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SPORTS WEEKEND | MOTOR SPORTS

Time Off Is the Pits for Stewart

April 21, 2000|SHAV GLICK

Winston Cup drivers have not had a week off since Feb. 13, so what do they do with no race this weekend?

Tony Stewart, who would rather race than eat, will be at Las Vegas to serve as crew chief for one of his Indy Racing League drivers, Jack Miller, in the Vegas Indy 300. Stewart and Larry Curry, the crew chief when Stewart won the IRL championship in 1997, own Tri-Star Motorsports.

"It's the next best thing to driving," Stewart said. "I'll probably have the busiest weekend of anybody in NASCAR. I thought it might be a little more relaxing, but Larry threw a surprise curveball at me with a driver addition [Miller]. I'll be doing the same thing, basically, that I was doing back at the IRL season opener in Orlando [Fla.], just a different driver."

At Orlando, Stewart crewed for Robby Unser. Curry will be handling crew duties at Las Vegas for Jaret Schroeder, Tri-Star's regular driver.

"It'll be nice to be out there with the IRL guys and see my buddies who I've raced with, but I'm not sure I really want to be in the crew chief role again," Stewart said. "When I'm there, I do all the roles, owner, crew chief, engineer, you name it."

Stewart, 1999 Winston Cup rookie of the year, acknowledged that working in the pits makes him better appreciate what Greg Zipadelli does for him in the No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac.

"I'll tell you this, it makes me respect Greg even more than I already did," Stewart said. "I see things the way he sees things. It makes me think about things from a different perspective, and I think that'll help our team later this year. It's a pretty tough task."

Michael Waltrip will spend Easter Sunday and most of the week relaxing with his family on their 90-acre spread on Lake Norman in North Carolina, but most of the time he will probably be resting from having run in the Boston Marathon last Monday--all 26 miles.

His time was 4 hours 34 minutes, more than two hours behind the winner, Kenya's Elijah Lagat, but he finished.

"Somewhere about the 16-mile mark," he said, "I began to ask myself what good it would do to run 10 more miles, but I decided to push on. It was my second marathon. I ran one back in February at Kiawah Island in South Carolina and finished in 4:14, so I thought I'd do better in Boston, but I didn't train right. For Kiawah, I trained to run 26 miles. For Boston, I was only doing five miles a day because I was racing every weekend, but I'm proud to have done it.

"There's nothing at all that compares a marathon to what I do in the race car. One is for fun and the other is my job. While I enjoy running and I love my job, there is a switch that goes on once I get in the race car that separates me from people who think they know what it's like to race 500 miles at 200 mph.

"I have people come up to me all the time and say, 'I've done the Richard Petty Driving Experience, I know what it's like for you.' Well, that's as silly as me going up to one of those Kenya dudes and saying, 'I know what it's like.' The heck they do, and the heck I do.

"Running to me is a personal thing. I feel like I'm in a shell when I run. It wasn't important where I finished. I was running in a big pack and if I would have had a little kick to give it at the finish, I probably could have passed a thousand or so of them."

For the record, he finished 14,315th among 17,813 starters.

Johnny Benson will be a fan during his time off, traveling to England for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

"I went to Spain two years ago and had so much fun that I wanted to go back," he said. "Those cars are amazing. What I couldn't believe the last time we were there is how a Formula One car can go from almost 200 mph down to almost a complete stop in less than a second."

Then there's Kenny Wallace, whose plan may be the most popular. He plans to do nothing.

"I'm so busy with sponsor functions and team responsibilities during the season that when I have an off weekend, I do what I want to do, and that means nothing," said the younger of the racing Wallace brothers.

"Every morning at the track, I wake up to the sound of engines blaring in my ear. I don't need an alarm clock. I get up with the roar of race car motors from the garage. This weekend, it'll be nice to wake up to the whistling from the birds that have moved into the chimney of my house. That'll start my day off right.

"Once I wake up, I just want to play with my kids and celebrate Easter with my family."

THE NASCAR PHENOMENON

What is the secret of the Winston Cup's success? This is how Sports Business Journal explained it:

"You can start with the excitement, watching 3,500-pound high-tech ground missiles being propelled around racetracks at speeds approaching 200 mph. But there's more, much more. Here's a sports organization that has never experienced a lockout or a strike by its athletes. Furthermore, NASCAR's drivers don't choke their coaches, beat their wives, get arrested for using or selling drugs, brag about having children out of wedlock or carry guns."

INDY RACING LEAGUE

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