TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX (1ST): "The run was awesome. I was telling the media yesterday at the end of the [practice] session when we were 10th quick, that if we could go back out and stay in the top 10 again I was going...
TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX (1ST):
"The run was awesome. I was telling the media yesterday at the end of the [practice] session when we were 10th quick, that if we could go back out and stay in the top 10 again I was going to be pretty happy this morning. In this day and age, NASCAR is all about the show and less about what makes sense a lot of times, so coming in and qualifying this morning didn't make a lot of sense to us as competitors. But, knowing that all that was going on at the speedway today other than qualifying and 'Happy Hour' was the IROC race, you realize that they needed to kind of fill the day a little bit. But, it kind of put some concerns in a lot of our minds, not knowing what the track conditions were going to be this morning. But, running here in an Indy car in the past and knowing that the morning sessions are normally a little bit quicker, I was somewhat optimistic that we could go quicker. I just didn't know how much faster we could go than yesterday and how much everybody else was going to go faster than yesterday."
DID THE EARLY DRAW PLAY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE?
"I certainly hope so. Even during my USAC days, I was never very good at drawing qualifying numbers. We'd go to tracks where you wanted to qualify in the first 10 cars out and we'd draw last. We'd go to tracks where you wanted to draw in the last 10 cars and you'd draw in the first 10, so we've got somebody else that does the draw. They earned their keep this week.
"We definitely wanted an early number, knowing that the sun being out today would hopefully slow the track down as the session went on."
WHAT DOES A POLE HERE MEAN TO YOU?
"Our team has needed a good qualifying run here. For us to run as good a lap as we did with the Pontiac here - we were happy with the balance of it, we just weren't happy with the speed we'd been getting out of it lately. But, to get the speed that we got out of it this morning, we're pretty happy with that. I know it's going to be good for Pontiac. It's a big pat on the back for all our guys at the race shop. Taking a six-year-old car - they've taken every little fine point that they can and tried to massage on it and make it better and better, where these other teams are taking two-year-old cars and they're taking big chunks of aero off and finding big things they can do to make their cars better. Everybody in the motor department - this is a different motor combination than we've had in the past, so those guys had their fingers crossed today. The aerodynamic guys were keeping their fingers crossed.
"Everybody has a part at Indianapolis because this track is a good combination of raw horsepower and, at the same time, getting the mechanical balance. Every aspect of the team plays a bigger part here versus when we go to Martinsville and aerodynamics don't mean anything or at Daytona where aerodynamics mean everything. Everybody's got a role here. This is one of those tracks that challenges every aspect of your team."
WHAT DOES A POLE MEAN TO YOU PERSONALLY?
"To be honest, I could care less about poles. I want my name on a brick and I want my name on a Borg-Warner trophy, and you guys can take all the poles and do whatever in the heck you want to do with them. Wherever they fit - insert them."
WHAT GAVE YOU THE EXTRA SPEED TODAY?
"Fear of having to start in the back, to be honest. I've been here enough - when we used to run Indy cars here all the time when I was a full-time IRL guy, we would come out every morning at 11 o'clock when the track would open. We'd go out and blast out a lap, we'd run five laps and we'd put the car in the garage until probably two or three in the afternoon and then we'd come back out and start working on race stuff. We know that the track conditions are really good in the morning. The two topics of conversation that we've had all year have been aerodynamics and aero push, and track position. Between track position and the aero push, you know that you want to be up front.
"On the out-lap the car felt like it had a lot of grip - a lot more than it had yesterday. I watched the wind direction pretty hard as the guys in front of me went out and basically went off of feel off of the out-lap. The out-lap felt really good, so I felt like I could charge into one pretty hard. It seems like if you can get the car to go through turn one here, the rest of them kind of fall into place. The car drove really, really well through one, so the amount that I stepped it up in one, I stepped it up everywhere and just had the confidence that the car was going to stay underneath me there."
DO YOU HAVE ADDED CONFIDENCE HAVING RUN IN BOTH THE INDY 500 AND THE BRICKYARD 400?
"Nope. I had so much confidence last year that I screwed up and hit the fence on my own and made my own mistake. I know the track. I've been around here a lot. But, to be perfectly honest, if you look back at the amount of laps that these Cup guys have, they probably have as many laps or more laps than I've had here in the past. But, being able to come here every day in the month of May for three or four weeks at a time, you learn some things day-to-day about the personality of the track and some things to watch out for.
"It doesn't really give me confidence because things can change so quick here, and it seems like every year that we come back here - like we said before, the topics this year have been aero push and track position - you never know what you're going to have when you get here. You never know if you're going to get a rule change at the last minute or what's going to happen, so you just kind of come here with an open mind. We didn't do any qualifying runs when we came here and tested. We strictly worked on race setups. We didn't know what was going to happen today. We really don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. But, we were pretty happy with the way our car drove in the test. It typically has worked out that if we have a really good qualifying run that we normally race well, also."
DOES THE TRACK SURFACE FEEL ANY DIFFERENT AND WILL IT MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE IN THE RACE ON SUNDAY?
"To me it doesn't feel any different. The bumps are still there. It's got these cool-looking little grooves in there, I guess, that rubber sits down inside. But, as far as changing anything, I really don't think it's going to change much. It may have made the track a little faster. I think Robby Gordon would probably know best of all because he ran here during May. But, just going from what I heard from the month of May and what we've seen so far this weekend, it seems like it just helped the speeds pick up a little bit."
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO STICK WITH YOUR PONTIAC HERE, INSTEAD OF CHOOSING TO RUN A CHEVROLET?
"We ran our fastest laps with a Monte Carlo here. But, we didn't get to run as many laps with the car as what we wanted and didn't get to put in as much time. We started doing some things late in the day that we wanted to do at the end of the first day and that was just to make some routine changes to the car to try to see how it made the car react. We had a couple little leaks that slowed down our progress with that. Not knowing what to do to the car aero-wise and mechanical balance-wise to compliment the aero package when we came back here basically led to the decision - and, especially how we ran in race trim with the Pontiac. It drove really well. It felt balanced from lap one when we came here. When you work with a car as long as we've worked with it, you get it that way. But, the Monte Carlo just didn't feel as comfortable at the time as the Pontiac did and we didn't want to come here and try to re-invent the wheel and try to figure out everything that all these other teams have taken two years to figure out. We didn't want to try to do it in two hours in practice."
WHAT IS THE TOUGHEST ELEMENT FOR YOU THIS WEEK?
"All of it is hard. This is my hell-week, in all reality. As much as I love being home, I hate this week. I'll bet my phone rang 400 times last night because everybody knew that it was my only night off and everybody wanted to take me to dinner or go out and ride Harleys last night or do something last night. Between them and family, and being at home and wanting to do well in front of all your friends and family - that puts a lot of pressure on me. With all the local media that have followed us when we ran sprint cars and midgets and then the IRL here at the speedway, it creates a big hassle for three days. It's one of those deals that when tomorrow night is over, I'm really, really happy it's over because I can somewhat resume - well, I don't even have a normal life - but, as close to normal as I can ever get, that's at least where I can get to tomorrow night.
"It's all fun. I enjoy the week from some aspects. But, for the majority of it, it's more headaches than it is fun - just trying to get everything done that you want to do and see the people that you want to see and do the things that you want to do in a short amount of time."
ON THE SOFT WALLS BEING IN PLACE
"You don't even realize it's there. We know it's there, but I mean, you don't see anything. It all blends in together, really. You're watching your line on the track. If you're watching that wall, you must be aiming for it. I'm watching somewhere on the racetrack and don't even really know it's there.
"I'm really excited and happy that it's there. I'm glad the speedway has put it in. Everybody seems to be dragging their feet on soft wall installations and I don't know how it could be a negative right now. I'm glad the speedway took the initiative to, at least, step up and say, 'Hey, we're going to do this,' -- whether the testing was done adequately or not. I don't care. It can't be any worse than hitting a solid, concrete wall. It's got to be better than that. And, Lord knows, I've hit enough of them in my lifetime to know what it feels like.
"I just wish some of these other racetracks would step up and do the same thing and take the lead that the speedway has done here and just kind of run with it. I don't know how it could possibly hurt us any more than a concrete wall already does.
"Loudon (New Hampshire) decided to change the racetrack and try to kill all of us when we were there a couple weeks ago. The least they could have done was put up a softer wall for us to hit because we were all going to hit it eventually.
"I somewhat question the logic of track owners. They're really good at counting money, but the rest of it, I think they're totally lost on."