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NASCAR Stewart success more than luck



Published: Sat, August 13, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The driver credits hard work and preparation.

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) -- Tony Stewart arrived at Watkins Glen International on the kind of roll a driver usually dreams about.

But momentum won't matter when the green flag waves today. A fifth victory in seven races would be attributable to hard work and preparation.

"Even though we won here last year and won this year at Sonoma, you want to make sure you're keeping yourself at the top at a track like this," he said. "With the technology being what it is today, you want to make sure that the place you're going well at you want to keep going strong."

That explains why Stewart chose to use one of his nine allowable tests on this 2.45-mile road course -- where he has two career victories -- rather than on a track where he's not so dominant. The Glen and Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., are the only road courses on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit, and Stewart is now the master of the serpentine layouts with four victories in the last four years.

On Saturday, Stewart demonstrated the value of that test and another in the Busch series car. He won the Busch pole with a record-setting lap and was easily the fastest in the Cup session before rain forced its cancellation. As the points leader, he'll still start first today.

On a roll

Lately, though he's been the driver to beat everywhere, and came here after an emotional victory last Sunday at Indianapolis. Crew chief Greg Zipadelli, who decided on the test here, wants the roll to continue in the Sirius Satellite Radio at The Glen.

"We unloaded off the truck, and this thing is awesome," Zipadelli said. "We've got to keep the intensity, keep the pressure on ourselves to perform, not slip up, not sit back and let our guard down."

After his victory in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, Stewart has a 75-point lead over Jimmie Johnson in the standings with five races remaining before the top-10 cars will settle the championship over the final 10 races of the season. Stewart wants his second championship, but is driven by winning each week.

That scenario certainly seems more plausible than Stewart explaining how he became a great road racer.

"I feel like I'm a pretty reasonable road-course racer for somebody that doesn't have a lot of experience outside of go-karts," he said. "Whatever it is I'm glad it's there."

Looking up

Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, whose eight road-course victories are the most in history, would like to reclaim his dominance here. He's won four times at the Glen, but hasn't been to Victory Lane here since 2001.

Stewart is the main reason he's no longer king of the road, and Gordon knows reversing that trend -- and giving himself a good chance to move from 14th to 10th in the standings -- will be difficult. In fact, a high points finish would satisfy him.

"Tony Stewart is the guy to beat this weekend," Gordon said. "He's got his confidence up on the road courses, as well as other races.

"We've got two races going on. We want to win, but we also know that what we need to get to get back in the championship is make sure we finish at the end of the day."




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