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NASCAR CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDERS MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 17, 2011
KRISTA VODA: Good afternoon, everyone. On behalf of the France family and everyone within the NASCAR family, we want to welcome you to the championship contenders press conference. We are pleased to have in attendance today all of the drivers still in contention for one of those championships in all three series all here. That's seven total drivers. Quite a group indeed.
We will start with the Camping World Truck Series contenders.
Introducing first, he has been Mr. Consistency. Welcome, please, Turner Motorsports driver James Buescher. Next up we have the Wisconsin Rebel, the driver in second place going into the finale, 20 points out of first this season. He has a victory at Martinsville, 15 top 10s and now a shot at the title. Here is Johnny Sauter. Now or NASCAR Camping World Truck Series leader, Austin Dillon.
We want to get some quick comments from you before we take a few questions.
James, you're the underdog, worn that hat all season. Have you thought about a strategy, what it will take for you to pull out an upset tomorrow night?
JAMES BUESCHER: I think as a strategy we've got to get as many points as we can get. We have to go into the race trying to win the race and hope for the best. It's not all in our control so we can only do as much as we can control and hope it all works out.
KRISTA VODA: Johnny, you're going to need some luck, as well. You've overcome tough situations all year long. That's been your team's trump card. Do you feel that's your greatest asset going in, your team's tenacity?
JOHNNY SAUTER: I think so. I think I speak for my whole team that this has been a very trying year in a lot of ways and a very successful year.
We've done a lot of great things. I'm going to focus on the positives. We sat on a couple poles, won Martinsville. Tomorrow night there's no question, 20 points is a pretty big deficit. We're going to need a little bit of luck. We obviously don't wish bad on anybody. But hopefully we're in a position tomorrow night, if something does happen, we're able to capitalize on that.
KRISTA VODA: One thing we do know in the Truck Series, anything can happen.
Austin, you're in the driver's seat going into tomorrow night. Is it a good thing to have that much control in your hands?
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, I think I'm in the best position I can be in. Our team has done a good job of preparing ourselves for the last few weeks. We have a new truck coming here. I'm looking forward to running it. I feel like I'm in the best position I can be in going into the last race.
KRISTA VODA: Now to conduct our question and answer session, Kerry Tharp.
KERRY THARP: We'll have our question and answer question right now with questions for James, Johnny and Austin.
Q. Johnny, then Austin. Johnny, could you talk about the perception of all the rest of you guys when Austin first came into trucks, grandson of Richard Childress, here he comes with a big sponsorship, the 3 number, everything like that, versus the perception of Austin Dillon now that he's had such a solid season. Austin, could you address what you think the perception of yourself was when you came in as opposed to now that you're the points leader.
JOHNNY SAUTER: Well, my first opportunity to race against Austin was about a half a lap in Daytona at the start of the 2010 season. He lost it a little bit on the backstretch there and ultimately we got taken out.
But when a young guy comes into the sport, everybody is going to have their opinions, things, whatnot. My experience, just being a young guy once, too, I don't feel that old, but I guess I am sitting next to these guys next to me. But Austin has obviously matured a lot, has won some races. Here he is sitting at the top of the points with a 20-point margin.
I think he's gone a long way. He's shown the few races he has stepped outside the Truck Series, he's a competitor over there.
I got all the respect in the world for him. He's done a great job. I look for good things for him.
AUSTIN DILLON: Back to what he said, the first thing at Daytona, the first person to come to me when I wrecked was Carl Edwards. He told me to never quit and don't give up. It really worked out. Midway through the 2010 season we started clicking off some really good races, won our first race at Iowa, and have really progressed over the last two years, put ourselves this year to be a champion.
Beginning of the year at Daytona, we went into the media tour telling everybody we wanted to go out and win this championship. We had our goal. We had a good team behind us and fast trucks. We put ourselves in position, now we just have to go do it.
Q. Guys, you're looking at it from a different perspective, but as you look back on this season, the single biggest regret you've had over what's occurred?
JAMES BUESCHER: A lot of people think that my single biggest regret would be not making the race at Phoenix. I look at it as a positive. It was not positive at the time. It was devastating. But I'd say having so much bad luck at the end of the year here, we had bad luck at Martinsville, Las Vegas, Texas, all where we were running really strong. Having bad luck, we need to be finishing out the season strong is probably the downfall of our season.
JOHNNY SAUTER: Well, I think there's no question that the toughest part of our season was Texas, having the dominant truck all night long, coming down to a green-white-checkered, and ultimately the lane violation I guess is what they call it. That's a tough pill to swallow, not only for myself but for my whole team.
I echo what James said about being a character-building, team-building experience. Just a tough one to swallow. That's racing. That's why we line up and race every week.
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, I think all three of us, truthfully there's four of us including Ron Hornaday, have had ups and downs and had fast trucks. Johnny was really fast in the middle of the year. We found streaks. James did, too. He picked it up the last few races, like he said.
I regret we ran out of fuel at Bristol. Michigan we were a dominant truck with Mark Martin up there, got wrecked. Texas we were fast, too. There's a lot of races all four of us would probably like to have back.
James did a good job of being consistent throughout this year, then he found some speed and then his luck went downhill.
Stuff happens. You try to be as consistent as you can and have fast trucks every week. Luckily we've been able to do that.
Q. Austin, you have a 20-point lead right now. Sometimes protecting a lead is tougher than building a lead. What are you going to do on Sunday? What is your approach to the race. What are you going to do to try to make yourself bulletproof?
AUSTIN DILLON: We studied the races in the past, looking at those. We prepared ourselves as best we think we can going into this race.
The biggest thing is, I've been saying the last few weeks, you can't play defense, you have to play offense. When you start playing defense, you get wrecked.
We'll try to stay up front, get a good place to run. There's places you can't put yourself in a compromising position. You go out and race these guys like we have all season.
Q. Austin, on the same topic, what do you consider to be a compromising position this week as opposed to a normal race?
AUSTIN DILLON: I don't know. It depends where we end up qualifying. It's a short race, 137 laps. Put yourself in position where you feel comfortable whoever you're racing around. Hopefully at the end of the race you've made adjustments on the truck to have a truck that wins.
Q. Johnny, I know you race every race to win. What would you do this race, or would you take chances with nothing to lose? What does it mean to you to be on the stage right now?
JOHNNY SAUTER: Well, first of all, I'm not quite sure why I'm a rebel (smiling).
It means obviously a lot to me to be in contention to win a championship in any of the NASCAR divisions, obviously. I think we always race pretty aggressively. At least I know I do. To say we're going to go out there and do something different tomorrow night than we've typically done all year long I would say is probably not a true statement.
We try to race hard all the time. I think tomorrow night you're going to maybe see me getting into some situations that maybe I will go for it, if it's three-, four-wide, to get what we ultimately need to do, and that's score points.
But at the end of the day we race hard all the time. Tomorrow night is what it is. We just got to try to go out there and win the race.
Q. Goals come and go throughout the season. We get towards the end of the season, what is different about those goals during the season to this last big goal that you have?
JAMES BUESCHER: Our goals at the beginning of the season, probably just like the other two guys sitting next to me, is to go out there and try to win races. It's something we haven't done yet. Ultimate goal was to be a championship contender, and we've done that. Final goal is to win the championship.
We still have a shot at that. Got a longer shot than anybody else. But we still are in the championship hunt. If everything works out tomorrow night, we've accomplished that.
But hopefully we just control what we can control tomorrow night and everything works out for the best.
JOHNNY SAUTER: Yeah, I pretty much echo what he said. I think everybody that's in racing or drivers in general, my goals haven't changed since I was racing street stocks back in the Midwest in Wisconsin. The goal was always to be a competitor and to win.
So I can look on our season and say 'would have, should have, could have,' whatever. But our goal from day one was to try to win a championship, and it still is. That's all we do is put our best effort forth, that's a hundred percent, that's every week, not just tomorrow because it's a championship weekend.
AUSTIN DILLON: We set out at the beginning of the year, like I said a little bit ago, to win a championship. We put ourselves in a great position I feel to do that. We've won races. I wanted to win one more race than I did last year, but I'll take the two I got. I felt really good about those two wins. There's one more race yet.
KERRY THARP: Thank you very much James, Johnny and Austin.
Now we're going to roll right into our next segment. My pleasure to welcome back from ESPN Shannon Spake.
SHANNON SPAKE: After 33 races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, two drivers remain in the run for the championship. One is 24 years old, one is 36. Together they have not only brought back cowboy boots to the Nationwide garage but they are a true example of what the NASCAR Nationwide Series is. It's a mixture of up-and-coming drivers and established stars all racing door-to-door every week.
Let's meet our two championship contenders in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The second driver, 41 points out of first, is a member of NASCAR's most notable families, Elliott Sadler. Our points leader right now in the NASCAR Nationwide Series has two wins on the year and leads the series with 15 top fives and 25 top 10s. He will lock up the championship with a finish of 37th or better on Saturday. Please welcome Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Guys, welcome to the press conference.
Elliott, I'll start with you first. It's a longshot, but you have bounced back all season long. After the season opener in Daytona, you went on to lead the points twice. What's your mindset going into this weekend?
ELLIOTT SADLER: It's to try to go ahead and win the race. We feel like last week leaving Phoenix, the wreck and stuff we were involved in put us probably in too big of a hole for anything to happen this weekend.
We come in here and try to end the season on the best possible note we can, and that's to sit on the pole and win the race. That's really all we can do.
It's been a great season. We definitely have had a lot of ups, a few downs. Last week put us in a hole that I don't think we can overcome this week. It's going to be tough.
Ricky and those guys really have to mess up pretty bad. I'll talk to you more about that later (smiling). They have to mess up bad on Saturday for us to have a legitimate shot at the championship. We have to do the best job we can on Saturday, throw caution to the wind and see where that takes us.
SHANNON SPAKE: Last season you had one of the greatest comebacks in Nationwide Series history to win the Rookie of the Year title. Now you're sitting on stage and if you finish 37th or better you'll win your first title. Can you tell me what this journey has been like for you?
RICKY STENHOUSE, JR.: It's been a journey that's been obviously up and down. One of the biggest things that makes me feel good is to be able to bring a consistent year to the guys that stood behind me. Our team, everybody at Ford Racing, Roush Fenway, everybody that stood behind us just to see them as excited as I am, I think that's been one of the key things to me to appreciate this year.
But it's definitely been a journey. I've learned a lot from it.
SHANNON SPAKE: Now to conduct the Q&A portion with the Nationwide Series contenders, we welcome back Kerry Tharp.
KERRY THARP: We now have Elliott and Ricky available for questions.
Q. Ricky, Elliott hinted the only way you could lose if it is there is some colossal screw ups. Do you let those thoughts creep into your head or are you just focused on the race? Do you let that worry you at all?
RICKY STENHOUSE, JR.: I'm not really worried too much. We're just going to go out there and do our same thing we've been doing since Daytona at the start of the year. We're going to go out, get our car as fast in practice, qualify as well as we can, race as hard as we can.
I think when you start trying to control things, I think that's when you get in trouble. So we're just going to go out and do our same deal as we always do. Homestead is one of my favorite racetracks. I think we'll have a good shot to win this weekend. I think that would be a good way to cap off Ford Championship Weekend.
Q. Ricky, we know how Elliott felt after last weekend, obviously. Is there any small part of you that wishes it hadn't kind of ended that way and you could race your way to the finish a little bit more?
RICKY STENHOUSE, JR.: Yeah, we've been having a great battle all year. It was exciting. Obviously it took a lot of pressure off our shoulders. Looking back, I mean, that could have happened to us. You know what I mean? You don't wish that on anybody.
Like I've told Elliott before, I really learned a lot from him coming down the homestretch running for this championship. He's given me a lot of room. I don't think we've touched. We've raced really hard and clean. I really respect that and learned a lot from him.
Q. Kind of a character-building question. Ricky, from your perspective, how has this season gone with your teammate, Trevor Bayne, two young guys? From a character-building aspect, how has that been? And Elliott, as you look ahead to 2012, what has this season done to enable you to be a strong championship contender then?
RICKY STENHOUSE, JR.: Trevor and I, we've obviously had different years, with him having to be out of the racecar for a while. I was there to support him, there to back him up when he came back and started to run with us.
Obviously I was trying to keep up with him when he was running around after Daytona, showed him some support. Now he's getting to do that for me. It's been a good year for both of us.
ELLIOTT SADLER: I think for me, for 2012, is to just build on the things we've learned this year, what we've learned in the championship hunt good and bad. A lot of things changing this winter. We're merging with RCR, moving to their campus. We're going to be a three-car Nationwide team, Austin and I will be teammates. There's a lot of stuff to build on what we know this year.
Looking forward to being back in the championship race again and maybe add to that and maybe have a little bit better shot coming into Homestead. Just learn from the positives and negatives from this year and go after them again, see what happens.
Q. Ricky, if you were able to win the championship this coming Saturday, how important is that for you guys heading into next year? Will it give you a drive saying, It will be fantastic, we'll win more races, or are you going to go back and say, We'll start fresh next year even if we won the championship?
RICKY STENHOUSE, JR.: It will give our team confidence, for sure. But we got to get some sponsorships sold before we can get back out there and keep going. Obviously that's been a struggle for us this year, to secure that sponsorship. I think that's going to be our first goal, is to get that secured.
But after the championship is over, we're going to go back to the grind. The guys are going to keep working hard. You can't ever relax. These guys have got to work as hard as they can in the off-season and make our cars better. It's a business that if you're not keeping up with it, you'll fall behind.
Q. Elliott, obviously everybody wants to be in Cup. You're a father of two kids now. Have you enjoyed having Sundays off?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I tell you what. I love being in a competitive racecar. That's the number one thing I've loved being a part of this year. I definitely want to be back in Cup, but I would only do it if I'm back in a competitive ride.
I've had so much fun this year racing hard on Saturdays, racing for the wins.
I think the best thing that's helped me cope with being home on Sunday is my two kids. My daughter was just born, but I could spend every Sunday home with my son, playing with him, laying on the floor, rolling around, watching the race. That's definitely helped ease the pain of not being a Cup Series driver.
I don't want to be a Cup driver just to say, Hey, I'm a Cup driver. The things I've been through this year make it seem so much more fun, so much more relaxing at the racetrack. When you're a competitor, you show up, you have a chance to do something good every week, it is so much more fun. My wife likes it a lot better at home, too. When I'm at home, I'm easier to be around.
My son helped me be easier to be around when I'm home on Sundays than if I were not part of a family.
Q. Elliott, a few Cup drivers next year from this season, they're probably going to have to drop back to the Nationwide Series. What kind of advice would you give them as far as how to handle that, to leave the top series, take a step back?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I tell you what, it's to make the most of it is my advice. Have fun with it.
I promise you, if you ask them a question how they feel about how they're racing, give them six months in a Nationwide car and they're competitive, they'll give you the same answer, they're having a lot more fun when you're racing with good equipment.
I had a ball with it this year, I had a ball each and every week. I still get to race against a lot of the guys that race on Sunday.
This is the most fun I've had in a racecar since I drove for Robert Yates this year. It was a lot of fun. I had a great connection with my owner, the same connection I had with Mr. Yates when I drove his car.
Hopefully those guys that are looking at maybe having a career path change this year will find something that will keep them in competitive equipment and keep them a part of the sport.
Q. This year in Nationwide it's been a tight fight. What is your take on the excitement?
ELLIOTT SADLER: The excitement of all of our races? You mean Nationwide or everything?
I think it's been great. For a while we had three of us really racing each other hard, with Reed Sorenson there being part of the battle. Seemed like every week one of us would mess up, the other two would do good, we kept rotating the top spot. Then we lost Reed kind of out of the battle. Then Ricky and I felt like we had some good, competitive runs against each other the last few months.
I hope it was exciting for the fans. It was definitely exciting from our seat. You never knew when we got to Homestead who would be part of this battle. We've seen a lot of teams get strong as the years go on, Brian Scott, Aric Almirola, people that are definitely going to be better for next year's championship.
Hopefully the fans like how things went this year. It's been good, hard, close racing with this new car in the Nationwide Series.
KERRY THARP: Ricky and Elliott, thank you very much. That concludes our Q&A for the Nationwide Series contenders.
It is it's now my pleasure to bring back both of our emcees for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series segment as we set up the exciting final on Sunday in the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with the Ford 400. Let's welcome back Shannon Spake and Krista Voda.
SHANNON SPAKE: The season started back in February with the Daytona 500. After 35 races at 22 different racetracks in 20 states coast-to-coast, we are down to two outstanding drivers in contention for the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
KRISTA VODA: If it wasn't for a little bad luck, this table would be a lot longer with more contenders. It has absolutely been one of the most thrilling Chases I've been a part of week in and week out.
SHANNON SPAKE: We can say the eighth edition of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has been the best yet. Going into Sunday's finale we have a two-time champion in second place in the standings, only three points back. Welcome the 2002 and 2005 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Tony Stewart.
KRISTA VODA: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader has followed a blueprint for consistency throughout this stellar season. He had a victory at Las Vegas and 18 top-five finishes, 25 top 10s, both series-leading numbers. Remember that three-point spread we keep talking about, that can all be based on that victory in Las Vegas which, of course, gave him three bonus points going into the Chase. Please welcome Carl Edwards.
SHANNON SPAKE: Now the fun begins. Congratulations for being the two who made it to this point and supplying one of the best championship Chases yet.
Tony, you won the title twice. Only eight drivers have won it three or more times. What would it mean to be in elite company? I would imagine this year would be special knowing you're the one writing the checks.
TONY STEWART: It's definitely an awesome opportunity for us. Still very appreciative that Gene Haas for even giving us this opportunity to not only drive for him but be a co-owner with him. At the same time it's a pretty cool opportunity this weekend to be the other side of the bookend of Jimmie's dynasty, to be the only guy that could win a NEXTEL Cup championship, a Sprint Cup championship, and a Winston Cup championship, being the first time since Allen Kulwicki as an owner/driver. That would be probably be the best part of it.
SHANNON SPAKE: You said at one point, We don't deserve to be in the Chase. If you could have imagined being in this chair with one race to go, what would you have said?
TONY STEWART: I wouldn't have thought that way 10 weeks ago. We had good racecars. We had the performance. We just weren't getting the results at the end of the day. Some of them were self-inflicted; some of them were circumstances that got us there. We just didn't have at that time the consistency that you need to run for a championship like this.
So we got off to a great start at Chicago and backed it up at Loudon, then we had our stumbling block, first one of the year in the Chase, with Dover obviously. But coming back and rebounding from the day we had at Martinsville to win that race, then to have the day we had at Texas leading the most laps and winning the race over Carl, those are the things that got us back in this position.
It's an awesome position to be in. Three points really isn't a deficit at this point. We go out and win the race, it doesn't matter what they do on their side, we still control our own destiny.
We have absolutely got nothing to lose and everything to gain. That makes us a dangerous combination for the weekend.
KRISTA VODA: Carl we have heard Tony confident in Victory Lane during this Chase. You said last week you knew there was some potential for some nerves going into this weekend's race. Where are those now?
CARL EDWARDS: I don't really have any nerves. We've been running well, earned our spot at the top of the standings. I'm excited to have this opportunity to go out and win this championship. We couldn't feel better about the racetrack. We feel really good about the race.
It's pretty fun. I'm enjoying it. I'm just looking forward to going out there and racing the car.
KRISTA VODA: Have you practiced anything besides the back flip if you win this championship?
CARL EDWARDS: That's about all I've got. I've showed you guys all I've got. I don't know. I just can't imagine that feeling. I've stood there in Victory Lane two out of the last three years and watched Jimmie celebrate and imagined what it would be like to be the champion. That would be spectacular.
KRISTA VODA: We'll now bring Kerry Tharp back up here to start the question and answer segment.
KERRY THARP: We'll start with questions for Tony or Carl.
Q. Tony, you were the last driver to win the championship before Jimmie Johnson's streak. You could be the next driver to win the championship after Jimmie Johnson. Talk about how unique it is you could bookend both of those.
TONY STEWART: You have to win the first one to win the second one to have that opportunity, I guess.
You wouldn't think you'd take a lot of pride in being the bookends of a dynasty. But it is a pretty cool position to be in, to know that there's two guys in the last six years that have won championships, and we're one of them. It would be nice to be the guy that gets on the other side of that obviously.
I rode home with Jimmie on the plane last weekend. Obviously it's a disappointment to be eliminated from the Chase. It's like I told him, I think that for him going to Vegas, to the banquet, they have to really hold their heads up high and be very, very proud.
It's been an honor to watch him do what he's done, but they need to be proud of what they've done the last five years. It's probably something that will never happen again in the history of our sport. It's very difficult to win a championship, let alone back-to-back and five in a row like that.
The competition keeps getting tougher and tougher every year. With this Chase format, you can't make mistakes and have it pay off. To do what they've done has been extremely impressive.
Q. Your battle here has been trademark, you guys haven't really clashed at all, been respectful towards each other. If it came down to the last lap and the only way around the other guy was to do a bump-n-run, would you dare do that, would you race each other clean?
TONY STEWART: I'd wreck my mom to win a championship. I'll wreck your mom to win a championship (smiling).
I respect him as a driver, but this isn't about friendships this weekend. This is a war. This is a battle. This is for a national championship. It's no holds barred this weekend. I didn't come this far to be one step away from it and let it slip away, so we're going to go for it.
CARL EDWARDS: Did you say something (smiling)?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, you can come visit my trophy in the room at Vegas when you come out there (smiling).
CARL EDWARDS: He's got the talking part figured out. Problem is, you haven't led the points yet this year, have you?
TONY STEWART: They say there's talkers and doers. I've done this twice.
CARL EDWARDS: That's the funny thing. I've listened to you talk a lot today. You've talked a lot about your past successes. That is very respectable. And truly, all joking aside, that will make it more fun if we're able to beat you. It will make me more proud.
But this is going to be a good competition, you guys. Don't think for a second that either one of us are going to let anything slide. We're going to go out here, we're going to race hard, and we're going for this championship.
I don't think you could find two harder racers than us up here and we both know that about each other.
Q. Tony, in 2002 and 2005, you had big leads going into the finale. How different a feeling is it and are you possibly more relaxed knowing you're just three points behind and can just go out and race?
TONY STEWART: It's been odd. The only part this week that's concerned me and that I've been worried about is the fact that I haven't been nervous about it. In 2002, 2005, we had big leads, but still you were nervous about it because you knew it could get away. I guess the fact we didn't think we would even be in the Chase to begin with, it's taken a lot of that pressure off.
We're not trying to overcome a big deficit. We're right there right behind him. For us, like I said, we can finish 43rd this weekend and not be any worse off than we are right now so we don't have anything to lose. We can throw everything we got at it. If we make a mistake doing it, it doesn't cost anything. There's no penalty for us screwing up.
With that does, it takes every ounce of pressure away. We have everything to gain, nothing to lose. Like I said, it's a dangerous combination to put us in that kind of mode because we've been hot lately, we've been running good, we're feeling good, the team is feeling good about everything. You couldn't ask for a better scenario.
We've been in that situation, and when that pressure comes on race day, it's a little different feeling. Your race always goes a little bit different than what you planned. For us not having that pressure, I think it leads us to have a day like we've been having every week the last three or four weeks.
Q. Carl, NASCAR's new points system has truly generated some big-time excitement here at Homestead. You guys are working the championship a little differently, Carl with consistency, Tony with wins. Carl, you said you felt like the system made you focus on not having a bad race more so than winning. Do you still feel that way?
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah. I mean, obviously we're leading the points. We haven't won one. Tony has won four of these in the Chase. There's different approaches you can take to it.
To be clear, we've not gone out and said, Hey, we're not going to try to win this race, we're going to cruise along. We've done our very best. For us, that's one of the things I've most proud of. We've performed very well even on the days when things didn't stack up in our favor. We had some pretty big hills we had to climb.
I feel whatever points system you've got, over time you're going to have close battles, you're going to have some that aren't so close. I think all of us are fortunate that it's close this year, it's exciting. It's fun to be a part of something like this.
TONY STEWART: The thing that I've been asked a lot about this week and even last week is, they're like, How can their points system be good if the guy that's won four races is behind a guy that hasn't won any races?
The points system is good. It's easy to look at that and say that it's not good because of that fact. But what you got to understand is that, unlike other sports where it's two teams against each other, it's 43 teams, it's a 10-race Chase. You accumulate points for 10 races.
The fact we've won four races doesn't mean we should be ahead of Carl. We did not do our job in some of the other races. That got us behind. Because of the new system, having the bonus points for winning, we were able to catch up and gain those points back.
I think it's proven to be a pretty good system so far. You have two guys within three points of each other going into the last race. I don't know how you can say it's bad.
Q. Carl, how important would it be for you to win the championship and be able to bring that trophy back home to all the folks that have helped you get to this point in time, Kenny Schrader, all your friends in Columbia?
CARL EDWARDS: I'm grateful to all of them every day I get to get in these racecars. So many people took a chance on me. Everybody has a story like that. All of us got here with a lot of help from a lot of different people. It would mean a lot to me. It would be huge.
I'm wise enough to know that my performance on the racetrack doesn't define me as a man. It's how I am as a person and the way I am to my family, my friends. When I put that helmet on, go out, do the best I can, the people that are behind me are going to be proud no matter the outcome. It would be really nice to bring that trophy home to Columbia, Missouri. That would be huge.
Q. You guys have put on a pretty remarkable show, particularly over the last couple races. What have you learned about each other through this process and how much respect have you gained for each other throughout the process of competing in this Chase?
TONY STEWART: I don't think the Chase has changed my level of respect for him. I've always respected him as a driver and a person. So the fact that you're racing around him doesn't change that because that's what you do every week.
I don't know that we've really learned anything about each other than the fact that we both know we have to be on our game. We've forced each other to take what would be a good day and you have to make it great to succeed.
We had Texas where we ran 1-2, the last week where we ran second and third. We're keeping each other honest, in my opinion. It's fun to have a championship race like that. You're not worried about saying, Well, is this guy going to be able to recover? We're forcing each other to both have good days.
CARL EDWARDS: I can echo that. It's pretty neat to go out there and push each other to raise our level of performance. It's been pretty interesting how it's worked out. We've both been very fast the last couple of races, being able to race one another, race for the wins. That's as good as it gets.
I think Tony said it best after Texas. He said, This is what it's about. It feels like a battle at your Saturday night dirt track. These are the kind of points battles that I grew up watching. It's kind of neat to be a part of it.
Q. Carl, Tony said here a few times he has nothing to lose. Are you buying that? The trophy is right behind him.
CARL EDWARDS: I'm not really buying it. I mean, he does have two trophies already at home. That's a huge accomplishment. But I believe that Tony as an owner and as a competitor, I mean, if you're asking me to believe that he doesn't go to bed thinking, Man, I want to win this thing as bad as anyone, I don't believe that.
I think for me it would be maybe a bigger accomplishment just because I do not have a championship in the Sprint Cup Series. But I think we're both competitors, we both have that same desire to win, that same amount of pressure that comes with that, just to go out and perform.
Bad thing for both of us, the good thing for both of us at the same time, is we both seem to be able to go perform under that pressure.
I truly believe this could come down to who wins this race is going to win this championship.
Q. He said that he thinks having won a championship is an advantage. He won't say what that advantage is. He said he'd say after the championship is over. What do you think that advantage is?
CARL EDWARDS: You're asking me what I think?
Q. He won't tell us - not now anyway. Will you tell us, Tony?
TONY STEWART: (Shaking head.)
Q. What do you think the advantage of having won championships is going into this race?
CARL EDWARDS: I don't know any part of that trophy that makes a car faster this Sunday. To me it's about going out and performing this Sunday. We'll just see what happens.
When this thing is over, it's like Tony said outside when we were talking with Darrell Waltrip, whoever wins, the other guy is going to be the first one to go up and shake his hand and say, Good job. That doesn't mean we're happy about it. But we're going to see what happens on Sunday.
I feel good about it. We've run so well here. Bob is calm and cool. My crew is doing well. I feel like I've got good people behind me keeping me focused. We'll go race.
Q. Carl, last year Denny came in here and he had Harvick on one side and Jimmie on the other. He was so nervous the whole stage was shaking. Kevin and Jimmie just pounced on that and needled him. Tony has been trying to do that to a degree to you for a few weeks. You've been able to tune it out, say that you have no nerves. How are you able to shut it all out and not be nervous about this opportunity in front of you?
CARL EDWARDS: There's a couple reasons that I'm not nervous about this, and they're personal reasons, they're reasons that maybe someday I'll talk to you more about in-depth.
I'm truly just excited about this. And it is interesting to me. I've learned a lot about Tony, the way he competes by what he's said. I've paid attention to what he says. I pay attention to the way he looks when he gets out of the racecar, the body language he uses, things like that. I've learned a lot.
I don't think he's going to be any weaker of a competitor because of the things I've seen. I think he's as good as they get and I'm going to have to go out there and do the best I can to be good enough to beat him.
I'm not afraid to admit right here in front of the world and everybody, I'm going to be proud because of how good of a racecar driver he is and the champion that he is, I'm going to be more proud to be able to beat him if that's what happens.
Q. Tony, a week earlier you had said that you had Carl on the ropes. Do you still feel that way? How evenly matched are these teams and two of you as drivers?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I feel that way. Like I said, whether Ron Jeremy down here believes us or not, we don't have anything to lose. I mean, we literally don't. There's nothing that we can lose this weekend no matter what happens on the racetrack. We just don't have anything to lose.
So I think when you got a guy that has something to lose, has a little to lose, then you got to worry about that a little bit. But when you're a guy that has nowhere to go but up, you're in that same situation and you race the way you always do. I think that makes you potent.
Q. Tony, everybody says there are no team orders out there. We all expect heavily there are. You have a lot of Ford drivers that are out there. You have Ryan, the Hendrick drivers. Any discussions the last week or so to let you guys have positions, let you have a win, anything like that? Do you want it to come down to that?
TONY STEWART: I don't want it to come down to that. I feel like we can beat him heads up. We've raced for this position heads up and I think that's the way it should end. It shouldn't be about team orders.
We saw a hint of it last week. The 16 car picked a pit right in front of us. We never had an issue with it. But you know that that can happen.
Like we say, we're racing for a national championship, so we are prepared that if something develops along that line, we have a countermeasure for the same thing.
But, no, nobody's planning that way. You want to win this thing straight up. You want to win it because you did a better job than he did, not because somebody else got involved in the equation. That will take away from it.
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, I feel the same way about it. We want to win because we deserve to win this thing. That's that.
Q. Carl, in '08 you won nine races, finished second to Jimmie. Felt like the next year you were going to pick up where you left off. Can you talk about the interim between then and now just to get in position to win one of these and does it make you not want to lose this chance because you've been on the cusp of it before?
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, I think both of us realize we just watched five years go by since anyone else has won a championship. I talked to you guys a little bit about that in Phoenix. 2005, it slipped through my fingers. I thought, No big deal, we'll just do it next year. Then I realize, Man, it's a lot tougher than that. 2008, I think I held on a little too tightly, maybe was a little too aggressive. But I felt like 2009 was going to be our year again.
To be here three years later, I think I've realized that even driving the Ford for Jack Roush, having the best team I can have behind me, it's still an opportunity that only comes up every once in a while and you have to make the most of it.
Q. Carl, you just mentioned you believe this could come down to whoever wins the race wins the championship. NASCAR hasn't had a champion win its finale in 13 years. In both cases, if you win Sunday you win the title. With all the talk about winning lately, what would it mean to you personally and to NASCAR if that happens?
CARL EDWARDS: To me it would be the coolest thing in the world if we drove into turn three side-by-side, battled through the corner, one of us won by a bumper. It would just be better if I won. It would be good if it came down to that.
To me I could not be personally more proud of winning a championship that way. That's something you dream about. Like I said, I think it could come down to that. I think that's just neat as can be.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I agree. It takes all the question of adding points, worrying about tiebreakers, this and that out of the equation when the fans can watch the guy that wins the race win the championship at the same time.
This is probably the best chance of having a championship decided with a win that you've ever had.
Q. Carl, you have a lot of obligations this week with your Ford obligations, you have the Nationwide. How does that play into what you've got with the job at hand on Sunday?
CARL EDWARDS: I don't have a lot of obligations this week because of this situation. Ford, they've been an unbelievable partner to work with. They understand what I need to do is go do what I've been doing for the whole Chase. My sponsors, Aflac, Fastenal, Mike Beam, my crew chief on the Nationwide side, everyone understands that the Cup race is our number one focus. We just go do things like we've been doing them. I don't have anything extra on my schedule this weekend.
Q. Tony, have you talked to Foyt in the last couple weeks? If so, what did he say? Did he have any observations about the smack talk going on, whether it works or not? Also have you talked to Darrell Waltrip, the all-time master of smack talk, on whether he thinks it will work for you or not?
TONY STEWART: Foyt has how many championships and wins? How many has Waltrip got? I think they work.
No, I've not talked to Foyt. He'll call me after we win on Sunday. We did speak to Darrell earlier. We both had a pretty good interview with him. It was fun.
It's like Carl says, it's like Kid Rock said: It's not cocky if you back it up. I think we've been backing it up the last three weeks. It's what our intention is.
Q. Carl, can you talk about how you added stability to your life since you ran for the last championship. You have a family now, that good base behind you. How does that help you stay focused, knowing particularly that your crew chief is going to be back next year? You have all kinds of stability surrounding you going for the championship.
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, I feel like we started this season at Phoenix last year, when things started clicking, going well. We were able to knock off the two wins at the end of last season. I believe that's the result of a lot of what you just talked about. I'm very fortunate. Things are going real well, not just professionally but personally. I've got the most supportive group I've ever had in my life around me.
When I go to bed at night, I don't worry about sponsors, I don't worry about women, I don't worry about money, I don't worry about anything but going as fast as I can go. I just go out there and race.
For me, I've done it the other way, too. This works a lot better for me personally (laughter). It's been good. It is nice to know next year, Bob and I, we talked about it a little bit, no matter what, he's my crew chief next year and we're going to pick this up where we left off. Win, lose or draw, I think we're going to be tough to beat for a few years to come.
KERRY THARP: That concludes the formal Q&A with our two championship contenders in the Sprint Cup Series.
Let's bring back Shannon Spake and Krista Voda.
SHANNON SPAKE: After 10,000 laps and 13,000 plus miles it all ends in Victory Lane Sunday night. We thank you for your attendance.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports