Stewart boasts impressive road-course résumé
Tony Stewart doesn't appear to need much help right now, having won four of his last six NASCAR Nextel Cup starts, riding a string of seven straight top-10 finishes and sitting in first place in the season standings.
Coming off an emotional win last Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a track at which he has coveted victory since his career began, Stewart is riding high.
No reason Watkins Glen International, the next track on the schedule, should bring him down.
The Glen offers a different challenge since it is one of only two road courses on the Cup schedule. But Stewart doesn't mind. In fact, he relishes racing on the road courses, where he has won four of 13 starts, including the last two in a row -- last year at the Glen and earlier this year at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.
Overall, Stewart has eight top-10 finishes on the road courses.
Stewart shrugs off talk about an advantage, though.
"It's just like anyplace else," he said of the Glen. "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 two races we won [at Watkins Glen], 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," added Stewart, who finished 11th there in 2003.
Stewart doesn't credit his wins at the Glen to any kind of superior driving skill.
"Watkins Glen seems to be more in the crew's hands and the engine builder's hands," he said. "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."
But that doesn't mean he isn't pleased to race there. He planned to race three times over the weekend, running in Friday's sports car event, Saturday's Busch Series race and Sunday's featured Cup race.
"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," Stewart said. "We go to a road course just like we do any track: We go there to win."
With only two races a year on road courses, it's quite a change for drivers who are best known for making left turns.
"There's a lot more to do on road courses," said Kevin Harvick, who has three top-10 finishes at Watkins Glen in four starts. "You have to shift, stop, shift, gas it and slide."
He said braking is a much bigger part of racing on road circuits than on ovals, particularly at a place like the Glen, a very fast 2.45-mile, 11-turn course.
"The brakes are tortured because you are carrying so much speed down off the straightaways into the corners," Harvick said. "Going into turn one, it's like a 90-degree corner and you are hauling the mail. Down the back straightaway, you go into the innerloop and pretty much have to stop right there.
"The hardest handling characteristic is to get your car to get forward bite up off the corner because you are coming off a low gear and there are a lot of hills and off-camber corners. You have to try and hook your car up the best you can. It's kind of like trying to find a balance between taking care of your stuff and driving the heck out of it. It's definitely different from our weekly routine."
Companies that sponsor Nextel Cup teams are thinking beyond paint and decals when it comes to getting their messages across.
Tony Stewart's primary sponsor, The Home Depot, is taking a step toward doing just that.
After Stewart began celebrating victories this summer by climbing fences, the company began placing ads entitled "Hey, Tony, We Have Ladders."
Now, in the wake of Stewart's big win last Sunday in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, Home Depot is putting out coupons for a 10 percent discount on bricks, wall blocks and pavers, good through Sunday. This ad campaign is headlined: "Finally, Someone Who Loves Bricks As Much As We Do."
The famed track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, once completely covered with red bricks, now has one three-foot-wide strip of original bricks marking the start-finish line. It is a tradition for NASCAR winners and their teams to kiss the bricks.
In May, Gordon was booed by Cubs fans when he called the old ballpark on the north side of Chicago "Wrigley Stadium" and butchered a rendition of "Take me out to the ballgame," forgetting the words as he led the singing during the seventh-inning stretch.
Busch, an avowed Cubs fan, had the honor of throwing out the first ball and leading the singing during a visit to Wrigley last Tuesday.
The reigning Cup champion wore a mesh Cubs jersey with a T-shirt underneath that read in big letters "Real Cubs Fan" with smaller letters underneath stating "I know the words."
His pregame pitch was a little high, but reached the plate, and his singing was a little off key, but Busch got through it without messing up a single word, drawing a big cheer from the crowd.
Stat of the week
Mark Martin has 12 top-fives, including three victories, and 15 top-10s in 17 starts on the road course at Watkins Glen International. More impressive, Martin has completed 1,487 of a possible 1,491 laps. His average finish at the Glen is sixth.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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