Archive for Thursday, September 28, 2000

Constant craving

Driver Stewart likes wins, but longs for consistency

September 28, 2000


Make no mistake. Tony Stewart relishes race victories.

But he also knows the key to winning championships in the Winston Cup series is consistency. And though race wins certainly help, week-in and week-out top-five and top-10 finishes tend to separate those drivers at the top of the points standings from those just a few spots behind.

"I don't want to be a guy who wins tonight and then comes back to finish 32nd next week," Stewart said after winning last Sunday's race at Dover, Del., his fourth win of the season.

"We just want to get back our consistency," he said. "Even if we have to trade this win for five top-fives, I would do it because consistency is worth more than wins."

It certainly shows in this season's points race.

Stewart, who set a rookie record with three wins in his debut season in 1999, is now tied with Rusty Wallace for the most wins on the circuit this season. But in the points race, Stewart is tied for fifth, while Wallace is seventh.

The difference?

Stewart has four wins, nine top-five and 19 top-10 finishes. Wallace has four wins, 10 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. But points leader Bobby Labonte, who has three wins, has 15 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes.

That edge in consistency has Stewart trailing Labonte, his teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, by 459 points with seven races remaining, and Wallace trails by 487 neither close enough to catch Labonte before the November season finale at Atlanta.

Stewart and Wallace have a chance to lead the series in wins, and either would be the first driver other than Jeff Gordon to do so since 1994. Gordon has three wins.

Stewart said he doesn't worry about such statistics or his prospects for winning the championship in 2001.

"We want to go on winning every week, but it's not like we're in a competition to see who can win the most races," he said. "We just want to win as many as we can.

"If anybody had told me I'd have seven (career) wins by this time in my second year, I would have told them they were crazy."

Another key for Stewart is to remain focused on the objective of the weekend, even when he may not be comfortable with his car or the setting.

The Winston Cup Series makes its final stop at a short track this weekend, for Sunday's NAPA 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, a .526-mile oval Stewart has referred to as "a mall parking lot with a curb around it."

Stewart won his first Winston Cup pole last season at Martinsville, but has struggled in race-day performances. In three appearances at the track, he has finished 20th, 41st and, this season, sixth.

"I'll just go to Martinsville and worry about doing my job," he said.

"We'll still go out and try to win the race just like we do every week. It's all about concentration. If you don't concentrate there and keep your mind focused on what you're doing lap after lap, you're going to have two long days and a lot worse day on Sunday.

"Even though it's not my favorite place on the circuit, we all work just as hard when we show up there. I still try to do the best job that I can in the race car and get the best finish that we can for the team."

One aspect of Stewart's season that has not been on par with his stellar performance of last year is qualifying.

Stewart has one pole this season and has started in the top 10 just 11 times. Last season, Stewart won two poles and started in the top 10 on 19 occasions. In his three wins in 1999, Stewart started second, 11th and seventh. In his four wins this year, Stewart started 16th, 28th, sixth and 27th.

"The poles are nice," he said, "but you get to take pictures with the big trophy when you win on Sunday, not on Friday. We're concentrating more on that."

Stewart said a number of variables have contributed to his lack of consistency in qualifying, but they are not as important as performance on race day.

"It's not that we don't concentrate on qualifying, but I've made a lot of mistakes trying to make up for things in qualifying. That gets us further behind than what we'd be if I just ran my normal laps. We just need to remain better in the race."

Regardless of his qualifying prowess, Stewart's crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, believes he works with one of the best drivers in the business and sees nothing but good things ahead.

"When he gets on rhythm, I don't think anybody is better out there," Zipadelli said of Stewart. "He works just as hard as anyone on this team."

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