An interview with: Tony Stewart and Marcos Ambrose
Kerry Tharp: Let's roll into tonight's post race of the Budweiser Shootout. We're joined at the podium by three-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, and our third-place finisher is Marcos Ambrose.
Tony, talk about the way the race unfolded and your thoughts about how things went out there tonight.
Tony Stewart: We took the first 25-lap segment easy and tried to watch guys, more so pay attention to what they were doing than really what was going on with our car, just kind of watch the trial-and-error process and see what guys could get away with and what they couldn't, then after the break go back after it.
We got kind of separated at the point that Kyle got sideways. An unbelievable save, just a great save. We tried running that pack down. They had that big wreck in front of us and that got us up to where we needed to be to make a charge at the end.
It was definitely a lot more fun and you felt a lot more eager to be engaged in the race this way than in the two-car deal. I actually had fun racing at Daytona again which I haven't had for a while, so I'm really, really appreciative to the work that NASCAR has done in the off-season and the test session and even after the test of the changes that they made to try to make it better for us out there.
I don't know what the consensus is from everybody else, but I had more fun as a driver tonight than what we've had in the past.
Kerry Tharp: Marcos, how about you?
Marcos Ambrose: It was a crazy race, that's for sure. I saw pretty much every spin, crash. I was either in it, around it, or I just dodged it. Really proud to run fast tonight. We got a lot of steam under the hood, which is great. The Ford department has done a wonderful job with the engines.
I agree with the Tony, what an incredible job NASCAR has done to get back to this style of racing. I think all the drivers appreciate it. It's definitely a lot more fun, more entertaining for the fans, and more in control for the drivers. Even though we crashed more tonight, you just feel like you were in control of your own destiny a little more out there.
Got to thank the King for giving me the chance. Getting back up in the front is a lot of fun.
Kerry Tharp: We'll open it up for questions.
Q: Tony, unless I'm remembering wrong, in years past, the pack racing at Daytona, you weren't that big a fan about it. Tonight you're speaking glowingly of it. What's different?
Tony Stewart: You're kidding, right? Do you remember what we did here six months ago?
This is a lot more fun than the two-car stuff was. I still like the open motor races better where we can literally control our own destiny, but this is by far a lot better than what we had with the two-car stuff.
Q: Better than the two-by-two but not better than before?
Tony Stewart: C'mon, work with me, dude. I'm just happier.
Q: How much of the style of tonight's race will be tempered a bit next Sunday? You have 500 miles, more strategy. Tonight there was a lot of aggression, shorter race. How much are you going to sit down and formulate what you can and can't do?
Tony Stewart: Historically you've always seen this race be a scenario where everybody sees what they can get away with and they use it for a practice session. You do try to see what you can, get away with what you can. Everybody, no matter what their outcome was tonight, learned something they're going to take into the qualifying races and we'll take into Sunday.
You can always push harder in this race than the 500 because we always run this at night and it's a lot cooler. We'll have most likely a lot warmer conditions a week from tomorrow. That will eliminate some of the stuff that guys were really trying to push the envelope on.
Q: Don't get mad. It was fun for you, but three cars out of the whole field are the only ones that didn't sustain damage. A lot of accidents. Jeff Gordon ended up on his roof. It was fun for us to watch when you were battling, but none of us want to see the carnage we saw out there tonight. What are we expecting for the Daytona 500? Are you going to temper it back a little bit? These new rule changes, it's fun, but how do you think next Sunday is going to be?
Tony Stewart: Do you have any better ideas? I think everybody's always open. NASCAR asked the teams and the drivers what we could do to make it better.
My point is this is better than having to sit there and stare at the back of a spoiler for 500 miles and not be able to see where you're going half the race. We had control of what lane we got to run in. We got to move whenever we wanted. You didn't have to not move because you had a guy behind you that you had to rely on making your decision on what he had to do also. We had more control as drivers today.
Look at the history of this race. They always crash here. Go to Talladega, they crash cars there. It's a yard sale every time we go to a restrictor plate track. I don't know what you guys want. Everybody complained about the two-car stuff. Now we got this today, and it's better. We're telling you it's better. You guys are like, Is it going to be that bad next week?
It's not that bad. It's the Bud Shootout. Everybody pushes the envelope. Everybody tries to see what that limit is, what that boundary is. When it comes to Sunday, you have to race 500 miles, you have to make it last till the end. It's not that they're not conscious of the fact you have to make it to lap 75 tonight, but you have the flexibility of not worrying about points standings and not worrying about the 500 title, losing it if you make a mistake tonight.
The competition is so tight, you have to try things tonight. If you don't, somebody else is and they're going to learn from it whether it's right, wrong or indifferent. You had to be aggressive tonight and you had to see what you can get away with. You have to try things. It's a great opportunity for trial and error.
As you saw tonight, it worked out sometimes and it didn't work out a lot of times. The guys that crashed, it didn't work out, there's something they took away from it and said, That didn't work out so well. Just like last night when I crashed Kurt, that wasn't even close to what I had in mind for practice, but that's what happened. It's part of the trial and error process. You have to go through that.
43 cars can win this race a week from tomorrow. If you don't push yourself into figuring out what you can or can't do, I would rather do it with my Shootout car than I would with my 500 car.
Q: I don't know if either one of you saw the two times Kyle nearly got sideways.
Tony Stewart: 'Nearly got sideways'?
Q: How many drivers in the field might have saw that and how amazed were you?
Tony Stewart: I was right behind him when he had the deal in one and two. He had to catch it three times before he saved it. You get 3400 pounds moving like that, to catch it once was pretty big, to get away from it and catch it again was big, and the third time was big. That's three big moments in one corner and he never quit driving. There's a lot of guys that wouldn't have caught that.
He did a fantastic job with that save. I'm sitting there and the green is still out. I'm like, Man, that's the coolest save I've seen in a long time. It was big and it hurt us all at the time, but that was a pretty big moment. Pretty cool to see somebody that went through two big moments like that come out and win the race still.
Q: Let's forget about the comparative degrees of craziness, it's pretty rare when you go to the last lap and two guys are there and there's not several nearby to worry about. Having seen that, this is a matter of a few feet. Who has the edge there? You said you had a little room and almost did it. Is that a pretty even thing or would you rather have been behind? Where would you rather be there?
Tony Stewart: First, I was just happy that I was in the pairing at the end, to be up there. But I think history shows that you want to be that second guy I think in all reality. Especially here, it just seems like for some reason you can make that move here. Talladega for some reason, it seems like you make the move, the start/finish line being further around the tri-oval, almost seems like it's too early when you make it. It just seems like that second spot is kind of the one you want to be in.
I'm not ruling out that you can't win it from being that lead car. You got to plan ahead for it. As soon as we came off of turn two, I was already thinking about it. I knew how much of a gap we had, the third and fourth. Had that flexibility to do that without us getting freight-trained. You knew it was coming; it was just a matter of what to do to guard against it. Guys are figuring out what to do to get by, now you have to figure out what to do to not let them get by you.
Q: Tony, with what you saw for 78 laps, did you expect the end to come down to a two-car tandem as it did?
Tony Stewart: Yeah, I think so. I think it's realistic that that's what you'll have at the 500, that it will come down to that. The good news is we're not going to have to do it for the entire day, all 500 miles. You're not going to have to worry about, Man, if I don't have a partner, you're going to be in big trouble. I would say it's a pretty safe bet. No guarantee it's going to have to come down to that. Especially if it's a lot warmer conditions, I think it will be harder to do that. But I think that's a good possibility that that's the way it will come down to it. Maybe even the qualifying races, that's what it will come down to.
Q: How careful do you have to be in terms of pushing people and working in the draft?
Marcos Ambrose: It's a blur, to be honest with you. I'm driving the Stanley car with one lap to go thinking I'm going to win the race. I get freight trained. There's a lot to learn out there. There's people that you like to run with, you try to find them before the end.
It was thinned out a lot before the end of the race. I looked around and there were probably 10 cars left that could run. We missed a lot out there. A lot of incidents and accidents. Pleased to have made it to the end really.
Like Tony said, it's way better this way. I mean, it's much better racing. We're more in control, even though it doesn't look like it. We're controlling our own destiny, like I said earlier. We're going to push the car to the end, we all know that. We have to manage the temperatures out. I think NASCAR has done a great job of allowing the drivers to get back to racing.
Q: Tony, the accidents tonight appeared to all have been caused by a guy in the back hitting a guy in the front. Is there anything NASCAR can do with the shark fin of the spoiler to alleviate it or is it up to the drivers?
Tony Stewart: I think it's in the drivers' hands. Everybody, people that didn't even run the Shootout tonight, will watch and saw better than we did behind the wheel how the scenarios played out in each one of those accidents.
I think that's kind of to a certain degree what NASCAR had in mind when they came up with this package, was to put the decision in our hands. You don't want to make it obvious that we have that opportunity to do it. We're all thinking twice of do we want to put ourselves in that position so it makes that guy that has that opportunity to push to think twice about is that the right time and do I want to take that risk at this point of the race.
I don't think it's a bad thing. I kind of like us having the decision of whether we want to put ourselves in that position or not. I think everybody will look at that and determine at what stage of the race that's going to be an important decision for them to make.
Q: Tony, do drivers almost have to get acclimated to pack racing? Kevin Harvick said there was too much of guys hitting in the left front. Is there going to be an adjustment back to this style of racing because there was so little of it the last year?
Tony Stewart: I don't think so. I think people, especially guys at this level, pick up on it pretty quick. Like I said, even the drivers that didn't run tonight will have learned a lot even though they didn't get to be in the race.
I think the fact that we got practice on Wednesday, then the qualifying race on Thursday, that is a lot of practice to sort it out and figure it out. I don't think it will be that big of a drama for everybody to get used to it again.
It's no different driving on the interstate and driving on city streets. Two different styles of driving, but you're still driving. It's not that big a deal.
Q: Tony, this is so dramatically different to last year. Is this a field like we had two, three years ago at Talladega or Daytona or is it still different because the packages are different?
Tony Stewart: No, I think it's very similar to what we had two, three years ago. Probably three, four years ago in all reality because I think we already switched over. But I think it is very, very similar to that.
You still sit there and you try to figure out, like being on the freeway in rush hour, which lane is moving and whether you want to switch over. I was the best at switching over and that line stopping all of a sudden, switching over, seemed like that line stopped. It's still kind of back to figuring out, like a chess match, sitting there, who can hang on and not get blocked when they're pushing a two-car deal through there again. It's definitely a lot better deal.
Q: Do you feel like the new rules are going to reward those drivers, the guys with more skills, looser cars? Do you think those guys with that extra bit of talent are going to be rewarded with this style of racing?
Marcos Ambrose: From my seat, it looks like everyone has a lot of talent out there. You got to have great cars and you got to have a bit of luck and you have to manage your race. It's a combination of all three.
Kerry Tharp: Tony and Marcos, thank you so much. Great show tonight. Can't wait for the rest of Speedweeks.