Like the all-star race, Coca-Cola 600 has three segments, too

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TonyStewart.com: The Coca-Cola 600 seems to have three segments - daytime, twilight and nighttime. What strategy do you employ early in the race to make sure you're competitive for the end of the race? Tony Stewart: Early in the 600 you're running in conditions you're not going to finish the race in, obviously. You start at what's typically a real hot part of the day and the track is slippery without a whole lot of grip. You're basically just trying to stay on the lead lap, and with each pit stop, you're adjusting your car to keep up with the changing track conditions. You're making sure you keep some adjustability built into your setup, so that when the sun goes down and the track really starts changing you're able to adjust your car accordingly. TonyStewart.com: Is there any strategy in the middle part of the race, where you've been racing a long time but the finish is still a long way off? Tony Stewart: From the start of the race, on each and every pit stop, you're working on your race car trying to make it the best that it can be for the end of the run. These teams are so good nowadays that every time they come in to work on their race car, they're going to make it better. You have to constantly communicate with your crew chief and your race team and tell them what you need the car to do that it's not doing, or what it is doing that you don't like. That's the biggest challenge. TonyStewart.com: How do you approach the last 100 miles of the Coca-Cola 600? Tony Stewart: We always work these races backward. You really don't pay attention to how many laps you've run. You pay attention to how many laps you have left. You know how many laps are in a segment and you know that when it comes to that last segment that you better have it right. And in the second to last segment, you better be working your way to the front so that you don't have to pass a lot of cars in that last green flag segment. Everything that we do pretty much works from the end of the race backward, and that's how we plan our strategy. TonyStewart.com: From a physical standpoint, do you feel the difference between running 500 miles and running 600 miles? Tony Stewart: It is a long night, but in all reality it's only another half hour or 45 minutes of racing. You really don't notice it. TonyStewart.com: Do you drive more conservatively at the onset of the Coca-Cola 600 to save your equipment because it does have an extra 100 miles? Ton yStewart: No. The thing with the 600 is that when you start the race it's still daytime and it's still fairly warm. Throughout the race the temperature keeps going down and the track conditions keep changing. It's just a matter of making sure that you're staying up with the changing track conditions. Whether the track's tightened up or loosened up, you've just got to make sure that for each segment of the race you know what you need changed on the car to get yourself ready for the next segment. TonyStewart.com: Is the Coca-Cola 600 more stressful for you or the engine department? Tony Stewart: The motor guys. From the team's standpoint, we've got all day and night to work on the car. But for the motor guys, they really sweat it out, because once it's in there, it's in there. There's not much more they can do with it. TonyStewart.com: When Sunday morning rolls around, how much attention will you pay to the Indianapolis 500 before you have to head to Charlotte for a round of hospitality stops, a driver's meeting and then the longest race on the Nextel Cup schedule? Tony Stewart: I'll wake up in time to watch the start of it and I'll take a shower during the first commercial and watch as much of it as I can, just like I have the last couple of years. I enjoy the race and I enjoy watching the race. I think it's going to be a tighter field than ever. So I'll be excited to see it just like everyone else will. TonyStewart.com: You've always been a big supporter of the Indy Racing League (IRL). Why? Tony Stewart: Everybody likes NASCAR-style racing where guys can race wheel-to-wheel. When I started in the IRL I remember running at Texas with Buddy Lazier, and after the race was over he was yelling at me because we ran side-by-side for three laps. Now they're doing that for entire races at the mile-and-a-half tracks and the fans love it. It's just a good formula. It's brought NASCAR-style racing to open-wheel racing. There's all kinds of open-wheel drivers - whether they come out of midgets and sprint cars or road course backgrounds or whatever - that are coming together in the IRL. I never would've had my opportunity to race at Indy if it weren't for Tony George and the IRL. If it had still been under the old format with CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams), there never would've been a car owner who called me and said, 'Hey, we want you to come up and test for us.' I never would've gotten that opportunity. But I think I proved that with the opportunity I could do the job. Without the IRL a lot of guys would never have been able to show what they can do. TonyStewart.com: Much is made about needing more American drivers in the Indianapolis 500 and in the Indy Racing League in order for open-wheel racing to gain broader, mainstream acceptance. Do you agree? Tony Stewart: I want to see the best drivers get rides. If they come out of USAC (United States Auto Club) or if they come out of other countries - I don't care where they come from. But I have thought that there have been some American drivers who had every bit as much talent or more talent than a lot of the guys who ran CART that were never going to get an opportunity to race. So that's why I've always been such a big supporter of the IRL. But I'm not one of those people who say, 'Hey, we have to have Americans in the series.' The Indianapolis 500 is about the fastest 33 Indy car drivers going for one prize. If they happen to come from America, that's great. But it's not fair to other drivers from around the world if they're one of the best but they don't have the chance to run Indy because of what nation they're from. I just think there are a lot of drivers from the United States and all over that truly have the talent to do it, so they deserve a shot.

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