This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured defending champion, Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. As the series moves to California Speedway for the Auto Club...
This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured defending champion, Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing.
As the series moves to California Speedway for the Auto Club 500, Stewart sits in 7th place in the point standings. He is one of only three drivers to be ranked in the top 10 all season. Stewart has posted three top-10 finishes at California in four races there including a career best 4th place finish in both 1999 and '01. He will be making the 150th start of his Winston Cup career at California and hopes to make it 10 different winners in the first 10 races of the 2003 season.
Part 1 of 2
Q: WAS LAST WEEK'S TIME OFF A HELP OR A HINDRANCE THIS TIME OF YEAR?
"We all deserve a weekend off once in a while I think. We all have things we'd like to do once in a while on a weekend off so I think it was a welcomed weekend off for everybody. At the same time, I don't think we want to get stagnant. I think we're all looking forward to getting back this weekend."
Q: CAN YOU DISCUSS NASCAR'S PROCEDURE AT MARTINSVILLE WITH REGARD TO THEIR CARBON MONOXIDE STUDY?
"They just had a new apparatus, a new filter, that we volunteered to try for them. I felt better that I probably have after any Martinsville races that I can remember. I still did have a headache after the race was over which is typical for a Martinsville race but it was not nearly as severe as it has been in the past. I spoke to Gary Nelson yesterday about the filter and I was very excited about how I felt after the race was over. But at the same time, I'd like to try it again in the fall race at Martinsville just to make sure that it wasn't just a situation where we just had a good day and got lucky. But I'm somewhat encouraged that the filter did its job."
Q: WITH RICHMOND COMING UP, WHAT ABILITIES ARE NEEDED MOST FOR A DRIVER TO WIN AT SHORT TRACKS?
"I don't know that there's anything really in particular other than the same variables that happen every week. You have to have a good driving car and you have to be somewhat patient on the shorter tracks. A lot of times you want to go but can't due to traffic. The nice thing about Richmond is that it is a two-groove race track. You're able to go high or low. It seems like the guys who do the best job of not beating their cars up all day are the guys who are normally successful at the end of the day. Whether I have those qualities or not, I don't know. But I have won three Winston Cup races there so I guess somewhere along the line we've found them."
Q: HOW GRUELING IS 'THE DOUBLE'? IS THE RACING THE HARDEST PART OR IS IT THE LOGISTICS OF GETTING BACK & FORTH?
"In all reality, the hardest part of doing the double was all the media attention it got. It was quite a distraction more than anything. I say that just from the standpoint that there is so much involved in doing it as far as the logistics and monitoring what I ate and drank for 21 straight days and being in a race car for 21 straight days along with the helicopter and airplane flights. It's just a lot of work both on and off the track. Probably the off-track stuff is more grueling than the on-track stuff. It seemed like the easiest part of doing the double-duty was being inside the race car."
Q: WHEN YOUR CAR IS ONLY AND 8TH PLACE CAR AND YOU FINISH 8TH, HOW TOUGH IS IT TO NOT GET YOURSELF IN TROUBLE BY PUSHING IT PAST THE LIMIT?
"Going into my fifth year in Winston Cup, I think it makes that scenario a little more clear and a little easier to accept. It's not what you want by any means, but you get 100 percent out of the car and if all you can get is 8th place that day I think you learn to accept it and learn to realize that's all you can do. As long as at the end of the day, we leave there and we can say to each other that we gave 100 percent, there's no feeling other than just knowing we tried and did the best that we could."
Q: TWO WEEKS AFTER THE INDY 500 IS THE TEXAS IRL RACE AND IT WOULD BE POSSIBLE TO DO BOTH AND NOT DISTURB YOUR CUP SCHEDULE. WOULD YOU CONSIDER DOING BOTH?
"No, I won the IRL championship in '97 and I won three races in the series. The only thing I hadn't done in the series that I really wanted to do was to win the Indianapolis 500. I always enjoyed running in the Texas race with the IRL cars, but in all reality the only thing I want to do in Indy Car racing that I haven't done is win the Indy 500. I would never even consider it - but not because there's anything wrong with the race track or anything, it's just not on my 'to do' list so to speak."
Q: WERE YOU SURPRISED THAT YOUR NAME POPPED UP TO DO THE 'DOUBLE'
"I think everybody involved in this teleconference today is pretty realistic and their memories aren't so short to remember that it's the month of April. If you look back the last five years, my name starts coming up every month of April in the papers or somebody starts a rumor that I'm running them. The only bad thing is that I have to sit there and answer my cell phone for two solid days with people asking me what I'm going to do when I'm trying to enjoy somewhat of a small vacation. It's not something that's uncommon."
Q: YOU HAD A BIG WEEKEND LAST WEEKEND IN CALIFORNIA - HOW MUCH MORE ARE YOU GOING TO BE IN THE OPEN WHEEL CARS THIS YEAR?
"We ran at Madera Speedway on Friday and Saturday night - they had a 100-lap USAC Midget feature. I finished 14th in that. And then, on Saturday we ran a 50-lap USAC Western States Sprint Car race and a 50-lap SRL Super Modified race and we won both the Sprint Car and Super Modified races. I had a lot of fun with it. The track promoter did a great job during the weekend and I just wanted to go out and support his race. It was a big weekend for him and we had a great time. I just like to do it as much as possible. It's a nice getaway. I get to see a lot of my friends that I don't get an opportunity that I don't get to see very often that I used to race with in USAC. The schedule doesn't give us very many opportunities to have a weekend where we can do something like that."
Q: WITH SO MUCH TALK AT THE END OF LAST SEASON ABOUT WHAT TYPE OF WINSTON CUP CHAMPION YOU WOULD MAKE, HOW HAVE YOU FOUND IT TO BE SO FAR THIS YEAR?
"I haven't really thought about it to be honest. I've looked at myself as one of the 43 guys that starts the race every Sunday. I think it was built up too much to be honest. I'm not going to say it's disappointing, because it's actually been very pleasant for life to go on as usual -- contrary to the popular belief of some of the media members. I've enjoyed it. There has not been anything unpleasant about it by any means. There have not been any added demands like everybody speculated. It's just been business as usual for us."
Q: HOW HAS YOUR ON-TRACK SEASON BEEN SO FAR?
"We've had some parts of the season that we've been happy with. But I think every year we're not tickled to death with our performance until we get that first win under our belt. We 're starting to close into the time period that we normally get going well. I'm not going to say we're disappointed, but at the same time we're feeling like it can be better than what it is right now."
Q: ON HIS SUCCESS AT RICHMOND AND THE KEY TO WINNING THERE
"I think we covered that earlier. But just the fact that you can run two-wide there gives not only the drivers, but the fans a good short track race where you don't hear people talking about the aero push too much. You don't really hear people talking about a certain team having more horsepower than anybody else. It just seems to be good short track racing combined with the fact that you don't have those variables involved. There's no big super trick to winning there. You just have to have a good balanced car. The good thing is the fans get to see a good race there. They get to see us run close. But it' s one of those unique sized and shaped tracks to where you run side-by-side a lot of the day but at the same time you separate from each other and get a break to where you can catch your breath a little bit too. To me, it's one of the perfect tracks on our schedule."
Q: WITH REGARD TO CARBON MONOXIDE, DOES HAVING THE MEDICAL LIASION AT THE TRACK INCREASE YOUR COMFORT LEVEL?
"Yes, very much so. I've tried to get NASCAR to get its own safety crew just for that fact. When I ran in the IRL, they had their own crew that went to all the races with us and you always felt comfortable knowing that if you were in an accident, you knew who the people were that were coming to help get you out of the car. You knew that they were trained properly. Having the medical liaison there each week is a step in the right direction. At times, it's frustrating that we haven't gone any further than that. But at the same time, I applaud NASCAR for at least using their heads. They don't do things very fast a lot of times, but when they do get something done, it's been well thought out. I think they're looking at that right now. But I'm praying for the day that I show up at the race track and we see a bunch of guys in uniforms that are the same guys we saw the week before and the week before that."
Q: THE PRESS SEEMS TO BE STIRRING UP A RIVALRY BETWEEN EARNHARDT JR. AND GORDON. DO YOU SEE THAT HAPPENING AND HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE PART OF THAT MIX?
"Evidently you don't know me too well because I don't like being a part of any of those mixes. It's just the same weekly media thing. They've got to find something to write about and you guys create rivalries for any or no reason. As long as I'm not involved in it, I really don't care this time. I'm happy to not be the center of attention for once."
Q: COMPARED TO LAST SEASON, IS THERE LESS PRESSURE ON YOU IN 2003?
"I feel like there is. I guess the biggest reason is that we're not sitting there answering the question, 'Can you win a championship?' That's a pretty big question in our series. Being able to run this year without having to answer that major question probably is the reason I've come to that conclusion. It just seemed like once we won the championship last year, it was like a weight was lifted off our shoulders - like I dumped a 3,000-pound weight off my back. As a race team this year we've had more fun. Between the guys on the crew and myself, we've really enjoyed our racing this year. That's something we'd started to lose in the past. As much as we all loved the sport, we were losing the passion behind why we love it so much. We needed to get that back and luckily winning the championship did that for us."
Q: HAVE YOU RECEIVED ANY WORD FROM NASCAR ABOUT WHETHER THEY WILL RETURN THE CAR THEY TOOK AT TEXAS AND IF SO, WILL IT BE RETURNED IN WHOLE?
"I have not heard anything. They normally give that information to the crew chief and/or the car owner I would assume. I haven't heard anything on what state the car will be in when we get it back from the race shop."