NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 19, 2005
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon. Welcome to this week's edition of the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. As usual we have just a tiny bit of housekeeping at the start. Greg Biffle, who is fresh off his victory at Texas last Sunday, will be the NEXTEL Wake-Up Call guest Friday at Phoenix. He'll visit the infield media center at 10 a.m. Today we're joined by a past series champion, Tony Stewart, who has four Top 10 finishes in six career starts at Phoenix, including a victory there in 1999. It's getting that time of year, so it's not too soon to mention that Tony is one of the drivers who has qualified for the 21st annual NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge on May 21st at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Right now Tony is bouncing back from last Sunday's crash at Texas that left him a bit singed, but he's doing fine. I'm told he definitely plans to compete in both the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and NASCAR Busch Series events at Phoenix that he had planned. Tony, I know you were glad to see those track safety workers Sunday afternoon. You're very grateful for their quick response to your need. What is your sense of what happened there looking back?
TONY STEWART: Basically what happened, we went into turn one, the crankshaft broke in two. By the time we got slowed down and got in an area where we could get down off of the racing groove, get slowed down, we were already on fire. Basically just got the car stopped as quick as possible, got out. It wasn't but a couple seconds after I actually had my feet on the ground that the safety crew was there and was able to put the fire out and get some liquid on my leg to get it cooled off.
DENISE MALOOF: We are definitely glad you're okay. We'll go ahead and take some questions for you.
Q. Will you do anything differently as far as preparing for this race, wear any kind of different clothing to help those burns?
TONY STEWART: We're going to have to check with the doctor this week. I'm supposed to go in either late today or early tomorrow, depending on what times we can get in to see the doctor. They're supposed to evaluate the burns. There are some second-degree burns, a lot of first-degree burns on that side of my leg, none of which is in contact with the seat itself. There won't be any pressure on it. The only thing we're going to have to worry about is the sensitivity to heat. We're going to have to sit down with the doctor and evaluate that. I'm still planning on running both the Busch and Cup race this weekend. As far as what we'll do to shield the wounds from the heat, I'm not exactly sure what that is going to entail yet.
Q. In the Busch race, in the accident that you had with Brandon Miller, then you were hit by Stanton Barrett, Stanton has issued a pretty harsh press release saying that he had nowhere to go and took umbrage with your comments after the race. In further thought, what is your response to this?
TONY STEWART: Well, I haven't seen what he put out. You know, all you got to do is look at tape. The guy was already a lap down. To say that he had nowhere to go, I guess he doesn't know where the brake pedal is. If he can't figure out which direction to point the car, at least figure out how to make it slow down. I know that every race we've run this year in the Busch Series, he's been a lap down and been in the way every time we've got to him. Most of the guys are pretty courteous and know how to get out of the way. Like I've said before, I like Stanton as a person. I've never had a problem with him. Every time I've been on the racetrack with him this year, he's been a nuisance and in the way. I'm sorry he feels that way about it, but I'm going off the facts of what I've had to deal with as far as dealing with him on the racetrack. If he doesn't like my comments about it, maybe he needs to go back to doing his other job.
Q. When you look at Phoenix and the type of racetrack that this is, what are your thoughts going into the race as far as the problems that have happened with the tires this year? Will you do anything differently or is it the tires or setup?
TONY STEWART: I don't think you'll see any problems this weekend with tires. We don't know obviously till we get there. But I'm pretty sure that Goodyear is going to have addressed any of the issues that need to be addressed. What everybody needs to keep in mind, it's easy for us as drivers to sit here and say that Goodyear isn't doing a good job. Every year the rules packages are different, the setups are different. The teams, how they're putting different loads on the tires, are different. It's something that Goodyear can't necessarily predict each time. This is just a unique situation this year. I don't think it's something you're going to see happen a lot, but it is obviously a problem that we haven't seen here in the past. I don't think Phoenix will be one of those tracks where you'll see a huge problem with tires.
Q. Can you comment a little bit about what it is like for a driver to go through these races that start in the afternoon and end at night? Do you have a blind spot going into some of the turns at some of these tracks? What is it like for you guys? Do you like it?
TONY STEWART: I mean, I like night racing anyway. I always have. The good thing about night races, I get to sleep in in the morning. Aside from that, the challenge is the same for everybody as far as how the surface temperature of the racetrack will cool off. But that's the good thing about it, it does give us a challenge that we don't normally have a on day where the sun is out all day and the track normally won't change a lot. It just adds another variable that makes it more exciting for the fans, I think.
Q. What about as the sun is setting over the track in situations like that?
TONY STEWART: Sometimes it makes it a little difficult visibility-wise. You know, we've all run enough of those races now where we've started in the daytime, ended in the evening, where we can put extra tape on our windshields to help shield the sun for us. That's probably the only downside to it. But for us as competitors, we realize the advantage of what that time slot in the day, what advantage that does give us as competitors as far as what it does for the series being able to run in prime time like that. To us, we're willing to put a little extra on the windshield and be with the sun for a couple extra laps, knowing that we're going to be able to run in a better time slot that way.
Q. I know you raced 360 at Knoxville Raceway last year. Would you like to do that again this season if and when you have the time?
TONY STEWART: Absolutely. Don't know if I'm going to get the chance to do that this year. Really enjoyed it last year. Didn't get a chance to run on the old dirt. They obviously brought in new dirt last year, put it on top of the old dirt. They've taken that dirt off. Just knowing that I've been able to run a wing sprint car there was something that was a highlight for me. Obviously, being able to have the opportunity to hopefully go back this year and do the same thing would be pretty cool.
Q. How did that new dirt feel? I know drivers had a lot of opinions on it. It reduced some things. What did you think of the racing on it?
TONY STEWART: I didn't like the new dirt. Like I said, I didn't really get a chance to run on the old dirt. I've been there in dirt late models on the old dirt in the past. That surface was just a lot better for the racing. The new dirt, when they put it down, it didn't seem like the shape of the bottom of the racetrack was the same as it was previously. It just seemed like it was a lot sandier and had a little more silt in it than that black dirt does. Didn't feel like the racing was quite as good.
Q. Early in your career in Cup, you suggested that maybe adapting to Cup was easier than Busch because of the extra horsepower. Now that you've run Busch a bit more often, have your opinions changed? What is your feeling about running the Busch Series?
TONY STEWART: I still think from my aspect, it was probably easier to get used to the Cup car just because of the horsepower difference. With the Busch cars, your straightaway speeds are a little lower, so you drive a lot into deeper into the corner with the Busch cars than you do the Cup cars. I still believe it was easier for me to make the transition from what I was driving with the sprint cars and midgets to the Cup Series versus the Busch Series. But now having the Cup Series experience on my side, it does make it easier to go to the Busch Series and know what to expect once I get there now. It's kind of a backwards leap I guess if you think about it, from skipping the Busch, going to Cup, and then backwards. I still feel like for a guy like myself that grew up with a lot of horsepower, it's a little easier to learn the Cup car because of the extra horsepower we have in the Cup Series.
Q. How much discomfort were you in from the burns?
TONY STEWART: I'm not in near as much pain today as I have been obviously yesterday and Sunday. Sunday it was a lot of discomfort. Basically they gave me a shot while we were at Texas that put me out to where I could sleep the whole flight home. Slept through the night pretty good. Yesterday was a bit of an antsy day where I couldn't really get comfortable the whole day due to the pain. But today it seems like the pain has decreased quite a bit.
Q. Now that you had a couple days to reflect on it, is there any common denominator to the fact that Gibbs Racing isn't on its A game here?
TONY STEWART: No, I wish I did know what it was, to be honest. We're just having a period where we're struggling. But, you know, you look at every one of the race teams out there, you look at Ferrari this year in Formula 1, for example, they're not having a stellar year either. If we all knew what the common variable was, we would know what to do to fix it. It's just been a little bit of everything this year. We've been off we think on our aero program some. Obviously we had a motor problem that we haven't had in the past. It happened this past weekend with the crankshaft breaking. Just had a lot of weird things happen that we aren't used to. Not sure what the problem is. Hopefully we'll find it soon to where we can get the issues addressed. The main thing is to get ourselves back in the Top 10 in points right now and get in a position to where when those last 10 weeks start, hopefully we'll have all those issues solved by then.
Q. I was hoping you could comment why you think the 16 team has been so strong this year.
TONY STEWART: Not sure. I mean, obviously Greg runs a lot of the Busch races. I think that helps him a little bit. You know, he's obviously with a team that has a proven past history of being competitive. I don't know what it is this year. I guess it's probably another year of him and his crew chief working together and knowing what each other wants and a feel of the car. Obviously they're just doing a good job this year. Wish I knew exactly what it was that was making them successful because it would make us successful, too, hopefully. But obviously they're doing a really good job whatever they're doing.
Q. Bobby Labonte said after the race he doesn't like the shorter spoiler. Dale Jr. said it. We've had a lot more cautions. What is your take? Do you think going to the shorter spoiler was the right thing to do? Do you think it's going to improve the racing? How do you feel about it after seven races?
TONY STEWART: It doesn't really matter to me. To be honest, I don't think about it. Once the new rule is in place like that, I pretty much wash my hands of any emotion or feelings about it because it really doesn't matter what we think. It's done, and that's what we have to deal with. It's a matter of just taking what we've got and trying to make the best with it. I haven't had any huge problems with it, I'll be honest. I know some guys like it; some guys don't like it. As far as myself, I haven't had any problems with it. I don't feel like it's hurt anything this year. To me it's just business as usual.
Q. It's not harder to go to the outside now because the car is easier to get loose?
TONY STEWART: Well, you can go to the inside and be just as loose as you can being on the outside. I don't really think that matters a lot. It's still a matter of getting the car balanced. As much downforce as it's taken off of the back, they can do the same way to balance it by taking some away from the front. The teams have that ability. There's ways of mounting the bodies different to where you can regain some of that downforce or take some of the downforce away from the front to make it the balance that you want. I don't think it's really a case where if you move around the racetrack, that matters a lot.
Q. You've had slow starts in seasons before. This is probably one of those seasons like that. Is there a point in the season where you start getting more comfortable with going to races? Is there a track or a city that you go to that you feel the season is going to turn around?
TONY STEWART: I'm always comfortable. You know, it just seems like historically if you look, we normally get a slow start to the season when the tracks are cooler. Seems like the tracks have a lot more grip that way. Seems like when we get into May, June and July is when we really hit our stride. That's when the tracks are starting to get warmer and slicker. It's getting harder to get grip on the racetrack it seems like to the point we really start gaining momentum. I always look forward to the month of May coming around. But I don't feel a sense of urgency of trying to get back on track right now. I mean, I feel like we're just kind of in a learning process right now. We're not really on par like we've been in the past. But I'm not feeling like, hey, we got to really find this soon or we're going to be in big trouble. It's just a matter of doing what we've been doing, keeping the guys pumped up on the race team. Sooner or later we're going to find it. This caliber of racing, you don't win a championship by not knowing what you're supposed to do. It's just a matter of saying there's a missing piece to the equation and this team is capable of finding it. I think we'll be fine.
Q. With the point system the way it is now with the Chase, is there a point in the season when it becomes more urgent to start finishing higher and getting in the Top 10? At what point do you think that's going to happen this year?
TONY STEWART: Obviously, if you're outside the Top 10 in points with two or three races before the break, then, yeah, it's going to be a greater sense of urgency. We got a lot of racing to go between now and then. We take it one week at a time. We aren't getting a big sense of urgency right now to worry about it at this point.
Q. Seems like you got out of the car pretty quickly. Did you have any delay with the HANS?
TONY STEWART: No, I was honestly pretty surprised. I haven't even -- I hadn't practiced getting out of the car in a hurry. That's the first time I've ever been on fire. I had to stop for a second and try not to panic because my natural instinct was to panic because I was getting burnt. As you're getting burnt, you want to move quick to stop the burning. I just slowed down, took the steering wheel off, got the belts undone. Got hung up just a little bit climbing out, but not any more than I would have if I probably wouldn't have had it on. Just slowed myself down. Went back in a couple inches, twisted my shoulder a little different, and out I came. To be honest, I felt like I got out pretty easy. The good thing is it made -- it probably will give me more confidence if I do get in that situation again, knowing that I probably am not going to get hung up at all. If I just take my time and work slow through it, I can get out pretty easily.
Q. How is El Dora? Any plans to do anything special around the Brickyard at your track?
TONY STEWART: El Dora is going great so far. We got through our first weekly show last week, and everything went without a hitch. Had good car counts, good crowd count. Everything was fine. As far as big races, I know that we've got some stuff planned. I don't have the schedule in front of me. I know that we've got some neat races planned. We got a race on June 8 where we're bringing some of my stock car buddies up there the week of one of the big stock car races, going to have a good time up there. We've got some neat stuff planned. But pretty much the schedule is almost identical to the way it was last year.
Q. You wear your heart on your sleeve. You seem to really connect with the Canadian fans. Could it be your upfront, honest type attitude that Canadians can really relate to?
TONY STEWART: I think there's one thing, people don't have to guess about what's going on in my mind. I am pretty open and honest about it. I'm very black and white about how I feel. I've always felt like if somebody asks me an honest question, I should be able to give them an honest answer, not hold anything back. That's probably why -- I know for a fact that that's why we have a lot of the race fans that we do have because we get that comment from them a lot, that they do like the honesty. No matter what is done in the future with NASCAR saying what we can and can't do any more, that's one thing, if it gets to that point where I can't say what I feel, that's probably the day I'll quit. But I don't think we're going to have to worry about that any time soon.
Q. What about the opportunity to race in Canada? Would you look forward to that in one of the other national series, for example, your Busch event, would you like to see that up in Canada?
TONY STEWART: Absolutely. We had a blast up there. I've ran myself and Matt Kenseth and Dave Blaney, Kenny Schrader ran a race up there at Cayuga, I believe, had a great time. The fans were awesome up there. The competitors that we raced with in the CASCAR Series up there had a great time with us, were a lot of fun to be with. So absolutely, I definitely would look forward to that.
Q. Indy 500 coming up here real soon. Are you going to drop in here at all in the next month?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, especially since I've moved home, I'm a lot closer now. If I get a day or two off, it's only about a 45-minute drive to the speedway. I can guarantee you you'll see me during the month of May up there just cruising around. No helmet bags, no uniforms, no physical in the medical center this year. Just walking around, having a good time with everybody.
Q. You led a lot of early laps at Texas last week. Did your car lose anything? It occurred to me the fact that Biffle started in the back and he was 20th, was it just a matter of a lot of cars being grouped behind him and his car being dominant or did your car lose something? Had you lost engine power before the blown engine?
TONY STEWART: I don't think we lost any power at that point. It's a problem that we've had for a long time now. It seems like if you make these races 50 laps or so, we got a shot at winning a lot of these things. It just seems like when we make pit stops, we very rarely make our car any better than what it is. It doesn't really get much faster. It might get the balance better, but it just doesn't go any quicker. It just seems like that every time you make a pit stop where you give these guys an opportunity to work on their cars, they are able to make their cars better and we don't really get a chance to catch up on it like they do for some reason. Seems like what we start the race with is pretty much as fast as we can go.
DENISE MALOOF: I know you have a schedule you have to keep today. We're going to let you go. Thank you very much for making time for us today and good luck out there in Phoenix.
TONY STEWART: All right, guys. Thank you.
DENISE MALOOF: Thanks, everybody, for your participation this week. We'll see you next week.
End of FastScripts...