Watkins Glen: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART Triple Duty at The Glen ATLANTA (Aug. 8, 2005) - If it's fast and has four wheels, chances are Tony Stewart will drive it. The pilot of the ...

TONY STEWART
Triple Duty at The Glen

ATLANTA (Aug. 8, 2005) - If it's fast and has four wheels, chances are Tony Stewart will drive it. The pilot of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series has competed in everything - from go-karts and USAC Sprint, Midget and Silver Crown cars to Indy cars and stock cars. Stewart has not only raced these machines, but won with them. He even drove a monster truck at Talladega (Ala.) back in 2001.

So it should come as no surprise that during the upcoming race weekend at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, Stewart will compete in the Rolex Sports Car Series race on Friday, the NASCAR Busch Series race on Saturday and, of course, the Nextel Cup race on Sunday.

Those three days of racing will culminate a fuel-filled week for Stewart, who will have spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the vaunted Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway watching his World of Outlaws team with driver Danny Lasoski attempt to defend their Knoxville Nationals championship.

Staying saturated in all forms of motorsports keeps Stewart sharp, and considering that he's won the past two road course races on the Nextel Cup schedule, Stewart enters The Glen as a veritable Ginsu knife, slicing and dicing his way through the twists and turns of the track's 2.45-mile layout.

He has four career road course wins to his Nextel Cup resume - two at The Glen and two at Sonoma (Calif.), the only other road course on the Nextel Cup schedule. Stewart could make it three road course wins in a row, bookending last year's race at The Glen with this year's race at Sonoma in between.

With a test of his Busch car on Aug. 1, a test of his Cup car on Aug. 2 - both of which took place at The Glen - and plenty of laps to be had amongst his Daytona Prototype, his Busch car and his Cup car during the Sirius At The Glen weekend, Stewart will be more than ready to add another trophy to his already crowded mantle.

Is there anything about The Glen's layout that suits you and the #20 Home Depot Racing Team?

"It's just like anyplace else. If you get the combination right you can go out and win. If you miss something and you're a little bit off, you're not going to win. The two races we won there we had a very, very good race car that drove well all day. In between those races there was a year where our car didn't drive real well and we didn't win. It's just a matter of doing the same things you do at any other race track. If you get the package right and your driver is good at road courses, then you've got a shot at winning a road course race."

You've won four road course races - two at The Glen and two at Sonoma. Does success at one venue transfer to the other?

"The two tracks, while both road courses, are still pretty different. At Watkins Glen you don't have to finesse the throttle near as much as you do at Sonoma. When you get the car turned, you can get in the gas and then stay in the gas. Watkins Glen is much faster than Sonoma. I think there are the same amounts of passing opportunities, but because of the speeds that you're able to run at The Glen, brakes become a much bigger factor than I think they are at Sonoma. It's pretty much a horsepower track. It's horsepower and aerodynamics just like it is anywhere else we go. It just happens to be in the form of a road course. Sonoma has a lot less grip in the race track. You have to really be careful with the throttle there, and that puts more of the race in the driver's hands. If anything, Sonoma is probably more technical than Watkins Glen because there's hardly any time where you get a chance to rest. You're always either shifting or accelerating or braking or turning or doing something. At Watkins Glen, at least on the frontstretch and on the backstretch, there are three straightaways where you get a little bit of time to take a break. Watkins Glen seems to be more in the crew's hands and the engine builder's hands. Obviously, there's still a job that I need to do in the race car, but I'm relying on the equipment and the crew a lot more at Watkins Glen."

Is a race at Watkins Glen more physical than a race at Sonoma?

"No, I don't believe so. You've got a couple of long straightaways at Watkins Glen to let your body relax, stretch out your arms and catch your breath. I feel like I have more opportunities to relax a little bit at Watkins Glen."

Does road racing require more finesse or more manhandling depending on where you are on the race track?

"Track position dictates where and when you need to finesse and when you need to just go at it. Track position is a big deal anywhere these days, but it's definitely a big deal at Watkins Glen. It's hard to pass there from the standpoint that there are a couple of good braking zones where you can pass. But the thing is, everyone is so even that you've got be able to out drag race them down the straightaways after you out brake them going into a corner. Getting the car to turn and handle is a big part of it, but you still have to be able to run well down the straightaway. At Sonoma, you've got to get your car handling or else it doesn't really matter how much horsepower you've got. Handling well at Watkins Glen is an important factor, but it seems like horsepower is a much bigger part of the equation versus Sonoma."

Since you race on ovals 34 times a year, do you have to adjust your mindset to run road courses twice a year?

"We've won at both of the road courses on the circuit. I always look forward to the road courses just because it's a weekend of something different from what we've done the past five or 10 weekends. We go to a road course just like we do any track. We go there to win."

How much has racing in the Rolex Sports Car Series helped for when you head to places like Sonoma and Watkins Glen with your Home Depot Chevrolet?

"I would like to believe I've learned some things. I'm not sure there is any one particular thing that I've noticed, but I do feel like the more you do it the better you are at it. Road racing isn't something I have to get acclimated to because running them feels pretty natural to me. I enjoy the road courses, and as we get ready to go to places like Watkins Glen I really look forward to it."

With seemingly half the field having a diverse racing background and with many of the Nextel Cup drivers having joined you in competing in the Rolex Sports Car Series, is there such a thing as a road course ringer anymore?

"Yes and no. There are road course guys who are good at road course racing, but they're not used to running stock cars. But there are guys who are used to running stock cars who aren't used to running road courses. But if you look at the history of road course racing, the guys who come from a road racing background seem to be able to get into any kind of car and do fairly well. So I think they do have an advantage, but maybe not as much as they had six or seven years ago."

Considering your recent history of racing sports cars on road courses, do you consider yourself a road course ringer?

"I don't think so. If you look at how many Nextel Cup races I've run on road courses (13), there are a lot of veterans who have run two or three times the amount of road course races I have. I don't think you can call me a ringer. I think you can call me a guy who is solid on the road courses because we've won at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, but I don't think you can call me a ringer."

If a driver hates racing at road courses, is he already beaten simply because he doesn't have the proper mindset to compete there?

"They've already got a strike against them for that reason. If a guy goes there with the attitude that they're not going to enjoy it no matter what, then that's probably what'll happen. Until they get the mindset that they're going to enjoy running a road course and that they're going to have fun with it, they'll have a strike against them. Success on a road course breeds success. If you have some success on a road course you're probably going to like racing there. If you don't have success on a road course, it's probably a style of racing you're not going to like."

Why are some guys better road course drivers than others?

"Because some work harder at it than others. With some of those guys it's the old saying 'it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks.' Some of these guys have done nothing but race stock cars on ovals all their lives, but even though it's still a stock car, when it comes time to run the road courses it's something totally different. It just depends on their attitude when they get there and how good they want to be."

Is it a matter of experience, or are there other factors?

"It plays a big role, especially with guys who have a good road racing background. They're still only going to be as good as their car is. But if their car is right, they're tough. And they make you earn every bit of it because they have the knowledge to be good on road courses."

To prepare for the IRL IndyCar Series' visit to Watkins Glen, the track has removed the sand trap at the end of turn one and replaced it with an asphalt strip, while the curbing along the esses has been knocked down a bit. Will those adjustments change the way you drive the track?

"I think they're positive changes. I mean, I think the sand trap was always good. The theory behind sand traps was always to slow the cars down before they got to the wall. But with a downhill corner like that into turn one, most of the time when cars got off over there, they either got stuck or went through the sand trap and hit the wall. With pavement there, the same guys who would get stuck will at least be able to get going again and the guys who were going to hit the wall are still going to hit the wall, regardless of whether there's sand or pavement there now."

-jgr-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Danny Lasoski