Daytona 500 media day visit: Stewart

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Team Chevy Racing press release

TONY STEWART NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT/MOBIL 1 CHEVORLET, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed winning the Daytona 500, his teammate Danica Patrick and racing over the off season.

Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

A LOT OF PEOPLE AROUND YOU SAY THAT YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN LOOSER OR MORE AT PEACE COMING INTO THIS SEASON WOULD YOU SAY THAT IS A FAIR ASSESMENT?: “I think so. What is odd about it is that we haven’t stopped; we really haven’t taken a break through the winter. I have been content. We've been staying busy racing and we have had a lot of stuff going on at the shop, but it’s all been stuff that we have been looking forward to.”

IS IT ALL JUST FROM WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP?: “I think it helps. Obviously, when you can go back to your shop at the end of the year and everyone is excited and still pumped up from the result at the end of the year it makes the off season go by that much quicker and that much easier. I think there is a lot to that.”

WHEN DID THE BUZZ KIND OF WEAR OFF? “It hasn’t. I mean in all honesty we have still been riding that high, but we really didn’t sit there and say hey we are celebrating a championship. That lasted through the banquet then it was right back to work. I mean we were immediately back on the job of trying to figure out how to do the same thing this year. It was easy to do that having Zippy (Greg Zippadelli) and Steve Addington come on board, guys that weren’t really with us when we won the championship at the end of the year. Their focus was on what we were going to do this year so it kind of got the whole mindset of the shop to not get lazy and think about what we accomplished last year and get working on what we can do to try to repeat this year.”

ARE YOU PICKING UP RIGHT WHERE YOU LEFT OFF OR IS THERE STILL A LITTLE GAP?: “I don’t think we know until we start. The hard thing is you have to improve through the winter and all the teams will improve. It is just a matter of if we get five percent better and someone else gets seven percent better is that enough to put them ahead of us. I don’t think you really know until you get two or three races into the year exactly see what the results are from the winter and the hard work.”

HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN WINNING FIVE RACES IN THE CHASE? “I can’t, I still can’t. I wish I could explain it. The way our year went, it was like the first 26 weeks anything that could go wrong went wrong, something went wrong every week. The days that we didn’t have a problem, we just missed it on the set-up. The days that we were good, something would happen, we would have pit strategy go wrong or something would happen. Those last 10 weeks, with the exception of Dover, everything kind of went right.”

DOES IT MATTER THAT YOU WEREN’T AS GOOD IN THE FIRST 26 IN CONTRAST TO THOSE FINAL 10?: “We just didn’t have the bad luck. It seemed like the bad luck we had the first 26 weeks, we just didn’t have it that last 10 weeks. All the races that we ran in the chase we didn’t have that big, obviously Homestead there was some dramas involved, but there was nothing, even Dover when we were two laps down, we didn’t have anything that was out of sorts. There wasn’t a bad pit stop that got us behind; we were just off that day. The rest of the chase, everything just went right and we had some races there that we struggled a little bit but we finished strong and that was all that mattered.”

IN REGARDS TO HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH GREG ZIPPADELLI AND HIS ADDITION TO STEWART-HAAS RACING: “That is a better question for Brett (Frood) and Zippy than for me. I wasn’t in the middle of that process. I know that was something that was a high priority for us. There are more of those guys doing the leg work on that side than me.”

JIMMIE JOHNSON SAID OVER THE OFF SEASON HE HAD A CHANCE TO TAKE AN ENTIRE MONTH OFF AND REFELCT. IN THAT TIME HE SAID HE FELT LIKE OVER HIS FIVE CHAMPIONSHIP SEASONS HE HAD GOTTEN COMPLACENT. DO YOU THINK THERE WILL EVER BE THAT FEELING OF COMPLACENCY WITH YOU? “I don’t think so. My deal is a little different than all these other guys. A lot of them are married; most of them are married and have families and children. I have a dog and two cats so they don’t care if I go race seven days a week as long as they get fed they are happy. That is just my deal that is just where my lifestyle is a little different. I looked for every race that I could run through the off season. That is what I wanted to do. It sounds like you would wear yourself out doing it but that is my workout plan. I don’t go to the gym. I go to the race track and race. I’m just much happier when I can be racing.”

WHERE ON THE TONY STEWART BUCKET LIST IS WINNING THE DAYTONA 500?: “Very high on it. Especially these next two weeks, it is the highest thing on it.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE DYNAMICS OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH DANICA? “We haven’t had a chance to work a lot with each other at the race track yet, just at Daytona so far. The great thing is that in the short amount of time that we did get to work with her here, she processes information so fast, it’s much quicker than any other rookie that I have seen. Her feedback is really good and detailed. You can’t teach that, that is a talent that you have to have. Nobody can teach you to have that amount of feedback and feel for a car. There is no doubt in my mind that she is going to be good in these, it is just a matter of how long is it going to take for her to really get super comfortable in these cars.”

WHAT ABOUT THE PERSONALITIES BETWEEN YOU AND HER?: “Perfect, her and Ryan and I together, it’s comical if you get the three of us to where we know that there is no cameras and reporters going on it’s a pretty funny conversation. She is pretty sarcastic like Ryan and I both.”

ARE YOU GOING TO DRINK SOME WINE MAYBE?: “I have never drank wine in my life. Somebody tell this man what I drink.”

CAN SHE WIN THE DAYTONA 500? “Did anybody think Trevor Bayne could win the race last year on this day? Anything can happen here it is anybody’s ballgame. She did a really good job in July last year in the Nationwide race when I ran with her. I was really impressed at how smooth she was and how good a job she did in the two car deal. Talent, there is no doubt in my mind she has the talent to do it.”

IN REGARDS TO PUSHING DANICA PATRICK TO THE WIN IN THE DAYTONA 500: “Absolutely, the hard thing is you know you have to pair up with somebody at the end. The hard part is if you break that thing up and try to make a move to go from second to first you can easily go from second to eighth by breaking the pair up. You don’t know what the scenario is going to be. I mean the scenarios might be we are ahead and she’s pushing us at the time. It is hard to make plans until you get late in the race especially when we are going to have to swap so much quicker. It’s hard to plan something like that. It’s hard to say what the scenario is going to be coming to the white flag. You analyze it at the end, but if its close and the pack is right next to you, you do what you have to do to get the best finish. You have to make a calculated decision to get the best result you can. There is nobody out here going to say, I’m not going to try to win the race, but you have to try and analyze what is going on around you. You may not even have the option of pulling out to try to win it; you may get freight trained if you do. You have to make the best educated decision at the time.”

IN REGARDS TO WORKING WITH A ROOKIE AT DAYTONA: “If that is your partner you have to. We saw that in Talladega, I had three different partners throughout the day, just because you say that is who you want to run with doesn’t mean that is even who you are going to be paired up with at the end. You guys are getting way too far ahead and putting the cart before the horse here, there are so many things that have to happen to have those pairings at the end of the day, and you have to analyze the situation when you get to it.”

IN REGARDS TO COMPARING CHAMPIONSHIP RUNS (2002, 2005, and 2011): “We were not in a position to be a contender at Michigan. At that point in the season we were not a contender. We obviously got better after that. The way the scenario worked out, I don’t’ know how you could ask for it to be better than that. I think having a part in building a team and a program that is what makes it different than the first two, you were a driver and only one part of the puzzle. I’m still only one part of the puzzle, but I had to play dual roles in it. It is fun to see guys, you know Joe [Gibbs] had won a championship with Bobby [Labonte] before I won mine and to see an organization get their first championship and to know that we were a part of helping build that is a feeling we haven’t had before.”

OVER THE WINTER HAVE YOU PIN POINTED A MOMENT WHEN YOU THOUGHT WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP MIGHT BE WITHIN REACH: “Martinsville. Martinsville was the one where I said we have just as good a shot as anybody and we won Martinsville.”

WHERE DID YOU LOOK TO IMPROVE DURING THE OFF SEASON?: “Everywhere. Obviously, we have an unknown variable with the fuel injection this year as to which of these programs have figured it out better than the next. Everybody’s programs get better, it’s a matter of just trying to figure who gained the most where. You try to gain everywhere in every aspect of your program. You don’t do that just in the winter you do that all season.

THE RACES THAT YOU PICKED OUT FOR DANICA TO RUN ARE SOME PRETTY CHALLENGING PLACES WAS THAT THE WHOLE IDEA?: “Well it wasn’t so much to break her in, but when they came and said they were going to do 10 races with her, which ones do you think she should run, knowing that she is going to run the entire Nationwide schedule she is already going to a lot of these tracks that are easier tracks than others. We tried to pick tracks that we figured might be a little more challenging a little more difficult knowing that the whole goal this year is just to gain her experience. So that when she does come out in 2013 she is ready to go and we have tried to give her the best opportunity to have a successful season and not go through that whole first year of growing pains and trying to learn these tougher tracks. We tried to be very strategic about which places to take her to as to what we thought would be a challenge that she could use the seat time at.”

IN REGARDS TO DANICA’S 2012 SPRINT CUP SERIES SCHEDULE: “Every track is different. Especially even when you have ran some of these tracks in an Indy Car then you go into a stock car, it drives totally different. You can open your entry up more in an Indy Car and a lot of places you can run wide open, where we have to lift and brake, so it adds a lot of variables that she had not had to do before. She picks up things so quick that I don’t think it’s going to take long.”

IN REGARDS TO DANICA’S PERSONALITY: “She is feistier than I was when I came into the sport. Driving to eat dinner when we were here at the test, she was going to beat me to the edge of the parking lot so I just let her go. We have a long season; I just let her win the first time. I know some of the short cuts to get to the restaurants at some of these other tracks that she doesn’t know yet, so I’ll win my share.”

DO YOU HAVE ONE QUESTION IN YOUR MIND THAT IS AN UNKNOWN THIS YEAR LIKE FUEL INJECTION?: “Honestly, the fuel injection side I don’t worry about a lot. Especially since it’s on the Hendrick side of the program, I really feel confident with our engine program with Hendrick. Their history speaks for itself; I think we just have to do a good job at controlling the variables that are in our control. Just take what we have and get the most out of it every week. Having Zippy there and having Addington coming over, we have two more guys from two different organizations and we can take the best from all of that and try to integrate that into what we are doing and make our program better each week.

WOULD YOU TRADE YOUR CHAMPIONSHIPS FOR A DAYTONA 500 WIN? HOW BIG OF A GAP IS THIS ON YOUR RACING RESUME?: “I wouldn’t trade three championships to win Daytona. It’s not a good feeling to not have that tally in the win column. Realistically, two tracks we haven’t won at and the Daytona 500 we haven’t won at everything else we have pretty much accomplished in this sport that we want to accomplish. It’s the biggest race of the year; everyone wants to win that race. I won’t say that it is not a complete career if you don’t win it but there is a lot of priority on this. Darrell Waltrip and Dale Sr. both had to go a long time before they got it.”

DOES THE DAYTONA 500 BEING THE FIRST RACE OF THE YEAR MAKE IT THAT MUCH HARDER TO WIN? YOU HAVE WON THE JULY RACE HERE THREE TIME: “I think it is just the Daytona 500. You look at some of the greatest finishes of our sport they have come from the Daytona 500 and some of the wildest craziest finishes, fights on the back stretch, you name it we have had it here.”

DO YOU ALLOW YOUSELF TO PICTURE THAT MOMENT WINNING THE DAYTONA 500?: “No, I don’t know how you could. I don’t know how you could honestly sit there and imagine what that moment would be like. You just hope you get to live it.”

HOW GOOD WOULD IT BE FOR THE SPORT IF DANICA BECOMES A FACTOR?: “I don’t know you will have to ask NASCAR that. They would know that better than me. They will have a lot better handle on that answer than I would.”

SHOULD THE COLTS RESIGN PEYTON MANNING?: “I think that is up to Peyton Manning. I like Jim Irsay decision I think it shows a lot of respect from Jim and the organization to let Peyton be a part of that decision. He has meant so much to the Colts and I think it shows a lot of respect from the Colts side to let him make that decision.”

IN REGARDS TO DANICA RUNNING BOTH THE COCA-COLA 600 AND INDY 500: “It would be hard for me to tell her no considering I did it twice. It wouldn’t be a very smart thing for me to tell her no. If she wants to do it I want her to do it. I never told Ryan Newman he can’t drive anything and I won’t tell Danica she can’t drive anything. You only get to live life once. When you have goals you want to accomplish you don’t want to sit there and tell people no. You want them to be able to do what they want to do. I support her 100 percent.”

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU SHARE WITH HER ABOUT DOING THE DOUBLE?: “Everything that we did. Everything that we did wrong the first time, what we did right the second time, there is a lot of stuff that goes into doing it, but she can do it.”

WHAT DID YOU DO WRONG THE FIRST TIME? “I drank like a fish, I had plenty of water, I just didn’t eat and that is what hurt me in the 600. I just drank and drank and drank.”

IN REGARDS TO 2011 TV RATINGS: “You listen to people who watched Homestead and you look at the ratings just during the rain delay it speaks for itself. It shows how intense people were and how tuned in people were to what was going on even when nothing was going on. I think it was big. I think our championship battle was probably one of the greatest in the sport. No matter what the outcome, if Carl had won it I would say the same thing. To have two guys that fought that hard every lap for the last three races and it wasn’t a scenario like the first two years, I think Jimmie had to finish 22nd to win the first year and similar scenario the second year. It came down to the two guys leading the points ran first and second. We finished in the top three the last three races together. Nobody finished worse than third the last three races. To have a finish like that to a season, I’m not sure how it couldn’t boost things.”

DID YOU REACH OUT TO CARL AFTER THAT AND TALK ABOUT THE CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE AT ALL?: “In passing, obviously we were at champions week together and got to see each other. I think it is one of those deals we didn’t have to talk about it. We both knew how special of a moment it was and I really didn’t reach out because it’s tough to lose it in a tie breaking like that. We tried to be respectful of the fact that we had a good battle. What little bit we talked about it I kind of let him bring it up.”

DID CARL PUSH YOU AS HARD AS MARK MARTIN? “I think it was harder with Carl because the points were so much tighter. I think the second time around was more, I was kind of controlling our own destiny versus we didn’t have a choice. We couldn’t sit there and say ok we just have to be safe today and run in the top 15 to do this. We had to perform those last three weeks.”

DID YOU WATCH YOURSELF ON TELEVISION THIS WEEK?: “No, I was at the dirt track actually, because we had practice Tuesday night. They will show it on You Tube right?”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags chevrolet, haas, stewart