DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - There was a time when Tony Stewart despised pack drafting at restrictor plate tracks like Daytona and Talladega.
But that was then and this is now and the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion is now a proponent of the pack being back as has been the case this week at Daytona.
“I think a lot of it is that the bumpers didn’t line-up as good then as they do now," Stewart said of the old style car compared with today's next generation Sprint Cup machine. "So if you do get put in a situation where you do run into somebody it doesn’t just instantly wreck them. And that was kind of the thing that you worried about was just getting run into from behind.
"We’ve had to push ourselves as drivers over the last couple of years to learn how to do this two-car deal (tandem racing) and you take a step back to going back to pack racing and it’s like wow, it’s just so much easier. You’re not having to hold your breath all the time and not having to clinch the steering wheel so tight all the time. I think mainly the difference between now and ’06 is just you know that the bumpers line up and ’06 was before they repaved the track, too. So we’ve got a lot more grip in the race track which gives us a little more security also.”
After comign up just short of a win in the Shootout thanks to Kyle Busch's last second pass at the finish line, Stewart now sets his sights on getting ready for Sunday's Daytona 500.
He'll take part in Thursday's Gatorade Duel qualifying races and has an idea of what he'd like to accomplish in the warm-up prior to the 500.
“I think kind of similarly to what we did basically at the beginning of the Shootout," said Stewart explaining his approach to the Duel. "I think we’ve got a really good car for Sunday, so you want to get the best finishing position you can in the Shootout without beating up the race car. So, we’re going to try to do everything we can to now put ourselves in bad situations. But when it comes to the end of the race tomorrow, we’ll push really hard to see how far up we can get and try to get a good spot, but I guess the biggest variable in the equation is just don’t hurt the car that we’ve got."
Stewart's starting position in the Daytona 500 will be determined by his Duel finish but even if he doesn't get the performance Thursday he's hoping for, the three-time series champ is confident about his chances in "The Great American Race."
"We’re locked into the race and I think even if we don’t get the starting spot we want, I still think you can come from the back much easier and get to the front," Stewart said. "The biggest thing is to just take care of the race car. But the racer in you at the end of the day still wants to go get the best finish you can.”