TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: HOW DO YOU FEEL AFTER YOUR STRONG PERFORMANCE IN THE 125? "I'm excited about it. This morning, I think that is the best my car has driven. I think the last two days have been really, really...
TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
HOW DO YOU FEEL AFTER YOUR STRONG PERFORMANCE IN THE 125? "I'm excited about it. This morning, I think that is the best my car has driven. I think the last two days have been really, really big for us. The step we made between the final practice and the race was a big step and then I think what we had yesterday to today's practice was another big step. We just keep gaining on it, I think."
ON FOCUSING ON THE CHAMPIONSHIP, INSTEAD OF PUTTING TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON THIS RACE "I think it (winning the championship last year) has given me a way of taking all the races that we run and averaging them out and try not put any more emphasis on any one race than any of the others."
"As much as I'd like to put more emphasis on this race, in all reality, it is one of 36, so I'm trying to keep that attitude about it."
WE HAVEN'T HEARD ANY COMPLAINING THIS WEEK BETWEEN THE MANUFACTURERS...) "It's kind of nice, isn't it? I think it's great. Nobody is talking about it. To go through eight days or whatever and this be the only question (about the manufacturers), it's nice to not have to worry about it as much this year, so I like it better."
DO DEI AND RCR HAVE AN ADVANTAGE ON EVERYBODY... "They're running awfully good. I'd say they probably do have an edge. We just don't know what it is, but that's what we're all here for. We'd be happy if we were in their position. It's a good position for those guys to be in, for sure."
ON THE PRESSURE OF HAVING ALMOST TWICE AS MANY PIT STOPS IN THIS RACE, AS COMPARED TO YEARS PAST... "It's definitely more pressure for the crews. I think it's a good thing. I think it just keeps mixing up the race. It's kind of like hitting 're-rack' and seeing what happens after the sequence of stops is over. I kind of like it with the new (fuel) cells, to be honest."
HOW IS IT GOING TO AFFECT THE DRIVER? "I should only get about four gray hairs on Sunday, versus about 16 that I normally would get, I think. Hopefully, my hair will look a little better this year.
"It gives us a chance to relax more. 43 cars aren't all going to come on pit lane at the same time, so it gives you an opportunity to string out for a couple laps before the sequence is over. Once the sequence is finished, then it will take a couple more laps to get everybody packed back up. At least it will give us a chance to get out there in a single-file line, catch our breath a little bit, relax, not have to be so rigid with the car - you can let the car float around a little more. Then, when you get back in the pack you've got to do that business all over again. But, at least for four or five laps there twice as often, we're going to get a chance to relax in the car."
ARE THE SMALLER FUEL CELLS HERE TURNING THESE MORE INTO GAS MILEAGE RACES? "It's not really a mileage race. It's not like one guy is going to go two laps longer than anybody else and win the race because of it. Everybody is going to be pit at the same time because you can't go by yourself. As far as what they can go or what they can't go, I don't think that is the issue. I think it's better racing that way.
"I hope it does go green. If it will go green like that, we'll all get home a little earlier. Hopefully, I'll remember how to get home. It's getting harder and harder to find it in the dark."
WITH SHORTER FUEL RUNS, DOES THAT MAKE THE CAR EASIER TO HANDLE BASED ON LESS TIRE WEAR? "I don't know. Mine is moving around quite a bit, still. I don't think it's bad. I think it's good because it gives you an opportunity to work on your car. That's probably part of the reason that we're having better races, as far as not having the big wrecks and stuff. If just changing that fuel cell keeps us from having a 22-car wreck somewhere in the day, it's well-worth it right there. It does give us more opportunities to make changes. Almost every time we're only going to change two tires, so with that, you're at least giving the other two tires a chance to cool down 10 degrees during that stop and then you can go back at it. You're kind of giving yourself a break and giving the car a break and giving yourself an opportunity to keep making things better."
HOW HAS BUMP DRAFTING CHANGED? "I think the bump drafting side of it is the same. I think it is a little harder to pass, but I think it's good, too. When it was easy to pass is when we were all feeling the worst in the cars as drivers because we were running over the top of each other because it was so easy to get runs on guys. You can still get runs on guys, but it's harder to finish the pass, so it kind of keeps things from mixing up so fast in the front."
ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT GAS MILEAGE TOMORROW? "That's not my department to worry about, to be honest. If they (DEI teams) can do it (go 40 laps on a tank of fuel), they can do it. We can't do it. If they can do it, great - more power to them. But, I don't think we can do it. We can't worry about what they do. We've got to worry about what we've got to do for ourselves. We can't base our race on what they can or can't do. We've got to do what we can do. We've got to do what we can do and make the judgment on what we can and can't do ourselves."
DO YOU HAVE A 'ROCKET-SHIP' FOR THIS WEEKEND...DALE JR. SAYS HE'S GOT A 'MONSTER?' "That's going to be the funniest race I've ever seen. One guy driving a monster and one on a rocket-ship. I've got a pretty nice race car right now, if that's what you mean.
"I think it's probably as good as it's been right now. I don't know if it's good enough to beat the '8' and '15,' but it's good enough to run with them. We've still got two more chances tomorrow to make it even better, yet, so I promise you I'm going to make good use of that hour and a half tomorrow."
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE OUTSIDE LANE YESTERDAY? "I don't really have a good answer for that. I'm not sure. I think a lot of guys were just being careful yesterday more than today. I really don't know. I don't think there was anything wrong.
"I just think a lot of guys were content to take care of their cars. If we're out there beating up our cars during the qualifying race, then you don't have as good a race car on Sunday. Last I checked, Sunday was more important than Thursday was, so I think guys were just being more careful with it."
IS EVERYBODY GOING TO HAVE TO TRY TO OUT-BRAKE EACH OTHER COMING TO PIT ROAD TOMORROW, LIKE WE SAW YESTERDAY? "I passed four guys coming in and it helped me getting out. I came out and ended up fifth out of the deal."
IS THAT SAFE? "It's all done before we get to pit lane. The pit lane speed starts, I think, 75 feet before the first pit box, so everybody is at pit lane speed by the time they get there - or supposed to be, at least. As far as the guys that had problems (yesterday), it doesn't matter how many times they come in. If they do it one time and it's a problem. I don't that had anything to do with diving down and everything."
HAVING NOW WON A WINSTON CUP TITLE, WHAT WOULD WINNING THE '500' MEAN TO YOU? "Probably the same as it was before I won a Winston Cup championship and before I won three USAC championships and an IRL championship. Any win at any big race is a big accomplishment. It's big in anybody's career. It's big for me, it's big for Dale, Jr., it's big for Kurt Busch. It's big for anybody in the series. It's big, period. That's the one question I wish everybody would quit asking, 'What's it going to mean?' Well, shoot - we don't come here just because we want to ride around and hang out at the beach for 10 straight days. We all want to win because it's a big race. Well, it's a big win for everybody."
IF YOU DON'T WIN THAT IN YOUR CAREER, WILL THAT BE A BIG DISAPPOINTMENT? "It's not going to put me on suicide-watch, if that's what you're asking. There are a lot of races I haven't won, yet. There are still a lot of races I do want to win. If I don't win all the races that are on my list it doesn't mean that I'm going to say, 'I had an unsuccessful career.' I think I've got to focus on the ones that I did win. I'm pretty secure in feeling that if it all ended right now, I'm pretty happy with the way my career has been."
WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE ENGINE THAT FAILED IN QUALIFYING? "It broke. So far, that's all I know. I know they sent it back to Charlotte. I don't know if they analysis is complete, yet, but I do know that they have sent it back and at least got it tore down. I don't know what the end result of it was."
DOES THAT CONCERN YOU AT ALL? "No. It was a qualifying motor."
DOES BEING A CHAMPION FEEL ANY DIFFERENT? "No. Trust me, when I walked into the garage and when I walked into media day I felt like I was in the same position I was in I was last year. I'm one of 50 guys that showed up to race this year. I was the champion for last year and that was 2002. To me, once the championship was over, that was it."
DOES DALE, JR., OWE YOU ONE SINCE YOU HELPED HIM WIN AT TALLADEGA LAST YEAR? "He doesn't owe me one. He did say 'thank you,' though.
"We've always run good together. We've always run well with each other at restrictor places. I'm sure if we get the opportunity we'll do it again. We haven't had as much time in practice to run with each other like we normally have, which has been odd. This is probably the least amount of time we've spend running nose to tail with each other versus years past."
AS A ROOKIE, HOW LONG DID IT TAKE BEFORE OTHER DRIVERS WERE WILLING TO WORK WITH YOU HERE? "The first Daytona race was kind of rough because nobody wanted to run with you. It sounds bad - it sounds like, 'Well, these guys (veterans) aren't being fair to these other guys (rookies).' They're just not used to running with these guys. There are 42 guys to pick to run with. You're going to pick guys that you're used to running with. Once we get away from Daytona and we run some more races and get more comfortable with each other and we run with them and learn their characteristics, then you'll feel more comfortable running around them. And it's not saying that they're dangerous. It's not saying that they would do anything stupid. I've not seen one rookie out there this year do anything that I thought was out of the norm. I think they've done a great job, so far. But, you just run with guys that you're used to running with. It's hard enough running as tight as we run lap after lap.
"By the time we got to Talladega the first time it seemed like it was better and by the time we came to Daytona in July it was better and so on and so forth."
ARE YOU DOING ANYTHING DIFFERENT THIS YEAR TO FIGHT THE AFFECTS OF CARBON MONOXIDE? "We're doing the same thing we did last year. We're still looking into it and I'm sure NASCAR is looking into it. I don't know what I can really do. Our guys are looking into it. That's about as far as we've gotten with it right now. We're trying to do the right thing by doing the research and saying, 'What are the pros and cons of everything that is out there,' and go from there."
DO YOU EXPECT TO HAVE SOMETHING EARLY IN THE YEAR? "The sooner the better."
HOW DID THE COMFORT-LEVEL DEVELOP BETWEEN YOU AND DALE, JR.? "Honestly, it started here either last year or two years ago. We just happened to be out in the same session a couple times and ran nose to tail. Every time we got together we drove straight to the front. It was like, 'Man, this is a pretty good combination here.' I guess that's how it all started, in all reality."
HOW HAS THE CHAMPIONSHIP AFFECTED THE DEMANDS ON YOUR TIME? "We haven't had any more demands on our time, as far as that's been concerned. We've had the same off-season, we've had the same pre-season stuff. We've done everything exactly like we did last year, so the championship-thing is not so bad, so far."
HAS IT BEEN ENJOYABLE?) "The fact that I haven't had to change my schedule and change my life because of it has made it extremely enjoyable. It's nice to know that becoming a champion hasn't become a political office...That's made it extremely enjoyable."
DOES EVERYBODY UNDERSTAND THE 'YELLOW-LINE RULE HERE? "I think so. I think the qualifiers yesterday were a good example. I got under it once, checked up and didn't improve my position. We saw it in the Shootout, and saw it in the first qualifier. I think everybody is kind of getting accustomed and we're all on the same page with what it is and how to deal with it."
IS ANYBODY INTERESTED IN GETTING RID OF THE RULE? "I'm not interested in getting rid of it. You've got to stop somewhere. If we don't stop there we're going to start in the grass, and it's a lot easier to drive on pavement than it is in the grass right now."
HOW HAS YOUR LIFE BEEN IN THE GARAGE UNDER THE NEW POLICY? "Pretty relaxed, I think. The funniest thing was that we were sitting there after the Shootout the other night, Bobby [Labonte] and I were leaning on a stack of tires with the two crew chiefs and Jimmy Makar. I kind of stopped and was like, 'Are we supposed to be out here?' I thought we were in the wrong spot. We could stand out and talk - stand outside and talk to other crewmembers and stuff. It was like, 'Wow, we can really have a good time here again.'"
ON WHAT HAPPENED YESTERDAY ON PIT ROAD WITH KURT BUSCH... "It was just a guy that hauled it off on pit lane and drove across the nose of another car. What are you going to do? Make us run 10 miles an hour and keep that from happening? They'll still drive over each other's nose.
"What can you do? We've got to pit. You can gain spots or lose spots on pit lane, right? It's that way every week. It's an accident. It's the same thing that happens on the racetrack, too. It just happened on the pit lane."