Stewart Returns to Atlanta To Defend Title in Sunday's Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500
Thursday, March 6, 2003
Up until last season, Tony Stewart didn¿t have a nice thing to stay about Atlanta Motor Speedway. And with good reason. Of the 23 tracks the NASCAR Winston Cup series races it, Atlanta was the one track where Stewart could never crack into the Top 5.
In fact, it took Stewart five races at Atlanta just to crack the Top 10 - more races than it took at any other track on schedule. So when Stewart said he just didn¿t get Atlanta, he wasn¿t kidding.
What changed between then and now is hard to say, but Stewart feels a lot differently about Atlanta these days.
¿Atlanta is a fun track,¿ Stewart said. ¿Of all the mile-and-a-half ovals we go to, Atlanta has the most personality as far as the race track is concerned. You can run all the way down on the white line when the tires are fresh, but as you get some laps on the tires you start moving up the race track. You can end up running three-wide, with the guy on the outside running right up against the wall. The track is fun because you¿re able to move around a lot.¿
Stewart turned his luck around in Atlanta last year, winning the spring race. This Sunday, he¿ll be back to defend his title.
¿I'm a lot more relaxed this year,¿ Stewart said. ¿We¿re coming into Atlanta fifth in points, 52 points out of the lead, whereas last year at this time we weren¿t even in the top 10. Plus, I feel more at home at this track now.¿
And he should. Between Stewart and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Bobby Labonte, they have won 6 of the last 13 races in Atlanta. That¿s an astounding statistic for any team, winning nearly 50 percent of the races at any track.
¿I know that¿s a great number, but I don¿t think we really have any secrets about running at Atlanta,¿ Stewart said. ¿It¿s just that Bobby has always run well there. I finally got my first win there last year. But there are a lot of really good teams that run well at Atlanta - it¿s not just us. Hendrick, Childress, Yates - they all run well at Atlanta. And with the caliber of drivers in Winston Cup, a team can hit the right setup and win on any given weekend.¿
Maybe so, but it¿s been a year since a Joe Gibbs car has been in Victory Lane at Atlanta. If history holds true, we won¿t have to wait too long to see the next one.