Saturday, July 28, 2007

Tony Stewart story for Saturday

Indianapolis
News-Sentinel photos and story by Chad Ryan


Winning relieves pressure. Few people understand that better than Tony Stewart. When the second half of the NASCAR season kicks off Sunday in Indianapolis, Stewart won’t be feeling the pressure.

Winning two weeks ago in Chicago, Stewart snapped a 20-race winless streak. After his first win of the season and a week away from racing, he says now is a good time to start having fun. Stewart looks to continue the party at his favorite race in the Nextel Cup Series: the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.

“If you have to have a streak when you don’t win and then you get your first win, and it’s about a week before you come (to Indy), that’s the week to do it,” Stewart says. “If you get a good package here, it’s a good package for other racetracks we have to run in that 10-week stretch that get you to the end. So, if you run good here, you got a good shot of doing well the rest of the time.”

Statistics say drivers who win in Indianapolis have better than just a good shot of doing well through the rest of the season. Six of the 12 Brickyard winners, including Stewart in 2005, went on to win the Series championship. Stewart dismisses that fact as a “neat stat.”

“We still race them one race at a time, so anything can happen,” Stewart says. “If you’re a betting person, you always bet on the odds, but there’s no guarantees. I’d rather bet on a guarantee.”

It took seven tries for Stewart to win at Indy. Stewart considers the Brickyard his home track having grown up minutes from the speedway and making the annual trek to watch the Indy 500 with his father.

“It’s my home race, obviously,” Stewart says. Growing up in Indiana and every year watching the Indy 500 and the whole month of May leading up to it, a race at the Brickyard is more than just a regular points race. It’s always been a big race to all of the Cup drivers, but then when you grow up in Indiana, it just makes it that much more important.”
The betting person can be guaranteed one thing: Stewart wants to win it again. He says he now knows what it takes to make it happen.

“Definitely last year, the race level wasn’t as intense,” Stewart says. “It wasn’t that we weren’t trying to win, it’s that now, you go out with no pressure on you. Now you can just go out and focus on and have the knowledge of what you got there before. You know what it takes to win, and that’s half the battle.”

One feature of the track at Indy that makes it difficult for NASCAR drivers is the flatter, non-banked turns that are separated by straight-aways, giving the track four 90-degree turns instead of two 180-degree turns. Stock cars don’t have as much down force as Indy cars do, forcing drivers to work the brakes harder in the turns. It is especially important that stock cars are handled correctly in the first and third turns. The front and back stretches are long compared to other tracks, allowing the drivers to push the speed.

“I think the biggest thing is the way we ran at Chicago,” Stewart says. “The package is pretty good. It’s not the same setup, obviously, but the approach is the same.”

Right now Stewart’s approach is to stay relaxed during this stretch of the season.

“Every day, I wake up, I’m pretty happy, so everyday is just a new day, Stewart says. “It’s not about, really, stretches, you just go out and do what you do, and we’re having fun as a race team, being able to do what we do. I’m having fun as a driver …”

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