TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: ON TESTING AT CHARLOTTE, WHAT WAS THE DIFFERENCE BEFORE AND AFTER THE RUBBER WAS PUT DOWN? "It got better. When we went out there it was after they had a car show weekend and you know some...
TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
ON TESTING AT CHARLOTTE, WHAT WAS THE DIFFERENCE BEFORE AND AFTER THE RUBBER WAS PUT DOWN? "It got better. When we went out there it was after they had a car show weekend and you know some cars after they've been rebuilt leak oil. So I don't know if it was just that fact that it hadn't had rubber and hadn't really been run on much yet, but it was very slick at first. But Humpy went and dragged tires around it and it's better now and has a lot of grip."
ON COMING BACK TO A TRACK LIKE KANSAS WHERE THE DRIVER HAS MORE CONTROL ON HOW WELL THE RACE GOES: "Last week was a good result for us, but that's the weekend that you don't really look forward to because that's where something can happen like what happened to Mark Martin getting caught in somebody else's wreck. For the most part, it's back to business as usual for the next seven weeks and we've just got to go back to what we're used to doing."
DO THE 1.5-MILE TRACKS SUIT YOUR DRIVING STYLE BETTER THAN OTHERS? "I don't know. We've won on all of them now at one point or another, so I don't think it makes any difference what size track we're on. We've just got to go out and do our job and get the car driving good and take care of it from there."
DO YOU NOTICE ANY DIFFERENCE IN PEOPLE'S APPROACH TO THE CHASE THIS YEAR? "I don't think so. The same thing that got you in the Chase is the same thing that's going to win you the Chase. You've got to be consistent. You've got to be up front every week. Those are the same things that got the 10 drivers into the Chase."
HOW WAS YOUR PRACTICE SESSION? "It's not bad. We need to be a little better than we are right now. But the times aren't terrible. I doubt anybody has their car exactly where they want it to be right now."
ON THE COOLER WEATHER: "It feels great in the race car, I can tell you that. Every year we've been here you about die on race day with the heat. It's a little uncomfortable for you guys outside the car, but it feels nice inside the car."
AT WHAT POINT DO YOU START LOOKING AROUND AND DECIDING TO RACE THIS GUY OR THAT GUY? "I did that at Loudon. "Every week I'm going to look at the point standings and see where we're at and try to figure out how much of a gap we've got in between guys. Everybody is doing that, I guarantee you. I doubt I'm the only driver looking at the point sheet."
IS THERE SOMEBODY SPECIFICALLY YOU SEE AS YOUR CLOSEST COMPETITION OR IS IT ALL 10 DRIVERS? "Nope, I'm just worried about trying to lead the points." IT REALLY SEEMS LIKE YOU'VE PICKED UP IN THE HORSEPOWER DEPARTMENT: "We've picked up in a lot of areas. Every area of our shop has picked up, which is a good thing. That's what you want. You don't want two or three areas to pick up and others not to pick up. To have everybody picking up at the same rate has been a really good equation so far."
DO YOU THINK THAT KURT BUSCH, WHO IS 180 POINTS BACK, IS STILL WITHIN STRIKING DISTANCE? "That's a theoretical question. If we could all predict and know what is going to happen within the next seven weeks, we could tell whether we could answer that or not. If everybody has two bad races like he had, then yeah, he's back in. If they don't, then he's not going to catch up probably."
WHEN A DRIVER LIKE JIMMIE JOHNSON HAS BEEN IN THE MIDDLE OF CONTROVERSY FOR A WHOLE WEEK, HOW DOES IT AFFECT YOU WHEN YOU COME TO THE RACE TRACK? "You've got to ask Jimmie. Only Jimmie knows how it affects him. It affects different guys different ways. Some guys put it out of their minds and some guys are bothered by it all week. It affects different guys different ways. I'm not in that situation right now, so I don't have to worry about it. I'm trying to worry about what I need to do instead of what somebody else is feeling or doing right now."
SO WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT AT THIS RACE TRACK? "Just getting it to turn right now is just the biggest thing. When I saw packs of cars today, guys were getting tight. So it seems like as fast as we're running around here right now with the temperatures as cool as it is, we're really flying around here. So the biggest challenge is just getting to where you can get in clean air and get your car to turn."
HAS THE TRACK IMPROVED AT ALL? "In what way? It hasn't changed. It's still asphalt. We've only been out there for one hour. It's too early to tell. It's not like a plant that grows or anything; it's a race track. It really doesn't change a lot. And you really don't know until race day. Even in practice, the way that you run in the race is going to be different than you run in practice because you're going to have to search different grooves and this and that. But in practice, you're trying to run on the optimum spot on the track. So it's a question that's a little too far out there to answer right now."
DO YOU LIKE THE IDEA THAT THERE IS MORE THAN ONE GUY IN THIS WHOLE MESS? "Well, there were 50 guys in it in January when we got ready to start the season and now we're down to 10. It really doesn't matter to me. I don't care. All I care about is doing the best I can. If we can win it, I want to be the guy sitting on top of the stage up there (awards banquet) looking out at everybody else. I want to get that trophy and put that trophy in my room."
ONCE YOU WIN A TITLE, DOES IT MAKE YOU THAT MUCH HUNGRIER TO WIN ANOTHER ONE? "Yeah, you never stop wanting to win, for sure. I think with the controversy we had in our season in 2002, I'm real hungry to win one with a year like we're having this year where we're all having a great time and we're all having fun. I guarantee you, if we win this one it would be 10 times sweeter than winning the one we won in 2002." WOULD YOU ACTUALLY BE ABLE TO ENJOY THIS ONE WITH THE TEAM MORE? "Yeah, we've so much fun this year. If we can finish this off the way we're going, it's something we can all look at the year and say we had an awesome year together."
DO YOU TAKE THE CALCULATOR AND DO THE NUMBERS ALL THE TIME? "No, fortunately we don't have to. The cool thing is that NASCAR gives you a sheet and they've already done the math for us. So it makes it a little easy on some of the guys who aren't so good in math. But it's nice to know where you are. You don't really think about all the rest of it. But you want to know where you are and where your competition is so you take a few minutes and look at it each week and see where you are from there."
ON RETOOLING THE USAC CARS TO RUN ON BIG TRACKS LIKE KANSAS: "As long as the drivers are safe in the cars -- that's my biggest concern. "There are still two chassis and a lot of these guys haven't been on a track this big before. There are drivers, who are capable of it, but there are some guys who struggle on the mile tracks and now they're going to have the opportunity to run on a 1.5-mile track. So that's my only concern about that. I think it's a great opportunity for USAC as a sanctioning body. But I just want to make sure that they're not rushing too fast and making sure that they build a good safe quality car that the drivers can feel safe and comfortable in."
ARE YOU AS SMART A DRIVER TODAY AS YOU WERE WHEN YOU WON YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP? "I would like to think so. I think every year you get smarter and better as you go. Every race you go through, it makes you a little bit smarter in some way. There's something you learn or something that happens that's an experience that somewhere down the road is going to come back and you can use that knowledge."
HAVE YOU LEARNED TO NOT WORRY ABOUT THINGS YOU CAN'T CHANGE AND JUST WORRY ABOUT THE THINGS YOU CAN CHANGE? "We learn to eliminate variables that we can't control. We don't focus on that. We just focus on the ones we do have control over and sleeping at a Holiday Inn Express last night probably helped that too. We're a lot smarter (laughs)."
THE WAY YOU'VE BEEN RUNNING HAS ESTABLISHED YOU AS THE GUY TO KEY OFF OF. IS THAT WHAT YOU LIKE? "Yeah, you want to be the guy that everybody is looking at. If they're not looking at you, they're not worried about you. You want them paying attention to what you're doing. You want them to feel like you're the one they have to gauge off of. All that is, is a huge compliment to your race team when you're in a situation like that. You're setting a benchmark to shoot for, but it definitely could be exceeded and then some. But at the same time it's definitely something that people are looking at as what they're going to have to do to win the deal."
ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT YOUR TEAM GOING TO THE NATIONAL SPRINT CAR LEAGUE? "Absolutely. It's going to be a great deal. The good thing is knowing that Kyle (Petty) and Richard (Petty) are doing it for the right reasons. They're doing it to help promote and at the same time help further Sprint Car racing. Having the confidence in your sanctioning body is half the battle right there and that's something that we didn't have with the former group." WAS IT A TOUGH DECISION TO TAKE YOUR TEAM FROM WORLD OF OUTLAWS TO THE NATIONAL SPRINT CAR LEAGUE? "Well, the World of Outlaws isn't the same World of Outlaws that it was five or 10 years ago. You're just leaving the name. That's the bad part about it. But you've got to do what's right for your race team."
DO YOU THINK TAKING THE NO. 48 SHOCK PACKAGE AWAY FROM THEM WILL MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE IN THEIR RUN AT THE TITLE? "I don't know, because I don't know what they had to be honest. I never did pay attention to it when it was happening just from the standpoint that it didn't matter what they had. We've got to do what we have to do to make ourselves go fast."
WHAT IS JOE GIBBS' FEELING ABOUT PUSHING THE ENVELOPE TOO FAR? "He doesn't want to ever hear that we got caught for cheating on something. Joe's reputation and his morals are something we're proud of. We feel like we're a good enough race team that we don't have to do things that some of these other teams are doing to get NASCAR angry with them. We're doing the things we're allowed to do. And the guys who are stretching that and going overboard are doing their jobs too. But that's just something that Joe has instilled in all of us that he wants us to stay in the bounds.
"If you're working on something that's a little over the edge there and it gets taken away from you, it changes your whole program. So you've got to go back to work."