TEAM CHEVY DRIVER, TONY STEWART, TALKS WITH MEDIA ABOUT THE UPCOMING SEASON-OPENING NASCAR RACES AT DAYTONA, HIS OPEN WHEEL TEAMS, HIS RACE TRACKS, LEGENDARY DRIVERS, AND THE GOALS OF THE NO. 20 HOME DEPOT TEAM. TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT...
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER, TONY STEWART, TALKS WITH MEDIA ABOUT THE UPCOMING SEASON-OPENING NASCAR RACES AT DAYTONA, HIS OPEN WHEEL TEAMS, HIS RACE TRACKS, LEGENDARY DRIVERS, AND THE GOALS OF THE NO. 20 HOME DEPOT TEAM.
TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT MONTE CARLO:
ON DALE EARNHARDT: "The last half of my rookie season was priceless, being able to be around him and spend the private time I was able to spend with him. It wasn't so much driving stuff, it was about being able to get to know him as a person. You got the impression that he was such a ruthless, tough guy but he was a lot of fun. I had so much fun with him. That's my personality and we goofed around a lot.
"I would say that Kenny Schrader is probably the guy that you look at as being the truest 'pure racer' still around but I think that the phrase 'pure racer' is a dying breed. It's like an endangered animal. Jeff Gordon could be a pure racer if he'd go out and race but he chooses to run the Cup stuff and he ran the Rolex 24. You don't see him get out of the box very often. You don't see a lot of guys do that. Ryan Newman is going back and running Silver Crown and sprint car races now and you've got Jason Leffler and myself but there's just not very many guys that will do a lot outside of Cup."
HOW FAR WOULD YOU GO TO WIN THE 500 ON THE LAST LAP? "I would destroy my car to win the 500 if that's what it takes on the last lap. I don't care if the slide upside down across the finish line to win. This is one of those races you'll take any chance that you have to try to win. I won't say that's my attitude towards every race but this isn't just any race. This is the marquee event for us this year. I would do the same in the Indy 500.
"I think that's the attitude of anybody. I wouldn't go so far to risk hurting somebody. I wouldn't take that chance."
HOW ABOUT TALLEDEGA? "Absolutely. I don't want to make it sound like we don't want to win Talladega because that's one that I really want to win bad for the reason that we're run second so many times. But at the same time, the Talladega races, especially with the point standing and how important each race is point-wise is now, especially with a top-two finish you've got a really good shot of picking up points on guys."
IS THERE ANY WORRIES ABOUT POSSIBLY HAVING A 72 YEAR-OLD RUNNING THIS RACE? "If NASCAR says he's alright to run here then we have the confidence that he'll be just fine. Let's not give this guy a hard time. Red Farmer is older than this guy is and I would trust Red Farmer with my life. I would ride with Red in the Daytona 500 if I had the chance. So do not turn this thing into a bad deal for this guy; let this guy enjoy it. The fact that he's able to run a race car and has the desire at the age of 72, I'm all for him 100%.
DO YOU THINK DALE JR. NEEDS A CHAMPIONSHIP TO VALIDATE HIS CAREER? "I think it depends on individuals. I just said once I got to this level I was happy. I was happy once I got to sprint cars and midgets I said I made it as far as I'd dreamed as a kid. I think just being at this level validates your career. Look at Mark Martin. He hasn't won a championship but I don't think anyone would say he hasn't had a successful career. I don't think that wins and championships dictate whether or not you've had a good career. I think the opinions of your peers dictate that."
WHAT'S YOUR BEST STORY ABOUT A.J. FOYT? "That's easy. I can't remember what year it was but I remember at the Indy 500 one year he got out of his car and took a hammer, beat on it and then got back in. A.J. are good enough friends that I can say this: I've seen him work on stuff and I wouldn't drive anything that he's actually touched, let alone with a hammer. But I say that with a lot of respect. We both like to give each other a hard time. I really cherish the time, and it's fewer and far between now but I really appreciate the times I get to spend with him."
HOW MUCH TIME DID YOU GET TO SPEND WITH HIM IN 1995? "My race lasted about 10 seconds and then my race was over. I spent more time trying to get untangled from the tape and the zip ties that the guys had tied me up with. They actually had me cattle-tied behind a stack of tires because I had run the night race, the midget race the night before. You had to be at the track at 6:00 a.m. and I had a better shot at staying up and getting there at six then I would have then going to sleep and then getting there.
"I was supposed to work the dead man job on the fuel tanks. That's the safety lever that if there's a fire it shuts the fuel supply off to the hose."
DID YOU GET ANY GOOD VIBES FROM PEYTON MANNING WINNING THE SUPER BOWL? "I sent him a text message a few minutes after the game was over and I wrote 'you've got yours finally, now it's time for me to get my Super Bowl.' There's been a lot of things that have lined up for us this year - winning the Chili Bowl again this year with Chevrolet, them being our sponsor for our open-wheel teams for the first time. Peyton winning the Super Bowl, a lot of things that have lined up to make us feel really good coming in here this year. It's kind of one of those things where I'm superstitious about everything and it's one of those things where this falls in line. I feel like maybe we'll have the opportunity to get there."
IS THERE SOME MOMENTUM BUILDING FOR YOU GUYS? "Yeah, we had a great off-season between winning both nights at Fort Wayne, winning the Chili Bowl with a new sponsor and having a record number of entries and then coming here. While we were at Chili Bowl, Mike McLaughlin was driving our car here and Zippy said that with these cars we might have the best shot at winning the Daytona 500. When your crew chief goes out on a limb and says that it gives you confidence as a driver that maybe this is going to be the best shot that you have."
YOU HAVE DOMINANCE IN THE NIGHT RACE HERE. IS THAT ALL COMPLETELY OUT THE WINDOW HERE? "No, the July race is so warm that handling is the ultimate issue there. Now it's normally cool enough that everybody's cars normally drive good, you have to play the chess match a little better.
ANY WORRIES ON QUALIFYING? Absolutely none for me, there's nothing I can do. My responsibility on Sunday is once I put it in first gear, is to shift three times at the right RPMs and that's literally all I have to do. The cars drive themselves around the tracks. You could qualify for me. So if I told you where to shift you could do it. I think I would put Ed Hinton in there though; he's got more experience around this track than you do."
THOUGHTS ON THE CAR OF TOMORROW: "We ran it at Lakeland for 40 laps and a lot of the guys were running on the Hoosier bias-ply tires; the compound was comparable to what you run. We ran there with radial tires, which is what we're going to run on but it was a harder compound -- too hard for that track. I'm not sure what we learned. From my standpoint I'm not sure that I got a real good feel of it because we didn't have the right tires. Ask me after Bristol and I should be better able to comment on it."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE EXPANSION OF THE CHASE? "There's nothing about it that's unfair to anybody so as long as it's the same for everybody it's fine with me. As long as it's not something that's decided two weeks before the Chase starts, as long as everybody knows beforehand it's not a big issue."
HOW DO YOU THINK DENNY HAMLIN'S WINNING THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT HELPED HIM START THE SEASON? "Well, when you can come out in the first race and win it takes some pressure off because you've proven that you can. For him, that was a perfect way to start the season last year. I think it took a big weight off his shoulders."
WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH ELDORA SPEEDWAY THIS YEAR? "Just talked to Larry Kemp last night and we got some new lights that just showed up. We're finishing up revamping the front of the front half of the restrooms that we made the addition onto. There's not going to be that many things. We're putting in a new clay surface and we got about three quarters of it in before the winter set in. Between the new clay and the lights, those will be the biggest things the fans will notice for sure. I'm going to try to put a playground in this year if at all possible."
HOW DO YOU LIKE OWNING A TRACK? "I love it. Between that and being partners with Dale Junior, Kenny Schrader at Paducah? And Kenny Wallace and Kenny Schrader at the other track now, I have found a niche there and it's something that I really enjoy and I'm really passionate about. If the day ever comes when I can't drive a race car anymore I'm won't have to sit there and say, 'now what am I going to do with the rest of my life.' I've got three venues that I'm really passionate about and it's something that I really enjoy."
IS ONE OF THE TOYOTA TEAMS CAPABLE OF WINNING THE DAYTONA 500? "I honestly don't know. Yeah, I mean, if you're fast enough to get into the Daytona 500 then realistically you've got a shot at winning the Daytona 500. Anything can happen. Anybody can. I'm not going to say that anybody can win this race but anything can happen."
ARE YOU HAPPY WITH THE HANS DEVICE AND IF THERE IS SOMETHING ELSE OUT THERE, WOULD YOU CONSIDER IT? "Yeah, I mean, anytime something new gets approved by NASCAR they obviously have the confidence that they're going in the right direction. It doesn't necessarily mean it's better but one of the things that I've never really liked about the HANS is that you never felt like you got your belts as tight as you did when you didn't have the device atop your shoulders. It took me a long time to feel like I got my belts tight enough and I used to over tighten my belts because I couldn't get that feel that I was used to. That's the one thing with the past Hutchins device I liked is I could still get that feel that I liked. I think you're crazy as a driver and a team if you don't always at least explore all of your options and know what's out there and what's available."
ON RED FARMER "I don't know that it's necessarily NASCAR's responsibility because where do you draw the line? If you look at NASCAR and the regional series and the weekly racing series there are thousands and thousands of drivers. I'm not sure if they're responsible to do that and it's not necessarily a responsibility that I have to put on myself either. It's just something I feel is the right thing to do and it makes me feel good that to help somebody like Red. As much as Red's contributed to racing and away from that on the personal side, he's been a great, great friend. I really consider him a family member. The things that he taught me outside of being in a race car showed me as far as timing and things to get away and relax, that's why I do that stuff with Red. It's because I really appreciate what he's done for me. It's a nice way to help somebody that could use a little help but could still go race at the age of 75 or 76. He'll never tell anybody how old he is but he's in his mid 70s somewhere."
YOUR FOUNDATION HELPS OTHER DRIVERS TOO, RIGHT? Anybody that gets injured. that's something that when you look back and when you start a foundation, I mean, I remember when I turned 'professional' and I quit my job and just started driving race cars full-time, I wasn't smart enough to know about disability insurance or health insurance or anything like that. A lot of those guys don't and the reason for that is they can barely afford to go race and if it's a matter of spending $200 on a race car or $200 on insurance, we're dumb race car drivers, we're going to spend that money on the race car. So it's nice to finally get in a position to be able to give back. When we've been able to send a $5000 check for someone's hospital bills, the letter that you get back and see sincere and how grateful they are that you've been able to help, that helps to complete the whole circle of what we do in racing. It just shows how big a family all racers are. It's just like you guys in the media. There's people in the media that we've helped that have problems, health issues or need to be flown somewhere and we've sent a plane to go do that. We don't do it for the publicity; we do it because it's the right thing to do. Racing is a gigantic family. That's one thing about our sport that really makes me proud to be a driver, that racers help racers."
WHEN YOU DO A TEST AT LAKELAND OR KENTUCKY, DO YOU MAKE SURE THAT THERE IS A DOCTOR ON THE PREMISES? "There's always an EMT on the premises."
I MEAN LIKE A CERTIFIED MEDICAL DOCTOR? MIKE HELTON HAS RAISED THAT ISSUE. "That's a good point. Normally if it's bad enough that you think you have a concussion, they're going to send you to the hospital. EMTs are normally smart enough to know that you need to see the doctor. And the doctor will recommend that you don't fly home. Normally if you get into that situation you'll take a ride to the hospital. They're not going to have somebody at the track to do that. At some of these smaller tracks you normally don't worry about it so much, it's when we run the bigger tracks and usually those are NASCAR-controlled events which are fully staffed."
62 PEOPLE ARE ENTERED TO QUALIFY FOR THE DAYTONA 500. DO YOU THINK IT'S GOING TO BE TOUGHER FOR PEOPLE TO GET IN THAT AREN'T GUARANTEED A PLACE? "I wish there was a better way instead of locking in everybody. I understand why they do it and it's harder for me to have the answer than to go to NASCAR since I'm a driver and not a car owner. I think the reason they lock in the top 35 is to support the guys that support the series every week and try to ensure that they will get in and help their sponsors. For new teams coming in it does make it difficult. If you don't make it in on your own the first four races you're already playing catch-up for the rest of the season for the points that you lose in the first four races to get yourself in the top 35 in points. I'm not sure if there's a real good solution to it. I think what NASCAR is trying to do is the right thing; it's kind of like robbing Peter to pay Paul in some cases but I'm want to make sure everyone understands I'm not giving NASCAR a hard time about it. I'm not sure there is a better solution than what they've done. There's no way to please everybody in that situation and this is most likely it."
DO YOU THINK IT'S ANY EASIER FOR THE NEW GUYS TO GET RESPECT COMING IN? "Well, I think how you get acceptance is being respectful of how we race. How they race in IndyCar is different than how we race in Stock Car. It's a problem that we kind of have with some of the younger guys that come in about having that respect. The thing is that all the guys that get to this level have the capability of driving cars fast. Now the part that they have to prove and how they gain the respect is showing that they are smart enough to race. Racing and driving are two different things. Being able to be patient and learn the give-and-take that was taught to us by Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte. If you learn those things quickly that's how you gain acceptance a lot quicker no matter what kind of cars you come from. It's the respect that you show the other drivers that you run around. If you show that respect you get that respect in return."
DO YOU FIND THAT A LOT OF GUYS ARE CAREFUL OF WHAT THEY SAY BECAUSE OF THEIR SPONSORS? "You have to be. It's different than all the other sports because we've got all these sponsors on our sleeve that we can't offend or get into any compromising position. The other sports, they really don't have to worry about it. The sponsors that you see are contracted to the arenas and not the teams. Those guys have a lot more flexibility to say what's on their mind and not have to worry about the repercussions from it. We do, not so much where the sanctioning body doesn't tell us what we can or can't say - and that's nice, I appreciate that fact - but you have to always be conscious because it's such a corporate-driven sport.
"I'm not singling anyone out but if there's 10 of us here and I say something that's a little bit controversial or use the wrong tone and we're all laughing but one guy doesn't get it and writes it the wrong way and comes off the wrong way to the sponsor then it totally screws up the opportunity to speak your mind. The hard part is making sure everyone understands what you're trying to say.
"I've learned to guard myself a little more."
DO YOU THINK YOU MAY RACE THE INDY 500 AGAIN? "I've learned to never say never but I look at my life as a book and it's kind of like it's a chapter that's either on its last page or almost closed. My contract takes me to 39 and I don't see myself getting back into IndyCar at the age of 39."
-credit: gm racing