Winston Perfect For Stewart

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Tony Stewart knows all about racing in a “cutthroat” environment. He did it for years in the United States Auto Club series, and he did quite well, thank you.

Stewart won four USAC championships driving Sprint cars and Midgets, where making it into the feature race meant winning or finishing near the top in a series of preliminary races.

So, this year new format for The Winston should be right up Stewart’s alley. As in the past, the Winston will consist of three segments. But unlike the past, drivers will be eliminated after each segment.

A total of 10 drivers will make the final cut, and will participate in a 20-lap “dash for the cash.”

“It’s pretty unique,” said Stewart, who has finished second, 15th and third in his three previous The Winstons. “It’s probably going to be a little more exciting for the fans knowing that it’s not only the race to see who wins the segment, but it’s the race to see who’s going to be in the next segment. There’s a race within a race this year.

“This format does remind me of my USAC days, but at least in USAC you had a semi (heat race). There aren’t many semis in The Winston. If you make a mistake, blow a corner and two guys get by you, and you’re one spot away from being bumped, you’re not going to get a second chance to get into the next race. You’ve missed it. That’s it. You’re done.”

The first segment of The Winston will consist of 40 laps. A total of 27 drivers will participate this year, including the winner of The Winston Open, the preliminary race to The Winston.

After the first segment, only seven cars will be eliminated, leaving a field of 20. The second segment will consist of 30 laps, but only 10 cars will advance to the final “heat,” where the entire field could be inverted prior to the start following a fan vote.

During his rookie season in Winston Cup in 1999, Stewart won The Winston Open to advance to The Winston, where he wound up finishing runner-up to Terry Labonte. He was involved in an accident the following year, and then came home in third place behind winner Jeff Gordon a year ago.

Stewart is no stranger to victory lane in all-star events. He won the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona in February, prior to the Winston Cup season-opening Daytona 500.

But is The Winston of the same mentality to drivers as The Budweiser Shootout?

“It’s no holds barred,” Stewart said. “I want to see how much money I can make in those two races. I take the same attitude that I had when I was racing USAC. Sure, I’ll still have enough money to buy gas and get home this time, but I’ll treat The Winston like I have to win it or else there won’t be any money to get home. That was the reality for me back in my early USAC days. I had to win. Winning meant surviving.”

And “surviving” is just what The Winston is all about. That, and winning the big prize at the end of the rainbow – a $750,000 jackpot.

“The event is just about as fun as Winston Cup racing can be, and that shows,” Stewart said. “The fans obviously seem to like it. I’ll think about that (the money) if we’re lucky enough to get into victory lane. I’ll worry about what it pays when I’m standing on the Home Depot Pontiac holding the trophy.”

Qualifying for The Winston Open is set to begin at 7:05 p.m. ET Friday. Qualifying for The Winston is scheduled to begin at approximately 8 p.m. ET.

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