Hungry For A Win

An off-weekend at any point during the marathon-like NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season is a welcome reprieve. There are only three of them, with the Easter holiday marking off-weekend number two.

But as those who comprise the traveling circus that is NASCAR prop their feet up for a rare Saturday and Sunday at home, their ability to relax only reaches a certain point. That's because on Fri., April 1, teams unload their shiny race cars at what is arguably the toughest race track on the Nextel Cup circuit - Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway - and hope for nary an April Fool's surprise.

The tight and fast .533-mile oval instills a feeling of love or hate amongst those who whip 3,400-pound race cars around its 36 degrees of banking. The track's layout is a challenge all by itself, but add 43 race cars to the mix at speeds averaging 125 mph and you get the toughest ticket in town. It provides great theatre for the 160,000 fans in attendance, during and after the race. But depending on what driver you talk to and when, Bristol can be their favorite venue, or their favorite venue to convert into a bass pond.

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing, sums it up best: "Bristol is a track that's feast or famine." And Stewart should know. He won the 2001 Bristol night race, and in his four Bristol starts leading up to that contest, he led 413 of an available 2,000 laps (just over 20 percent). But in his six starts since that Bristol stomp, Stewart has not finished better than 15th, seeing strong drives thwarted by Bristol's unrepentant circumstances.

So as Stewart spends his off-weekend in the role of track owner at his latest acquisition - Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio - the relaxation that comes with being involved in grassroots motorports is tempered by his impending trip to Bristol.

Ironically, the April 3 race is called the Food City 500. And it's there where Stewart hopes his Bristol famine ends with a Food City 500 feast and a boost in the early season.

"We're only four races into it, so I'd say it's still a little early to tell," Stewart said of his performance so far. "I think we're getting a direction on what we need to change to be better. We had a good run at Daytona, a terrible run at California, a really, really good car at Las Vegas, and then a terrible run at Atlanta. We've got some good things going for us, but we also have some areas we need to work on. The season is still young and there's a lot of racing yet to go."

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