An interview with: Tony Stewart
KERRY THARP: Tony Stewart, whose teams performed exceptionally well during qualifying. Stewart-Haas Racing qualifying first, will be on the pole for the Daytona 500, with Danica Patrick. The fourth fastest time today was turned in by Ryan Newman. The fifth fastest time was turned in by team owner Tony Stewart.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, it really is. Just really proud today more than anything. Very appreciative of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing, the Hendrick engine and chassis department for all the work that they have put forth to get ready for Daytona.
This was, not only for our organization, but for all the organizations and teams, this was probably one of the most difficult winters that I can remember from my 15 years of going through off-seasons here for teams to actually get prepared to come down here to Daytona.
And to have three cars in the top five like that, just really, really appreciative and excited that we were able to bring three consistent cars down like this.
So appreciative to the people at Mobil 1. I honestly believe that's what made the difference today. We've been working with those guys for two years now. To come down here to Daytona, they work just as hard to help us on the lubricant side as we do on building the cars. I think we make a great team. I think today showed that. It's their commitment, too, that has helped us get here.
Like I say, I'm proud of my teams, my drivers, all of our crews. Greg Zipadelli has worked his guts out all winter with the crew chiefs, Matt Borland, Tony Gibson, Steve (Addington), have had a rough winter trying to get everything ready.
Real appreciative and excited of their hard work.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions from Tony.
Q. With these three immaculately prepared cars, you're accustomed to winning poles; Ryan is as well. Can you talk about the fact you had three great cars out there, but Danica is still the one that had to drive it to the pole. Yeah, it's been fun to watch the telecast today because they're showing the Dartfish. We can watch each other's laps. Her car, she just did a really good job of carrying speed off of turn two, where she made all of her time up was down the backstretch. Carrying that speed off of two is a big key to that.
I think all three of us ran great laps. But I don't know if she did something a little different or if it was Tony Gibson and her guys, but as a package they did a great job.
It's easy to come down here in your first or second year as a driver and clip the apron trying to run too tight a line or do something and scrub speed off. That's something she did an awesome job. Watching her lap, she runs so smooth.
We talked about it two years ago when we ran the Nationwide race together, I said she was probably one of the easiest people to push around the racetrack, she runs such a smooth line. That's what you have to do here.
She did her job behind the wheel, for sure. She did a good job.
Q. Tony, no secret you get your engines from Hendrick. They build your chassis. You guys were all faster than the Hendrick cars. What was the difference? Like I mentioned a minute ago, I honestly believe it was the preparation at our shop. I don't think we're doing a bunch of stuff different than the Hendrick guys are. But our guys did as good a job obviously, if not better.
But I really truly believe it's the Mobil 1 products. We've been working really hard the last year trying to find stuff specifically for restrictor plate tracks. The technology that we get from those guys, it is so cool to have a partner that not only is painted on the hood of the car but can actually help our racecars go faster. That's what we've got with those guys.
The Mobil 1 people have done an awesome job. I told them last night they should be proud, the way we drove from the back to the front. Everybody can have the same car. Nobody drove from the back to the front last night like we did. I think that's what made the difference.
Q. Tony, with no disrespect to the intensity you said has occurred throughout the off-season, was today's effort the easiest part of Speedweeks from a driver standpoint? Is Thursday's Duels maybe the most stressful of what we see from a driver? I think it progresses. Today definitely is the easiest day, no doubt. Thursday is intense just because you're trying to win the race, you're trying to get the best finish you can, but at the same time you're trying to make sure you take care of your racecar.
The 500 is still the most stress that the driver goes through. It's definitely no secret.
The thing is, we say we don't make a difference today, but we all do as drivers. The stuff we have to do compared to what we have to do any other week is fractional as drivers. We have to hit three shifts and be smooth for two laps. It's stuff that we're used to having to do for 500 laps at racetracks.
It really is more about what the teams and their preparation does, that is what shows up today. Thursday and Sunday, it's their preparation, but it's us making sure we're doing the right things. That brings more of us back into the equation Thursday and Sunday.
Q. Can you balance the pride in ownership of pole winning, three out of the top five cars, against your own envy and desire to win the pole and the race? I'll be honest. The pole didn't matter to me personally. It was more as an owner, wanting Danica to be in the top two today. That way she's locked in, we don't have to worry about what happens on Thursday.
To me, my eye is still on next Sunday. Ownership side this Sunday, next Sunday I want it from the driver's side.
Q. Tony, this is going to be a very big story nationally for the next week because of the historical significance and all that. This is good for your team as well. Can you talk about the attention and how big this is really going to be here for the next few days. You guys know the significance more than we do. But just the history books in itself, you know, it's something also as an owner that we're proud to be a part of.
We're proud for her, too. That's a huge accomplishment. It's not like it's been 15 or 20 years she's been trying to do this. It's her second trip to Daytona here in a Cup car. She's made history in the sport. That's stuff that we're proud of being a part of with her. It's something she should have a huge amount of pride in.
It's never been done. There's only one person that can be the first to do anything. Doesn't matter how many do it after you do, accomplish that same goal. The first one that does always has that little bit more significance to it because you were the first.
Q. From your experience here, when you have a car good enough to win the Daytona 500, when do you know it? Do you know it already? Does it take Thursday? I think it's more next Thursday. It gives you an idea. But even at that, you still only see half of the equation. You have the second qualifying race. I think the bigger the packs are, the more things change. Like I say, we'll see half the field on each race Thursday, then Sunday you're going to see 43 cars. I think you learn early in the 500 what you got, then it's a matter of positioning yourself at the end of the race, middle parts of the race to be in the right spot at the end. I think you do find out, but as much as we'd like to think it's Thursday with these cars, I don't think it's going to be Thursday like it has been the last couple years. I think it's going to be transferred to Sunday before you really know.
Q. You hear on great teams about the chemistry you have. A lot of people in your organization talk about the chemistry you have. How would you describe it? Almost fraternity like, you're so close. Talk about that, how that's been able to develop so quickly. This will probably be a sound byte for you guys. I think Danica has two boyfriends, she has Ricky and she has Tony Gibson. They are all but holding hands in the shop when they're there every day together.
It's good for me to see as an owner. I like to see that chemistry that you're talking about.
Ryan is happy being back with Matt. Tony and Danica are happy. I'm happy with Steve. That's something that having three teams that the drivers and crew chiefs are getting along, happy to be paired up where they're at, that's something that goes a long way.
It's not this early that we'll really see that, but you'll see that in the first 8, 10, 12 weeks of the season, of how powerful those pairings really are.
My personality, whether it's good or bad, transfers everywhere we go (laughter).
But I think we've always had the mind set. I learned a lot from Joe Gibbs. I said that every year I've been a car owner. I learned a lot from him. We said it as a two-car team, we said it as a three-car team. We're three separate racecar teams, but we're all working together for a common cause and goal.
That's what makes days like today so special, when you have all three teams that run that well together. We're all sharing in the success. Our team is sharing with Danica. Ryan's team is sharing with Danica. She's sharing our success. We've got a lot to be proud of, and those pairings are a part of that.
Q. One of your fellow team owners this morning said the media and the general public underestimate how good she's going to be this year. She may not be top five every weekend, but she'll be a solid top 15 runner everywhere. Is that how you have it figured? Do you know more about it than we do? Oh, no, I've listened to you guys. You guys definitely know more than we do (smiling).
Honestly, I honestly don't look at it as a number. I'm not going to say top 15 or top 12. That to me is a number.
More so than the finishing position I think is looking through the course of the race. There's so many things that can happen. Something happens at the end of the race that can throw that number off. I think it's just watching the course of the race.
I think she's got potential. I think she's got a lot to look forward to. I think she's going to turn some heads this summer. Whether it's consistent or whether it's one or two races at a time, none of us really know.
It's as much my guess as your guess at this point. But I believe in her. The team believes in her. Our organization believes in her. We're going to do everything we can to make her as consistent and fast every week. The thing that I caution everybody is, everybody puts high expectations. Since she's got here, everybody has put her under such a strong microscope.
Nobody said, Tony Stewart is going to be a top-15 car every week the first or second year. Nobody cared. But everybody is so focused on what she's going to do. You just strictly have to wait and see. It's still a rookie year for her. That makes it hard to predict where she's going to be.
We feel like she's got the tools and mind set to go out and do a good job each week.
Q. Tony, given how she performed yesterday in the practices, limited time, when you walked out of here did you get an inkling that this was possible? All you had to do was look at the time. She ran the fastest lap of the day.
We knew it was possible. The thing that we didn't know is was anybody not showing their hand until today. After watching everybody's runs today, I think everybody pretty much showed their hand yesterday either in the first session or somewhere in the second session, showed what they had, knew what they could run.
If I'd have known today was going to be like it shook out, I would have rested a lot easier last night. We felt confident that even if she didn't get the pole, she was going to be able to stay in the top six I thought at that point.
She said she was nervous. Did you detect any nervousness from her today when you saw her? No. Like I said, the talent that she has, she had to use a fraction of it to run her two laps. If she was nervous, it was more for the guys than her ability what she had to go out and do.
I didn't really detect it. She texted me after the Unlimited last night, talking about the race. Seemed like her normal joking, having fun self.
Q. Undoubtedly there will be naysayers who point to the fact that the car at Daytona is more important than the driver. Why is that not totally accurate? Does it matter on a day like this? I think I touched on that earlier. All of us can pretty much do the same thing here. We're using a fraction of the talent we all have at this level to go out and do two laps of qualifying. That percentage changes later in the week.
You can have the fastest car, but if you don't know where to be and when to be there, you can be at the back, or you can have a car that may not be the fastest and running up front because you know where to be to win.
Naysayers are naysayers. They're people that are unhappy with their life and are trying to bring somebody else's life down to their level.
Q. As far as your team goes with all the changes and everything, with the testing as it went along, did you get a feeling that your team was maybe a little bit ahead of everybody else? No. You just honestly don't know who is showing their hand. We used to come down here to testing, when we just had a minimum spoiler angle, guys would run two or three degrees extra spoiler angle, it made it look like they didn't have speed. When we would come back, they would lay it down for qualifying where it was legal, at the best.
You just never know what people are doing. You never know what they're doing at test sessions. A lot of testing is A, B things, not trying to run the fastest lap, just trying to see what works ,what doesn't work. When you go back home, you look through all that data and put the package together for what you're going to bring down for the race.
You can look at what the testing results are, but they're never 100% of what could happen when you come down for a race weekend.
Q. Tony, Kevin Harvick was asked about Danica's run today. He said he was able to talk about the racing, that was great. Is it nice for you to know for the majority of the next week the headlines are going to say Daytona 500 pole winner Danica Patrick or does that not matter? You guys are in charge of what are going to be the headlines each day.
I'm excited about this week. I thought last night was a fun race to run. I'm glad we're not actually pushing each other. The cars still get a little nervous when guys are pushing. It doesn't seem as effective. It actually seemed to be the opposite of what you would think, versus when we used to push, we gained speed. It seems when we physically are pushing each other, the cars slow down.
You'd have to get Newman in here for that. It's way over my head. I don't understand why they slow down when we push, but they do. We had two cases last night when we had somebody pushing us, it actually slowed the speed of the car down. It was pretty consistent across the board from manufacturer to manufacturer.
I saw Jim Campbell (U.S. Vice President Performance Vehicles and Motorsports) sneak in over there. He should be proud over there. Chevy has done an awesome job. It's easy today to talk about the engine builder, talk about the chassis builders, the people at the shop. Today we actually get to thank our manufacturers again for building us a car that is a fast racecar again, it's not just a car with stickers on it. We actually have an SS, a production car, that's fast. That was proven today, too.
Team Chevy Racing