Stewart Up To The Test

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ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- North Carolina Speedway is a Tony Stewart kind of track.

It’s a track where the drivers are in control of their destiny and - after last Sunday’s wild race at Talladega - a needed break.

The NASCAR Winston Cup Series will be making a stop at the 1.017-mile track Sunday for the Pop Secret 400.

Last year, during his rookie season, Stewart had a pair of 12th-place finishes at Rockingham. But he finished fourth at the track in February, and is looking at a recent test on its abrasive surface as the key to stepping up those efforts.

"We tested with Bobby Labonte," said Stewart, who leads the series with five wins. "He saved a test session for this type of situation also. There were probably five or six Cup teams there. It was a good couple of days to gauge yourself against some other teams."

Stewart said the biggest reason he wanted to test at Rockingham was to become familiarized with the new Goodyear tire compound for this weekend.

"We do have a new tire, so we'll be starting all over," Stewart said. "But springs and shocks will still be fairly similar. The shock technology keeps getting better every time we go to the track. We did a lot of shock work when we tested. We didn’t change a ton of springs really, but we did try to find out what the new tire would be like. We saved a couple of tests for the end of the year just for this type of situation."

As has been the case all season, Stewart and Labonte – teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing – worked closely together during the tests.

"We parked side-by-side in the garage, and every time we came in we’d tell each other what we did and how the car reacted," Stewart said. "It’s a little easier to do it at a test because it’s a much more relaxed and controlled setting than what we have on a typical Winston Cup weekend.

"We still go through our same communication process, but it’s easier to do at a test session because the pressure of having to get somewhere right away isn’t there. Instead, we can take the time to compare our notes and say, 'This is the direction we’re going right now,' and see what direction they’re going, as well."

With the teams of Stewart and Labonte already accounting for nine tour wins this year – and victories last season at three of the final tracks on the schedule - the Gibbs boys may be the ones all others are shooting for well into next year.

While midseason inconsistency marred Stewart’s attempt at a championship bid, he’s still a respectable sixth in the points race, only 38 behind Ricky Rudd.

"I’m not really worried about points right now," Stewart said. "If we go out and do our job the way we feel like we can do it, the points will take care of themselves. There’s nothing that says if a couple of guys in front of us have a bad day that we can’t capitalize on it and make our situation a little better."

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