Tony Stewart Wins NASCAR Watkins Glen NY
Watching Tony Stewart perform at Watkin’s Glen was no different than attending a road-racing school and observing the instructor.
I went to three road-course schools in my lifetime (none seemed to help), and each had a specialist who demonstrated the fundamentals and techniques of road-course racing.
These individuals were exceptional at the tracks where they taught, in large part because they had thousands of miles of practice there and also because all they did was race road courses. Because of it, they appeared perfect on every turn, on each entry and exit.
NASCAR drivers are expected do much more than road-course race, with only Infineon and Watkins Glen on the 36-race schedule. In spite of that, Stewart taught all day. He was in complete control, illustrating the fundamentals: Race the track, focus on matching revs while you brake and maintain position through the slow portions of the course.
Stewart focused on his braking points, did not induce wheel hop, hit his turn in points and accelerated strong off each of Watkins Glen’s 11 turns without exaggerating wheel spin.
The one thing he did better than all others was seize the opportunity to pass when that opportunity was delivered – in the passing zones leading to Turn 1, through the “S turns” and at the end of the backstretch.
Also, Stewart capitalized on every restart, particularly the most important one, when then-leader Kyle Busch chose the outside lane. Stweart muscling by Kyle Busch on that restart indicated to me that he and his team had truly capitalized on practice.
As good as Stewart is, he showed the strength of the car in the right-handed Turn 1. But he showed his expertise as a driver in the left hander at the top of the hill, which is perhaps the most important and unsettling of all 11 turns. This is because you try to get full throttle through that turn, and if successful, you create enormous speed down the back stretch. It’s a difficult turn because drivers have to turn left with a car setup primarily to turn right, and because you cannot see through this fastest portion of the course. Throw in a shift from third gear to fourth on corner exit and you get an idea of how challenging it is.
If done correctly, it will reward you by gaining several car lengths on those who do not execute it correctly.
Stewart demonstrated Monday that his team’s success comes from more than just having an affiliation with Hendrick Motorsports. It’s about a talented driver who has surrounded himself with people every bit the equal of the equipment they are using. It’s about a driver with the courage to lay it on the line, on and off the track, in perhaps the most economically challenging environment of his lifetime.
Stewart’s 2009 season has been monumental in terms of performance. No one could have predicted Stewart winning three of the season’s first 22 races and building a commanding points lead in the process.
Shouldn’t we all stop for one minute and think in terms of where this team was nine months ago, having never won a race, to truly appreciate what Stewart is accomplishing?
Or maybe we should follow the example Tony set Monday. Stewart was the only driver to deny Marcus Ambrose a sweep of the weekend, and he did it with a command that spoke of his confidence in his car, his team and himself.
It appears as though most of us missed it when we viewed Stewart’s decision to become owner driver as a detriment. But, he appears more comfortable than ever, more relaxed, more composed. Monday’s road-course victory further confirms all this and leaves me wondering how much better might this team become?