Talladega: Tony Stewart preview

TONY STEWART After Handling Daytona, an Even Better Handle on Talladega HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (April 22, 2008) -- The only thing that held back Tony Stewart in the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International...

After Handling Daytona, an Even Better Handle on Talladega

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (April 22, 2008) -- The only thing that held back Tony Stewart in the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway was the handling of his No. 20 Toyota Camry. Nonetheless, Stewart man-handled his car to lead three times from the pole for a total of 46 laps en route to his third Nationwide Series win at Daytona.

And now Stewart brings the same car with him to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway for the second restrictor-plate race on the Nationwide Series schedule, and much to the chagrin of his 42 other competitors in Saturday's Aaron's 312, handling will not be an issue.

That's because unlike Daytona, the racing surface at Talladega is smooth, or as Stewart describes it, "billiard table smooth." Since the 2.66-mile oval was repaved in the summer of 2006, racing at Talladega has been all about speed, for there is plenty of grip and nary a bump in the track's racing surface to unsettle one's 3,400-pound race car.

Speed is something that Stewart has had in abundance in the four Nationwide Series races he's entered in 2008. The driver of the No. 20 Old Spice Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing has led 255 of the 672 laps available to him (38 percent). Following his win at Daytona, Stewart scored a second consecutive victory at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Stewart appeared on his way to a third straight win at Las Vegas, as he put his red and white Old Spice Toyota out front twice for 61 laps. But a crash with a lapped car on lap 137 of the 202-lap race sent Stewart hard into the SAFER Barrier along the outside retaining wall, ending his shot at a three-peat. And in his fourth race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Stewart had the only car capable of challenging his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch for the win before a cut right-rear tire dropped Stewart off the lead lap.

With strength in those numbers, Stewart aims to make his sixth career Nationwide Series race at Talladega look like his February runs at Daytona in 2005, 2006 and 2008 where he won and led a total of 105 laps.

While Talladega hasn't exactly been kind to Stewart on the Nationwide Series front -- his second-place finish in last year's Aaron's 312 to teammate Bobby Labonte was his best result at Talladega and his first non-DNF (Did Not Finish) -- Stewart does have six second-place finishes in 18 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Talladega.

With Stewart embodying the Old Spice tagline of "Experience is Everything," the two-time Sprint Cup champion, former IRL IndyCar Series champion and four-time USAC champion brings his 28 years of racing experience to Talladega intent on scoring his third Nationwide Series win of 2008.

Tony Stewart -- Driver, No. 20 Old Spice NASCAR Nationwide Series yota ToCamry at Talladega

After winning the season-opening Nationwide Series race at Daytona from the pole, what are your expectations heading into Talladega?

"I think we're going to be good. I'm looking forward to it. I think the car that we had a Daytona for the Nationwide Series race is a car that will be much better suited at Talladega than it was at Daytona. I'm really excited about going to Talladega with this Old Spice car and knowing how fast it was a Daytona. I just think it's going to be that much better at Talladega."

What's it like to have a car that good?

"You just gotta take care of it. Obviously at Daytona though, handling became a bigger issue and we weren't even able to stay with the lead draft in parts of the race because handling was such an issue. This car, we won't have to worry about the handling part of it as much at Talladega as we did at Daytona. We knew it had speed. It was just a matter of getting it to handle around the race track. Now we'll be able to take that same car, which we know has the speed, to a track where handling just isn't that big of an issue."

How different is the Nationwide Series car at a restrictor-plate race compared to your Sprint Cup car?

"At Daytona, it's a lot different than it is at Talladega. At Talladega, they're more even. At Daytona, the handling is quite a bit different because grip is such an issue at that track. At Talladega, we have such a high level of grip right now that it's not an issue between the two cars. For the restrictor-plate side, it strictly depends on which one of the two tracks you're at."

Is that just because Talladega is bigger and has relatively fresh pavement?

"It's fresh pavement and it's billiard table smooth. When you don't have bumps, you're not asking the tires and the suspension to have to work over bumps. It makes it easier to drive, obviously. At Daytona, it's an older surface. It's got a lot of waves and bumps in it and the asphalt's worn out. It makes handling a premium there, where it's the polar opposite when you go to Talladega."

In last year's Nationwide Series race at Talladega, you were leading on the final lap, but your teammate at the time, Bobby Labonte, was able to slip around you on the frontstretch as you came to the checkered flag. Explain what took place and how that happened.

"Bobby and I were riding nose to tail, with me out front and him pushing me. I was really just sitting there, and it was an awesome deal, because once we got our two bumpers together, we picked up three-mile-an-hour and drove away from the field. But as we came down the frontstretch on the final lap, I'm sitting there thinking, 'Is he still pushing me? They can't beat us. There's no way they can catch us.' But what the surprise was that by himself, he just slid around to the outside of my car. All the sudden I felt my car slow down and there he went, right on by. I was like, 'Wow. That was pretty slick.' That was pretty much the end of that."

-credit: jgr

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Drivers Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kyle Busch
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing