Q&A: Cup champ Stewart speaks up

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After Sunday's season finale at Homestead, Fla., SPEED Channel's NASCAR Victory Lane crew caught up with the newly crowned Winston Cup champion , who talked about the turning point toward his title, whether he'll change and what he plans to do to relax this off-season. John Roberts: Congratulations. This Winston Cup championship is yours, and now no one can ever take it away. : (laughs) Yeah, it's a great feeling. It's just nice to get the year over. We didn't have the day we thought we were going to have here at Homestead by any means. We ran so well here in the past that I thought we honestly had a shot to win the race (on Sunday). But even though we didn't win, we were able to accomplish our goal. We were hoping not only (to win) the championship, but we wanted to try to win it by at least 25 points so that Mark (Martin's) penalty at Rockingham didn't play an effect. Just glad to get (Sunday) over with, and I'm ready to celebrate with the team. Barry Dodson: Tony, we're very close friends. I couldn't be happier for you. We're not going to question you out. We know that you're worn out right now, want to get away. You're what every crew chief wants. You're a thoroughbred, and now you know when to put the bridle on. You're going to carry the torch for Winston Cup for a year, and then you're going to try to re-light it for next year. You had your mom there. How does it feel? : It was awesome to have my family here. I don't know if we're going to let my father off the hook yet or not. He's always been bad luck at the racetrack. Even at Atlanta, he came down on Friday and Saturday and then went home Saturday night just so he wasn't there on Sunday. But he wasn't going to miss this for the world, and I wouldn't have asked him to stay home for anything. To have them there, it was just great. They've supported me through my whole life and my whole racing career. Those two people alone mortgaged our house that we lived in when I was, I think, 12 years old just so we could race go-karts so it was nice to have them there and very special for them to be a part of it with us today. Steve Waid: Hey Tony, let me add my congratulations to you and all your guys, and judging from the champagne I saw out there, you probably smell like a wino right about now. : I smell really, really bad because it was a really bad mixture of champagne and a lot of really good-tasting Coca-Cola, but man, it does smell bad mixed together. (laughs) Steve Waid: Well, let me ask you this Tony. I know you've been asked this question many times because you've been besieged by the media. But the personal side of this. You know there was some turbulence and controversy this year, but it looked like it made you and your guys a little bit more determined to get the job done. : Yeah, it really did. And all of that is due to Greg Zipadelli. I have to give him all the credit for that. He really was the glue that kept our team held together this year. We talked to some of the media earlier about what happened at Indianapolis and what a turning point that was in our season. Being able to take a step back and realize what I was doing -- not only to myself but to my race team, my sponsor, my car owner -- it really was an eye-opening experience. As competitive as I am and as much as I want to win, sometimes you kind of get your head pointed down too far to where you don't see the wake that you're creating behind you. I'm like a single-handed tornado. Everywhere I went, I was leaving a path of destruction so it was nice to finally reward this team with a championship, and all the people who have supported us this year, it's for them. But, most of all, it's for Greg Zipadelli for what he's done as a friend to me and as a leader, not only for myself, but the whole Home Depot team. John Roberts: Hey Tony, your fellow drivers have said one of the best things about you is the fact that Tony is Tony. Will being Winston Cup champion change you at all as a driver or a person? : What do you think? (laughs) John Roberts: (laughs) I'm hoping not Tony. : I've been Tony for 31 years. I don't know how to be anybody else. It's like I've always mentioned. There's no instruction manuals. There's no booklet that says this is what your life as a Winston Cup driver is going to be like, and I struggle because I'm just a small town Indiana boy. I'm nothing special. I don't feel like I'm any different than anybody else. I've just got a really cool job on Sundays. I don't think I'll ever change to a certain degree. You always know where I stand and what I'm thinking about stuff. And, you know, if it's a bad thing, I'm probably going to get in more trouble in the future. I don't know how you change that to be honest. Hopefully as time goes on, I get a little wiser. I'm not sure I get too much smarter, but hopefully I'll get a little bit wiser to where I learn to keep my mouth shut a little bit. But it's like Barry said, I've always thought of myself as probably the one guy in the garage area that wants to win worse than anybody else. If that's a bad thing, it's just going to have to be bad because I don't think that attitude about racing is ever going to change. Barry Dodson: That's not bad at all. You stay a thoroughbred. I know you're going to Chevrolet. That's another deal. But what you've done for Pontiac, where you got your start, with (GM Racing program manager) Ray Smith and those guys, it has to be kind of bittersweet. I know the whole General Motors contingent is awfully proud. : Yeah, it was great, and especially for Ray to come up and celebrate with us (on Sunday). I started my racing career in NASCAR in the Busch Series in '96 with Harry Ranier, and Ray was one of the first people from GM to take a chance on me and really get behind me and support me. He's been with us ever since. Everything that I've been in has been a Pontiac Grand Prix, and it's really neat for not only to win a championship in a Pontiac here recently but myself to win one now. I kind of feel sad to a certain degree that we're leaving Pontiac because I've had a great run with them, but I'm really excited about that fact that we're able to leave on such a good note and bring home another championship for them. SteveWaid: Uh Tony, simple question. Any personal time, anything you plan to do before all that ruckus hits in New York. : (laughs) You're kidding, right? SteveWaid: I thought I'd give it a shot. Barry Dodson: He's wanting to go home and cook. : Actually the only thing that I really get to do... Well, I mean I start the 2003 season (on Monday). I've got a test the next two days here at Homestead with the new Chevy Monte Carlo for next year so I get (Sunday night) of celebrating. Zippy said I could be a half-hour late to work in the morning so I can sleep in a little bit. SteveWaid: Well, I had to ask. : Well, I'm going to get to do some fun stuff. I've been really good friends with some guys in California that own an R.C. (remote-controlled) car company and our big nationals is actually this weekend. I've actually got the two days of testing. Then we get to present a nice check at New York with the McDonald's people for "Save the Children." Then I get to go play with R.C. cars for a weekend. If I crash or break, I can just laugh about it because it doesn't hurt near as bad as when you're in the car. I think that's the only fun thing I get to do until the banquet, and then after the banquet, we've got a really neat cruise with Carnival Cruise Lines. It's kind of like the cruises that you hear about. I get to go hang out with about five or six hundred of the coolest race fans from around the country. I've never been on a big cruise like that. I don't know what's going to happen. I know one thing. I can't swim back to shore once I get out about 50 feet so I'm going to have to enjoy it.

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