raced at Michigan?</B>

"Our motor program has come a long way and horsepower tends to be one of the biggest factors at Michigan. So, we should definitely perform better than we did back in the spring."

Michigan is a track where a driver can search for different grooves, as opposed to Indianapolis or New Hampshire, where there is really only one true groove. As a driver, do you appreciate that more?

"It's nice knowing that as a driver you can help yourself out and you're not relying so much on the car. Regardless of what everyone else is doing, you can find a way to help yourself out. It makes you feel good knowing that because the place is so wide, you can move around, and basically, earn your money that day."

At what point do you start to move around on the race track to find a better handle for your race car?

"As soon as you feel like you're not where you need to be. If you feel like you're slower than the pace you need to be running, you're going to move up the race track and find a place that helps balance your race car. Really, from the drop of the green flag, you do it from there on out."

Race car drivers like competing at Michigan, but some people who are outside of the race car think that racing at Michigan is boring. What do you think?

"We like to race at Michigan because the track is wide and you can run a bunch of different grooves. Depending on how your car is driving, you can run way down on the inside line or clear up to the wall, and run what appears to be two different race tracks when you do that. It gives you the opportunity as a driver to adjust your line to compensate for what the car is or isn't doing. I've never been a spectator and watched a race at Michigan, so I can't verify as to whether it's a fun race to watch or not. But from a driver's standpoint, Michigan is a track that puts the emphasis on the driver, because you're able to adjust your race car just by taking a different line around the track."

What is it going to take to win again at Michigan?

"We just need to go out and do what we did there at last year's spring race. It's a track where I've typically struggled in qualifying, but at least last year we qualified better for the August race than we had in the past. Hopefully, we can qualify even better this time and get a little better starting spot to where I don't have to work so hard to try to get to the front. Our race setup on The Home Depot Pontiac has always been good there, and I always seem to find a spot on the race track that I like in the last half of the race that no one else seems to run. We'll just keep working on the setup for that spot on the race track to where I get all that clean air to myself. Hopefully, it won't come down to a fuel mileage race."

Why does a race at Michigan always seem to come down to fuel mileage?

"I don't know. I guess it's just a characteristic of that kind of track. I haven't really been around long enough to know for sure, but it just seems like that's the magic word there - fuel economy. You try to do everything you can to make the engine run as efficiently as possible all day."

You can't stand fuel mileage-type races. Why is that?

"Because I don't know how to save fuel, basically. I think the longer you race the more you learn how to save fuel. But it seems like we've got two speeds - fast and parked. So, we'll just stick with the fast part right now and worry about the fuel mileage later."

How big a role does drafting play at Michigan?

"It's big since Michigan is such a momentum track. You can work the draft pretty well, and if there are some guys racing up in front of you, it'll help you catch up to them. It's a place where you really have to watch and pay attention to the draft."

CHRIS "WOODY" WOODWARD,
engine specialist on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix:

How do you balance getting the maximum amount of horsepower with the maximum amount of fuel mileage at Michigan?

"Generally, you've got to shoot for the maximum amount of horsepower. If you go too conservative all day, then you're just riding around. You're not going to be in contention to win. You can definitely lean 'em down to the point where your fuel mileage is going to be better, but you're not going to run very well."

How much of a factor does the weather play in a race car's fuel mileage?

"Quite a bit. The biggest factors that we look at are the vapor pressure number and the density altitude number, which determines how much fuel and timing we can use. Obviously, you need to use whatever amount of fuel you need to make maximum horsepower for the day. Then, you usually don't mess with that too much because disaster could occur if you try to go outside of those boundaries."

How do you adjust how much fuel an engine consumes over the course of a race?

"There are several things that we can play with on The Home Depot Pontiac. Carburetor jettings are one of them. Air bleeds are another thing that you can manipulate. There are a lot of little things that you can do. Generally though, the biggest factor in fuel mileage is the driver - when he gets on the gas and how hard he gets on the gas are key."

Out of all the races on the Winston Cup schedule, is Michigan one of the more stressful races for you?

"We've had a lot of stressful races. It's gotten to the point now where any track you go to can come down to fuel mileage, especially when cautions fall in odd places. Any race weekend, fuel mileage can be an issue. The first Martinsville (Va.) race last year was a perfect example. We ran out of gas on our target lap. Fortunately, we were on our way in anyway. But it just goes to show that you can never go to a track and say, 'Fuel mileage won't be an issue here.' That's not the way it happens. Every week I lean on it just as hard as I can to the point where I'm comfortable that the engine will live all day."

-HDR

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Series NASCAR Cup