TONY STEWART Zeroed in on Taking Z-Line Designs to Victory at California HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (Feb. 20, 2008) -- Tony Stewart picked up a couple of "firsts" en route to a dominating performance in the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race...
Zeroed in on Taking Z-Line Designs to Victory at California
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (Feb. 20, 2008) -- Tony Stewart picked up a couple of "firsts" en route to a dominating performance in the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway last weekend.
He became the first winner of the Coors Light Pole Award (nee Bud Pole Award), and after starting the 120-lap race from the top spot, Stewart led three times for 46 laps to win the first NASCAR Nationwide Series race (nee NASCAR Busch Series).
Now, Stewart comes to California for round two of the 35-race Nationwide Series schedule ready to log a few more firsts.
Of all the tracks on the NASCAR schedule that host both the Nationwide Series and the elite NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, California is one of just four venues where Stewart has yet to record a victory. The others are Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
In addition to adding a California win to his already impressive resume, Stewarts wants to win for sponsor Z-Line Designs. The San Ramon, Calif.-based designer and import manufacturer of ready-to-assemble furniture is entering its second season of NASCAR sponsorship, and Saturday's Stater Bros. 300 serves as its kickoff event.
Z-Line Designs will sponsor Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in 11 Nationwide Series races this year, with Stewart leading the charge at California. Stewart's JGR teammates -- Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch -- will share the Z-Line Designs machine for the rest of the season.
Stewart has raced at California four times under the old Busch Series banner, with a best effort of second in May 2004. But there is reason to believe that in 2008 Stewart will come away as the victor.
The same crew chief and the same team that helped deliver Stewart to victory lane last weekend at Daytona will be the same outfit preparing Stewart's No. 20 Z-Line Designs Toyota at California.
Led by crew chief Dave Rogers, the No. 20 team finished second in last year's car owner standings with four wins. They appeared to miss nothing during the off-season, as they came out of the box strong at Daytona with Stewart, proven emphatically by their win from the pole.
Now this combination comes to California for its second straight race together with their collective eyes set on their second straight win.
Tony Stewart -- Driver, No. 20 Z-Line Designs NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry at California
Dave Rogers, the crew chief you worked with in your win at Daytona, will be the same crew chief you'll have at California and in all of your Nationwide Series races in 2008. How helpful is that?
"When I was running for KHI (Kevin Harvick Inc.), I wanted to win every time for those guys because they worked so hard to give me a good race car. It's no different here. You want to win every time you go out, especially when you know how hard these guys work. For us as drivers, we show up, we get in 'em, we run Friday and Saturday and we get out and we still have our Cup race on Sunday. Dave and the guys on the Z-Line Designs Team -- they all work just as hard on the Nationwide cars as all three of our teams work on the Cup side. You want to be successful with them because of that. You know how hard they work. You know how much they appreciate when you come in and give them 100 percent. And the reward for that is hopefully more wins throughout the season."
Unlike in past seasons, all of your Nationwide Series races will be with Joe Gibbs Racing and all of them will be in the No. 20 car. How helpful is it to have all of that information and technology under one roof?
"I think it's big. When I ran for Kevin and DeLana (Harvick) last year, the package that I was running was more along the lines of what Kevin was running on the Cup side, and it was different from what I was used to running on the JGR side. I think there's a lot of value in all of my races being with Joe Gibbs Racing. It's the same set of resources and it's the same leadership under Joe and J.D. Gibbs, and they know how to put the right people in the right places. They know how to utilize their resources and they know how to be successful, whether it's football or racing."
Before becoming a crew chief in the Nationwide Series, Dave Rogers was your engineer on the No. 20 team in the Sprint Cup Series from 1999 through 2004. Can you talk about his evolution from championship-winning engineer -- as he was a part of your first Sprint Cup Series championship in 2002 -- to race-winning crew chief?
"It's obviously been a huge step for him. When things go wrong, they go to the crew chief first. He's the one who gets all the blame if things go wrong, and if they go right, he's get the credit too. But there's a lot of pressure in going from being an engineer to a crew chief. It's a huge step. Dave was a huge asset to a lot of our success on the Cup side. In working with Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, crew chief of the No. 20 team in the Sprint Cup Series), he paid his dues and learned enough to be a great crew chief. He's proven he's a great crew chief in the Nationwide Series. It's cool to be back working with him again and his group of guys. Working with him this year compared to the couple of races I worked with him in past seasons in the Nationwide Series where he was my crew chief, you can just hear how much more confidence he has. He's a very confident crew chief, and as a driver, that's what you want."
California is a track where a driver can search for different grooves, as opposed to some other tracks on the circuit where there is really only one true groove. As a driver, do you appreciate that more?
"It's nice knowing that as a driver you can help yourself out and you're not relying so much on the car. Regardless of what everyone else is doing, you can find a way to help yourself out. It makes you feel good knowing that because the place is so wide, you can move around, and basically, earn your money that day."
At what point do you start to move around on the race track to find a better handle for your race car?
"As soon as you feel like you're not where you need to be. If you feel like you're slower than the pace you need to be running, you're going to move up the race track and find a place that helps balance your race car. Really, from the drop of the green flag, you do it from there on out."
Dave Rogers -- Crew Chief, No. 20 Z-Line Designs Joe Gibbs Racing Team
How has the switch to Toyota been? How helpful is the team at Toyota Racing Development (TRD)?
"The TRD guys are great to work with. They come by quite frequently and give us some pointers of things they learned last year. It's been a fairly seamless transition and we haven't had many problems, but it's just been a lot of man hours. The guys at the shop put in a lot of effort this winter to get ready for the start of the season with pretty good race cars."
The Z-Line Designs machine will be driven by Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch this season. As a crew chief, how are you able to provide a chassis setup that suits one driver one week and another driver the next?
"I was Tony Stewart's race engineer for a number of years over in the Sprint Cup Series, so I'm familiar with what he's looking for in his race car. And if you look at the driver lineup for the season, I really don't have a whole lot to complain about. I get to work with some of the most talented drivers in the business. Most people won't have an opportunity to work the caliber of drivers I will this year."
Chassis No. 2073: This car made its debut with Stewart in the 2006 fall Nationwide Series race at Texas. In that race, Stewart led three times for 36 laps before finishing second to race winner Kevin Harvick. Chassis No. 2073 returned to action in 2007 at the spring Atlanta race, where Stewart qualified fourth and finished 10th. Denny Hamlin took the wheel of this car at the spring Texas race, where he started sixth and led three times for 49 laps before finishing second to race winner Matt Kenseth. Chassis No. 2073's most recent start came at the fall Nashville race, where former Joe Gibbs Racing driver Aric Almirola qualified third and finished 10th. While not tested on the race track yet this year, Chassis No. 2073 has been to the wind tunnel numerous times in preparation for its first start of 2008. California will mark its fifth career start and its first at California.