Daytona 500: Stewart Media Day transcript, part 1

Daytona 500 Media Day Daytona International Speedway February 9, 2006 An interview with: TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS: Q. As you went through it last year, now does it get into a case where it's a 'success breeds...

Daytona 500 Media Day
Daytona International Speedway
February 9, 2006

An interview with:
TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS:

Q. As you went through it last year, now does it get into a case where it's a 'success breeds a success' kind of thing?

TONY STEWART:  I mean, you hope so.  But, I mean, you've been doing this
a lot longer than I have.  You know there are no guarantees in this
sport.  I mean, literally you go back to everybody is starting at square
one again.  We'll wait and see what happens.

Q. Having left here with the dominant plate car, I believe you said at the time maybe one of the best cars you've ever had in your life, when you come back here, did you bring the same car, and can you count on picking up where you left off?

TONY STEWART: I think it's the same chassis. Obviously, it's not the same car, though, 'cause different nose and tail. Again, it's kind of one of those situations where you don't know what you got till you get out there. I It could make them to where they found something already that we haven't with the new nose and tail.

I mean, again, every year when we come here, you can't predict anything. Everything you did last year is over with. That's last year. We've got basically a new car. I mean, when you put a new nose and tail on these cars now, it's not a little simple change anymore. The aerodynamics are so big that immediately it's a brand-new race car.

So, you know, we don't know. I wish I knew better. I mean I wish I had better feeling about it. But, again, it's just going out. We're going to have to wait and see. You know, tomorrow's shootout practice is what I'm looking forward to see, to see where we stand up.

Q. You think it will be a pretty good indicator?

TONY STEWART: Not necessarily. It's not the same car we're going a run in the 500 obviously. You know, hopefully they're both fairly even. You know, it's never a telltale sign of what's going to happen.

Q. Winning Indy was such a huge thing for you. How would winning Daytona stack up against that?

TONY STEWART: I mean, it's almost an unfair question because, I mean, Indy is home to me. But, I mean, as far as a to-do list this year, I mean, that's the No. 1 thing on the to-do list. You know, it's the only thing on the to-do list that we haven't already accomplished.

So, you know, the great thing is we didn't have to wait all season to try to go do that goal, it's the first thing we do. You know, but if it doesn't happen this year, it's not going to be -- you know, we're not going to say the season's a failure no matter what.

We'll just do the best we can. The last two years I've led enough laps to win the whole race outright. You know, I'm looking forward to it, but, again, there's no guarantees. You know, but with the last two years, the way we ran here, coming back as the champions, is the best-case scenario that you can come back in.

Q. Joe Gibbs left to go coach the Redskins a couple years ago, did you have any doubt with JD's ability to lead this team?

TONY STEWART: You weren't here two years ago, were you? I said that two years ago. No, definitely not. He is just a younger version of Joe, in all reality. JD, he's like a Joe Gibbs clone. You know, he does a great job. It's just like dealing with a younger version of Joe in all reality.

Q. Have either JD or Joe Gibbs expressed any concern about you running Sprint Cars since you got banged up a bit recently?

TONY STEWART: No, I got hurt more cars in a stock car than I got hurt in sprint cars and midgets. I think the odds are still stacked against them in that topic right now.

Q. Can you sort of qualify your off-season? Hometown, won a championship, won at Indy. Could this be maybe be the best off-season you've had during your NASCAR career?

TONY STEWART: It's the busiest one I've had in all reality. You know, I've got a racetrack now. We had a banquet. We had improvements we had to do over the winter that nobody will even see because it's all underground stuff. A new NFL team, new to Indianapolis. So new shop. Just moved the USAC team to a new shop. New driver there. Ran Fort Wayne, ran Chili Bowl, ran 24-Hours. Still did business stuff with our office.

I'm glad to be here because I'm actually going to get a chance to relax now that we're here. And that's the reality of it. But, you know, between photo shoots, commercial shoots, did a lot of new stuff for Home Depot, new commercials that are going to come out this year, which we're excited about. The photo shoots for everybody, NASCAR obligations, autograph sessions, appearances. I mean, there wasn't an off-season.

There's no such thing as an off-season any more; it's just off-the-track season. There is no off-season. It's a 12-month job, just like what you guys have now.

Q. On the Chase for the Championship race format:

TONY STEWART: Yeah. With the new format points, you can kind of throw this out. I mean, it's not -- you got 25 weeks to average it out to get yourself in the top 10, and that's the biggest goal. You don't have to be leading the points after 10 races to have a shot at winning obviously. It does let you kind of have that flexibility. It's kind of going for broke. It's the biggest win.

Normally, you didn't want to have that attitude because you knew that all 36 races counted, added up to the deal. With the new format, it does let you have that flexibility now to really let it all hang out for this one.

Q. There's been so much written about the car of the future. Wondering your thoughts about it operationally and safety-wise as well?

TONY STEWART: Everything I've heard about it from the safety standpoint makes it sound likes it's really going to be a good thing for us. As far as the rest of it, I really don't know anything about it. And everybody said, "Why don't you know more about it? Why haven't you been involved in it?" Doesn't really matter. We're all going to have it no matter what anyway. I'll still worried about what we're doing this year. I'm not worried about what we're doing two, three years down the road.

The good thing about NASCAR is I don't question what they do anymore because I pretty much learned in the seven years I've been here that, you know, there's a reason everything's done. Whether you understand it right away or not, after time, everybody realizes that, you know, what they do normally has a pretty good justification behind it.

I really haven't put a lot of thought into that car yet. You know, as I said, I'm really more worried about trying to defend a championship this year. You know, I'm excited to see what's going to happen with it, but I guess in all honesty, I just really haven't put a lot of thought to it yet.

Q. Now that you're a track owner, do you see drivers in a different perspective when it comes to the purse size, or do you have somebody handling that for you so you never hear the complaints?

TONY STEWART: Dude, I was a driver. I still am a driver. I still complain about purses. I don't have to worry about drivers complaining at my racetrack about purses. They know I'm doing everything I can to try to increase that for them, too.

Q. You don't complain at Eldora?

TONY STEWART: Do I complain at Eldora? Sure, I complain to the guys that run the facility every week. There's always more stuff I want done every week. That's from wearing so many different hats. That's from being there as a spectator, as a driver, as a crew member, as a car owner. I think that's something that gives me an advantage going in there. Those guys know I've been in there from every aspect of it. They know I can sit there and look at every aspect of it and understand it from their perspective, no matter what the topic is. I think they respect that fact.

Q. Talk about how difficult it is to win consecutive championships.

TONY STEWART:  When was the last time somebody even did a back-to-back?
I think it was Jeff Gordon, but what year?  How far back was it?

Q. '97/'98.

TONY STEWART: It's almost been, what, eight years now since somebody has done it. I mean, I think that explains it right there. I mean, it's hard enough just to win one, let alone when you haven't had anybody at this level now do it back-to-back in eight years, that speaks for itself right there.

Q. Is your mindset any different?

TONY STEWART: No, I mean, I've been champion in other series and it never changed. Like I said, instantly, as soon as we came in the tunnel yesterday, it was a reset button. I mean, right now I'm at zero points. Everybody else is at zero points. I got all the neat stickers on the side of the trailer saying we're last year's champion. Other than that, we're no different than anybody else coming into Daytona.

Q. Does being the champion make you a target?

TONY STEWART: Everybody says "a target". No, I mean, nobody's -- I think that part of it's overrated because all those guys that didn't win the championship last year are saying, All right, now it's our chance to do it, too. They don't care what we're doing. All they care about is what they're doing. At this level, it's just like any other professional sport, you worry about what you're doing. You don't worry about what everybody else is doing.

Q. Do you think you can repeat as champion? Jeff and Dale are on the outside looking in.

TONY STEWART: It shows that everybody is vulnerable. Like we were just talking, it is because of what level the sport's at right now. You have to concentrate on what you're doing, not what everybody else is doing. If you're spending any ounce of your energy worrying about the rest of the race teams, you're already putting yourself as a disadvantage. You need to concentrate 100% of your effort and time thinking about what you got to do to make your team better right now.

Q. Is it more competitive?

TONY STEWART: Oh, yeah, absolutely. It's the same thing with everything in auto racing, every level of auto racing. The more technology's gotten involved, the more competitive it's gotten. I mean, I was home in the off-season, I was talking to Mark who I race go-karts for, we were talking. They have three different axles they carry to the racetrack, three different hubs, three different wheels, not counting all the compounds of the tires. That's because of the different stiffness of wheels, this and that. If you went to try to go get involved in go-kart racing now, the average person couldn't get involved and be successful. It would be so mind-boggling and overbearing as far as the technology is involved, whereas when I started, shoot, I used the same go-kart on pavement and dirt. We ran dirt tires. Now they run slicks on dirt. You run different wheels and all that stuff.

It just shows how at every level, from go-karts all the way to Cup and IndyCars, you know, the more the technology's got involved in it, the more technical it's got and the closer the competition's got because of that.

Q. As competitive as it is, are you more concerned about Dale and Jeff?

TONY STEWART: Whole new season. It's just like picking things off a tree right now. Who knows who is going to be where. Everybody is so worried about Jeff and Dale. They're two of 43 guys that run the race each week, you know. There were a bunch of other guys that didn't make the Chase either, but nobody really paid attention to that.

Q. ON THE COMPETITION

TONY STEWART: There's 43 good drivers every week. 33 of them each week that aren't going to make the Chase each weekend.

I think it's time to get over that aspect of it and let's be realistic about this. There's more than just those two guys in the sport.

Q. On finding the extra edge

TONY STEWART: Yeah, just like IndyCar racing, Formula One, when you find something that's working for you, I mean, it's going to work consistently until somebody else starts catching on to it or until they figure out something that works for them.

You know, again, it just goes back to how technical the sport's getting. I was talking to somebody else and they were talking about how everybody's trying to cut the cost of racing. Well, you can cut the cost of racing by changing techs and this and that. The problem is that if a typical sponsorship is $20 million, for example, if you cut the cost to where it only costs $15 million to do it just like we're doing that now, they're going to take that other $5 million and still spread the amongst the rest of it. They're still going to ask for the same amount of money, just spread it out there and to take that extra little bit to find that extra little bit to give themselves that little advantage like we had for a stretch.

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR-CUP