Originally created 02/20/03

Stewart ready for 'real' start of NASCAR season



ROCKINGHAM, N.C. - Ask Tony Stewart a question, he will give you an answer. That's why it should be no surprise Stewart was one of many who were glad to have the Daytona 500 out of the way.

Stewart joined drivers, including Mark Martin and Jeff Green, in saying this Sunday's Subway 400 at the North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham was considered the "real" beginning of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series since that race, as well as 31 other regular season events, doesn't require the use of a restrictor plate.

"What you do at Rockingham is solely based on what you and your team can do with your racecar, not what drafting line you're in or how much the car behind you is going to affect your next move," Stewart said. "Once we get away from Daytona, everything kind of settles into a groove. We're back in the weekly grind. I enjoy going to Rockingham because I really feel that's where our season starts."

Stewart said the 10-day schedule at Daytona, which included the Budweiser Shootout all-star race on Feb. 8, is too long. With only one exception for the Coca-Cola 600 at the Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, N.C., every other race requires three days or less to complete practice, qualifying and the main event.

"I think everybody's pretty worn out after being in Daytona for so long," Stewart said. "Rockingham means a normal routine, a chance for the guys to get back to their families for a couple of days before heading to another racetrack."

AND BABY MAKES THREE: Jerry Nadeau was one of one a few drivers who dared travel back to the Carolinas after Sunday's Daytona 500. The majority stayed an extra day to avoid an ice and snowstorm that paralyzed parts of North and South Carolina and Virginia on Sunday afternoon.

Nadeau, driver of the U.S. Army Pontiac, had a good reason to get home. His wife was ready to deliver their first child. A daughter, Natalie Kate, was born Monday morning in Spartanburg, S.C., and father was in the delivery room.

Nadeau and his father, Gerry Nadeau, left his private airplane at Daytona Beach and drove 475 miles during the night to make it to the hospital in time for the birth.

"Life is great, and everyone is healthy," he said.

SOGGY RATINGS: Rain didn't help Fox's overnight ratings from Sunday's broadcast of the Daytona 500.

A year after the season-opening race on the Winston Cup Series circuit enjoyed record ratings, this year's numbers showed a 10-percent decrease.

It drew a 9.8 rating, well off NBC's mark of 10.9 in 2002. What hurt Fox's ratings were two different rain delays - one of 67 minutes, the other of 55 - which made it difficult to keep the audience hooked.

Each rating point represents about 1.06 million U.S. television households.