Tony Stewart Not Awed by Fast Start

Stewart staying humble despite hot start By Brett Borden LAS VEGAS (March 1, 1999) Heading to Las Vegas for Sunday's Las Vegas 400, Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Tony Stewart says not to be fooled by his apparent comfort level in the...

Stewart staying humble despite hot start By Brett Borden

LAS VEGAS (March 1, 1999) Heading to Las Vegas for Sunday's Las Vegas 400, Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Tony Stewart says not to be fooled by his apparent comfort level in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series after two races. According to the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac, such perceptions are commonplace in the desert that surrounds Las Vegas.

"It's just a mirage at this point," said Stewart.

Though humility forbids him to say so, his record speaks volumes -- Stewart is having a very un-rookie like season. Granted, that season is only two races old. But most of Stewart's fellow rookies have yet to take a green flag in the series in 1999, while Stewart finds himself 18th in the point standings, a mere 25 points behind fellow Indiana product -- and defending series champion -- Jeff Gordon.

It would seem that after a second-place Bud Pole qualifying effort in the season-opening Daytona 500, then a 12th-place finish in the Dura-Lube/Big Kmart 400 at North Carolina Speedway, Stewart would be thinking that this NASCAR Winston Cup Series isn't all that it was cracked up to be. But that thought simply cracks Stewart up.

"There's a lot more than I expected at this point," he said. "I'm at an all-time high right now. We did great at Daytona, though it didn't show up on paper (Stewart finished 28th). We had a great Rockingham. We've got a good start on what I hope will be a long Winston Cup career."

Stewart has already had a successful career in open wheel racing. For starters, he was the first driver in USAC history to win the series' top three divisions all in one year: Midget, Sprint Car and Silver Crown. Then he won the Indianapolis Racing League championship two years ago.

Last year he decided to cross the stream and prepare for NASCAR Winston Cup competition with a year in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division. Now with his move up to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, it's back to the horsepower he's used to, only with a Clydesdale body around him instead of a Shetland pony.

"The biggest difference (between this year and last) I guess has been the weight of the car," he said. "I've liked it so far. I liked the fact that when we tested at Darlington recently the cars start to go away. In the IRL I was used to having a lot of horsepower and a small car. Now I've got the horsepower again, but the cars are a lot heavier, so it wears on the tires, and I've had to learn to feather the throttle a little bit."

But he hasn't throttled his enthusiasm. He says he owes a great deal of that positive attitude to the team around him at Joe Gibbs Racing.

"They've given me an entire package," he said. "Joe's given his leadership. (Teammate) Bobby (Labonte) has given his knowledge and wisdom. I've got a veteran crew chief (Jimmy Makar) and a rookie crew chief (Greg Zipadelli). And I've got 70 guys working at the shop that have really done the job for me."

Getting the job done has never been a problem for Stewart. He has a nice jumpstart on his competitors for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors. Did his championship in the IRL give him a racer's edge on his fellow rookies in the confidence department?

"Absolutely not," he said. "I wish I could say stuff I learned in the IRL helped me but I can't. The IRL and NASCAR Winston Cup represent polar ends of the racing spectrum. I brought more with me from Sprint Cars and Midgets that I can use in Winston Cup than I did from the IRL."

One thing is for sure, Stewart has sprinted ahead of his fellow rookies, and he's going to be tough to catch.

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing