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February 19, 2011

Tony Stewart


KERRY THARP: Let's roll into our post race winning driver for today's 30th Annual Drive for COPD 300 here at Daytona International Speedway, the season opener for the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The race winner is Tony Stewart. This is Tony's fourth straight win in this race. This is his 10th NASCAR Nationwide Series victory. Certainly you've shown just your ability to get around the two-and-a-half mile Superspeedway here at Daytona. Your thoughts about today's win?
TONY STEWART: "Wow" is the first thing. I knew we had a good car in practice. You know, we didn't qualify as good as we were hoping for obviously. But we were pretty sure we knew that we were going to race a lot better than we practiced obviously, or in qualifying.
But we got to the front pretty early. Once we got with Clint, we knew if we could stay together all day, we were going to be a pretty potent combination. We felt like obviously it shaped up to be between the KHI cars and the Gibbs cars. Didn't seem to matter what order Clint and I were in, we could run and run longer before we would have to switch with each other than the Gibbs cars were able to do.
We were sacrificing the speed to get air in the grill. I think they were staying in line, just running to get maximum speed, but having to switch earlier than we were because of that.
It was kind of you didn't really know which strategy was the best, but it was one or the other: ultimate speed and switched when you needed to or sacrificed the speed for the cooling to try to do less exchanges with each other.
We had the caution there where we would have started on the front together. We had the flat tire under the caution. I didn't realize that we had as many cars a lap down as what we had. But that's what saved us in that. We were able to come in, put four tires on, restart 11th. The tire didn't come apart when it went flat. We were able to get around to the pits without it coming apart and tearing the body off. That was a huge, huge key in this race really, was that flat tire.
If we didn't have the flat, it was going to be a little easier going. But we had other guys that pitted there. Landon Cassill came out. He restarted ninth. We restarted behind him. We knew he had a good car. We knew if we hooked up with him, we could get through some of the cars in front of us. I wasn't sure we could get all the way to the front.
We went for that ultimate speed scenario to try to get through there. Landon did a good job of making some good moves to get through traffic. By the time we got there, we were fighting the heat issue. When two of the cars in front of us swapped, I made the decision for us, we didn't have time to get with the spotter and make that decision, it was just kind of a calling an audible, I guess, but pulled a swap with him. That got us back a little bit, but we were with the two groups we needed to be around.
Landon pushed and pushed and pushed and did a really good job. We got that momentum built. We never had to check up ,we never were in a scenario at the end where we had to break that momentum. The other guys were up front and we had the benefit of having the pocket of air we were in to get the momentum. Just ran 'em down. Got there in just enough time.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Tony Stewart.

Q. You're probably going to yell at me because you're not a bookie in Vegas, but if you had not gotten the flat tire and you restarted second, do you maybe not win because the way it's played out for these second-place cars and the leaders, they're in those situations?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I talked to Clint before the race. I had told him if we were running second and he was leading, we had a pack around us, that I was going to just keep pushing. I wanted to make sure a Kevin Harvick, Inc., car won today. That's the hard part, making that decision when you have teammates that you might have to make that decision not to try to win a race in an effort for the organization.
I think that definitely could have done that. Best-case scenario is what happened for us. We still wound up 1-2. But definitely that wasn't the easier of the routes. It would have been a lot easier to restart with my teammate there. But there is that potential that we probably would have had to just stay in line like that, and I probably would have ran second instead of first.

Q. Tony, was there ever a moment when you thought, This 21-year-old rookie I'm hooked up with, is this a good idea?
TONY STEWART: Landon is not new to this. I don't think he's ever got a chance to run a full season in Nationwide. But he's been around a long time. You know, we were watching when he was with the 22 car. They were able to stay up there with us in that pack. You don't do that by being all over the place.
I had the confidence at the end, just from being able to watch him when it was myself and Clint and the two Gibbs cars, the 22 and Landon running together, we got a chance to see him run today. He ran a good race up to that point so we had confidence he was going to be good and fast at the end.

Q. Landon was in here saying he was taking directions, following you. What were you telling him? How exactly did that work?
TONY STEWART: Well, I think when we got ready for that last restart, we were actually behind him, they kind of sent a message to us that if we got ahead of him, he would go with us. That gives you the confidence that you don't have to worry whether somebody is going to follow you, you have a partner you can go with.
Wasn't any point in us trying to get ahead of him at that point because he was fast, he was making good decisions. He made a couple really good moves in that traffic to get us up in that spot. Hard part is I couldn't keep pushing the way I was. We were pushing for maximum speed. We weren't getting any cooling to the car. That was a decision that, when I saw those two guys split one and two, go for their exchange, it gave me the confidence to do it at the same time that we weren't -- all four cars weren't going to just run away from us, we just made that switch.
I thought he ran a good race today. That really worked in our favor at the end today to have somebody like him that was back there with us.

Q. Did you realize you had won the race? How long did it take? You said you hadn't seen a replay yet. Does winning a race like that feel as amazing to you as it is to everyone watching it? That was a good race.
TONY STEWART: When it comes down to that close to the end, absolutely. And I don't know how far we won it by. I know what the margin of victory was, but I don't know what that equates to in inches. It was enough that I felt like, when we got to the line, I called on the radio and I told them I thought we won it just off where the positions of the car were. I thought we were ahead. If not, I was going to look really stupid saying, I won, I won. No, you didn't.

Q. You've had a lot of success at this track, but not necessarily in the Sunday race. Do you walk in confident? Nervous? How do you approach the race after all that's happened to you in the 500?
TONY STEWART: The good thing is I'm probably the happiest guy going into tomorrow. We're coming off a win today. It shows we can do it. It's just a matter of whether the cards play out tomorrow.
It's a tough group, a tough race tomorrow. And physically for the drivers, mentally for the drivers, this is, in my opinion, one of the toughest 500s I've ever ran. What we're doing inside the cars is a lot harder than it's ever been with pushing guys and being pushed, the way that it gets the cars walking around the racetrack.
You know, I think about it, too, because the first thing I thought about is, Man, here we go with another Saturday that we win, and are we going to have bad luck tomorrow?
I think you have to look at the positive side and say, We had a good day today. The race tomorrow is a similar race to what we ran here today. Hopefully we can transfer and keep some of that luck for tomorrow.

Q. Curious as to how much you learned today that you'll be able to apply tomorrow, especially with the overheating situation on running in pairs.
TONY STEWART: You know, I never really liked the pushing part anyway when it first started at Talladega a couple years ago. Obviously last fall that what was the deciding factor. Obviously, coming here, whether you like it or not, you have to do it. You have to get used to it.
Today was just more practice for tomorrow really. I felt more comfortable. I was doing stuff today I wasn't able to do yesterday in the Cup car, stuff I hadn't really practiced. It was good to have this time today to help get ready for tomorrow hopefully.

Q. I know you don't want to divulge the playbook, but did you get any kind of tactical knowledge on how to handle this finish? It seems like the guy who is out front has been the sitting duck.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, we just were in the lucky spot where we were when we came off of two the last lap. That was a pretty big gap between us, Clint and Dale Jr. We had that momentum built up when the Gibbs cars were tied up together and side-by-side. It wasn't until we got almost two-thirds of the way down the backstretch that I realized how much of a run we had going. I wasn't sure when we came off of two if we were going to be able to get to them, let alone have the ability to do something.
We came to three, we were going to be there before the exit of the corner. I was worried about having to run uphill, go the outside, breaking the momentum. Obviously, Dale Jr. is a great restrictor plate driver, knows what to do to break that momentum when you get there. I don't know if he was paying more attention to Clint and knew where we were at or if we caught him off guard. It's a tough spot for him to be in, knowing what decision to make, whether you separate and try to block or not.
You know, we were able to keep that momentum going. I think we actually pulled their momentum down, being able to side draft them off of four. It's so hard to plan what the scenario is going to be. I think a lot of it's you're going to have to call it as you see it. It wouldn't surprise me that somebody's going to make the wrong decision tomorrow and go, I lost because I made the wrong decision and went too early or too late. There's a lot of potential to not time it right.

Q. Could you compare those four wins? A lot changed in between, even the track changed.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, the odd thing is I guess we've won six out of the last seven here. There wasn't one of the six that the scenario was even remotely to being close to the same. That's the part that's ironic. You think, Man, the scenario has to double up eventually. Six wins here, and none of 'em have been the same from the other.
Man, it's ironic. It shows you you can't predict what's going to happen. It's impossible to do that.

Q. NASCAR is giving you half an inch tomorrow opening on the cooling inlets. Is that going to make a difference? Where do you want to be coming out of turn four tomorrow? Would you rather be the pusher or blocker?
TONY STEWART: Man, I don't know. That's the part that is hard. You would think after all the time we've been here this week, you'd have a game plan on where to be. I don't know that you're going to have that luxury of saying, This is where I want to be.
I just think you're going to have to make that decision as it's unfolding. We didn't know when we took the white flag, we were fifth and sixth when we took the white flag. Who would have ever guessed we would have had a shot to get 'em by the time we got to turn three?
I don't know that anybody's going to be able to dictate where they want to be. I think the scenarios are going to play out. You're either going to be in the right spot or the wrong spot.

Q. And the air opening, is it going to make a difference?
TONY STEWART: I'm sure it will. The temperatures today have been warmer than we've had all week. The thing that I worry about is getting so many cars all close together, then guys having to swap. When they go to swap, there's not room for them to move, running out of room.
I think the Cup race tomorrow will have more packs that will be able to stay closer to the front. That's going to make the exchanges more difficult. Getting more radiator opening will help us go a little bit further before we have to make those switches.

Q. We've seen this two-car phenomenon, for lack of a better term, for a week now. Every single day nobody can really describe it other than it being weird and different. You've now had three races with it. Do you have a better description than 'weird' and 'different'?
TONY STEWART: No. It is weird and it is different (laughter). It's something that we've all never really done before. Until the COT car, you never had that opportunity. If you tried to do what we were doing, you'd pick the guy's rear wheel off the ground and crash half the field. We never had a surface smooth enough to allow us to do what we're doing here either.
Like we said, you look back at the last two or three races at Talladega, what we're doing here was shaping up back then, building and building. It's evolved to what we're doing here now. It makes you think back to races with Petty and Pearson and some of the finishes there. Now you look at 30-car packs that we have. Now we went from 30-car packs to two-car packages together. It's just the evolution of the sport, how things are changing.
I don't know what it's like to look at it and watch it, but I know what it's like to feel it. When you're in that third group, you catch a group that's running side-by-side, they can't get away from each other, you're running five to eight miles an hour faster, the guy behind you can't tell if you want to slow down, you have to find a hole when you get there. If you don't find one, you almost have to make one to a certain degree.
I can promise you this, the guys that are driving these things are watching. Everybody is watching out for each other. Everybody knows that we can put each other in a bad spot in a hurry if we don't give each other room. You don't see guys blocking like we've seen in the past. I'll be honest, I didn't like the big packs we used to have to run in. I didn't like people that always had to block. I never agreed with that. The good thing is, now we don't have to do either. If you get a run on a guy, you're going to make an opportunity to pass them. You may not get it done, but at least you have that opportunity now.

Q. Now that the Cup guys are not running for points in the series, do you sense any difference in the strategy among the Cup guys, the non-Cup guys, or is it too early in the season that you're going for the win, hell with the points?
TONY STEWART: I think it's hard to anticipate that in one race.
But, you know, I wasn't really in favor of that in the first place. I think if a guy makes the effort to run all the races, he gets the most points, he should win the championship. It's not for me to decide whether it's the right thing or the wrong thing to do.
I think obviously now guys are just going to go out for the wins. They don't care about the points. So, you know, they probably are giving the Cup guys the opportunity to take more chances versus a guy that is running for points and has to think about if he crashes out.

Q. Landon was in here earlier talking about the vicious cycle for young guys, how hard it is to get a ride because the sponsors don't want to spend the money on younger guys when they can get you or Kevin or Clint. What does he have to do? He's the points leader now and he has nothing lined up for next week. What does he have to do to get something?
TONY STEWART: I don't know. I wish I knew. We're still trying to sell races for Ryan's car right now. It's tough for everybody.
But, you know, we saw the car owners kind of get in that phase three or four years ago where the manufacturers and the car owners were hiring kids like Landon and Josh Wise, hiring these guys really cheap, plugging them in and hoping that they were going to get odds on their money. The problem is you have 43 Cup cars that start every Sunday. You have 43 Nationwide cars. You got all these drivers that got hired and nowhere to put 'em.
I blame the car owners and I blame the manufacturers for that. There were guys like Josh Wise that drove for us, left from winning a national championship to try to make it down here. For a moment there didn't look like it was going to work out. When he went to go back to racing what he was running before, he couldn't get the rides that he was in.
A lot of the guys like Landon and Josh, some of these other guys, have taken that leap of faith, only to have a car owner say, I don't have anywhere to put you, I don't have the sponsorship to put you in something like that.
I kind of blame the car owners more than I blame anybody in that period of saying, We have four driver development drivers at Gibbs, and we had three young Cup guys. Well, I wasn't young. I was the youngest one of the group and I was 34, 35. It's like I'm not planning on retiring, Denny is not planning on retiring. Where are you going to put these four guys? You aren't going to have seven Cup teams.
I wish there was an easy answer. There isn't an easy answer for them right now. It's competitive. There's more guys wanting to do this than ever. The problem is the starting field size is the same as it's always been. Unless somebody quits or retires, it's hard to open up a seat for guys like that to advance.

Q. Tony, you moved to second on the all-time win list at Daytona. Could you give me your comments and thoughts about that.
TONY STEWART: Who is first?
KERRY THARP: Dale Earnhardt is first with 34 wins. But you're tied now with Bobby Allison with 16 wins here at Daytona.
TONY STEWART: Thank you. It's going to take a while to get to 32. But I guess he's won seven Nationwide races, I guess, and we're at six now. That's a pretty cool feeling to know we've closed in on something that he's done here.
This was his playground. You just watched him play with guys here. He was the best at this place. To even be remotely close to him in the record books, in anything here, is very humbling.

Q. You felt this might be your toughest Daytona 500. Drivers think about a lot of things the night before a race like the Daytona 500. Do you suspect a lot of your fellow competitors are considering talking about things like mental and physical durability for this race tomorrow considering how many of them have all talked about how difficult it is to do this for a long period of time?
TONY STEWART: I think it's as much mentally demanding more so than physically demanding. The track is as nice as it's ever been. That makes the physical side of it easier. But the mental side of what we're doing, the learning process of learning how to do it, is the stressful part.
Today you got a handful of pairs that knew what to do and knew how to do it right. Tomorrow there's going to be a lot more guys that are going to be really good at doing it. That means we're going to have a closer field. We're going to have more guys that aren't going to be able to get away from each other doing this.
It is definitely going to be stressful. We're going to have some guys that look like soapy dish rags at the end of this race tomorrow. It is going to be very mentally taxing.
I thought today that the scenarios we ran through would not happen till the last half of the race, and it started off right the front of race and went through the whole day. I can almost 99.9% guarantee you that's exactly what is going to happen tomorrow. They are going to start pairing up from the drop of the green flag and for 500 miles, that's how we're going to run this race. I'll change it to 100%. I'm that confident of it. There's no doubt in my mind that's going to happen.
KERRY THARP: Tony, congratulations and best of luck tomorrow in the 53rd running of the Daytona 500.
TONY STEWART: Thank you, guys.

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