CHARLOTTE, N.C., (June 27, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the ...
CHARLOTTE, N.C., (June 27, 2000) - Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, readies for the third of four restrictor plate races in 2000 when the series heads to Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for Saturday night's running of the Pepsi 400.
The last restrictor plate race held at Talladega (Ala.) in April had Stewart and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte biding their time before an 11-car accident on lap 137 took both cars out of contention.
"The wreck started so far out in front of us that I couldn't see anything," said Stewart about the Talladega race. "All I could do was just go off what my spotter (Mark Robertson) was telling me. He had the best viewpoint. He just kept saying, 'Stay high. Stay high.' I got up as far as I could go. I don't know if I got hit from behind or if the guys spinning in front of me turned me. It was just typical restrictor plate racing."
Stewart hopes for an atypical restrictor plate race this weekend, as The Home Depot pilot has enjoyed a string of strong runs as the Winston Cup calendar moves toward the mid-point of its season.
The month of June has produced an average finish of fifth for Stewart. The series of top-10 finishes, which includes two wins, has steadily bumped Stewart up from 10th to eighth in the championship point standings. You and Bobby Labonte both had cars capable of winning at Talladega. Will you employ the same type of strategy at Daytona with the hopes of a better result?
"I think we'll have to see where we start. We planned our race strategy off where we started. A lot can happen. We'll just have to see how we qualify, but we obviously want to stay up at the front for the majority of the night race. But if we qualify badly, then we'll need to take care of our equipment. It's a lot harder to run wide open at night in the middle of the summer there. You've really got to work on the handling of your car there. That's really important. But we'll just see how the circumstances play out and we'll go from there."
Will Daytona be the race that will really test the aerodynamic concessions given to the Pontiac teams by NASCAR?
"I think at a track the size of Daytona that we'll be able to notice the difference. But it's so hot at Daytona that you're kind of comparing apples to oranges. Even though we're returning to Daytona, it's so hot and the track temperatures are so much higher that it's a different race track than what it was back in February. Even though we're racing at night, the Home Depot Pontiac ends up driving differently because the track gets so slippery."
Will you do anything differently for the Pepsi 400 than you did for the Daytona 500?
"I'm going to change the visor on my helmet. Other than that, I don't know what we're going to change to be honest. Last year, that race was so different than what the 500 was. I enjoyed it. I thought it was a fun race because you could only run about four laps wide-open and the rest of the time you were searching around on the race track for different lines and spots on the race track where your car drove well. It made it more of a challenge."
Do the lights at Daytona accentuate your feeling of speed from within the car?
"Not so much from the inside of the car. It looks a lot faster from the grandstands, I know that. It's just a lot of fun. I like racing at night. Being able to run at a track that size at night is a pretty neat feeling."
What do you like best about night racing at Daytona?
"The fact that I'm nocturnal, basically. I mean, the best hours of the day for me are when the sun goes down. I'm a lot sharper and a lot wider awake at night."
How do you go about picking a drafting partner during the race?
"Whoever you're around at the time is your drafting partner. Last year, I thought I was going to run with a certain group of guys, but we ended up lapping about half of them. You never know. You've just got to take what it gives you. The important thing is that you have to have people to draft with. I don't think it's a situation where you pick who you're going to be with, it's just whoever is around you at that time."
GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief for the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix:
How will the aerodynamic concessions given to the Pontiac teams by NASCAR effect The Home Depot team?
"I think it's going to make us, as a team, a little better because we'll be able to fine tune our car. We've got more downforce without really any drag penalty, which is always a good thing at Daytona as loose as that race track gets. I think that'll be a plus for The Home Depot team."
What would you change at Daytona and Talladega in regard to restrictor plates?
"I don't know. It seems NASCAR has tried really hard at doing some things. The thing I would suggest, but they probably wouldn't like it, is knocking the banks down and building a two-and-a-half mile flat track. I mean, we run so well at flat tracks - why not? But seriously, I don't know that there is an answer. They tried some things with the Craftsman Trucks that looked like they might work out pretty well. But as we all saw, there was an awful lot of damage that came from that race. I don't know if there's any answer to it. They keep working on it and we keep making our cars better, faster. But I sure would like to see something change."
MARK ROBERTSON, spotter for the #20 Home Depot Pontiac:
How difficult is it to spot during the night race at Daytona?
"It's not too bad. It's not much more difficult than spotting there during the day. I mean, it's kind of hard to spot there all the time. But actually, I guess it's a little easier during the night because you can pick the cars out better. The different colors on the cars are more distinguishable during the night then they are during the day. All the colors of the cars just kind of blend in to one pack during the day."
Are there some cars that look so much alike that it's hard to tell them apart?
"The Home Depot car looks like every car out there. You'd think that its orange paint would make it stand out, but it's just the opposite. It blends in with any other close color around it. So, sometimes it looks dark and sometimes it looks light. It's not always the easiest color to see."
Do the shadows that the cars cast off of each other make it tougher to judge distances?
"Sometimes when the cars are passing through the lights on the backstretch, the shine off the cars posts a bit of a glare. But it's hard to spot at Daytona anytime. You're struggling to see anytime. The racing gets pretty wide and the pack can get 30-40 cars deep. It's not easy to distinguish any of the cars from each other. You've got to pick your spots on the race track so that you don't lose contact with the car that you're working with."
Will you use a spotter on the backstretch?
"Yeah, just for the night race. With all the lights down on the inside of the race track, if something happens and there's a slow car or someone is stopped down on the inside of the backstretch, you can't really see it because of the glare of the lights. That's really the only reason."
<pre> TONY STEWART'S DAYTONA PERFORMANCE PROFILE Year Event Start Finish Status/Laps Earnings 2000 Daytona 500 7 17 Running/200 $116,875 1999 Daytona 500 2 20 Running/181 $102,204 Pepsi 400 6 6 Running/160 $52,475