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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 6, 2008
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series video teleconference. This week it's ahead of Saturday night's Bank of America 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Our guest today is two-time series champion Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota, who's one of 12 drivers competing in the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Tony is seventh in the Chase standings.
More importantly, he's fresh off last Sunday's victory at Talladega Superspeedway, and he's hoping to make it two in a row this week. Tony, welcome.
TONY STEWART: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
DENISE MALOOF: After such a significant win, what are your thoughts heading to race No. 5 in the Chase this weekend?
TONY STEWART: Just a lot of excitement finally. It's been a little over 12 months since we won a race, so to get our first one of the year this year, and of all places, to get it at Talladega, which is one of four tracks that we hadn't won a Cup race at in our career, to finally get that first Cup win at Talladega and the first win for the year was a huge, huge day for us yesterday.
Going into this weekend here in Charlotte, obviously it's a lot of momentum that hopefully we can carry. At least on Monday here, we're all smiling, and we had a day that everything went our way.
DENISE MALOOF: Before we begin with the media questions, I know that you're one of several people in the sport who's participating in Wednesday's Jail & Bail charity event for the Brienne Davis Scholarship Fund, and that's at the Brickhouse Tavern in Davidson, North Carolina. I'm sure you can drum up some bail for this fundraiser.
TONY STEWART: Well, I've got a big list. The part that scares me is I'm scared people aren't going to want to help bail me out just to keep me in jail a little longer. It's a great event. I know the big list of NASCAR officials that are passionate about the Brienne Davis Foundation and doing this in Brienne's memory. It's going to be a lot of fun.
I am a partner in the Brickhouse Tavern, so I know the preparations that have gone into this event, and it should be a lot of fun for everybody that shows up. There's going to be some great bands, and we're going to have a pretty good time. So if you want to come there and have some good laughs, it's going to be a good day on Wednesday.
Q. Congratulations on the win, and I hate to bring out the last lap pass away, but I was at the driver meeting in 2001 when they first announced that, and you were the first driver sort of caught going below the yellow line and punished for it. I'm pretty sure I've been in every driver meeting ever since, and I've never heard them say on the last lap, anything goes; you can go below the yellow line to pass. But yet a handful of drivers say they interpreted the rule that way. You and Zippy did not seem to interpret it that way, so I was hoping you could just explain to me what you think the rule is.
TONY STEWART: I've been a part of every one of the drivers' meetings since they've implemented the yellow line rule, and they always say, and it always starts with, This is your warning. Do not improve your position below the yellow line. If you are passing a car and you're under the yellow line, back off and fall back behind the car that you're trying to pass and you won't be penalized.
I had that same penalty that Regan got yesterday, so I can sympathize with him because I've been there, and like you said, I was the first guy that got black-flagged because of passing under the yellow line, and I was only two tires under the yellow line.
But the drivers' meetings have been very clear on that from day one, and it's you do not pass for position, and you cannot improve your progression by passing a car under the yellow line.
They've never wavered in the terminology that they've used or the language that they've used. It's always been the same every week. Yesterday was a situation that I knew as long as I protected myself on the bottom that we were in good shape. I mean, it wasn't that it was a one-lane road and that he didn't have anywhere else to go. There was plenty of racetrack there.
I feel bad for him because it was the race of his life yesterday, and like I say, I sympathize from his standpoint, and it's frustrating when you know that at the very least you should have finished second. But to get the one-lap penalty like that and be at the tail end of the lead lap, it's hard to swallow when you leave.
But that's the rule; that's the way it's always been. They've always been very clear about that, and I've been in positions where I've had to make that decision, and I hate it. It takes so much discipline to say that I know if I go ahead and continue this pass that I'm going to get black-flagged for it, and it's hard to make yourself drop back in that position and try again, especially on the last lap.
That was what was so frustrating for us at Daytona when we got that penalty. But it's there for a reason, and it's been consistent ever since day one that they've had that yellow line rule, and NASCAR has never wavered from that.
If anybody thought that they had any question on interpretation, NASCAR asks you at the end of the drivers' meeting if anybody has any questions, and if they had a question about the interpretation, they should have asked. That's the time to do it.
Q. You've never, ever heard any inkling that you can do -- anything goes on the last lap?
TONY STEWART: No (laughing). They've never said that. I mean, I think for years there's always been somebody from the media that records the drivers' meetings, and you can go back in every one of those meetings, and David Hoots, who conducts our drivers' meetings on Sunday morning, has never said that.
Somebody brought the question up in the media center last night that they thought that if you could see the flagman, anything goes at that point. They've never said that. If that were the case, you'd have guys lying and saying in Turn One on the last lap that they could see the start/finish line and see the flagman. But that's never been said from NASCAR's standpoint. They've always been clear that you cannot improve your position by passing under the yellow line.
If you interpret that any different than that, you're more creative than I am, because I don't know how it could be spelled out more plainly than that.
Q. You always seem like one of those guys that's very happy, not only for yourself but also for Zippy and the rest of the crew every time you guys go to victory lane, and with just a handful of races left in the Gibbs cars, how important is it to you to make sure these last few races don't turn into a lame duck situation and you guys still contend for the championship?
TONY STEWART: Well, I think part of the excitement yesterday -- and I got so caught up in the moment that I probably forgot the biggest factor, and that was the fact that I wanted to thank my guys for all the work. I mean, they were at the track until 8:00 o'clock on Friday night still working on that car to get it ready for qualifying Saturday morning.
To take a car that was damaged in a wreck like that and not only make it fit the complex grid system that we have, to go through the templates, but to make it competitive at the same time, that was why it was -- also why it was so big to win yesterday, aside from the fact that it was at Talladega and the first one of the year. Just the fact that those guys have worked so hard all year and haven't had the results, it's like Zippy said, We win as a team, we lose as a team. But this weekend those guys had to put in hours and time and effort that is above and beyond a typical race weekend and above and beyond the typical hours that they have to spend at the racetrack.
It wasn't so much the lame duck situation as much as it was when you have a group of guys like that that put in that much effort and that much heart into making sure that these race cars are the best they can be on Sunday and to get the results out of it like we had yesterday, that's what makes it gratifying for the whole organization.
And it's not about me, it's not about Zippy, it's about everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing. I know you guys hear that from every driver every week that has any success, but that's what it takes. That's the reality of it, whether it's the guy that is writing the checks for the parts or whether it's the guy that comes in at the end of the day and sweeps the floor and makes sure that the guys have a clean work environment the next day to come to.
Everybody is important, and like I say, Zippy and I are the ones that get the credit for it, but trust me, it was more than Zippy working on that car Friday. Every guy that was there on the Subway and Home Depot team this weekend were thrashing on that car until 8:00 o'clock at night when they could have been back, showered, had dinner and be relaxing and getting ready for Saturday.
That's what makes it gratifying, and that's what made it so special, that A, it was Talladega and it was the first one of the year, and B, the hurdle that we had to overcome to get there.
Q. We talk about the first win of the year, and really if you look back at your season, there's a few wins that got away from you. I mean, New Hampshire might be the most memorable for a lot of people, but as we head into Lowe's this weekend, if you look back to the 600, you were leading the race on lap 397 of 400 before that thing ended. How much are you anticipating getting back there and trying to maybe knock down a back-to-back win?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, that's definitely the one that sticks out the most in my mind is having a five-second lead with three laps to go. You know, it wasn't a situation -- we lost the right front tire, but it wasn't because of a mistake by Goodyear, it was the fact that we had run 100 laps on the right side tire, so it just physically melted the bead on the right front. So it wasn't any fault of Goodyear's, it was just circumstances. There's been numerous races like that that we weren't necessarily leading with three or four laps to go that we felt like we were contenders and let it get away from us.
But obviously going into the race this weekend and the open test that we had a week ago, we really like the new tire that Goodyear brought. I feel like they're starting to get their direction pointed right. The effort that we see Goodyear putting forth this week in the test at Indy is proof of that, also.
I'm probably the hardest guy when Goodyear makes a mistake, but I'm also the guy that will step up, and when I see that they're making that effort, I want to applaud them for that. And this is a case where the tire that they brought to the Charlotte test, you can tell that they put a lot of time and effort and that they're trying to get things going in the right direction again. And from a driver's standpoint, we appreciate that.
Q. With your new team for next year, how much time do you have to devote each week to not just taking care of your current business but working on next year's effort?
TONY STEWART: Days like today, you know, I'll spend the rest of the afternoon before my radio show tonight on Sirius, I've already been on the phone today trying to work on things for next year, and there's a lot of time that -- days that would previously have been days off and days that were days off on the schedule are now turning into work days.
But you know, it's not work from the sense that I'm sitting there going, man, I wish I had the day off today. I'm really excited about having the opportunity to be hands-on and be a part of getting things going for next year and trying to get the key people hired right now and dealing with all the people at the shop that I haven't had a chance to work with yet.
It's an exciting time for me. It's the busiest I've ever been in my life right now, but at the same time, this is normally the point of the season where I'm starting to get run down. But I think this new race team has been kind of a shot in the arm to me and giving me a lot of motivation that at this time of the year it's easy physically to get run down and mentally to get run down.
But to have an opportunity like what I have for next year, there's just that much more motivation, and I think it's helping me not only like yesterday and for the rest of the season this year, but I'm really excited about next year. I'm enjoying spending the time. Any time that I get a second to work on it, to try to get things going for next year.
Q. Are you going to have to move back to Charlotte next year do you think?
TONY STEWART: Well, I've always had a place down here. Since '96 I've had a place in Charlotte. I've had a small spot over in the Cornelius area. I've always had the flexibility of being able to come down and having a place to stay when I'm here. Just obviously I'll have to stay down here a little more than I've been used to the last two or three years.
But like I said, I'm excited about being down here and excited about what we're working on.
Q. The 33 wins in ten years at Joe Gibbs Racing, all of them are special, but where does this one rank? As you're on your way to your own thing, how big is that to you? Is that providing a little extra adrenaline as you head out towards the end of the season?
TONY STEWART: It is. For sure it is. To sit there and think that as a team and as a group of individuals that we've been together for ten years and been fortunate enough to win 33 point races and two Bud Shootouts and at the time the Winston Select and the Winston Open, you know, we've been very, very fortunate.
When Joe reminded me of that, first thing, he goes, That's 33 that we've had in ten years. That's an exciting stat. For Joe to acknowledge that and to be standing there in victory lane at Talladega with him and that grin on his face, that's a grin I've missed for 12 months now. To be able to celebrate with those guys and sit there and think about it last night, it's easy to look on paper and 33 is just a number. But when we think back at some of these wins and the obstacles that we had to overcome to accomplish those numbers, and when you look in the record books and look at guys that have over 30 wins, you start getting yourself in a smaller elite group every time you win another race. It was pretty exciting yesterday to hear that.
Q. Well, I've seen you run and win a lot in a lot of places, and I know the Tony Stewart Nation is alive and well in Atlanta and we look forward to seeing you in a couple weeks and this weekend in Charlotte.
TONY STEWART: I'm excited about it, too. Obviously Atlanta is a huge market with Home Depot and Coca-Cola being down there. Ed Clark and his guys, his whole staff do a great job there. It's a driver's racetrack. It's not necessarily all about the car; it's about guys that can get up on the wheel and get comfortable up by the wall there all day. So we're all looking forward to going back.
Q. On your move at the end there, did you think you were clear of Regan, or did you figure that he'd have to lift or wreck you?
TONY STEWART: I didn't know where he was at. I saw him go back to the left, so I went back to the left. I didn't know physically exactly where his car was. You don't see that with your mirrors. You don't have that luxury, and that was a situation where the spotters can't even call it that fast.
It's no different than 99 percent of the races I've seen at restrictor plate tracks since we've had that rule. I mean, guys are moving and trying to block to protect their position. Especially when we were in the last quarter lap of the race, anybody that was in our position, and Regan can tell you, if he were in our position, he would have done the same thing.
You know, it's a matter of doing what you can. I mean, you're trying to win the race there, and that's what it boiled down to.
Q. And were you feeling any pressure just to get that first win this season?
TONY STEWART: No, not necessarily from that standpoint. It's just I've always wanted to win so bad at Talladega. Obviously you want to win every race you run, but when you're leading with a quarter lap to go, it's not so much the pressure, you're just going through the motions of doing what you do as a driver. You're not thinking about the pressure, you're not thinking about where this win could come at. You're just strictly doing your job as a driver behind the steering wheel.
But when we were called to victory lane, and knowing that we won a race at Talladega, that was an awesome feeling finally.
Q. How do you approach the next couple of races? You climbed up a couple spots in the championship. Is it just, you know, still going out there, having fun, enjoying the last few races with Joe Gibbs Racing, or do you still feel like you have a realistic chance at the championship?
TONY STEWART: You know, like we said in the press conference yesterday after the race was over, I mean, my standpoint has always been, until they say that you're mathematically out of it, you always have a shot. We won the Silver Crown -- the USAC Silver Crown Series Championship in '95 and we were the third driver of three that had a shot mathematically to win it. There were two drivers, Jack Hewitt and Dave Darland, that were neck-and-neck in the point standings, and we were kind of the third wheel. We were only included in the group in the media sessions because we were mathematically in the hunt. Both of those drivers had problems in the race, and we won the point championship by two points.
You know, you realize when you use that experience, knowing that as long as you're mathematically in the hunt, you still have a shot.
But I think for us and for me personally, I mean, days like yesterday are what's going to be so special this year. If we have a chance to win the championship at the end, trust me, we're all for that and we would love nothing more than that. But I think right now where we're at and how many points we're at, I think it lets us have a go-for-broke attitude and just go out and try to do what we did yesterday and win races.
I've always said, if you win races, the points will take care of itself. We could still by theory win the next six races in a row and still not win the point championship. For us it's about going out and doing what we can do, and the other 11 drivers are going to dictate their fates, too.
Q. As a follow-up to that, of the upcoming tracks, which one are you most looking forward to?
TONY STEWART: I think this weekend -- in all reality, this weekend and Atlanta are races that -- even Martinsville, these are three tracks that -- and Phoenix. I say this, we've had a lot of success at all these tracks coming up, but I think the way that we have ran the last three races at Charlotte here, we're pretty excited about it. We felt like we had a good test there a week ago and looking forward to it. I feel like we've got a shot at this weekend's race. If we can do what we've been doing, we've got just as good a shot as anybody else.
Q. One of the other issues on the weekend - I don't know if you know too much about it because you were busy winning - are the tires, and they were blowing on different parts of the car, right front, left front, whatever. Also in the Arca race, where they were using Hoosier tires, they also had similar issues. Is that due to an aggressive setup, or what could that situation come from?
TONY STEWART: Not sure, really. Obviously we watched Dale, Jr., lose the tire in practice with only 13 laps on it. And knowing how long we've been able to run these tires in the past, we were pretty sure that that was a cut tire.
You look at the way that the tire problems happened, these guys lost tires really quickly. I mean, they lost air in them very fast, and that makes you think that it was a pretty substantial cut.
If it was just one manufacturer or the other that was having trouble, you would say maybe it was a problem with the particular manufacturer. But both Goodyear and Hoosier tires were getting cut all weekend.
So not sure. I think we all have that question as crews and teams and drivers this week. Maybe it could be something very simple as during a crash in one of these other races that there's a piece of metal that might be stuck in the racetrack that isn't really very easy to see, but there could be just enough there that it is cutting tires.
Who knows what's going on, but obviously it's something that we all need to try to figure out. The Talladega officials are very good about making sure that everything is right, and I'm sure that they'll go and eliminate the variable of something actually being in the racetrack that could have caused all these problems.
Q. A few weeks ago in Charlotte at the new zMAX Dragstrip, John Force said in a press conference that he's excited about you coming an owner because it seems that John Force has a lot of respect for your strong spirit and temperament. Do you think it takes a winner to really know a winner, and do you think it takes an owner to really know an owner?
TONY STEWART: Well, if you look at the guys that have been successful in the Sprint Cup series and Nationwide series and Truck series and NHRA, IRL, the GrandAm Series, all these guys that have been successful as owners are very passionate, are very aggressive people, and they do know how to win. You have to know how to win races to know how to win championships and be successful in these series.
I would like to think so. The great thing, I know John personally, and our shops in Indiana with my open-wheel shops are on the same street as his. We're literally less than a quarter mile from each other.
I've got to spend some time with John because of Old Spice, and we really have enjoyed the talks that we've had. He's a really good inspiration as a car owner because he's 100 percent dedicated to not only what he does in his car but his daughter in the other two cars that they have in the series, and he's racing against his own cars.
He's a pretty cool guy as far as a driver/owner and one to look up to for sure.
Q. All the talk about what happened on the last lap, to me that's just all-out racing, and that's what racing is all about. Anyway, first of all, a lot of people here in Michigan have asked me, "Hey, why didn't Tony climb the fence after the win at Talladega?"
TONY STEWART: I'm getting too old and fat to do that. I think I was so excited about it and still was in a little bit of disbelief because of the confusion initially at the end that I literally just forgot about it. I was excited because we have a lot of fans at Talladega. The Nationwide wins here, we've just turned around and -- after listening to Rusty Wallace, I kind of agree with him; I'm kind of big on not necessarily tearing the equipment up, especially now that I'm a car owner. I don't want to rip the transmissions out and hurt the motors, too.
So just being able to turn around and get that close to the fans and drive down that whole front straightaway grandstand and see all those fans was important to me, not just that one little section by the flag stand. That seemed to me to be more special than just climbing the flag stand.
Q. During the post-race you mentioned this win was special to you because of your relationship with all the Alabama gang members like Red Farmer and Donnie Allison. Can you tell us a little bit more about that, and what is it about those guys that you relate to so well?
TONY STEWART: I remember Donnie Allison in 1999 when I went to Daytona for my very first Cup race. Our trailer was pitted next to the team that he was working with, and we were up on top and I was watching and just trying to watch and learn and gain as much information by watching the Shootout practice as I could.
Donnie saw me standing up there and kept talking to me saying, Did you see that? Did you see how he did this? Don't let yourself get in this situation. That's a friendship and relationship I've had ever since then.
And the same with Red Farmer. Red likes to get me away from the racetrack, and Red and I like to go hunting and fishing together.
I don't know if you heard the story yesterday. We were in victory lane and he called a mutual friends of ours, and I got the phone, and I asked him, I said, "What did you think about that?" He goes, "Well, tell Tony I thought he did a good job." I said, "You are talking to him." And he still couldn't hear me. So everybody knows how Red's hearing is terrible. You can be standing right next to him and have to yell at him for him to hear what you're saying. But it just kind of capped off a perfect day for me, laughing at Red because he was on the phone.
But there's people like that that make going to Talladega special and there's fans that we see every year down there. I'm a part of the Fayette County Sheriff's Department down there, which everybody laughs at, but it's a group of guys I'm very passionate about and very close to now. And for those guys to be able to come -- those of them that were at the track yesterday, and for those guys to be able to come in victory lane with us meant a lot to me. I just wish Red and Donnie could have been there, also.
DENISE MALOOF: Tony, thanks very much for your time this week. Congratulations, and good luck this weekend.
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