Fri Feb 18, 2011 10:01 am
KERNERSVILLE, N.C. (Feb. 14, 2011) – It’s trivia time.
Question: Name the one driver other than Tony Stewart who has won the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in the last six years?
Answer: Kevin Harvick in 2007.
Beginning in 2005, Stewart has won the opening round of the Nationwide Series at Daytona every year with the exception of 2007, when Harvick proved victorious. In that race, Stewart finished eighth. Every other year, it’s Stewart who’s been to victory lane, and he’s done it driving for three different car owners – Joe Gibbs in 2008, Rick Hendrick in 2009 and Harvick in 2005, 2006 and 2010.
As he defends his DRIVE4COPD 300 win, Stewart will do it from familiar confines. He’ll again be behind the wheel of a No. 4 Oreo/Ritz Chevrolet Impala, and it will again be prepared by Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI).
Stewart’s history with KHI is strong. After 41 career Nationwide Series starts stretched out over five seasons, Stewart finally scored his first Nationwide Series victory when he won the 2005 season-opener at Daytona driving for what was then an upstart KHI. While it was Stewart’s first Nationwide Series win, it was also the first for the team owned by Harvick and wife DeLana. When Stewart came back to Daytona a year later and successfully reclaimed his victory, it was career win No. 2 for Stewart and career win No. 2 for KHI.
Now they’re back together at the racetrack that put KHI on the map and provided Stewart his long-awaited Nationwide Series victory. Ironically, Stewart has nine career Nationwide Series wins and KHI also has nine career Nationwide Series wins heading into this year’s DRIVE4COPD 300.
Coming right out of the box and winning on the Nationwide Series’ biggest stage has become a familiar storyline for Stewart, and if he is to repeat the performance yet again and go for four straight wins in the season-opener, it will be hugely appropriate as Stewart is carrying the colors of two products that always delight right out of the box.
His representation of Kraft Foods’ Oreo and Ritz brands on the No. 4 Chevrolet fielded by KHI is a byproduct of the company’s holistic partnership with Stewart and the Sprint Cup team he co-owns with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas – Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
The iconic Oreo cookie and Ritz cracker brands are SHR’s official cookie and cracker, with Stewart and his Sprint Cup teammate Ryan Newman carrying the brand’s colors on their respective uniforms and cars. But adding some flavor to the pairing of Stewart and Kraft Foods is the No. 4 Oreo/Ritz Chevrolet. Just as it’s the figurative vehicle to carry the partnership of Oreo and Ritz with Stewart, it’s also the literal vehicle Stewart will use in his attempt to put Oreo and Ritz inside Daytona’s victory lane for a second straight year.
While there are a lot of similarities between last year’s race and this year’s, there is one major difference – the car. A new generation of Nationwide Series car is running full-time this season after a four-race rollout in 2010. While it’s akin to the kind of car Stewart competes with regularly in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, it’s still an unknown – at least to Stewart, whose first time in the new-generation Nationwide Series car will come this week in the practice and qualifying sessions that lead in to the DRIVE4COPD 300.
But with Stewart’s diverse racing background where in more than 30 years he’s driven and won in nearly every kind of racecar imaginable – from USAC Sprint Cars and Indy cars to NASCAR stock cars and dirt late models – the change, while substantial, is one that Stewart has quickly and successfully adapted to before.
So with one shot at a Nationwide Series win this season, for Daytona is the only Nationwide Series race he will contest in 2011, Stewart plans on being “won” and done when the checkered flag drops on the DRIVE4COPD 300.
Tony Stewart, Driver of the No. 4 Oreo/Ritz NASCAR Nationwide Series Chevrolet Impala at Daytona
Your first career Nationwide Series win came with KHI at Daytona in February 2005, and you won with them again at Daytona in February 2006, and again last year. What’s it like to be back driving for them at Daytona in 2011?
“I’m excited about it. I love Kevin and DeLana. They’re some of my best friends. I enjoy the opportunity to be able to drive with them again. I’ve had fun with them. It’s always nice to know that DeLana is there on race day and supportive of what we’re doing. She’s just as into it when Kevin’s behind the wheel. It’s fun. It’s like driving for some of your best friends.”
Three of your 15 career wins at Daytona have come with KHI. Can you talk about their preparation leading into that race?
“It’s a small team size-wise, but as far as equipment and everything, Kevin and DeLana prepare cars that are some of the best cars in the Nationwide series. To have a KHI car and to have Oreo and Ritz with us for that race, it makes for a potent combination.”
A lot of your success at Daytona in the Nationwide Series has been with KHI. Any reason for that in particular, or is it a combination of a lot of things?
“I think it’s because of the attention to detail that Kevin and DeLana put into their racecars. You see it in their Truck program. You see it in their Nationwide program. They just do everything first class. I always have the confidence when I get in one of their cars that I’m in just as competitive a car as I could be with any other organization out there. They’re first class, and that’s the kind of group that you want to be with when you do a one-off race like this. You have that confidence. You don’t worry about anything. You know that they’re giving you the best equipment that you can get in that series. It’s always fun. It’s fun to drive for one of your good friends like Kevin and DeLana, but at the same time knowing that they’ve got really good racecars just tops it all off.”
Kevin and DeLana Harvick have said that you racing for them in the early years of KHI helped get their race team off the ground. As a still relatively new Sprint Cup team owner, can you see how valuable your time behind the wheel was for them?
“I think they underestimate what they did for themselves. They put together a great organization, which enabled me to win with them and for Kevin to win in his own car. They’ve had the capability and the opportunity to be in victory lane a lot since they started that team, and we’ve got another shot to get another win for them this weekend at Daytona.”
What do you know about the new Nationwide Series car? Is it like the current Sprint Cup car or are you just going off of what you’ve been told?
“I’m kind of going into it blind. I think the fact that the track is freshly repaved and is going to have a lot of grip – that will take away any of the issues that I would worry about on the handling side. I think the cars will drive really well. It’s just a matter of going out and doing our job.”
On that note, how much of a challenge will Daytona be because there will be two new variables – the track and a new car? Plus, you have a record to uphold.
“Well, it’s definitely going to be challenging. I think some of the things that we learned at the Cup test will most definitely apply to the Nationwide Series race, too. Having Harvick as a teammate down there will be a valuable asset to us, obviously. We’ll go do the best job we can for KHI and for Oreos and Ritz. We’ve been very fortunate the last few years. We’ll go down there and do the best we can and hopefully get another one.”
You’re used to jumping into unfamiliar racecars and adapting quickly. Is it from your upbringing in racing?
“I think so. It’s always hard when you get in a car with a different organization. The seats are always just a little bit different. Just everything, whether it’s switches on the dash to where the gauges are located, all that stuff just seems to be different. Having that ability to jump around from car to car is definitely an asset when it comes time to doing a one-off deal like this.”
How long does it take for you to get acclimated to a new car?
“As far as driving the car, it normally takes three to four laps, but with it being Daytona and as smooth as it is now, I think it’s going to make it that much easier.”
You’ve won the first race of the Nationwide Series season five times, including the last three. How nice is it to start the year with a win, and how much confidence does it give you going into the Daytona 500?
“It’s always a bonus when you can win on Saturday before going into the biggest race of the year on Sunday. To get a Nationwide win there, that’s how you like to go to bed the night before the Daytona 500, knowing that you’ve got that trophy sitting out there on your desk from what you did Saturday afternoon.”
How difficult is it to win one race at Daytona, never mind three in a row?
“Restrictor-plate races at Daytona are always a wild-card race. You never know who’s going to win. We were fortunate enough to win one and then back it up the next year. To do it back-to-back-to back is something we’re really proud of.”
What makes you so successful at Daytona, particularly in the season-opening Nationwide Series race?
“I don’t know. I’ve had a lot of luck there. A lot of it has just been being at the right place at the right time, and making calls that were a little edgy on pit strategy to put ourselves in position at the end. I’ve had great cars to drive every time there. We’ve just been one of those guys that everybody knows that when we’re out there, we’re a threat in that division. So when it comes to the end of it, we’ve had some pretty good help.”
In order to win a restrictor-plate race, you’ve got to have drafting help. How do you get that help?
“I think it’s more a situation of guys finding the fast cars, and you finding the guys that you know are going to go with you because they know you’re quick. If they go with you, they’re going to get you to the front, which is going to get them to the front. It’s kind of ‘help me, help you.’”
Are there certain guys you’ve worked with at restrictor-plate races in the past that you know you’re going to draft with?
“You have a list of guys that you know you’re drafting with, and then there’s another list of guys that you’re alright with, and there’s another list of guys that you don’t want to be around. So you always know who the guys are you want to be with and who you’d rather not see anywhere near you.”
Is there any strategy involved in running a restrictor-plate race, or is it just a matter of taking advantage of the opportunities that are presented?
“The strategy is making sure you’ve got somebody you can draft with. You have to take the opportunities as they come, but with those opportunities you have to make a very quick decision. You’ve got to think, ‘What happens if I try this and it doesn’t work? What are the ramifications going to be?’ You don’t have the luxury of sitting down and taking the time to analyze the situation. You’ve got to make a split-second decision. A lot of times it’ll work, but there are times when the decision that you made doesn’t work. But once you’ve committed yourself to doing something, there’s not much you can do about it.”
Are you going to bankrupt Kraft Foods, the parent company of Oreo and Ritz, because in addition to sponsoring you, they’re giving you and the race team all the product you want?
“We won’t bankrupt them from a cash standpoint, but we’re going to hurt them on product, for sure.”
Do you take a sense of pride in knowing that here’s another marquee company in Kraft Foods with some iconic brands, Oreo and Ritz, signing on with you, and you’re getting to represent them in one of the biggest races of the year?
“Yes. It makes me proud of my organization and the people we have here who have worked so hard to put us in those positions to have major companies like Kraft Foods come on board. It legitimizes what we’re doing here and shows that we’re a company that these Fortune 500 companies can have hope and faith in.”
Sat Feb 19, 2011 9:56 pm
Tony Stewart Friday Media Visit
Posted: 19 Feb 2011 11:30 AM PST
Tony Stewart met with media and discussed what the drivers have learned in the two two-car pairings, how the Nationwide and Cup Series differ, how the driving is back in the driver’s hands, and more.
ON HIS WEEK SO FAR AND THE OUTLOOK FOR BOTH THE NATIONWIDE AND SPRINT CUP RACES
“It’s definitely been different. And we said that after the test session. We knew it was going to be different racing down here. But I’ve kind of enjoyed the part where we’re out of the pack and not sitting there just stuck in a line. You actually have the ability to help or hurt your cause, depending on who you get with and how quick you do the exchanges and how you play the runs on guys from being the third or fourth group back. So it’s a different style of racing and it’s definitely something we’ve had to adjust our mindset to for sure, and definitely have had to practice a lot of things that we’re seeing that seem to be changing daily on the race track with what it takes to go fast and be good here.”
THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES TODAY VOTED TO CONTINUE ALLOWING THE ARMY TO SPONSOR NASCAR. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT VOTE? WHAT ARE YOUR CONCERNS ON THAT DISCUSSION?
“We’ll, we’re obviously pretty excited about that. I didn’t think that it would be anything different. But it’s obviously a program that works for them or they wouldn’t be a part of this sport. It’s been a very successful tool for the U.S. Army and luckily we get to continue that program with them. Definitely from the car owner’s side, that was good news today.”
WERE YOU WORRIED?
“You’re always worried when you don’t know what can happen. Anything that’s out of your control, you always worry about.”
NASCAR’S OBJECTIVE WHEN THEY MADE THE CHANGES TO SHRINK THE GRILL SIZE AND LOWER THE PRESSURE ON THE POP-OFF VALVES WAS TO BREAK UP SOME OF THESE TWO-CAR DRAFTS. AND YET IN THE DUELS, WE SAW STILL CARS BEING ABLE TO PUSH EACH OTHER FOR SUSTAINED PERIODS OF TIME, PARTICULARLY THE FORDS. DO THE FORDS HAVE AN ADVANTAGE IN THEIR COOLING PACKAGE?
“I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. But I know that’s what NASCAR’s intention was (to break up the two-car drafts). It just shows how quickly everything can evolve. What drivers have figured out each day has progressed. It’s tough that NASCAR can’t predict how we’re going to react. The hard part is it hasn’t been able to accomplish what they were wanting to accomplish of getting guys out of that two-car deal. I don’t know necessarily that it’s a bad thing. I think it’s definitely different.
“And you don’t have 30 cars in a gigantic ball. But at the same time you look at how safe it’s been for the drivers. If somebody has a problem it’s normally been single car incidents out there with the exception of the Shootout the other night that I think had four or five cars involved in that one deal. But for the most part it’s been a lot safer for us from that aspect of it even though the speeds are up. The speeds haven’t been a drama. The pushing has taken some getting used to. Being pushed hasn’t been a big problem. It’s learning how to push and the visibility of it. That side of it has been a little tricky. That’s where we rely on the spotters a lot and I think everybody has learned how to make the adjustments to make it work.”
CAN YOU SPEAK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE THIS STYLE OF DRAFTING TO THE MASS PACK DRAFTING AS FAR AS THE PRECISION AND THE TIMING YOU HAVE TO EXERCISE WHEN YOU’RE DOING YOUR CHANGES?
“Yeah, it’s definitely put a lot more back into the driver’s hands, for sure. Where you’re at, with the partner you choose to run with out there at the time; where you place your car and where you make the changes, it’s all about what the drivers are doing. It’s not the car doing the exchanges anymore. I like that aspect of it. Historically in the past, it’s been just hoping you got in the right line and hope that it went forward enough that you could switch and go back and forth; kind of like being in a traffic jam. At least we’re out of the traffic jam now and have a little more control over our own destinies. I like the aspect that at least it’s put some of the driver back into the equation.”
FROM THE DAY JUNIOR JOHNSON FIGURED OUT THE DRAFT IN 1960, THERE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN GUYS WHO WERE GOOD AT DRAFTING. WHAT MAKES YOU GOOD AT THIS? WHAT MAKES A DRIVER A GOOD PLATE RACER OVER OTHER GUYS?
“I don’t know that I’m that good at it. I’m not sure if I’m not good at it or I just don’t know what day to be good at it. I’ve got Saturday figured out; I just can’t figure out Sunday. We’ve had really good luck in the Nationwide Series at this race and we’ve always been able to get ourselves close to the front when we needed to and sort it out from there; but trying to figure out what to do to convert that to a Sunday win has been the hard part. That’s been the hard part where you look over the past 12 years here and you say, okay, these are the opportunities we had and these were the missed opportunities and those are the ones that you set there and beat your head against the wall over trying to figure out what you could have done differently. We’ve seen Brian Keselowski get in yesterday. It’s hope that if you get in with the right guy that you do a good enough job you can get yourself in position to win the race.”
WHAT ABOUT TOMORROW’S RACE? DO YOU SEE IT BEING SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT AS FAR AS HOW THE RACE IS GOING TO EVOLVE? WILL THERE BE SOME DRAFTING PACKS IN THAT RACE?
“I think so. We saw a little bit of it in practice. The difference is I’m not sure that there are as many people; you know where the Cup field, everybody’s doing it. On the Nationwide side, I don’t know that more than eight or 10 guys practiced that yesterday. So I think you will see some separation there. And I think you’re going to see guys that are going to be trying it for the first time in the race. That’s what the good part is about having Cup drivers is it helps teach those guys how to do the things they need to do to be a Cup driver. So it’s definitely going to be interesting. They knocked so much power out of them that it made it harder to pass yesterday and it seemed like it was a little easier for the cars to hook up, but I don’t know that they really took off and had the speed like we’re seeing with the Cup Series. It didn’t seem like when two cars got together they got as big a run and momentum.”
BACK IN 2004, THEY TRIED A DIFFERENT RULES PACKAGE AND YOU REALLY LIKED THAT. NOW WITH THE TWO-CAR PACK WE HAVE IS JUST CONVINCING FANS THAT GOOD RACING DOESN’T HAVE TO BE 40 CARS LINED UP IN ONE LONG FREIGHT TRAIN?
“That starts in this room (Media Center) right here. So you guys are the whole key to that. I don’t think it’s bad. It’s taking more skill to do what we’re doing now than ever before. There is an element of danger that we’ve never had before where you can’t see where you’re going. There is plenty of exciting stuff about what we’re doing and stuff to write about. You guys can bring that to the fans.”
HOW HAS THE CREW CHIEF’S ROLE CHANGED WITH THIS NEW PACKAGE?
“You probably should talk to a crew chief more than me. But what we did see yesterday is handling did become a factor. We got loose during the race and that’s the first time that we had the car do anything that we didn’t like over SpeedWeeks. I think if we have the same weather conditions that we’ve had the last two days on Sunday, I think handling will be a factor in it a little bit. It’s obviously not going to be as big of a factor as it’s been in the past but I think there is potential for handling in this package. By yourself, It’s not at all. Everybody in the Media Center can drive if you could get in one (laughter); but everybody could drive it around here. But the two-car part is where it gets a lot trickier. The front guy keeping the car straight and it’s harder to do it down the straightaways than it is in the corners; and then the guy in the back making sure that he’s smooth and not getting that front car out of shape. So there’s a lot of driving going on when you see two cars taking off by themselves.”
ON DYNAMICS WITH YOUR SPOTTER AND WHO MAKES THE CALLS ABOUT WHAT IS GOING ON BEHIND AND IN FRONT OF YOU WHEN IN A TWO CAR DRAFT?
“Teammates have been able to put their team car frequencies on each other’s radios and that has been a big help. And in the case of Ryan and I we have used my spotter when the two of us have gotten together no matter where and who was in position. And other teams have done the same thing and I don’t know if they have switched to whoever was leading at the time but you know as far as when you get with guys that are not on your team, instead of a direct link from driver to driver, it’s from driver to crew chief to the spotter, back to the other spotter back down to the driver so the spotters are really busy up there and you will see them shuffling around trying to find the guys that they are running with just to make sure that they can communicate that information as fast as possible.”
IS IT DISCONCERTING TO THE DRIVER THAT YOU HAVE TO RELY ON THE OTHER SPOTTER FOR THE DRIVER AHEAD OF YOU TO TAKE YOU THROUGH THE TRACK?
“It’s kind of what we have always done. It’s not as exaggerated as in “Days of Thunder” obviously but we have always relied on spotters to get through things ahead of them but the thing that the spotters are having to do is to not drive the cars for us as much as to just let us know…..because they have to be the eyes for us around the backside of the car they are now having to do that around the front too. Their role has become more crucial now in Speedweeks too.”
ON DALE EARNHARDT JR’S SUGGESTION THAT EVERYONE NEEDS TO GO DOWN TO TALLADEGA AND HERE AND DO A BIG TWO DAY TEST AND TRY A LOT OF STUFF TO CHANGE THIS TWO CAR STUFF
“If I remember right, when we came down for the open test he did single car runs the whole time he was here so if he felt that way, why didn’t he do that in the test while we were all here together?
“We tried getting in big packs for three days down here and we couldn’t get people to quit doing single car runs and worrying about trying to make the race cars go fast. In the big pack you want master of your own destiny……..I don’t know where he got that from because you have always been relying on the guy behind you so if you want to be the master of your own destiny, take the restrictor plates off. Figure out how to let us drive race cars again.”
WHEN YOU ARE COMING DOWN TO THE END, DO YOU WANT TO BE THE GUY BEHIND OR IN FRONT?
“I am not going to give that secret away right now. I would be more than happy to tell you what I think but I am not sure that I have totally sorted it all out as far as where you want to be. I guess the good thing is what we saw in the Shootout is how things can be and can happen. What you had are two guys that were leading the race is when Denny pulled out and got the run on Ryan and cleared him before the start/finish line but at the same time you had two cars that stayed together and they were able to keep that momentum on the outside so it’s really……….that last lap of the 500 is going to be critical as far as knowing not only what you are going to do if you are in that lead group but if you are that guy in second you have to really think about what the possibilities are of what can happen if you have that second group that is anywhere close then they have that shot and the guy in third could easily win the race if the guy in second makes the move to early.”
ON KEVIN HARVICK PROCLAIMING THAT HE THOUGHT THE GUYS RUNNING IN SECOND DURING THE GATORADE DUELS MADE THEIR MOVES TOO LATE AND YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT NOT WANTING TO MAKE YOUR MOVE TOO EARLY
“I think it depends on what is going on behind you. I mean you can still…….they didn’t get by the guy that they were trying to get by but at the same time I think if you do it too soon you are going to break so much momentum that the guys that stay together……. just like in the Shootout when the 22 car came ripping around the outside and they stayed in line and carried that momentum. When you get those two cars side-by-side……now not only are they not pushing each other but they are punching a bigger hole in the air and it helps that second pack get a run.”
ON THE NEW SURFACE AND THE DIFFERENCES FROM LAST YEAR TO THIS
“It’s definitely polar opposites on the scale. We went from a really wavy, bumpy surface that didn’t have a lot of grip to all the sudden a very perfectly smooth surface with a ton of grip so all the racing we used to do you can take all the notes and throw it out the window and none of it pertains to the cars that we are racing this time around. It’s probably been one of the biggest changes as far as a track repaving that we have ever seen in history as far as when I have been in the sport as far as what you had and it being a total opposite package from the year before. There wasn’t anything about it from last year that you could take to this year.”
Sat Feb 19, 2011 10:30 pm
Thanks for posting the interview, peanut. A lot of insightful comments from Tony about the new style of racing at daytona.
Sun Feb 20, 2011 9:47 am
Two good readings. Thanks for the postings.