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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 8, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Hello, media. Welcome to this month's West Region NASCAR Nextel Cup teleconference. This marks the fifth year we've been able to bring you this monthly call, which is sponsored by California Speedway, Infineon Raceway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, NASCAR, and Phoenix International Raceway.
We kick things off in 2007 in fine fashion with our guest Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet. Tony is a two-time NASCAR Cup champion, has 29 career victories. He is also a two-time winner at Daytona International Speedway.
Tony, thanks for taking time for the West Coast media. I know it's a busy day for you.
TONY STEWART: It is a busy day. We're having a lot of fun today. We had a good media session so far. Looking forward to another one right now.
THE MODERATOR: Tony, you didn't make the Chase last year, but certainly closed out the season stronger than anybody with three wins in the final 10 races. Are you able to carry that momentum in 2007? Just how focused is your team after not making the Chase in '06?
TONY STEWART: We're excited. I mean, obviously not making the Chase isn't what we wanted by any means. At the same time, like you said, just to finish strong last year was something -- when we didn't make the Chase, we had to set a different goal. Obviously our goal every week is to win races. We were finally able to take a chance at Kansas, basically win our first fuel-mileage race and take a chance and gamble on the fuel. If we were in the Chase, we wouldn't have had that opportunity.
Coming into this year we're excited. We finished the year strong with those three wins during the Chase period. We've had a good off-season. I won two races back-to-back at Fort Wayne, Indiana, the 29th and 30th of December, in the Coliseum there in a midget, then won the biggest dirt midget race of the year already here in January at Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the Chili Bowl race. 282 entries there. It was a big win for me. First time I've ever won using one of my own cars. A huge, huge win for our new sponsor, Chevrolet, who replaced Mopar with our open-wheel program.
Huge off-season for us. Been really, really busy. Excited about the momentum we built from last season all the way through the winter and now into Daytona.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to the media.
Q. Can you comment on how you've seen Kyle and Kurt Busch mature on the track since you first started racing with them?
TONY STEWART: Yeah. Both of them, when they both came on board, obviously it was different years, but they both had similar traits. They were both very aggressive and weren't very good at the give-and-take side of it. I gave Kyle a lot of grief about it. I sat down with Kyle a couple of times. I even had to sit down with Kurt once and talk to him about it. It seemed like after our discussions, they both kind of figured it out. They both were running up front. Since then, they've both learned how to win races because of that.
I think they've both matured as drivers. They're both good kids. I like hanging out with both of 'em. I get along with both of 'em just fine. They're both very talented drivers. Every year as they get more experience they just become better race car drivers and better racers.
Just seems like as time has gone on they learn when to push and when to give a little bit.
Q. Do you give an edge to one or the other?
TONY STEWART: They're very evenly matched, in my opinion. I think they both have very, very similar traits. They both have similar strengths.
Q. I was down in Vegas for the recent testing session. I'm still not sure how you really feel about the new track down there. Also I wanted to know if you wanted to comment on what you said down there about the higher speeds?
TONY STEWART: Well, it's definitely a lot faster, obviously. You know, the speeds in testing there were much higher than I think what we all would like to be running there. It makes it hard when you don't stay on the gas very long and you don't brake very much, it's hard to get an advantage on somebody when you can run that close to wide open. That part in itself kind of makes it difficult to race.
But, you know, as time goes on, I'm sure the surface will give way a little bit to where the speeds slow down a little bit.
Q. The new rules for the Chase, do you like those better this year?
TONY STEWART: It really doesn't matter to me. I mean, it's the same for everybody. Everybody knows still what it takes to get in the Chase. They know how many people they're going to take. They know basically how you're going to get your bonus points once you start the Chase.
It's the same for everybody.
Q. You looked fantastic in Vegas. Your workout routine has been paying off looks-wise. How much weight have you lost and have you been feeling any more energy inside the car?
TONY STEWART: Well, I'll be honest, I haven't felt any more energy. I think a lot of that's just because I've been so busy with now owning three different racetracks. I guess we mentioned in the press conference at Vegas, you know, we've been so busy with building a new race shop for the World of Outlaws teams, USAC teams, I haven't really had much time to relax, get away, catch my breath.
Right now the lowest amount or I guess the biggest amount of weight that I had lost was about 23 pounds. Actually gained back about four pounds, but it's not in fat, it's in muscle. We really don't pay attention to the scale as much now because it's hard to get a read and an idea of where you're at. Somewhat got discouraging at first. He said, All right, now we have to do something different. Now don't concentrate on the scale. We concentrate on body fat percentage. We're replacing fat with muscle. The muscle is weighing more than the fat is. We slimmed down, now we're building the muscle that goes along with it.
I'm seeing a difference strength-wise. You know, it's hard to see it on the scale, but I know -- I can see that we're losing fat and replacing it with muscle now.
Q. What sort of exercise routine do you have? Is it hard to keep it up, especially with all your commitments and travel?
TONY STEWART: That is a difficult part. But that's what's nice about having our trainer with us 24/7 basically. If he's tired, he knows I'm tired. Basically if we're home for a whole week, on Monday we'll start by doing upper body, then the next day we'll do lower body and abs, neck normally that same day. Every day we do cardio. We stay pretty active with it.
Q. As you know there's a new driver from California in the series this year, A.J. Allmendinger who is trying to make the jump from Champ Car to NASCAR. Could you comment what kind of learning curve is in front of him now?
TONY STEWART: I don't know much about his background outside of Champ Car. Basically he's going from a car that's half the weight and twice the downforce to half the downforce and twice the weight now. It's going to be a big adjustment for him. I mean, I think the Vegas test was a good indication of what it's going to be like for a little while with him.
You know, any time that somebody makes a drastic change like that, and I'm not sure he has what I would call heavy-car background. When you don't have much of that, it's going to be an adjustment for him.
You know, obviously he's got talent or he wouldn't have made it as far as he made it to the Champ Car level. He'll be fine. It just may take a little while. I'm sure he's probably going to crash some cars for a little while. But, you know, it's no different than I did when I came down, no different than anybody else that comes down. I mean, we all crash cars for a while till we figure it out. Once we figure it out, it seems like things smooth out.
I think he'll do just fine. It's just a matter of how long is it going to take him to adjust.
Q. Does anybody ever really understand what the NASCAR world is all about until you're in the middle of it?
TONY STEWART: Absolutely not. I've been trying to prove that to the media for this will be nine straight years I've been trying to prove that. It's definitely a different world, for sure. You know, it's not all -- it's definitely not the media people I'm talking about. It's just how your life changes. It changes very, very, very drastically. You know, it's more how people perceive you and how they see you versus when you were doing something different before that.
I mean, I remember when I came down here, my buddies said, Don't forget who you are, where you came from. I never have to this day forgot who I am, where I came from. It's the perception of how people treat you now is different than it was when you were nobody.
Q. You were talking about experimenting at the end of last year. Can you translate any of what you learned from that period to this year?
TONY STEWART: Hopefully. That's always the goal. Technology changes so fast, and it's getting quicker and quicker to what you finish the year with may not be exactly what works right off the bat now.
You know, I hope it does. I mean, that's obviously the goal. But, you know, I hope it will transfer. We'll have to wait till we get to California, Vegas, really see if what we did last year is still good enough.
Q. Obviously the focus now is on Daytona. The season doesn't end with Daytona. Is it a concern that you maybe concentrate too much on Daytona right now?
TONY STEWART: I don't think so. I mean, the great thing about the 500 being the first race of the year is it gives the teams time to prepare for our biggest race of the year. It's hard to go into the Homestead race, considering you ran at Phoenix the week before, and feel like you had adequate time to prepare for it.
With our first race being the biggest one of the year, teams being able to take the time over the winter to really work on their Superspeedway cars and get ready for the Daytona 500, I think it's appropriate in all reality. I definitely don't think because it's the biggest race of the year you can ever put too much emphasis on it.
Q. We know you don't like the Car of Tomorrow. Have you had a chance to drive it yet?
TONY STEWART: I have. I just dislike the look of it. It's not very appealing to look at. You know, I got to run it for 40 laps at Lakeland. Really don't have a good feel for it yet because of the tire that we ran there, we chose a radial tire that Hoosier built. The compound was a little bit too hard for the track. We felt like running on a radial would be more beneficial to us than running the bias tire with the softer tread compound that a lot of the other teams were using there.
It's hard to say with just running 40 laps. We'll go to Bristol and see how the car drives there. Obviously when we go into the Bristol race, we'll see a lot more. For me it doesn't matter whether it's a monster truck or a go-kart, I don't really care what it looks like. When I get in it, I still want to be the fastest guy in it.
I'm not real crazy about the looks of it. But when it comes time to get in it and drive it, it doesn't matter what it is and what it's shaped like, I'm going to go out and try to win races with it.
Q. It would seem with your experience driving so many different kinds of race cars, that might give you a bit of an edge over some of the others when you finally get to Bristol, running for the money.
TONY STEWART: I would like to believe that that would be the case. But, unfortunately, in this day, I believe it's going to be a matter of engineering, which team's engineers have figured out which package the car likes more than the other teams. Whoever figures out the combination. It's kind of like a combination to a safe. Whoever finds the combination to the safe is going to get the gold inside. Whoever can find that setup that makes the car happy is going to be the team that wins the race.
I'm not sure it's a situation where the drivers are just going to be able to carry it and make up the difference on their own.
Q. Has the Colts victory established some kind of Hoosier karma? How would that Daytona 500 trophy fit in that remarkable trophy case of yours?
TONY STEWART: I'll be honest, it's a really great problem to have. But my current home in Columbus, the home I grew up in, is not very large. We've got between my helmet collection of Cup drivers I've collected helmets from, IndyCar and midget and Sprint car and NASCAR trophies, it's getting full.
Don't worry, I will definitely find a very adequate place for it, that's for sure.
Q. You certainly had the situation in Vegas with the banking they put in, and it changed Homestead for the better, they're speculating as a way to jazz things up for the races in California is to put banking in. If you were a consultant, would you throw a few yellow flags in there? What kind of cautions would you give people about the idea of going out and trying to bank the corners to 25 degrees or something like that?
TONY STEWART: Well, if I were trying to do it, I would take one of Bruton Smith's racetracks called Bristol Motor Speedway, and considering there's a three- or four-year waiting list to get tickets, I think that's how you create excitement. I don't think there's ever a disappointed race fan at Bristol. I don't think mile-and-a-half's are the way to go any more. I think there's plenty of excitement on mile tracks and smaller. It takes a lot less room. Bruton has proven you can put just as many people around it.
In my opinion the racing was getting better and better at Vegas every year before they changed it. I'm obviously not in the grandstands, can't see the race myself. Hard for me to say for sure. The good thing about it, up till they changed it, the groove was starting to widen out to where you could run all over the racetrack. That normally helps when you have the aero push situations we're going to have this time.
Q. Does California Speedway owe you one?
TONY STEWART: No racetrack owes you one. There's four tracks on the schedule that I haven't won a race at. California's one of 'em. That's definitely a high priority for me this year. I want to try to win at a track we haven't won at before. Both Vegas and California are two of those racetracks. They're two tracks that are high on the priority list.
I like the California track. We have not had much luck there. We were running second in the spring race there last year and lost a motor with I think 20 or 25 laps to go. I'm not sure that any racetrack ever owes you one. You just have to -- you got to have the whole package go your way for a whole day to win one.
Don't take this the wrong way, but I always laugh when people say a racetrack owes you one. A racetrack never owes you anything. You as a driver and team have to earn it. That's just something we haven't been able to put the whole day together at California to make that happen.
Q. What do you think Montoya is going to do to NASCAR?
TONY STEWART: I don't know. I think he's just going to go out and be another competitor just like everybody else. His credentials are obviously very high coming in here, have created a lot of media attention. When it boils down to it, we get in the race, he's just another driver out there as far as I'm concerned. I have a lot of respect for him, met him before he went to Formula One. I think he's a great guy. I think he's a great talent. I have no doubt in my mind he'll win a race this year in his rookie season.
But, you know, I don't think he's going to revolutionize NASCAR or anything like that.
Q. You talked earlier about how your life had changed when you joined NASCAR. Were you at all caught by surprise by the attention, living in the fishbowl? Did that surprise you at all
TONY STEWART: Absolutely. It wasn't anything that I was remotely used to. When I was in the Busch Series and the IRL, you had a very small taste of that attention, fan following. As small as it seems the jump is between the Busch Series and Cup Series, once I won that first race in the Cup Series, my life was basically turned upside down.
I'm not one of those guys, I don't particularly care for all the attention. I mean, I'm not a guy that wants to be a "superstar" or media personality or racing personality or anything like that. I just like being a race car driver. I enjoy driving race cars.
It really was a drastic change for me and something that took a while getting used to.
Q. Are we going to see more open-wheel drivers coming to NASCAR? That's where the most exposure and money is.
TONY STEWART: It's hard to say. It's hard for me to speak for other guys that are running different types of cars right now. It just depends on how much they like running what they're running right now.
THE MODERATOR: Tony, thanks so much for your time. On behalf of the West Coast media, good luck at the Daytona 500 and throughout the 2007 season.
TONY STEWART: Thank you, guys. Appreciate it.
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