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Tony Stewart Preseason Thunder Q&A
Q: Tony, have you been back on the grounds here at Indianapolis since your win in August?
Tony Stewart: I think this is the first time since we won here.
Q: Any emotions coming through the tunnel for the first time since you won that race?
Tony Stewart: It actually started on 16th Street before we got to the tunnel. It's like reliving it all over again. You know, we've had a couple other interviews before, we got started right now, and just look around. I mean, it's like you relive it like it was yesterday all over again.
Q: Tony, we talked right after the race here, did you get the car? That was one of the questions we asked and you were pretty emphatic about keeping the car that you won with here.
Tony Stewart: I don't have it yet, but it's still in circulation. It's actually the same car that we won the championship with at Homestead. So it's still in rotation right now. But don't worry, it's being set aside, once it's retired I'll have that car. But it's still too good a car right now to take out of circulation. It's a car I'm obviously fond of. I really like the way it drives. It's, I think it's going to be a car that's going to be good this year, too. We're definitely going to get as much mileage out of it as we can. But it's not ready for retirement yet.
Q: Were you happy to be living back in Columbus when this happened? Because it's almost been like the state has been celebrating this with you for the last five months.
Tony Stewart: Yeah, I mean it just seems like so many things have fell into place, you know, when I moved home at the end of the '04 season. So it just made it that much more special, the fact that I've been home and I've been closer to the Speedway all year.
Q: Tony, the 24 hours has become kind of an all-star race the last few years, guys drawn from a few different series. First of all, what attracted you to this and why do you think so many guys have followed your lead on that? The third part of that, what's been the reaction of the guys that ran that on a regular basis? Do they like to get to compete against you guys or do any of them resent all the attention you guys seem to get above the guys who do that for a living?
Tony Stewart: I think they all look at it as a positive. Obviously the year Dale Jr. and I were teammates there, it brought extra attention, it brought the NASCAR media to the road course and it brought more attention to the Grand Am series, and I don't think there's been any resentment from any of the drivers. I think they've all enjoyed the fact we thought enough of that series to go down there. Like you said, it is a great series, it is an all-star race and that's a testimony to Jim France and what he's been able to accomplish with his visions of how to help road racing become more popular. So I do it just because it's another race I can go run. If anybody wants to go out and have a foot race after we're done with the media session, we'll go outside. I've got new shoes on, they're soft on the bottom, and I think I'll have a traction advantage over you Docker fans. I'll race anything. It doesn't matter to me. I've always enjoyed trying different things and driving different cars I've never ran before. Being able to go run a 24-hour race, it was the idea of running a 24-hour endurance race is something I've never done before. Ever since I did the first one, it's something I look forward to doing every year now. Did I cover all three of them?
Q: Incredibly enough, testing is going on down at Daytona, you're not a part of that. How much of a luxury is that for you to have somebody hop in the car and turn some laps for you?
Tony Stewart: It's a great luxury for me. Graciously enough, Mike McLaughlin has done that for me the last two years to allow me to go to the Chili Bowl. It's always been important to me to be able to go back and not forget where I came from. I mean, to go over and race midgets and sprint cars when I have time is something that's all been very important to me. I think the fact that I think it's always made those guys even respect us more when we get to the Chili Bowl, the fact that we didn't go to Daytona and test and we thought enough about that race to come participate in it and it would be easy to be the champion of NASCAR this year and say, 'Oh, I'm not going to go do it this year, I'm going to enjoy that.' When I go to the Chili Bowl, I'm no different than anybody else there, and I really enjoy that event. So I think it makes them respect the fact that we care enough about that series to go back and do that every year.
Ron Green: We have three questions waiting here and we'll jump down to Daytona. Herb, if you could be ready for a question down there.
Q: You've raced Fort Wayne two years in a row now with USAC. Can you talk about how much fun that is?
Tony Stewart: It's a blast. I can't think of anything I would rather do between Christmas and New Year's than go race anywhere but let alone be able to race somewhere in Indiana and see guys I grew up racing with and grew up watching race. To be able to go hang out with those guys for a couple days and have a night in between where we can all hang out together and bench race in the evening and talk about who did what that night is a lot of fun for me. So it's just, like I say, anytime I can get in a race car and go drive, I love to do it. The car that I bought and the car that I run up there, the Munchkin, it's an oddly named car but it's just one of those cars. I mean the reason I bought it is every time I've driven that car is it's just so much fun that even if I ran that race and ran dead last, I think I would have a good time because it's just a fun car to go run. So it just makes for a fun couple days when there's really nothing to do.
Q: You won the championship twice; you won the Brickyard, which we all know was important to you. But there are some that believe you don't stake your claim as a NASCAR legend until you win the (Daytona) 500. Do you think that's a fair assessment? And how badly do you want to win the 500 now?
Tony Stewart: I don't care about their assessment. I'm really happy with what I've done. I mean, there's a lot of guys that haven't won the Daytona 500, but I think they've had great careers. You look at Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin, they haven't won the Daytona 500, but I don't think anybody is going to say they haven't had a great career and successful career in NASCAR. Michael Waltrip has won the Daytona 500 twice and never won a championship, and he's won, I think, only three races in his career. I don't think anybody is going to say he's had a great career just because he's won the Daytona 500. It's a great accomplishment and for him to win the Daytona 500 twice is an awesome accomplishment, but I don't think you can base your whole career off of one race. I think there's other determining factors on whether you've had a successful career in the series other than just one race.
Q: Tony, now you have had some time to reflect on winning the Brickyard, second time you've won a NASCAR championship, what are some goals still out there for you? You seem like you're still intent on racing, seem like you're having fun doing it. What are some other goals that you have out there that you haven't attained yet?
Tony Stewart: Kind of like Nicole mentioned, our number one goal this year is to go win the Daytona 500. We've led enough laps the last two years combined to win the race outright. Obviously our run in July there was something that was pretty special to us. And obviously with it being the biggest race on the schedule for the year, that's our number one goal. But once we get through Daytona, whether we win, lose, whatever happens there, you never stop wanting to win races. Obviously I'm going to want to come to Indianapolis and try to win the Brickyard back to back. I love being the guy that does things first. I would love to be the first guy to win the Brickyard back to back, and we want to win another championship. Those goals never go away once you accomplish them, they never stop. Even though we had a great year last year, you always want to win more races, win more poles, set new records and continue hot streaks. So that stuff will continue.
Q: Tony, historically there's always been a leader in the garage, and I think the perception right now is there's really not that leader in the garage. Is that something that you see as well, do you perceive it to be that way? Do you think there needs to be a leader in the garage? If so, do you make a conscious attempt not to be that leader or would you mind being that leader?
Tony Stewart: I don't really know what we need a leader for down there necessarily. And what everybody really leads that to what category do we need a leader, I guess. But I would say the closest person to a leader that we have is probably Jeff Gordon, in all reality. He's probably the best representative we have for our sport as far as how to deal with the media, how to deal with the race fans, the sanctioning body. And I think he learned a lot of that from Dale Earnhardt, who was the leader pretty much of the group. So I think we got pretty good leadership with the sanctioning body itself, but I know that NASCAR respects Jeff and his views and his opinions. You know, they respect a lot of drivers' views and opinions, but I would say as far as the one person that's probably more or most well-rounded as far as how he deals with all the aspects of the sport is probably Jeff right now. So I don't know if we need somebody in the garage area as a leader, but that would be my pick. I would prefer not to be that person. I mean, it's hard enough just to do the jobs that we have to do, let alone have that responsibility of having to feel like you're responsible for everybody there.
Q: I hope you don't mind if I ask you to comment on another driver. But since you've raced alongside and with Dale Jr., I'm wondering if you could just comment on what you see as his abilities as a driver and whether NASCAR fans have seen him reach his potential yet.
Tony Stewart: It's a good thing I watched 'SportsCenter' this morning so I could hear his quotes on that, I guess. You know, he's a great driver. I mean, you don't get to the level of NEXTEL Cup by not being a good driver. You know, I think he's proven himself already. I was listening to his quotes this morning about he's the only one who knows his true potential. You know, from outside we know that he's got a lot of talent, but in this day and age it's not Â¿ a driver is not going to carry a race team. It's so technical nowadays that you could be a 10 times better driver than anybody else on the circuit, but if you don't have the right crew, equipment, cars, you're not going to be successful. So you know, I really don't know what to tell you on that other than just I have the utmost confidence in him. I think he's one of the best restrictor-plate drivers that's ever lived and his knowledge of restrictor-plate racing, and I think he's a great race car driver in all the other disciplines. He's won it, all disciplines. So I think his record speaks for itself so far.
Q: How do you re-energize your batteries during this short off-season and get out for another season?
Tony Stewart: Well, you can't see it, but a lot of caffeine from Coca-Cola Classic, so that's the easiest way to stay up. I'll be honest, we haven't had much time off. The little bit of time we had off was the week of Christmas, and I got sick, which I didn't know how to look at that, but in hindsight it was actually pretty good. So I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day by myself with my dog and actually thought that was pretty cool to not have the phone ringing off the hook. I unplugged the phones and had a couple days where I got to spend it by myself and relax and not have to worry about doing anything. The good thing is, I got looking at the schedule, I've never been so excited to have the season start in my life, because after the Vegas race I think we actually get a week-and-a-half vacation. So I'm excited to get started just to get to my vacation finally. So I don't know, it's really not, I guess after a while, I mean we've been doing this so long now that you kind of forget that you have an offseason. You just treat it like any other job, and we've still been having fun. Even though we've not been racing a lot in the offseason, all the stuff we've been doing, even the stuff we've done so far today has been fun. I guess when you're having fun doing it, it's not hard to recharge your batteries that way.
Q: Tony, will there ever be a moment in your career that will come close to equaling those final couple of laps when you talked about seeing your dad hanging over the rail in Turn 2 and that rush of emotion there in the closing four or five miles here?
Tony Stewart: I'll be honest, I don't know -- the only two things I can think of, I haven't been married yet and haven't had children, and those are the only things that I can think would be a possible greater experience than what I had here. I started to get nervous because my dad kept hanging over the railing further and further, and I thought he would be eventually over the railing. But to have your family involved and not only have them involved but when you can be on the racetrack and actually physically see them once every lap, that just adds to that experience and adds to that excitement. So I honestly, like I said, other than those two variables of having a family, I don't know what could possibly be a greater moment in my life than what happened there.
Q: Is it hard to drive with tears in your eyes?
Tony Stewart: You get used to it. It's not a bad feeling to have. As long as it's not painful tears, it's a pretty good feeling to have.
Q: You've always been a guy that stacks your plate really full, I think back to your triple crown years and getting to all the races, do you ever worry and your handlers ever worry that you have spread yourself at times too thin, is it going to wear you down to the point it could have an effect?
Tony Stewart: I think we've surpassed that already, I think we've accomplished that goal of spreading ourselves too thin. We desperately pray that cloning thing starts working out. We think we'll be able to do twice as much, and I'll quit all the testing and let the clone do the testing and I'll just do the racing and they can do the media sessions and all that. I'll be honest, we've just kind of grown accustomed to it all now. The weird thing, even when we had the days off, right before Christmas, the day that I wasn't sick, I didn't do anything the whole day and I felt so guilty for not doing something productive during that day or for not having something that I had to do that it's almost like we've adopted that lifestyle of feeling we have to do something every day now. But the things that we're doing are fun. We own Eldora Speedway, we have our USAC teams, we have our World of Outlaws team, RC car companies, our office in Indianapolis. Everything that we have is something that we enjoy doing. So it's hard to sit there and look at it and say, 'Yeah, we are too busy, but what do we take away?' It's impossible to take one thing away from the equation right now because we're having too much fun with it. So I guess, you know, if it becomes a situation where it starts hurting our performance in the race car, then obviously we'll have to make a change at that point. But as long as it's not hurting our performance and we're all having fun doing what we're doing, I guess we can tolerate it.
Q: Tony, a lot of you guys have been able to go from midgets and so forth into stock cars and drive very well over there. But we haven't had a stock car driver come to Indy for a long time. Can you explain why the midget drivers are able to, you know, that come up through the midgets are able to do so well, yet stock car drivers aren't able to vary their careers?
Tony Stewart: I think the thing that I always took away from when I ran in USAC and in particular not only midgets but sprint cars and Silver Crown, you learned how to be versatile was the first thing. You might run Friday, Saturday and Sunday and you might run all three different types of cars, you might run on dirt one night and you may run on pavement the next night, and you might be on a quarter-mile track and you might be on a mile track the next day. But to do it in such a short amount of time and in different types of cars and different surfaces, those were changes that you had to adapt to right away. You didn't have three days like a Cup weekend or three days like an IRL weekend to adapt and get ready. I think the thing about in particular the sprint cars and midgets, you dealt with such a lightweight car that you learned as a driver that if it wasn't set up exactly the way you wanted it to, you could learn how to manipulate it and you were able to teach yourself how to find ways of making the car doing what it didn't want to do. Whereas with stock cars being 3,400 pounds, it seems like I've learned the heavier the car gets, the harder to make it do something it doesn't want to do. I think the guys that came up driving lighter weight cars have learned how to help themselves out when they get to stock cars and IndyCars. As far as guys crossing over between the two, I don't know why guys have been able to go from IndyCars to stock cars but not vice versa. It seems like once guys have got into stock car racing in this era, they haven't tried to come the other direction. Probably you're a better stat man than I am, probably the Allisons were the last guys to go from stock cars to IndyCars, and I don't even know what their performance was in them. But it's just two totally different driving styles. I think Bill Elliott actually tested a car at Michigan and went out and in five laps was running 220s or 230s in turbocharged cars. So I think if guys actually decided they wanted to make that crossover, I don't think they would have a real hard time doing it. You just never have seen anybody make that step and make that decision to try to do that.
Q: What appeals to you that makes you drive in events like Fort Wayne or the Chili Bowl or Turkey Night, what is it about that that appeals to you personally and as a challenge to you as a driver about events of that nature?
Tony Stewart: I just keep reminding myself that I am too lazy to work a real job. If I can make money driving a race car, that's one more day I don't have to sit in a cubicle. I'm fearful of small spaces. I enjoy it, it's not a matter of speed; it's strictly the competition. When we were running Fort Wayne, I don't even know the size of the track, it's probably a tenth-mile and we're running, I think I broke the track record the second day and ran a 7.32-second lap, but it's just fun to compete more than anything. It doesn't matter how fast it is, just trying to be better than the next guy and to go back to cars that you don't run full time anymore and race against guys that do run them full time, that's your challenge. Your challenge is to get caught back up and as technology changes and midgets and sprint cars like it does in IndyCars and stock car racing, when you're not around it every week you get a little further and further behind. But when you can show up and go out there and in two nights when you haven't ran a car all year and go out there and beat the guys that do it every week, that's a sense of pride that you leave there with as well as just another two nights that you get to go out and do what you love doing more than anything else in life.
Q: Tony, you own the sprint car team, do you feel you delegate as well as you drive?
Tony Stewart: I'm pretty good at letting them do their own thing. They pretty much treat me like we do Joe Gibbs. They don't let me touch the race cars very much; they pretty much tell me how much money they need to pay the bills. So I don't know, I think when I started getting into the ownership side was after I actually started with Joe. I think what I have learned from Joe is if you hire the right people to do the right jobs, you really have done your job at that point. The best thing to do at that point is just pretty much let them do what they do best. So, you know, I've tried to adopt a lot of the attitudes that Joe has with the race teams and that's something that I feel like I really owe Joe a lot for is just teaching me how to be a car owner. So I enjoy that side of it, I enjoy being able to give back to the series that have helped me get where I am. It allows me to stay involved in those series and as time goes on, there's -- when the time comes that I step away from the steering wheel side of it, I've already set myself up to already stay involved in the sport that way.
Q: Tony, the comparison is being made between you and other drivers because you started to win championships. Do you ever think that anybody will ever come close to the role that Earnhardt had when he was around and in your situation, you've got sort of the same, down the same lines where there are fans who are on your side and there are fans which pull for anybody but Tony Stewart, which is what Earnhardt had his whole life. Do you see any comparisons there?
Tony Stewart: Yeah, but we're not the only guy. Fifty percent of the fans pull for Jeff Gordon, and 50 percent pull for anybody but him. When you get to that level, I think it's an honor to have 50 percent of the fans pulling for you and the other 50 percent wanting one of the other 42 drivers, you've got a pretty good percentage going there. Who knows what the future is going to be like. It's kind of funny, I mean we've kind of been down the same path that Darrell Waltrip went down, we went down the same path that Earnhardt has went down. We've been to the part where everybody hated us and to the part where 50 percent like us and 50 percent hate us. So I kind of feel like we're in a really good spot right now. If you get to where everybody likes you, it takes some of that, I don't know, anticipation or something away from it to where it's just not as exciting as if you've got half of them that don't like you and half of them that love you.
Q: My question is how close are you following what's going on here at Daytona, how are you able to pull away from it or find yourself following it? Finally, we're here in the deadline media room watching you on TV, have you started your workout program yet? Tony Stewart: You notice I'm slouching over the table so you can't see too much. I've started, and I have to say enjoy doing it, obviously the time I got and the time I was in Fort Wayne and I've been at Louisville, Kentucky, at a major pool tournament the last couple days, and we've not been home to work out. But it's something I'm actually enjoying. We had one of the trainers from Joe Gibbs Racing come to Columbus there and see my equipment and get me set up on a program. So I enjoy doing it. I'm excited about it. I don't feel like I'm going to be Mr. Olympia by February or something, but we're at least making steps in the right direction. So weight is going down instead of up. I hate to tell David Poole that because he's going it fire me -- we have our eating team down there, I'm afraid I'm going to get fired from that role. But it's part of life, I guess. As you get older, your body changes and no more being able to do what I want and lay on the couch and sleep in until noon anymore, I have to get up like everybody else and work at it right now.
Q: Tony, Mark Totus from Florida Today. You talked a lot about racing at Fort Wayne and the Chili Bowl and the different places and racing against a whole lot of guys that are really, really good racers and can hold their own in those series. What separates you from them? Is it one break that you got that they didn't? Can you talk a little bit about that? Thank you.
Tony Stewart: I think there's probably thousands of drivers that can be in the same situation I'm in; and I think what happened with me is I've been very, very fortunate my whole career to be surrounded by great people. You know, Mark Dismore was a great, great friend of mine, still is a great friend of mine that helped me get my first midget ride. That was the first big break that I needed to move up the ladder. So, you know, that carried me on to where we are today obviously. But, you know, there's guys that just -- everything that happened in my career seemed to be I was in the right place at the right time. You know, after Jeff Gordon did so well on 'Thursday Night Thunder' with the midget series on ESPN, a couple years after he went to stock car racing, we were coming into that. So it just seemed like I've always been able to be in the right place at the right time, had the right opportunities. But trust me, I don't feel like we're in an elite group of people. I think there's thousands of drivers across the country that have the talent, they just -- there's always only going to be 43 guys that make the race on Sunday and there's, you know, increasing numbers of race car drivers that get into auto racing each year, but there's only going to be so many opportunities available. So it's getting harder and harder each year to get those opportunities. You look at scenarios like what we have with Joe Gibbs Racing, we have a kid under contract, Joey Logano that isn't even old enough to drive and doesn't even have a driver's license; his mom has to drive him to the race shop, and the kid's got great talent. Trust me, I would rather drive with Joey on the street than with people who have driver's licenses. You look at how tough it is and how car owners are like any other professional sport, they're looking at kids before they graduate high school now to drive the race cars. So it's getting increasingly harder and harder. And guys that are established and are 25, 30, 35 years old, probably aren't even going to get opportunities because they're now too old to be considered for new rides. So this day and age it's just getting harder and harder to get those opportunities. But there's definitely talented drivers out there. When I go to Fort Wayne, when I go to dirt late-model races, I race with these guys every week and they're some of the toughest in the country, and they're guys definitely capable of being where we are. They just aren't where we are at the right place at the right time.
Q: One was ask for somebody else if you've been paying attention to testing down here. What I wanted to ask you, you mentioned earlier that a driver can't carry a race team because it's so technical, the cars are so technical now. How challenging is it for a driver to accept that? And what were you able to do early last season when you guys weren't as dominant and still searching for the right connection?
Tony Stewart: I won't forget the Daytona question this time. You know, I guess from a driver standpoint, it's disheartening a little bit to know you can't make the difference, but it definitely teaches you a team atmosphere. It teaches you what football teams and basketball and baseball teams know, that you're one of many components that make a team. So from that aspect, I guess that's what made it easier this year of making it through the tough times of knowing we weren't where we were; but knowing that if you keep the entire race team pumped up, it was easier to get through those tough times to where when things started getting better, the team wasn't beat down so much they couldn't rebound from it. So you kind of learn to put yourself in a different role, and I think that's what makes great leaders in our sport from the driver's side. Not saying that I'm one of those by any means, but, you know, you look at guys like Dale Earnhardt, who even if his car wasn't right, he could keep his race team pumped up and motivated and he could get everything out of it. But even when they would get in slumps, they were never really totally out of things. So I guess from that side of it, you just learn the team atmosphere and you learn to accept that and learn to not try to totally rely on yourself to make the difference, you rely on those people that work closely around you. On the Daytona side, like I said, I was down in Louisville, Kentucky, at the Derby City Classic pool tournament, and we carried a laptop around and plugged in every now and then to see where everybody is at. So we are paying attention. Just because we're not down there doesn't mean we don't care about what's going on down there. We care very much what's going on and don't want to lose touch with what's happening. So we're definitely going to be watching all day today; and even while we're in Tulsa tomorrow, we'll have the whole day to be able to watch and see what's going on down there. So I'm hoping that we can stay in the top 10 down there and have good runs and a good test.
Q: Tony, is your dream Super Bowl the Colts/Redskins and where would your allegiance lie?
Tony Stewart: There's somebody that's always got to put me between a rock and a hard place, but I have no problem answering this question. I told Joe if it's Colts and Redskins, sorry, Joe, I'm wearing blue and white, so you'll have to get over it. I'm a pretty diehard Indiana guy, and everybody knows that and Joe knows that. I hope it gets to that. I hope Joe has a good enough season to get to the Super Bowl. As long as it's one of those two teams that wins it, I'll be fine. If it comes down to those two particular teams, I'm going to have to stand on the Indiana side, for sure.
Q: Just to close out, to finish off the comment I made at the very beginning, a lot of the historians were saying that your win again in August may have been one of the most, if not the most memorable day here in history at the Speedway. When you drove out the gates that night, do you allow yourself to think about something like that, that you probably have written a special chapter in history here at the Speedway?
Tony Stewart: I didn't think about it that day, it wasn't until a couple days after that I had heard some of the historians who after living around here for so long, I've got to know some of those guys and to hear that comment was something that meant, you know, you couldn't put a price on that. To think that that's one of the most special moments in the long history of this facility, that just makes what was a great day even greater. So I don't know how we could make that one day in my life any more special than it was than all those variables combined.