CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Oct. 9, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the ...
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (Oct. 9, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, heads into the last restrictor plate race of the season with a bevy of aerodynamic changes to his Home Depot Pontiac.
Competitors entered in the Winston 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway will sport a change in rear spoiler angle from 45 degrees to 70 degrees, with a one-inch forward-facing flange at the top of the blade. The front valance will also change, increasing in ground clearance from 3.5 inches to four inches. A billboard strip, 1.375 inches in height, running across the roof from door to door, will also be added, 10 inches behind the top of the windshield. In addition, Fords and Pontiacs must run spoilers 59 inches wide, up from 57 inches, while Chevrolet spoilers remain at 57 inches.
Aside from the aerodynamic changes, a larger carburetor restrictor plate with a one-inch opening as opposed to the seven-eighths inch plate used this year will also be instituted for all competitors. The resulting increase in horsepower should bump output up from its current 510 horsepower to about 600 horsepower.
The changes, which were track tested at Daytona (Fla.) in July by a number of teams including the #20 team of Joe Gibbs Racing, have been implemented in an effort to make the race cars more responsive. NASCAR wants to keep the speeds of the cars relatively similar to what they've been in the past, while at the same time giving drivers more control over their race cars.
It was argued that the restrictor plates took the driver out of the equation to where he was just a passenger. Engine builders, instead of drivers, competed against one another in an attempt to squeeze as much horsepower out of their restricted engines as possible.
While engine builders will continue to jockey for position before each team's haulers even arrive at Talladega, the horsepower gains made by the larger restrictor plate will be tempered on the track by the aerodynamic changes. The new and altered body appendages will disturb or "dirty" the air, allowing drivers to re-invent the slingshot pass, a common maneuver in the pre-restrictor plate days.
The slingshot pass occurred when a driver would use the air of the car in front of him and literally suck up to the rear bumper, riding along in the car's wake. The lead car would have to use 100 percent of its throttle to cut a hole in the air, while the car in tow would only have to use about 90 percent of its throttle to maintain its sub-200 mph speeds. When the time came for that driver to pass the car in front of him, he would pull out of line and use that extra 10 percent of throttle response to make the pass.
With restrictor plates came streamlined cars. And with streamlined cars came the "aero push," a term used to describe the handling sensation of a race car when it ran behind another competitor. The "aero push" limited how close a driver could get to the car in front of him, and all but eliminated the slingshot pass.
Now, with the current rule modifications, all that changes.
When you participated in the NASCAR test at Daytona in July, what kind of things did you work on that helped to develop the rules we have this weekend at Talladega?
"The biggest thing they wanted to accomplish was to be able to slow the cars down even with the bigger plate. They wanted us to have more throttle response without having more speed. The big challenge was, aerodynamically, how much do we have to do to slow the cars down?"
How will these rules effect your car and the racing at Talladega?
"It's hard to tell until we get there because we haven't been to Talladega with the new package. But I do anticipate that The Home Depot Pontiac will be better and that the racing will be better for everyone."
Not every driver was invited to the NASCAR test at Daytona. How did it make you feel, being just a second-year driver, that NASCAR wanted your opinion on what to do to make the racing better at restrictor plate tracks?
"It certainly felt good to be in the group that went down there. I think a lot of my being there had to do with Bobby (Labonte) and Joe Gibbs. But it was nice to be a part of the test and feel that I was able to contribute to a part of the future with NASCAR."
You mentioned at the beginning of the year that you still had a lot to learn when it came to restrictor plate racing. With three more restrictor plate races under your belt so far this year, how do you feel heading into Talladega?
"I'm thinking about survival, really. I don't think we can get to third in the points, but the battle behind us in the point standings is really close right now. If we have a really bad race, we could go from fifth to maybe ninth in the points right now. So, we need to get out of there with a top-10 or hopefully a top-five finish. I'm never going to rule out that we can't win there, but I'm smart enough to know that it is going to be tough. If we can just get out of there with a decent finish and not tear up The Home Depot Pontiac, then that'll help us in the point standings and give us a little bit more to work of off for the last five races."
You and your teammate, Bobby Labonte, were biding your time in the spring Talladega race before you both were taken out in an accident not of your making. You had good cars, but you never got the chance to prove it. What will you guys do differently this time around?
"The reason why we had that game plan was because we both had problems in qualifying with engine failures. It was something that's pretty rare for Joe Gibbs Racing. But it did put us in a position where I felt like we had to play defense for the first three-quarters of the race versus playing offense like we would have had we qualified up front."
You've performed drafting in Winston Cup and in the Indy Racing League (IRL). Are the drafting principles that you apply in both series the same or are they different?
"It's a lot more technical with the Cup cars because of how close you can run with each other. With the IRL cars, you would just line up straight behind a guy, get a run on him and go by. With the Cup cars it's a lot harder because you have to be real precise with your movements, and you always have to be aware that there are other cars around you all the time. It's not just one car versus another. It's one car versus 42 cars out there all in a big group. With that many cars around you, it just makes it that much harder."
Do you have any plans to visit the dirt track across the street from Talladega?
"Well - umm - yeah."
As a driver or as a spectator?
"Umm - right."