GM Racing interview of Tony Stewart and Greg Zipadelli at Daytona test day two. Part 1 of 2 TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: WHAT ARE YOUR INITIAL IMPRESSIONS OF THE MONTE CARLO AFTER RUNNING YESTERDAY? "It's really...
GM Racing interview of Tony Stewart and Greg Zipadelli at Daytona test day two.
Part 1 of 2
TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
WHAT ARE YOUR INITIAL IMPRESSIONS OF THE MONTE CARLO AFTER RUNNING YESTERDAY? "It's really hard to tell at Daytona - what you've got - especially when you're at this test. I remember when I used to come down here in the Busch Series. You ran as hard as you can run. Now, the teams are smart and they play the game. Everybody down here today and everybody that comes next week are going to do the same thing. There is not one team out here probably, except for guys that are going to struggle to make the race anyway - those are the only guys that are probably going to run 100 percent while they're here. Everybody, unfortunately, is playing a cat and mouse game. It's three days of just playing around, I guess."
HAS YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP SUNK IN YET? "I think it sunk in when I got home and got to be around my friends that I hadn't seen in a while. But, when I got back to Indiana for the holidays is probably when it sunk in the most - seeing what the local newspaper had done and just seeing the enthusiasm of the town. But, my life hasn't changed. Nothing has changed since the day that we won our championship at Homestead, so it's been kind of refreshing. Everybody thought there was supposed to be this big uprooting of my life again, but it's been pretty easy for the most part. We enjoyed our holidays. We're back here and it's been nice to get back. I think the one thing that has been nice about getting back here for the test is it's the first time I've been with the team again, other than the Joe Gibbs Christmas party. Just being with the guys here the last couple days has been worth it for us. But, for the most part it really hasn't changed anything. It's just been business as usual and staying busy."
ON RUNNING THE CHILI BOWL IN TULSA: "We leave here Thursday. Actually, tonight is the first night of the Chili Bowl. My World of Outlaws driver, Danny Lasoski, he runs tonight. Tonight is his preliminary night. I was joking with him last night on the phone that he drew tonight because I'll be there tomorrow night and he knows that I'll clown him all night, so he drew an early night so I didn't have to be there while he was running. They've got over 200 cars there, so the best midget drivers, the best sprint car drivers, the best Silver Crown drivers from wing racing, non-wing racing are all going to be there. To go back and run a form of racing that I truly enjoy running all the time when I get a chance and race against the best in the country at it on dirt - it's neat. It's probably the biggest midget race of the year and it comes about the same time that we have our biggest stock car race of the year, so that atmosphere transfers from when I come back from the Chili Bowl to coming to Daytona. I'm already in the mode of what it is like to be at one of the biggest events of the year already, so when I come here it's not like it's the first race of the year for me. It's either the second or third race of the year for me, in all reality. So, I'm kind of back in the mindset of racing at a big event again, instead of coming here with my eyes the size of saucers, saying, 'Wow, we're back at the Daytona 500 again.'
"I don't really have to worry about the sponsors at the Chili Bowl or anything like that. What it is for me is - I want to go out and win every race I run.
"But, going and running against the those guys and 200 guys at that event - I mean, there aren't going to be 200 Winston Cup cars show up for the Daytona 500, so that's a big event to me each year. Last year was the first year that I won that race and it was a big feeling winning that race finally. It was the first time I ever had the opportunity to win.
"I enjoy what we do here and I enjoy Speed Weeks because it's the first time that we all get to see each other since Homestead is over and the banquet is over. There is a lot of pressure that goes into here, doing the sponsor commitments and the media commitments and just everything that we do. It's just a normal deal for us here, where you go to the Chili Bowl and you don't worry about any of that. It's just a matter of driving. But now, you've got 200 guys to race with, so the pressure is the same but different."
WHY ARE YOU CHOOSING NOT TO RACE THE IROC SERIES? "I'm just trying to cut back a little bit. I ran myself in the ground last year, in a lot of different ways. Just scheduling-wise I ran myself in the ground a lot. I've cut back on some of the extra races I'm running this year. I'm cutting back on some of my appearances this year and just trying to streamline my schedule a little bit more to where it gives me some time to get away and hit a reset button a little more often and try to do a little preventive maintenance this year.
"It's a great series. I've always enjoyed being part of the IROC Series and having Danny involved in it this year - it would have been a lot of fun to run with him again. But, it will be a lot of fun to be outside the car and watch him instead of having to try to look in the mirror and find him and say, 'Well, how is he doing back there?' Hopefully, I can help him a little bit more, being out of the car this year."
YOU STOPPED RUNNING A LOT OF EXTRA RACES DURING THE LAST HALF OF 2002 TO FOCUS ON THE CHAMPIONSHIP...ARE YOU GOING TO RESUME RUNNING SOME OF THOSE?) "Yeah, I got my 'hall pass' back. I figured it would be hard for them to keep it over the winter, considering we won the championship. If we had lost the championship it probably would have been hard to do anything but a Winston Cup car this year. I'm just trying to be smart and look out for the team. Those guys went through a lot last year. We all did. We all went through a lot last year. I'm just trying to make things a little more efficient, a little easier to where those guys aren't worrying about, 'Well, what happens if he has a bad day?' It just makes life a little easier for all of us. I'm just trying to look outside my circle and say, 'There are more people involved here and what can I do to help the race team?'"
THE FOX NETWORK IS RUNNING PROMOS FOR THE DAYTONA 500 AND IS SHOWING SOME OF YOUR NEGATIVE MOMENTS FROM AS FAR BACK AS 1999...DOES THAT BOTHER YOU?) "To be honest, I haven't been watching a lot. I went home for the holidays and stayed pretty busy at home and didn't watch a lot of TV while I was home. I haven't seen it, so I really don't know exactly what it is.
"But, I'm to the point to where people are going to pretty much do what they're going to do and I pretty much don't let it rule my life. I can't change whatever they do, so it's about controlling things I can control and that's something I can't control, so I don't worry about it."
ARE YOU MORE RELAXED OR MORE OPTIMISTIC GOING INTO THIS SEASON? "I guess I feel more relaxed going into this year versus last year, I guess from the standpoint that I don't feel like I have anything to prove anymore. There are still a lot of things I want to do in Winston Cup, but I don't feel like I have to prove something to everybody by winning a championship. We've won a championship now, so we've proven that we can do that now.
"I think the goal that I've set for myself - and I told a couple of the guys yesterday when we were talking about it - I said, 'My goal is to have fun this year - strictly to have fun.' If we win another championship with it, great. If we don't win, as long as we have fun and we know that every week we gave 100 percent we'll take exactly whatever it gives us. If that is 10th in points, then we'll take 10th this year. But, we're going to try to win every race like we do every week. There is really nothing different there, but I think my mindset is different about it. I don't feel like that I have to prove something to the world that, 'Hey, I can battle adversity and win a championship.' We pretty much went through the most miserable year you could go through last year and won a championship, and started the year off as bad as you can by coming here and finishing 43rd. I don't feel that I have anything else to prove anymore from that standpoint, so I guess I'm just a little more relaxed going into this year than I was in previous years. The last couple years I felt like, 'Man, we have to get off to a good start to have a chance to win the points,' and we still do. But, with the way it started last year, maybe you don't have to have a perfect start to the year to be able to be a contender."
DO YOU HAVE ANY PARTICULAR ATTITUDE REGARDING THE DAYTONA 500, KNOWING YOUR LAST COUPLE YEARS HAVEN'T BEEN THAT SUCCESSFUL HERE? "It's kind of the same attitude that I have to take when I go to Indy. It's still another race. It's still our biggest race of the year. But, if I have to pick between the two of either landing on my head or rolling into the garage I'd rather roll in the garage this year again. But, I'd rather finish the Daytona 500 this year. Maybe after getting on your head (in 2000) and blowing up on the second lap (last year) - maybe the third time is the charm now. Maybe we can actually finish this thing and actually win it.
"We'll just do what we can. There are so many things that are out of your control. You've just got to take the situations as they come."
SO IT'S NOT A 'BRAIN TUMOR' FOR YOU? "I've eliminated all the brain tumors over the off-season, so I'm 'tumor free' right now."
WITH THE NEW FUEL CELL RULES HERE IT PUTS MORE OF AN EMPHASIS ON PIT CREWS...DO YOU LIKE THAT OR WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE MORE OF IT IN YOUR CONTROL? "I think every week it's a combination. I think it puts a little more of them into the equation.
"I kind of liked it at Talladega last year when we ran it that way. It seemed like it at least gave us a little bit of relief for a couple laps of not having to be three and four wide. You at least had an opportunity to get in pit lane like we always do, but at least when you came out of the pit lane it was three or four laps before you got put into a pack of 38 cars again. It at least gave you a chance to catch your breath. It's hard to put 43 cars in a group as tight as we run. The cars are capable of doing it, but it's still 43 human beings driving the cars. They're the best in the country doing what they do. But, to put them that close together running that fast it doesn't even have to be a mistake. It just hast to be two guys moving in opposite directions six inches. Well, if both of them move six inches they've moved a foot. A lot of times there is not a foot of gap between us, so it's not even a mistake that causes those things a lot of times. Anything that NASCAR does like that to give us an opportunity to not be in that situation as long I feel like is a benefit to all of us."
ARE YOU HAPPIER NOW? "I will be happiest when everybody quits asking me if I'm happy. That'll make me happy.
"I guess I'm happy. I feel like I'm happy. You get tired of talking about negative stuff all the time. I quit reading most of the papers. I quit watching a lot of the racing shows, just from the standpoint that I'm tired of watching negative stuff. There are so many positive things that happen in our sport. For some reason, everybody is oblivious to it or just doesn't care about it or it doesn't sell newspapers or magazines or doesn't get people to watch their TV shows, so they nitpick at all the little things that people do. I'd much rather concentrate on people like Kyle Petty that do positive things or the charities that all these other guys do. I'd rather talk about that with those guys than I would listen to every little negative thing that everybody does. If I trip in the garage area today it will be a front page news story in somebody's newspaper tomorrow and it doesn't have anything to do with what we do with racing. I've just simplified everything. I'm trying to put all that stuff behind and it's hard because every week somebody is constantly bringing it back up. You ask yourself, 'When is that going to end? When are people finally going to let it go? I don't know. I don't worry about it."
IS LIMITING YOUR SCHEDULE GOING TO CUT INTO SOME OF YOUR FUN TIME? "Yeah, I'm going to cut into my fun time, but it's going to make my life a little easier, too. It's less opportunity for the small things that happen -- and sometimes big things that happen -- to occur. By limiting the amount of exposure I have to those opportunities, hopefully it will make my life a little bit easier from that standpoint."
WHAT DO YOU GET FROM RUNNING AN EVENT LIKE THE CHILI BOWL? "I'll go there, I'll show up Thursday night. I'll be with guys that I raced with in '94 or '95 - as far back as '91 when I started in USAC. Probably one out of 10 will ask how fast we ran at Daytona. None of them will care. They'll care about running the Chili Bowl. They'll treat me just like I do the next guy and the next guy and the next guy. It's probably one of those situations where I just enjoy being one of the guys. Being a quote-unquote star in the Winston Cup Series - that part isn't why I came here. It's part of what's happened, but I don't thrive on that. I don't feed on that. I enjoy being able to go back like what we're going to do this weekend just being one of the guys hanging out. I'll work on the car a little bit if I want to. I'll get to do the things that I don't get to do here, which I don't blame the guys (here). Zippy won't let me touch the car here. He'll let me touch one little small area and that is where I sit, but other than that he won't let me work on the car here. But, I can go to those places and just be one of the guys. Now sure, when they let the people out of the stands it's back to business and I've got to switch gears. But, at least for a small period of time I get treated just like everybody else and that's all I want to be. I'm not different than anybody else in this room. I'm no different as a person. We're all the same and I like being that way. I don't like being any different than anybody else. I've just got a really cool job on the weekends."
GREG ZIPADELLI, CREW CHIEF, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
ON THE TRANSITION FROM PONTIAC TO CHEVROLET? "We were going to face switching body styles whether we were Pontiac or Chevrolet, so I think it's just us learning and understanding the new body style. It's just an awful lot of work for the guys at the shop, building 36 new cars this year. We're probably not as far along as we'd like to be, but our goals were to build good cars that we know we can race and be competitive, rather than just to go ahead and build 10 or 12 cars for each team and have cars built. I'm comfortable with the cars we have built. The numbers of them aren't there, but that will come in the next month or so. It's just a lot of work, a lot of time. Hours is all it is. It's just a lot of effort. But, our guys are doing a great job. They're adjusting well to it. The two tests we've had with this car - at Homestead and yesterday here - was kind of encouraging for this team. We're looking forward to this year."
HOW IS THE CORVETTE THAT TONY GAVE TO YOU IN NEW YORK? "I haven't been home long enough to drive it, but this weekend hopefully the weather will be good."
"I asked him how many miles he had on it. I told him when we left New York, I said, 'If that thing doesn't have 100 miles on it the next time I see it, I'm going to put 100 straight miles on it.'
"I get home Sunday night, 'Pops,' just so you know. Sunday night. 100 on it by Sunday night."