Watkins Glen: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART Victorious Maximus ATLANTA (Aug. 8, 2007) -- Tony Stewart has been called many things during his career in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, and this weekend he'll take on the role of Centurion as he prepares for Sunday's Centurion...

TONY STEWART
Victorious Maximus

ATLANTA (Aug. 8, 2007) -- Tony Stewart has been called many things during his career in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, and this weekend he'll take on the role of Centurion as he prepares for Sunday's Centurion Boats at The Glen road course race at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.

A Centurion was a commander in the Roman army, and while Stewart has no plans to sack the town of Watkins Glen, he does plan to lead the Joe Gibbs Racing empire to a fourth victory at the 2.45-mile road course in Upstate New York.

Stewart has three wins and one second-place finish in his last five races at Watkins Glen, and at the other road course venue on the Nextel Cup schedule -- Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. -- he has two victories.

Victory is something Stewart is accustomed to, as he's only one race removed from back-to-back triumphs at Chicagoland and Indianapolis, which accounted for his 30th and 31st career Nextel Cup victories. Five of those career wins have come on road courses, a layout Stewart relishes for it rewards a driver who utilizes a shrewd attack.

Stewart attacks the twists and turns of a road course in the race and in qualifying. The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet has an average finish of eighth in his 17 career road course races. Finishing up front has meant starting up front, for Stewart has qualified within the first two rows nine times and within the top-10 14 times.

Solid qualifying and savvy driving put Stewart in prime position to take the year's first road course race at Sonoma. After starting fifth, Stewart charged to the lead and paced the 43-car field twice for six laps. But that time out front posting fast laps over and over burned fuel at a faster rate than his pursuers, which meant Stewart had to pit with 35 laps to go. Other teams gambled that they had enough fuel in their cars to carry their drivers to the finish. Most did not, but some did, leaving Stewart sixth and seething.

With Watkins Glen comes retribution, something Stewart the Centurion aims to enact in the Centurion Boats at The Glen.

With five road course wins, do you feel you have a better opportunity to win on a road course than you do at some of the other oval tracks you visit?

"It's definitely a place I feel like we've got the potential to win, even before we make a single lap."

Early in your NASCAR career you were asked if your road racing style was banzai or refined. Back then you said it was a little bit of both. With 17 road course races now behind you, how would you describe your road racing style today?

"I would like to believe it's a little more refined. We have five wins at the road courses, and I'd like to think that's pretty good over the last eight years. I feel like we've run really well on the road courses, especially at Watkins Glen. It's one of my favorite tracks on the circuit because it is so unique and different. It's a race I look forward to going to every year."

Do you run a road course race differently than you run an oval, in that when you run an oval there seems to be a large swath of time in the middle part of the race where you conserve and plan your strategy for the last 100 miles? Are you able to conserve during any part of a road course race, or do you have to go hard every lap?

"You have to play the race strategy out. It's such a long track that guys don't go a lap down as easily as they do on an oval. You have to run as hard as you have to in order to stay ahead of everybody. And when you get yourself in a position where you can be easy on your equipment, especially the tires, you take that opportunity, because if it's a long run, a lot of times that'll work out in your favor. If your car's not right, you can't just keep pushing it or else you'll drive the tires right off of it."

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. I take it just as seriously as I do any of the other races. I think we, as an organization, take a lot of pride in our track record on the road courses."

You've won three of the last six road course races and five altogether -- two at Sonoma and three at Watkins Glen. 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."

Is there anything about The Glen's layout that suits you and the No. 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 three 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."

Have you and The Home Depot Racing Team found a successful road racing package that no one else has, or is it a matter of all of the team's hard work paying off?

"I don't think we've put any more emphasis on the road courses than we have any other race, but I've got a crew chief (Greg Zipadelli) who is very versatile and we have good people that work really hard to make the best road course cars we can. It's just the classic case of Zippy and I working so well together that we can always get where we need to be. He gets the car driving really good for me and he can make that car do what I want it to do. Then when I'm on the track, I'm probably one of the most comfortable drivers on the race track. And at that point, I can go out and do the job. I think a lot of it is due to Zippy because he puts as much emphasis on the road course races as he does at Indy or anywhere else. Even though there are only two road courses on the schedule, it shows how dedicated Zippy is as a crew chief to every discipline we race at."

People always seem to make a big deal out of the road course "ringers" that tend to show up at the two road course races on the Nextel Cup schedule. But after over two straight decades of road course racing in NASCAR -- and you specifically having eight years of road course racing in NASCAR -- is there such a thing anymore as a road course ringer?

"No, not at all. You look at guys who have run really well on the road courses the last couple of years and it's Jeff Gordon, myself and Kevin Harvick. There hasn't been a road course ringer to win a race yet, so I don't know why everybody uses that in the equation other than it gives them something different to write about. You still have to beat the same guys that have been winning, and all you have to do is look at the stats and the stats will tell you who you've got to beat there."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart