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February 17, 2008
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
KERRY THARP: We'll go ahead and roll into our post-race press conference. We have our third-place finisher, that's Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota. Your thoughts?
TONY STEWART: Disappointed, obviously. It would be a lie to come in here and say I was happy about, you know, going from first to third on the last lap of the Daytona 500.
I just made the wrong decision on the backstretch. Tried to get down in front of Kyle. Thought I would get a push down there, and the top line, the 12 -- or the 2 got glued to the 12.
When you do that, I mean, I don't know if I could have stopped them anyway, even if I would have changed lanes. I'd say most likely we would have ended up like a bunch of other guys: wrecked.
But I guess in all reality, in hindsight, tomorrow I'm going to be a lot happier about it. But I thought we were going to have a fun hair-cutting party in here tonight with you guys. I don't know. It's hard to explain. It's probably just one of the most disappointing moments of my racing career tonight, so...
KERRY THARP: Let's take questions for Tony Stewart.
Q. Can you tell me, a year ago the Toyotas were not a factor at all in this race. Did you expect in the off-season for them to be as dominant they were today until this last lap?
TONY STEWART: Didn't know what to expect, in all honesty. You never know when you go to a new program exactly what you're going to have till you get it.
I can say I'm pleasantly surprised for sure. Everybody has worked hard. You know, I've mentioned it all week. Every time we've come here, we couldn't have even been here without Mark Cronquist and everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing engine department. It was a monumental feat to get us in the position they got us in today.
We had one of the fastest cars, both Kyle and I. When we could get a run they absolutely flew, and that's all horsepower right there. Really proud of those guys.
I want to take a second to congratulate Ryan. He's a fellow Indiana boy. If we couldn't win, I was glad to see him. I was hoping it would be a Joe Gibbs Racing car to win this thing tonight. Happy for Ryan. He's a good guy, a good friend of mine, and I did want to congratulate him.
Q. Did you expect a lot of surprises this year with all the changes?
TONY STEWART: Such as? What kind of surprises?
Q. Any kind of surprises as far as your engine, team, anything.
TONY STEWART: I don't think so. I mean, I don't really know how to answer that 'cause I don't think there were going to be any surprises. I mean, it's the same car we ran half the season last year. It's a motor program that, you know, obviously Mark Cronquist felt comfortable with that change or we wouldn't have done it. I can't really say that there's anything that stands out at this point, so...
Q. You had to worry about both Ryan Newman on the top line winning the race and Kyle down low. When you moved low, were you blocking Kyle?
TONY STEWART: I was hoping to pull him along. I knew the 2 was behind the 12. I'd rather have my teammate behind me than two teammates from another team behind me.
So, you know, like I said, I made the wrong decision obviously. I don't know. I don't know if it was the wrong decision or not, honestly. I mean, hindsight. As fast as they were coming, I don't know that it wouldn't have wrecked me if I blocked anyway.
So, you know, my intention was to get down in front of Kyle, though, and try to pull Kyle along with us, you know, have us work together. I got a run on him on the restart. We've talked all week about the teammate part of it.
On the restart, I hung him out. But I tried to win the Daytona 500. I mean, you work all day to try to get yourself in a position to win. Then when you get a restart with three to go, you got to do what you got to do to try to win that trophy.
I did what I thought was the right thing for me. I felt like Kyle and I had worked good together. He had stayed up front all day. But when I did get in a position where I could finally help, I felt like, you know, we made a couple key moves together, when we were able to start on the restarts together, to get ourselves both up there.
You know, I felt like we did what we had set out to do. The last lap just didn't work out.
Q. You touched on the other day you didn't like that this race could possibly come down to what other cars did to each other, and that it wouldn't be a great driving performance. That's what happened. It came true for you today. Can you touch on that again.
TONY STEWART: Well, I mean, you still have to drive. Because I can promise you, when you got somebody glued to the back bumper, you're not just sitting there riding. The push Ryan was getting from his teammate, he had to drive. I mean, I promise you, when Ryan was pushing me through one and two, it was not fun. I had to do some of the hardest driving I had to do all day at that point.
You know, it is what it is. I mean, we all know, you guys all know, we've known it for years. When you come here, just every year the emphasis on team is a bigger factor into it.
You know, I think tonight was proof that it didn't disappoint.
Q. I'm really sorry if this is stupid, but I'm having trouble describing what happened. Kyle, was he not as able to get as close to your bumper as you thought he would be? He never really pushed you. There was no contact, right?
TONY STEWART: Right. You know, I don't know who was behind him and how close they were to be able to give him a push. I mean, Kyle finally got to me off turn four. But by that time we were both way too far behind to make a charge. We needed another lap. If we could have got another lap, the outcome might have been different.
Kyle was the one that pushed me and kept me in third. You know, I got to thank him for that.
Q. Could you speak a little bit to the frustration and the hard work it takes for Kyle Busch to lead the most laps and coming up short and how hard it is, the frustration, doing that all day, and of course how hard it is to do that?
TONY STEWART: I thought today was extremely hard. I mean, my car was absolutely one of the worst race cars I've ever driven in my life for the first half of the race. You know, to lead like he did all day and be up front, you know, and miss at the end like that, it is disappointing.
I mean, anybody that didn't win the race tonight's disappointed. But, like you said, to lead the most laps like that, it does, it breaks your heart. You know, you spend 10 days here trying to win the biggest stock car race of the year. When you know you've got a car that's capable of running up front and you can't capitalize on it, you know, not due to any fault of his own, you know, it does, it breaks your heart. I mean, it just absolutely crushes you.
Because it is the biggest race. I mean, if it wasn't a big deal it wouldn't bother you, but, I mean, this is the Daytona 500. If you know you got a car that's fast enough to win and you don't, you know, you're devastated over it.
Q. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but it sounds like you didn't realize that Kyle dropped below the yellow line and then seemed to penalize himself. He let everybody go by. I think that's kind of why he disappeared. Did you not know that?
TONY STEWART: I didn't know that. But, you know, that's part of the yellow line rule, I'm assuming. If he had to go below the yellow line to pass somebody, and it sounds like he did what was right, and that was letting the guy go back by before he went on.
Like you say, on the last lap of the Daytona 500, if that's what happened, that kid used a lot of discipline there and did the right thing, and I'm proud of him for that.
Q. Seems like last few years whoever is leading late doesn't end up in Victory Lane. I know it sounds almost crazy, but is it a disadvantage to be out in front?
TONY STEWART: Absolutely. No doubt about it. We lost the lead twice this week leading the race on restarts.
You know, everybody works hard to get a run. That's what practice is about. That's what the qualifying race is about. That's what the shootout is about. You try to learn how to get those runs so you can make big moves like that.
You know, you are, you really don't want to be -- kind of the old days when the slingshot was so effective. You didn't want to be the leader on the last lap because there was that big run on you on the last lap.
You know, it still holds true today that same way.
KERRY THARP: Tony, thanks a lot. See you in California.
We're pleased to be join understand by our race runner-up for today Daytona's, that is Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge.
Talk about your run out there today.
KURT BUSCH: It was a great run for the Miller Lite Dodge. We started 43rd. I thought we would just take our time moving towards the front since there was nobody behind me, I can say that. Yet the car didn't want to go towards the front. We definitely struggled more than we thought we would have and the car was tight. It just didn't seem to quite have the punch to push through and to lead a draft or to push other cars strongly.
But then nightfall came. The handling characteristics cured themselves somewhat. We still weren't a race-winning car, but yet I had the power like I thought I needed and I had the outside lane in my favor.
For one instant, driving down the back straightaway, if Ryan Newman didn't pull up in front of us, I honestly thought we had a shot at winning the Daytona 500.
But, you know, having that mindset all day of just plugging away, working our way up, and if this thing ends and we're 10th or better, that's a victory. For us to come home and push Ryan Newman to victory, I feel like I've got a small bit of that victory within me.
I was emotional pushing him across the line. It felt incredible to have a Penske 1-2 finish today. To have Newman jump up in front of me, I thought that was the most beautiful thing in the world because I knew one of us Penske cars was going to win at that point.
I'm just very happy. I'm not bitter at all for finishing second. To take this car and finish second with it, I think that's something special. But then that's definitely overshadowed by a Penske 1-2 finish today. That is something very important and I think that needs to be acknowledged.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Kurt.
Q. When you got white flagged, what was going through your mind knowing you had to go through the riffraff to get back to a quasi safe racing place in the pack?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, the speed zones on pit road aren't all the same length, and at some tracks that last segment before you pull out onto the track is a shorter segment, so there's no room for error.
At the time I was dodging my teammate, Sam Hornish, Jr. He was pulling outdodging Jeff Burton. I was looking at the grass making sure I stayed out of it, making sure I didn't run into my own teammate.
The third thing I forget to take care of was my tachometer. I was a bit fast exiting pit road. It's like, Man, here we go again.
I hope we don't go a lap down and have to worry about working our way back up from a lap down. But we were able to stay on the lead lap. We had Mark Martin behind us. He got us back up to where we needed to be. Yellow pops out, and then we got to fight our way through the traffic again.
I just kept the same hat on. That was, Hey, take your time, play it cool, there's still many more laps to go, because nightfall still hadn't come in yet.
Q. You made it really clear from the time you signed with Penske how important it would be for you to give Penske a win here. It was obviously a big goal. Can you talk about how you feel on behalf of Roger. Have you ever felt this good to finish second in a race?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I'm sure Roger will be in a bit later and talk about how important this race is to him, and how many years he's tried to win it, to be able to be part of that, to have a Penske 1-2 break through for their first restrictor plate win and his first 500. It's just icing on the cake.
Ryan did an excellent job today. He had a very fast race car. We worked together well on the track. I think that just goes back to putting your egos aside. We're not running 1-2 every week. We need to bump our cars up from 9th, 10th, 11th and run up in the top five every week. We know we've got more work to do.
So it was emotional for me. I saw a glimmer of hope we might win this thing. Then he pulled up in front of us. I said, Hey, that's fine. I'm glad it's this blue car that pulled up in front of me because it says Penske Racing on it. I was very emotional crossing the line finishing second, because I know we did something very special for the captain today.
Q. Could you maybe elaborate more on Roger Penske. Here's a guy that won the Indy 500 14 times, but he always seemed to have trouble here. How much did he kind of stress to the drivers how important it would be for one of you to win this race?
KURT BUSCH: Roger never put extra pressure on us to win this race. He does throw in a nice bonus in our contract if we do win (laughter). I think that shows his incentive, how important this race is.
But honestly, he has this approach, such as when we wanted to switch our points, he asks you a question on, Hey, would this be a good idea if we swap the points? It's almost like he's got his mind made up already. And you just know when he speaks to you on what his direction is.
So case in point, the Daytona 500 is very special, and he wants to win this race. So I'm happy that I pushed a teammate to win this race. You know, Ryan Newman might drop in behind me later on down the road and I might have my shot at winning. Who knows. But it's great to do it for the captain today.
Q. Before the race, all the talk seemed to be about Toyota and about Hendrick. How did you at Penske kind of tune all that out? Also, does this 1-2 finish in your mind put you there in that place where now you need to be considered in that same mindset as Gibbs and Hendricks and RCR?
KURT BUSCH: You know, it was one of those races where you knew at the end it was gonna be a different style of race with the different lanes. Everybody is going to handle better at the end. So, yeah, I would agree that the Gibbs' cars were very quick all week, the class of the field today.
The Hendrick cars, maybe they didn't handle as well as what they thought they would in this 500-mile race versus some of the others.
Then there were some odds and end cars that were quick. But that 12 car could hang on the bottom groove longer than anybody else. Every time I noticed, I was up top, about 10th, 15th, there was the 12 car hanging on the bottom all on his own making it work.
He showed very good strength. We know exactly what he had in his car for setup. We were just a bit different, trying to make our car handle like we thought we needed to. So it's just a great 1-2 finish. He had a very strong car.
I don't know if we're in the same caliber as the Gibbs and Hendrick cars are right now. But it's definitely great to finish 1-2 and to be leading the points right now.
Q. This question absolutely has to be asked. Given what has happened in the past, did you take any particular satisfaction in helping deprive Tony Stewart of victory?
KURT BUSCH: Question has to be asked (laughter).
It didn't matter who was to my inside, outside. I was doing what Kurt Busch needed to do to win the race. And when a blue car jumped up in front of me, like I said earlier, it was nice that it was my teammate and I was able to help that car win.
Now, if the orange car jumped up in front of me, that was going to be my best opportunity to try to finish up in the top three. And so if he would have jumped up in front of us, I would have pushed him. He stayed low, and that gave the opportunity for Newman to jump up in front of us.
So maybe he did think twice before he jumped up high, that it was me up there. Instead of worrying about who it was, he should have just went there.
Q. Of course you're happy for the Penske win. Knowing that your brother probably had the strongest car all day, could you comment on that, knowing what he's going through right now.
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I think the Gibbs guys feel dejected right now. They did their homework. They had fast race cars. They had the strength that you have to have to win.
But I'm just beside myself that I'm sitting here where I finished second. It was a great effort from our team. We had big hearts; we persevered; started in the back; found our teammate at the end and won the race.
For Kyle, if he would have pulled up in front of me, I would have pushed him. I'm happy that we had a great run. They finished solid, as well. There's going to be another one of these Daytona 500s next year, and I hope my car is a little stronger, just like their car was today.
Q. The tires didn't seem to be as big of an issue as we expected. In the middle part of the race it seems like you went forever on a set of tires. Were they not as bad as you expected?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, when the field got stretched out, the pace seemed to slow down a little bit, and so the teams weren't on edge pushing hard on their right front or right rear tire.
I still thought that the tire gave us fits as far as handling. If your car wasn't right, you would definitely lose the draft and fade towards the back.
Handling was very important. Horsepower was important. Once nightfall came, that helped a lot of the cars that were ill-handling, got them back in the game.
Q. Last year your team, you and Ryan, struggled a little bit at the beginning of the year but came on strong. Can you pinpoint a time and a thing that you did? Was this a continuation of last year, or something new?
KURT BUSCH: No, this is really -- our team is beginning to gel. For us on the Miller Lite Dodge team was to have Pat Tryson. That is definitely a point we can look at and see that that helped put us in the game.
For the 12 car, it's great to have Roy McCauley and Newman working well together. To see them win, break that winless streak, it was only a matter of time. I'm happy I was able to push him forward to do that and to see a Penske 1-2 today.
You know, it's just hard work. The whole team, I've got every single one of my crew guys back pushing hard. Even the over-the-wall guys are the same. When you have that continuity, it only makes things go smoother.
Q. You mentioned earlier, you said it was one of the races where you knew at the end it was going to be a different style race. Can you elaborate on what was different at the end of the race, how things played differently. Did the role of teammates play a different role than what we've seen in the past here?
KURT BUSCH: Well, this race is about taking your time and positioning yourself for the later run. Some guys were very fast all day. Some guys were fast at the end of the race.
When it's daytime and you've got 400 miles to go, it's almost like you just want to click off laps and ride and see who's gonna rise to the top and be the players at the end.
When nightfall comes in, you're done following people. Now you're making your own lane, you're getting bump-drafted harder and you're sliding up in front of guys and taking more calculated risks because you want to gain those positions and get towards the front.
Even the crew chief wants to make sure he gives you the best tire scenario that the driver could want at the end, and so everything comes into play. It's just like you pick it up a notch. It's just like you inject everybody with adrenaline, and nobody's gonna lift off that right pedal when it gets towards the end of the race.
Q. Your decision to go along with the champion exemption, does that have any play with your team now, going strong the first race of the year?
KURT BUSCH: I think as a team, it was a smart decision and it played out. Sam Hornish, Jr., I don't know if he would have raced his way in during his 150 or not, yet he had points to fall back on. We had our champions provisional that I hope we didn't have to use, but we did.
I'm 29 years old. I didn't think I'd have to use a champions provisional right now, but we did. That was because we had an electrical problem on our car during our 150.
So moving forward, we now qualify with the Go or Go Home cars for the next four events. We'll get to go late. Maybe that will give us an opportunity to get a pole and lock us in the Shootout for the next year and give us better track position for the next few races.
Our goal is to roll into Martinsville. We gave up seventh in points, and we hope that we're around seventh in points at Martinsville, because then all this will act like it didn't happen.
Q. You said coming into this your goal after the last 10 days you had was just to take the top 10 and get out of here; you'd be happy with that. You get a third runner-up run in this event in eight tries. Does that bug you a bit, you've been second three times?
KURT BUSCH: The way today's race unfolded for us, my car just didn't have the muscle that it takes to win at Daytona. And to have that mentality of, Hey, let's just do the best we can, protect our car, make it to the end, gave us an opportunity to go for the win.
But we weren't able to drive into Victory Lane because our car just didn't quite have the muscle I thought it needed.
I'm still on the high of Penske Racing finishing 1-2. I'm sure later on this week and throughout the year I'll wish that I had an opportunity to win. But to finish third, it's great. I've got many more years ahead of me. I finished second in the truck race here before. I've finished second I think twice in an IROC car. Newman beat me once in an IROC race. I do remember that. I'm going to have to remind him of that (smiling).
But it's a tough race. It's a tough track. To have a shot at winning, to sniff it, smell it, feel the emotion on the last lap of being close, is something that will fuel me for the rest of my career to try to win one of these.
Q. Could you comment on your other teammate, Sam Hornish, his performance today, how far he's come, contending early, finishing 15th?
KURT BUSCH: Sam did an excellent job today. There was a point where he was my shadow on the track. Wherever I went, he went. I think his team told him to do that. I felt very confident in him behind me and helping the Penske cars work together.
He has a lot to learn, but yet he is a three-time IRL champion. So his learning curve is going to be like riding an escalator. He's going to keep going, absorbing this material. Before long, he'll be adding more quality ideas to Penske Racing to make all three teams better.
Q. Were you and your brother looking for each other in the closing laps to try to maybe help the other one out and it just didn't happen because restrictor plate racing is that?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, the opportunity for him fizzled I think when he got bumped from the lead. You know, he was right in the mix. He was on the low lane. Burton was in the mix, too. I think he got shuffled in the middle. At that point I saw myself running side by side with Kyle. There's nothing you can do at that point to jump in lanes with one another.
So we were at the mercy of who was bump-drafting us from behind. That's what pushed me up ahead. Had a glimmer of hope to win, but then Newman pulled in front. It was on from there. It was great to have a Penske 1-2 today.
KERRY THARP: Kurt, thank you. Great performance out there tonight.
KURT BUSCH: Thank you.
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