Continued from part 2 Q: You're a veteran, but when I heard you say you were nervous in the car, you didn't want to make the call on that last pit stop, can you talk about your emotions then? Did you feel like a veteran or like ...
Continued from part 2
Q: You're a veteran, but when I heard you say you were nervous in the car, you didn't want to make the call on that last pit stop, can you talk about your emotions then? Did you feel like a veteran or like a rookie?
STEWART: Well, I mean, you know you're a veteran, but it's hard sometimes -- it's hard for both Zippy and I because he doesn't know what the car feels like, but I don't know what everybody's running lap time-wise, how much the gaps are from guys that took four tires to guys that didn't take tires. And here it is the biggest race of my life and I'm thinking, this is probably going to be our last caution of the day. This is a make-or-break thing for us.
You know, it was just hard to make the decision. It was hard for me to make it. It was hard for him to make it. But he got pretty adamant about thinking that we needed to stay out. I just finally said, Hey, whatever you say, we're going to stick by, we'll do it a hundred percent. I'm glad he stuck to it because we were going to run out of laps. We would have never got back up through there even if we put four tires on.
Q: Can you describe your first childhood experience coming to this racetrack. Do you remember who you were with, when it was, what it was?
STEWART: One of them I remember I came here with my father. I don't even remember why we were in this bus, but we were in some bus that had a luggage rack in the top of it. You had to get up at 0:dark:30 to get on the bus to ride up here for Race Day. They threw me up in the luggage rack. Somebody had a pillow. Everybody started throwing their jackets on top of me to keep me warm.
Then the ride home wasn't near as cool because everybody was drunk on the bus, but my dad and I. And everybody was trying to give me beer. I was probably 5 years old. I kind of thought that part was cool. But needless to say, the ride home was a little rowdier than that. But we sat in Turns 3 and 4, we were two rows up right in the middle of the short chute. The hard thing was you couldn't hardly see anything, they were so fast, they were a blur. To see those cars under caution and smell the methanol fumes and everything, it was pretty cool.
Q: Without going into detail, will you go home tonight to Columbus and continue this party? Will you get to go home and experience this tonight with the people that have meant so much to you here this year?
STEWART: We're going to destroy my Turn 2 suite first and then when there's nothing left over there, they've actually -- somebody, I don't know how they did it in such quick fashion, they've got us another place here in town to go through. All my friends are up here anyway, so we're not going to drive down there tonight, because I've got fan club picnics in the morning, which I have a bad feeling I'm going to be late to at least the first one. Probably when I get done with this, still won't remember what they did during it. I'm sure they will give me a mulligan on it.
Q: On the final caution, you made a move toward the pits. You didn't go in. Was that trying to suck Kasey in?
STEWART: We were just trying to see who was going to do what, see if we could get some guys to go in. We knew we were going to stay out. If we could get a couple of the lead-lap cars that were right behind us in position, if we could bait them into going in, that would put them in bad track position. It would let me focus more on Kasey than having to worry about Brian Vickers and a couple of the guys that were right behind us.
Q: Can you sort of go step by step through what was going through your mind when Kasey was able to pass you that time? Did you feel some real concern at that point? What was going through your mind when you were stalking him? Looked like you were absolutely determined to run him down. Then when you got by him, what was going through your mind and what happened with the car through those stages?
STEWART: I guess it goes back the second pit stop before the end where we came in and got stickers. We came out and we were behind Brian Vickers. Actually, we were behind the 38 car also. We got by the 38 real quick, then we ran Brian down. My car was really loose on the front of a run. But having Brian in front of us got me actually to where my car drove really well.
But, you know, when Kasey got behind us and he got the second and ran us down as quick as he did, as soon as I got in the lead, my car got really free. I told Zippy I thought that I could man-handle it enough to get by. But, you know, on that restart with clean air, just got me too free. Kasey got by us. Actually helped my car out.
But he was saving fuel. Zippy was trying to get me to save fuel. I wasn't saving an ounce of fuel. I said: "If I run out of fuel, I'm racing for the win. I'm not going to lay down and save fuel, run second, say I had to save fuel.' I just couldn't do it. If I ran out of fuel and ran 32nd or something, that's where I was going to have to be.
After he got up there, he was saving fuel pretty well, was really lifting about three-quarters of the way down the straightaway, he was rolling out of the throttle a little bit to save fuel, we could run him back down. I thought if I could just stay close to him, if he misses one corner, it puts us in position to get by. And thought as the run would go on, I knew my car was getting better and better. He was so good on the front that we couldn't get by him, but it was good enough to keep us in check with him.
So, you know, when that caution came out, I told Zippy, I felt like we needed -- I really wanted to come in and put tires on it because I didn't think I was good enough to get by him the way we were. You can imagine my surprise when we take the green, go into one, he gets tight, can't close the door, keep us from getting underneath him. But, you know, knowing Kasey as well as I do, and the trust and respect we have for each other, that's the perfect guy that I wanted to race with for the win.
When I sailed off into two, I mean, I had the attitude I was either going to win it or wear it. I knew Kasey wasn't going to do anything. I knew I was going to do something stupid. I knew Kasey wasn't. And I knew he knew I was going to do something stupid. He knows what this race means to me, too. I think it's really cool that we both had our biggest races of our career this year with each other involved in it. So I'm glad that Kasey was the guy that ran second to us.
Q: At times like that, do you wonder about what things are going to make this one slip away from you this time or is the concentration so focused that you don't hear rattles or worry?
STEWART: The only rattles I heard were rocks in my head, and I'm used to that right now. But, you know, I've got that Turn 2 suite over there. And my dad, for the last 50 laps, never left the front rail of that thing. When I had the lead, three-second lead or whatever it was ahead of Brian, I slipped once in 2, and I come back the next lap, he's got his headset off and he's pointing to his head just like he did when I was 8 years old racing go-karts, saying, "Use your head." I'm sitting there thinking: "Dad, I got here for a reason, because I know what I'm doing. Just let me do my job." I couldn't even argue with the guy at that point. It's like he has go to be right for at least the next 45 minutes till I get done.
That's what made it hard, I mean, but it's also what's making it so gratifying and so special at the same time. I mean, there's not very many places you can go and see your family every lap when you come around there. Just because we were on the first floor of that, I mean, I'm looking right at him when I go into turn two when I'm looking for my mark. It's just a natural sight line anyway.
But you kind of get that pressure from him, especially when he takes his headset off and is pointing to his head like you're screwing up and he's telling you about it. That just kind of -- I mean, it just rolls into how special it all has made it, just having your friends and family there. When we got that lead, I don't think they sat down the rest the race. Even when Kasey passed us, nobody in our suite was sitting down on the balcony.
Q: The attention on you this year has been more intense than previous years. Did you at any time this week worry it had become too great to deal with? What was it like to take that victory lap and soak that in?
STEWART: It's always been too much, in my opinion. I mean, we had NBC down in Columbus this week. Give you a perfect example of how crazy it's all become. I mean, the guy that was my sponsor when I was 9 years old that owns the Dairy Queen on 3rd Street in Columbus had to show me his appointment book and how many interviews he had this week because of us. I told him, I said, Sometimes you charge me for lunch, sometimes you don't. I'm not paying for any more lunches the rest of my life. He goes, "I guess you're right." I mean, it's like I had to talk him into it, though. When you got people that aren't even driving the car now having a busy week because of you, you know it's a lot of hype.
The good thing is next year when we come here, it's not going to have to be all that: What is it going to mean? How will you feel if you ever win? I mean, we finally got it. We finally have got an opportunity to answer all those questions.
Q: And the victory lap?
STEWART: The victory lap was cool. The hard thing, I'm deaf in one ear and can't hear out of the other. It was hard to hear what Laura (Steele) was staying. I've done radio stuff with Laura before. It ties so many things together, being home at Indiana, doing that victory lap with a lady on the radio that you've done interviews with before. It just tied it all in.
The only thing that would have made it better is if Mike King was doing the interview in all reality, because of our relationship when we were in USAC days together. It was just a neat lap. By that time a lot of people had left, but the ones that were staying really made me feel special when I came out.
Q: Going from 10th to first in six weeks as far as points goes.
Q: This kind of momentum, is it sustainable?
STEWART: Dude, if I knew that, I'd be a bookie in Las Vegas making all kinds of bets right now. All I can tell you is, I mean, we're on a roll. We got a lot of momentum. This has added a ton of momentum obviously. We're going to a place next week where I won last year. After winning at Sonoma earlier in the year, we got a lot of confidence going in there.
You don't know from one week to the next what's going to happen. We can have a week like Jimmie Johnson had and have something go wrong. I can promise you, those guys are doing everything they can just like they do every week. They're not doing anything any different. It's like I always tell them, If you're doing anything different right now, you either, A, weren't doing it right the first time or, B, you're going to screw up because you're trying to do it different now.
We're just doing the same things we've been doing. We found some things that are working and working for us. It really puts the pressure, I feel, like on everybody else to catch up with us now. We're consistent. It doesn't matter. We were good here. We're good at Loudon, at Chicago. We've been good in so many different disciplines right now that I feel like our program's well-rounded enough to go out there and do what we need to do for the end of the season.
Q: You went nearly a year between victories, now you're winning everything all at once. When it rains it pours.
STEWART: It just shows how competitive the series is now. You look at Formula One and how dominant Ferrari was for so many years. They found something that nobody else found. That's the way this series is getting. We all have the same rules to go by. But once you find a package, especially with the new rules package this year, the Roush and Hendrick teams found that combination early and it took us a little longer to find it.
Now that we have, we're a contender again. It doesn't matter how long it's been. I mean, I didn't forget how to drive the car. Zippy didn't forget how to set the car up. When you have rule changes and technology changing as much as it is. We got 20 engineers at the shop. I'd send these engineers typically down to Florida and let them work for NASA or somebody. We're not launching the Space Shuttle, we're trying to make the race car go fast.
I told Zippy week in and week out when we were running bad, We need to keep hiring more engineers as a joke saying we need to get rid of these guys and go back to doing what we know typically works. The engineers are part of the reason we did get going good. They keep their nose to the ground and keep their nose in their Palm Pilots and their laptop computers and they just keep working at it. That's helped us get where we are finally.
Q: Now that the trophy has your name on it, do you feel any different about the track selling the title name of the race? Does winning it make you want to win the Indy 500 more or less?
STEWART: Thanks, Rick (laughter). Let me go to the easier one.
You know, still the Indy 500 is on my mind. I guess it's made it easier finally winning the Brickyard. There's so much history in my life and with people that are around me that have been involved in IndyCar racing for so long, I've never said never yet, or never say no or never, whatever. We'll cross that bridge down the road. I've made the commitment to my guys that as long as I'm in the Cup Series, I'm not going to try to do the double any more. It just got to be too big of a three-ring circus when we would go either here to Charlotte trying to do it. We've made that commitment.
As far as Allstate, I appreciate their support. I've given them a hard time. It wasn't them that changed the name. I don't know whoever it was that changed the name. That's who I want to give the hard time to. It's neat to have a company like that that's so supportive of an event like this and want to be a part of it. You can't be negative toward them.
I guess I'm one of those people, I remember when they brought NASCAR to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I was one of the guys that said: "Man, this is a bunch of crap. They don't need to be here. IndyCars are the only thing that should be on the racetrack. That's the way it's always been, that's the way it should always be." I was one of those guys that boo-hoo'd then.
My idea, I think, was better than their idea. I still think it should have been the Brickyard 400 presented by Allstate. But having their support here was huge, and meeting some of their people, to see how excited they were about this event, I mean, that's what makes -- that's what supporting -- that we need in this sport to help make events like this get bigger and better as years go on. As much as I gave them the hard time, I'm not sure they were the ones that said, "Hey, we want to change the name of your big race." I think somebody else did that for them.
Continued in part 4