Homestead: Tony Stewart preview

Tony Stewart Homestretch leads into Homestead. ATLANTA (Nov. 12, 2002) - Home Depot Pontiac driver Tony Stewart left the season-opening Daytona 500 43rd in points following an engine failure on lap two. Nine months and 35 races later, Stewart ...

Homestead: Tony Stewart preview

Tony Stewart
Homestretch leads into Homestead.

ATLANTA (Nov. 12, 2002) - Home Depot Pontiac driver Tony Stewart left the season-opening Daytona 500 43rd in points following an engine failure on lap two. Nine months and 35 races later, Stewart sits atop the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship standings carrying an 89-point lead over his only challenger - Mark Martin.

That Stewart heads into Sunday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway having made up 42 point positions is testament to the strength of The Home Depot Racing Team.

>From their disappointment at Daytona (Fla.), they immediately bounced back with a fourth-place finish at Rockingham (N.C.), a fifth-place run at Las Vegas, and a dominating win at Atlanta. Two more wins would follow - Richmond (Va.) and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) - along with two poles, 12 top-fives and 18 top-10s.

Those numbers have allowed Stewart to take a firm hold of the championship, as a 22nd place finish at Homestead is all Stewart needs to capture his first Winston Cup title.

Seeking to solidify their point reign, Stewart and Co. tested at Homestead Nov. 4-5, posting the quickest speed of all the Winston Cup teams that tested. Stewart's fastest lap around the 1.5-mile oval came at 149.354 mph, nearly three-tenths quicker than the second fastest driver during testing. And who was that driver? It was none other than Martin, whose best lap was recorded at 149.089 mph.

Stewart's quickness should come as no surprise. He won the inaugural Winston Cup race at Homestead during his rookie year in 1999 for what was then his third career win. When he came back to Homestead as a sophomore, he notched his ninth career win. In all, Stewart has led 284 of the 801 possible laps - pacing the field nearly 35 percent of the time.

Perhaps there is no better venue than Homestead for Stewart to keep Martin and 41 other drivers at bay.

You tested at Homestead the Monday and Tuesday following the Rockingham race. How did that go?

"Homestead is a place we've run well, so for us it's a confidence boost to know that the last race of the year is one we've run well at. We won there the first two years, and dominated last year before tire problems got us. We enjoy going to Homestead, but the obvious question is 'Why do we go there to test considering how good we've been?' The answer is just as obvious - we just want to make sure we stay as good as we've been."

Has the track changed much since you were there last year?

"The track has lost a little grip, which happens to pretty much every track we go to. Some just lose a little bit more than others. The climate down there probably doesn't help, but there are no problems with the track. With Indy cars, Cup cars, Busch cars and Trucks running down there every year, it takes a little bit of grip away from us when we show up. But that's no different than any other place we go to. It's just another season on the race track."

Because Homestead is the last race of the season, does your strategy for the race change?

"When we get to Homestead we'll be points racing. The last race of the year, you points race. We haven't done that yet, but when there's no next race, you've got to pay attention to the points."

Explain a lap around Homestead.

"The biggest thing is that it's hard to make the car turn there. Then if you get the car turning well, you need to make sure it gets up off the corner. Those seem to be the two biggest challenges. If you can get the car to come off the corner well, then normally you're a little bit tight in the center. But if you can get it to turn well through the corner, then normally it's a little loose off. Trying to make the car turn and go forward at the same time is tough because the corners are so big."

You won the inaugural race at Homestead in your rookie year. It was your third win that season, a rookie record. What was that like?

"It's always special when you can win an inaugural race anywhere. To win at Homestead made me feel proud. I had run there in a Busch car a couple of times, and some of the Cup guys had run some Busch races at Homestead too. But for the most part, everyone was a rookie. Nobody had any more experience than the next guy. We were all on a level playing field. When it was all said and done, we came out on top. It was a proud day for The Home Depot team because it gave us a tremendous sense of accomplishment."

Is there another track on the Winston Cup circuit that Homestead compares to?

"I would say it's somewhat similar to Indianapolis, but the corners at Homestead seem like they're twice as long. You're in the corner a long time at Homestead and you're on the straightaways a long time. It's a pretty big race track. Having the corners as flat as they are and as long as they are makes for a big challenge in getting your car to drive well."

The Homestead race has the very real potential to be the culminating race of your Winston Cup career. You're in your fourth year as a Winston Cup driver and you've experienced a lot. Talk about that.

"You learn a lot of things, especially how to handle different things. When I joined Busch and Winston Cup, nobody handed me a freshman packet that told me 'This is how your life is going to change. This is how you have to deal with things and the obstacles you have to overcome.' And I'm not talking about things from the sanctioning body side, but from the dog-and-pony show side of things - about what is important and what needs to be taken care of."

GREG ZIPADELLI, crew chief on the #20 Home Depot Pontiac...

How did your test at Homestead go?

"It was pretty good. We left better than what we started with, and in fact, I think we were a little better than we were last year there as far as times and Tony being comfortable in the car. The car drove really good, pretty much hugged the white line there on the inside the way we like. So, we were pretty happy with the way we left there."

What's the most challenging aspect of making The Home Depot Pontiac handle at Homestead?

"Making the car rotate through the center of the corner without giving up any forward bite. The track changes every year, as each time we go back the track has less and less grip. Between the heat from the sun always beating down on the track and the sand blowing across the surface, the track takes a beating. To combat all that, you've got to have a well balanced race car - something that'll sit down on the track through the corners and allow you to get up off the corner good and fast."

-jgr/hd-

shares
comments
Homestead:John Benson preview
Previous article

Homestead:John Benson preview

Next article

Homestead: Jimmie Johnson press conference

Homestead: Jimmie Johnson press conference
Load comments
How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory Prime

How Larson took the long way round to NASCAR Cup glory

From villain to hero, Kyle Larson had to reach his lifelong goal the hard way and go through a very public shaming after a ban for using a racial slur, but his talents shone long before his name grabbed the headlines...

NASCAR Cup
Nov 10, 2021
How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022 Prime

How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022

It’s not just Formula 1 that’s set for upheaval in 2022, as the NASCAR Cup series adopts its Next Gen cars that will cast any in-built advantages aside and require teams to adopt a totally new way of operating. Far more than just a change of machinery, the new cars amount to a shift in NASCAR's core philosophy

NASCAR Cup
Oct 12, 2021
Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR Prime

Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR

Bubba Wallace claimed his maiden NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega on Monday to become the first Black victor in the category since Wendell Scott in 1963. Both Wallace and Scott had faced obstacles and racism in their paths to their breakthrough wins, and NASCAR is trying to put it right with its range of diversity programmes

NASCAR Cup
Oct 5, 2021
Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI Prime

Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI

In a career that has had many ups and downs, Kurt Busch has been written off many times before. But facing career uncertainty after the sale of Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team, the 2004 Cup champion has found a new berth at Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan's 23XI organization - which underlines his enduring value

NASCAR Cup
Aug 31, 2021
From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview Prime

From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview

The death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 shocked NASCAR to the core. At the Daytona 24 Hours, two weeks before his fatal accident, ‘The Intimidator’ shared his expectations of challenging for an eighth Cup title with JONATHAN INGRAM, in an article first published in the 15 February 2001 issue of Autosport magazine. Little did we know then what tragedy would unfold…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death Prime

The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death

On February 18, 2001, seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt – the fearless ‘Intimidator’ – was in his element at Daytona International Speedway. While his own DEI team’s cars ran 1-2 towards the finish line, his famed #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo was playing rear gunner to block any late runs from the chasing pack. As the cars tore through Turns 3 and 4 on that fateful final lap, Earnhardt maintained the strongarm tactics that encapsulated his persona… but his actions in those moments sadly proved to be his last.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR Prime

Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR

The NASCAR Cup Series is changing. Whether it be the gradual morphing out the seasoned drivers of yesterday as the next generation step up, a radical calendar shake-up featuring more road courses than ever before and the prospect of an all-new car on the horizon, stock car racing’s highest level is nearing the end of a huge facelift.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2021
The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021 Prime

The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 13, 2021