Tech Talk · Mike Neff · Monday September 17, 2012
Tony Stewart started off his championship run last season with back-to-back wins at Chicago and Loudon. While his sixth-place finish on Sunday didn’t replicate his win from 2011, the nine bonus points he carried into the Chase this year have him sitting in basically the same position — on the cusp of being a contender. The attention now turns to Loudon, where Stewart and his teammate Ryan Newman were dominant in 2011. This Spring, they finished 12th and 10th respectively, but are poised to made another run at the top two spots this coming weekend after a successful test at Milwaukee.
Frontstretch caught up with Steve Addington after the Milwaukee test to get his take on heading to the Magic Mile, cars in line for the Chase races, working with Hendrick Motorsports and how much they pay attention to the competition when they’re at the race track.
Mike Neff: Getting ready to roll off to Loudon where Stewart started off his run to the championship last year with his second win in as many Chase races in 2011. You just got back from Milwaukee where you were testing to get ready for Loudon. How did it turn out?
Steve Addington: It turned out really well. We spent two days up there running through a lot of things and we came up with a package that he is really comfortable with. He was happy when we left there, so I feel like we have a really good package going with some changes on the car that are positive from Tony’s perspective — so we feel good about it.
Mike Neff: You went to Loudon earlier this year for the first time with the EFI package. Your first time there with Tony, did you learn anything from that race that you are going to bring back or are you going to bring more things from the test?
Steve Addington: We went back there and they were really good, both the No. 39 and the No. 14 were really fast there; qualified P1 and P2, so we went back with the same package and it just didn’t work out for us. So we felt like we needed to get some speed in the car, so we headed to Milwaukee and ran through a lot of stuff in the direction that I wanted to go in and it was positive. I feel like going back there that we’ll be a lot better and we’re going to feel confident because Tony is confident in the car. That is going to be a big key to being successful there.
Mike Neff: As for Tony’s attitude this year vs. last year, we heard the whole speech last year that he didn’t think he deserved to be in. This year he was tied for second heading into the Chase thanks to the seeding deal. Is his attitude better in general than it was last year, at least from what you know having not been with them last season?
Steve Addington: You’re right, I wasn’t there, but we’re going into this [one] as a team and we’re all going to be together next season. Everything is positive and I think that with what Tony and I have talked about making it better going forward is what we’re working on. Everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing is working toward getting better at all of the race tracks. The mile-and-a-half stuff last year, they were really good, and I think people have caught up so we have to open up the box and think outside of it from where they were last year in order to get better and be faster and have speed in our race cars. That is what we’re working on and everyone has their heads down and is digging. I’m excited about it. I think this is the best chance for me personally to win a championship and for SHR to win two in a row.
Mike Neff: Out of curiosity, at the race track, now that we’re in the Chase, you know the guys that you are racing for the title. Do you specifically assign a person or people to watch what the other teams are doing or are you totally focused on your deal and just going out to win so it doesn’t matter what everyone else does?
Steve Addington: I told my guys that all we can control is what the No. 14 car does and that is the big key. We can’t control what everybody else is doing. We go every week to try and win races to be in the Chase, so I told them that we aren’t going to change up anything, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. We aren’t going to break our routine because when you start breaking routines that is when you can get yourself in trouble. I think you can outsmart yourself when you get into this position if you try and do that.
I took the guys to lunch the other day and we talked about where we needed to be and what we needed to work on and we needed to stick together as a team. Bad days are going to come but we need to stay focused and dig down deep inside of ourselves to pull through this deal so that on the days that we aren’t able to win a race, we can get the best finish possible.
Mike Neff: It seems different teams in the Chase have different attitudes about the cars that they’re running in the Chase races. Do you have all of your Chase cars set, or are you going to see how the cars run the best early on and reuse them in later races?
Steve Addington: That is the key. We’ve built some really nice race cars for the Chase, and we just took a brand new car to Milwaukee that we’re going to take to Loudon this weekend. The effort that everybody has put in and I think it is really good. If this car performs well, we’ll turn it around and take it somewhere else. Drivers get comfortable with a car and they like the way it reacts to small changes and they get confidence in the car. If that is the case then that is what we’ll do, we’ll reuse a car.
We’ve got a car schedule set out all of the way to Homestead, but that could change any minute. TBD – To be determined at any minute. That is our game plan, we have a good schedule laid out, but if he finds a car that he really likes we’ll race it two or three or four times if we can.
Mike Neff: You are affiliated with Hendrick. They supply you with chassis and engines and support. Since they got all four cars in and you guys are in, from the engineering and assistance side, how much are they able to give you? I don’t know what the normal number of guys they give you is at the track or shop, but is that stretched thinner now that five cars are in the Chase?
Steve Addington: We have a mutual understanding. They know how we’re going to the race track and we know how they’re going to the race track and what they’re going to work on. I am in their Tuesday meeting with their drivers for debrief. Me and Stewart are either there or on the phone to talk with them every Tuesday. We’re very open about it and that is something that is the cool part of it that I didn’t have last year, having just two drivers with the Dodge camp. Being able to have that affiliation with Hendrick and to have Rick’s support and to be able to talk to him one-on-one is really cool. We all share and that is the way it is. We work hard together and we share information and we take it from there and everyone can run and do with it as they want.
Mike Neff: One of the selling points of the EFI system or one of the points they made early on was that you were not going to see fire coming out of the pipes when the drivers let off of the gas. Just an observation, but it has seemed, especially since the engine troubles at Michigan, that the Hendrick engines have been spitting a little fire as the drivers let off. I’m sure it is mostly the engine guys who would know, but do you know if they have changed the settings to have some excess fuel go through after they lift is helping the engine?
Steve Addington: I don’t know how to answer that question. I do know that there is a smart group of people over there at the engine shop at Hendrick with Jeff Andrews, Scotty Maxim and that whole group over there. They do an awesome job and they are always working and thinking toward what can make us better. They’re working on different packages. All of the teams are thinking fuel mileage and horsepower and where you’re going to use it. They’re working on that and we’re all open-minded going into this thing about how it is going to turn out.
They’re working on some stuff. I can’t divulge what it is, which is just part of it, but all of that group over there is working to get better. I’m very confident about our engine package. I tell you, if you have an issue they’re on top of anything that you do. The issues we’ve had, that group is the first ones at our shop to sit down with us and tell us what they’re doing to rectify the situation going forward.
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