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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 19, 2015
Q. How much will Harvick and that team's experience help them from last year?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I think it's a touch of‑‑ obvious that that's what's going to happen. I think this week versus last year this week, you could see the demeanor totally different than it was a year ago at this time. I mean, I think when we left Phoenix last year, he was extremely nervous, Delana was extremely nervous, and they both flew home with me from Phoenix last week, and their demeanor was totally different.
I think just going through this experience a year ago, it's not like racing for a championship 15 years ago where you're down to one or two guys and it's a point spread going into it. This is a winner‑takes‑all scenario. I really believes it gives him an advantage going into this week.
I mean, Kyle and Martin and even Jeff winning four championships hasn't been through a week like this week, so I think it's big.
Q. What is it about Kevin that he has what it takes to push himself to the next level?
TONY STEWART: I think it starts at the beginning of the year. You look at how they came out of the gate, and they've carried that momentum all season. I mean, there's never really‑‑ there were a couple weeks that he had, two or three weeks in a row that were off weeks, but for the most‑‑ most of the season they've had that speed.
When you carry that momentum through the entire season and can maintain it, it's not like you peak too soon or anything like that. When you can maintain that kind of momentum the whole season, I mean, I think you have that confidence going into this week, so I think it makes it a lot easier.
Q. In a race where the stakes are so high, it's basically a winner‑take‑all, what is the code or line between what's acceptable and what's not?
TONY STEWART: Between who.
Q. Between the four participants. If we had a replay of what happened at Kansas, is that acceptable because it's the championship?
TONY STEWART: I think you've got to ask those four guys because they're the ones that really have to answer that question for you. But I mean, it's‑‑ I think you've got to look at the scenario that they're put in, and that's got to be part of your answer, don't blame the players, blame the game. Whatever they do and whatever they feel like is the code of conduct, I think that's between those four guys, and they have to be the ones that have to mutually agree upon it.
Q. This year I've never been more confused about where the line is and what the code is because it seems like everybody has a definition.
TONY STEWART: Don't feel bad. We're all as confused as you guys are. What was it two years ago where we were all told to have at it. Nobody here said, have at it, but it's kind of a touch of confusion for us as drivers to sit there and figure out what it all means and where it's at. I mean, for everything else we do in the series, there's a defined rule in a rule book that tells you what that is, and that's one thing that's never been present in this sport is a defined line on what the etiquette is.
Before it used to be the drivers took care of themselves and it was all on us to decide what it was, but it was a touch of sensitivity each week of trying to figure out what that needs to be and where it needs to be and how to control it and manage it.
Q. You've put a lot of drivers into (inaudible) before. Did Matt have to do what he did?
TONY STEWART: Again, like I said a second ago, I think when you look at what happened, if it was a 36‑week season, the drama behind it wouldn't have been near as crucial, but don't hate the players, hate the game. Hate the scenario that they're put in to where somebody takes you out and can ruin your opportunity. I mean, it ruined two guys' opportunity to make it to this week, so‑‑ the game didn't used to be this. This wasn't the game eight years ago, five years ago. It was totally different. And now the game has changed, and now we're seeing the results of when you back drivers in a corner, this is what happens.
Q. As a car owner, if your driver spun out in the last lap, out of a championship, how are you going to feel?
TONY STEWART: Well, you never like it.
Q. Will you understand it, though?
TONY STEWART: It's part of the sport. It always has been part of the sport. How many races have you seen over the course of 60 years where the driver on the last lap got spun out? It's not new, so why are we acting like it's new? It's always been a part of the sport. But what's different about it is that it's a season championship that could be decided off of it, where 10 years ago it wasn't necessarily deciding a championship in one corner, in one race.
Q. Is it almost in some way a justification?
TONY STEWART: I'm not saying it's justification, I'm saying the game is different.
Q. Do you think sponsors understand that because you're really, really good with sponsors, and how do you make the call to a sponsor where it wasn't really you that let them down, it wasn't your equipment, it wasn't your pit crew, it was some other guy on the racetrack?
TONY STEWART: Well, I think it's our job to help them understand, because they understand their job. They don't always understand everything about our job, but when something like that happens, you communicate with them, and I think they understand it a little bit better when the teams explain to them what the etiquette kind of is supposed to be. The hard part is it seems like it keeps changing, and it's changing because of the sanctioning body, it's changing because of new drivers coming into the series that are kids still, and the definition is very, very vague anymore.
Q. Kevin sort of downplayed the notion that he's the favorite this weekend. Do you feel like he's the favorite?
TONY STEWART: I do. I honestly do. Like I said, mainly from the standpoint that he's‑‑ just from the standpoint that he's been through this scenario and been through this week last year. Like I say, even for Jeff's championships that he won, it was not in a format like this. It doesn't have the pressure that he has this week and for the two‑‑ for the 18 and the 78, I mean, they've never been in this scenario before. All four drivers are capable of winning this, but having a driver that's been through it the previous year and knows how to handle it and knows what to expect, I mean, that's a big advantage going into a week like this.
Q. I understand you're talking about "the game." What's being lost I guess in the sense of‑‑ have you lost something in a sense because you're of a certain generation, you know how things were done, you were taught from a previous generation? Have you lost something, or is it a case of this new generation, how this game is now played? There's always going to be conflicts between generations.
TONY STEWART: Here's the moral to the story: Two thirds of the questions I've been asked have been about etiquette so far. It's not about how hard we've worked to get to this position, it's not how proud you are of your organization, what's your expectations for the weekend. Tell me this whole thing hasn't changed. You guys are asking the questions. You guys know the direction this has been going since I sat down. It answers your question of what this has all been and what's changed about it.
Q. Has it been good for the sport, though?
TONY STEWART: I don't know. You guys are the ones that translate it all to the fans, and it's up to you guys to decide that and it's up to the fans to decide that. It doesn't matter whether we think it's good or bad. We're not the ones that have the impact on it.
Q. What would another championship mean to your team?
TONY STEWART: Thank you. It would be great. I mean, just to have the opportunity under this format, I mean, just to get here is a huge accomplishment, and to have that opportunity two years in a row and have the opportunity to have a driver go back‑to‑back, I mean, in the sport, look at the drivers that have went back‑to‑back, there's not a lot of them that have been able to do that, so to have that opportunity is huge. We're really excited about that. It's something that really puts a positive feeling on your organization. It's not just winning one, but to be able to do back‑to‑back like that, that puts you in elite company.
Q. What's it mean for the sport for Jeff to be in this championship?
TONY STEWART: It's awesome. It's awesome for the sport, but it makes you feel good for Jeff and everything that he's done for the sport. To be able to go out on his terms and to be able to go into his last race and to have the opportunity to race for a championship in his last race, that's what you dream of. I mean, it doesn't matter what sport you're in, you dream of having that opportunity.
Man, no matter how it ends up for him, just to be in this scenario is an unbelievable situation for him.
Q. Is Kevin a different driver than when you hired him? Is he better?
TONY STEWART: He was pretty good the whole time, but I mean, I think what makes him better is he's comfortable with his team. He's comfortable in the scenarios that he's in right now. I think experience just breeds that calmness.
Q. His high school wrestling coach said that even at age 10 he saw a tenaciousness and a toughness out of Kevin that you don't always see out of kids, and that he's carried it through‑‑
TONY STEWART: But I bet if you go look at everybody that's in the series, somebody in their childhood could probably say the same thing about every driver here. That's why you get to this level.
Q. Because you have a view that most of us don't in the car, when you've raced Kevin in the past, how has that toughness and tenaciousness come through in racing for a win, racing for a position that maybe we can look on the outside but we don't truly understand or have a grasp?
TONY STEWART: Kind of compare it as a cross between Dale Earnhardt and Terry Labonte. It's a scenario where you've got a guy that the circumstances don't rattle him. It doesn't matter what the task is ahead. It doesn't matter if they've had pit strategy that's got him in the back. It just doesn't faze him, and it's easy to rattle guys, but he's just someone that has that calm, cool nature like Terry Labonte had, but he's got that aggressive nature like Dale Sr. had, as well, and he's got a good blend of both that makes him so tough.
Q. Is there a memorable encounter with him through your years of racing?
TONY STEWART: I wouldn't say there's one thing, but when we raced for the win at the Brickyard, that was tough. That's a tough guy to‑‑ in a scenario like that, in a big race like that, he's a hard guy to get around, and that's because he's tough on the racetrack.
Q. You almost had two driver in the Chase; Kurt Busch did an amazing job with Tony Gibson. How proud are you of the 41 team, as well?
TONY STEWART: Very proud. I mean, it was definitely a mistake that was made at the start of the race that got him in a hole, but even in that, I mean, I've seen Kurt grow a lot in the last two years, and especially this year. I mean, to start the year with all the turmoil that he had and to be able to come back and fight his way back to almost making it here this week, I mean, that's a pretty good comeback. I mean, it's not as dramatic as Kyle's comeback, but to see him rally and get himself in a position like that, I think it was a scenario where he just tried so hard, and he's one of those guys that from the drop of the green to the checkered, he's going to fight hard, and he wanted to get to Turn 1 first. A three‑inch mistake cost him that chance.
But you look at the big picture of the course of what happened over the year and how strong they've become, it's the same kind of pairing between Kevin and Rodney Childers is the same kind of pairing we're seeing with Kurt and Tony Gibson, and I'm pretty excited about that for next year. I feel like Kurt as a person is a growing, as a racer he's growing, and I think the best is still to come with Kurt.
Q. And for next year, with the new rules package, it could very well put your 14 team in the mix as well as Danica?
TONY STEWART: I hope so. That's the goal, but for sure I'm very comfortable with two of the cars and their performance. I feel like Danica and I both need to step up next year. But to be able to say out of a four‑car organization, you've got two guys where you want them, that's half the battle right there.
Q. Do you have any best advice for Kevin and team about winning a championship?
TONY STEWART: How do you give him best advice that they don't know from last year? They've been through this experience. I mean, it's just reminding them that everything that they did this week is have fun, don't overthink everything and do what got you here. They know that, though, after last year's experience.
Q. Kurt kind of ran out of time on Saturday with the rain, and there's rain in the forecast this weekend. It's been the same rule for a long time.
TONY STEWART: Exactly.
Q. Is that okay in the Chase and in these elimination races and in the championship?
TONY STEWART: How do you change it, though? That's the hard part. But that's the way it's always been, and I think everybody knows that. It's not a new rule. It's not something different. Is it ideal, no. Is it okay, yes. I mean, we don't have a choice. We can't control the weather.
It's not ideal by any means. I don't think anybody wants to have that scenario and have to race in that scenario, but as well, at the same time, we've all raced under those circumstances, and if it has to end that way, that's the way it'll end.
Q. You're a track operator, too, so you may have a better idea of what it takes to come back the next day to run‑‑
TONY STEWART: Well, it's harder for us. Yeah, I don't know that it's‑‑ I don't know that for everybody involved, though, if that's the right thing to do would be to come back the next day for 20 laps. I don't think it's fair to the fans. I don't think it's fair to especially fans watching on TV. There's so much emotion that goes into that race day that if it gets started and it gets over 50 percent, I think you've got to say it is what it is.
Q. At the risk of being that guy, I have another etiquette question I've been dying to ask you. If there's one thing I know from covering you, it's that you do not block Tony Stewart. Matt Kenseth blocked Joey Logano and he got turned, and I felt like all along, I kept saying, if that was Tony‑‑ wouldn't you expect that to happen?
TONY STEWART: One thing I've lobbied with NASCAR is I don't understand why the bumpers line up the way they do. When I started, the bumpers didn't line up. The front car, the nose was lower than the tail of the guy in front of him, and that's why it was so easy to police the etiquette because you knew if the guys behind you didn't like what you did, he had the upper hand, and now it's not that way. You've got guys on restarts pushing each other, and that's what caused the fiasco between Jimmie Johnson and Kevin on the restart is a third party pushed Jimmie in a position that put them both in a bad spot by the time they got to Turn 1.
Having bumpers matching up, I don't agree with. I don't like it. But when it got brought up, it was‑‑ they couldn't turn in a different direction quick enough when I brought that up.
Q. So does that change how you police things yourself?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, because that's how it used to be policed. It used to be that you raced guys how you wanted to be raced, and now you can‑‑ you don't have to live under that rule because you've got a bumper that lines up that you can just get in front of the guy, bounce off of him, and you go. In Matt's case, it bounced him in a bad spot on the racetrack and it spun him.
But if the bumpers didn't line up, it would be a lot easier to police it amongst each other. NASCAR wouldn't have to get involved. But again, it's one of those scenarios of the game has changed‑‑ the players haven't changed, the game has changed.
Q. So in your eyes, is someone truly right and wrong in that situation?
TONY STEWART: It doesn't matter what I think. The result is the result, and there's‑‑ the result has happened because of the packages that we have.
Q. Kevin went out of his way today not to antagonize any of the guys on the stage with him, not to say anything that would inspire them. To what do you attribute Kevin‑‑
TONY STEWART: I don't know, I didn't see it, so I'm not really‑‑ they've had us busy doing other things today.
Q. What do you have to do to get to this level next year, and what kind of‑‑ and to be honest, when teams have struggled like you have, they come off‑season with some changes. Should we expect there are going to be changes to your team?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I think you'll have that answer soon enough. But there's going to be a lot of change. It's not like we were a 15th place car all year. We haven't been even close to that, unfortunately. There's going to have to be a lot of changes. The hard part is when you get back where we're at right now, it's hard to sit there and say exactly what you need, because if it was that easy, you'd have fixed it by now, which makes it even more difficult to sit here and to be honest and tell you what we know needs to be changed. That's the hard part is trying to find those variables that we need to work through to get better next year.
Q. You can obviously never be fast enough for a competitor, but next year with what you're facing, it just adds to the‑‑
TONY STEWART: Sense of urgency, for sure. So we're definitely going to work hard this winter to try to fix it, more so to try to identify what the problem was, and once we can identify what the problem is, then it's a little easier to identify what the solutions are.
Q. But you feel like the rule change will be a step in your direction?
TONY STEWART: It's definitely not going to hurt us. It definitely suits my driving style better than this era of taking horsepower away and adding downforce. I think we established at Michigan and Indianapolis that that package was a total disaster. Hopefully this will be better.
Q. Will it be challenging to go through a season with all these changes? Sometimes chemistry takes a while between driver, crew chief, whomever. You don't have that time. Obviously guys have had success in their first years, but is that an extra challenge or at this point do you got to do what you've got to do?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I think that's more the attitude. Whatever happens this winter, we have to take what we've got. We have to take what we end up starting the season with, and we've got to make the best out of it all year. You know, at the end of the season, if it's not the way we want it and we gave everything we could, it doesn't mean you're going to be happy about it, but at least you don't feel like you left anything on the table. We'll do everything we can in our power, and like I said, you pray and you hope and you dream of having a season like Jeff has had where you come into the last race of your career and you hopefully have an opportunity to race for a championship.
Q. This track has had so much success for you, winning the first couple of races, winning championships here. Starting now, thinking about the journey you're going to go on through this race and next year, ending it right here at Homestead‑Miami Speedway, where does this track fall in your heart, of the tracks you've raced on?
TONY STEWART: Well, there's a lot of the tracks on the circuit that we love. I mean, Homestead has always been a‑‑ I liked it when it was‑‑ I got a chance to run here when it was the Indy‑shaped track and then got a chance to run it when it was reconfigured and it was track, and then with the banking, so I've been here through all three different configurations. It's a track I like. That's the great thing is you hate to have your last track that you go to be a track you don't like, so this is one that I do like. There's others I like on the schedule, as well, but it's nice going to a track that you do enjoy for the last race of the year, especially when you've got to race there for a championship. It makes it a lot better when you like the track versus disliking it.
TONY STEWART: It's still there. It's waiting on me to come home to use it. We've got all kinds of bad idea toys to play with in the off‑season.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports