An interview with: Tony Stewart
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference. Today we are joined by the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion, Tony Stewart. With the victory Sunday at Homestead Miami Speedway and an impressive five wins during this year's NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup, Stewart captured his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Stewart is also the first driver/owner to claim the Championship since Alan Kulwicki 1992.
I think the fact that we were coming from behind let us stay calm during the drama at the beginning of the race.
Q. Tony, I just wondered, you probably are talked out about this whole thing, but after you finished 25th at Dover and 15th at Kansas, were you seriously thinking you were still in contention? Were you pretty optimistic throughout?
TONY STEWART: I felt like we still had an opportunity to maybe salvage a Top 5 out of it, but I'm not sure that I really felt like we still were a championship contender at that point. I think the turning point for me was the win at Martinsville. I think that's when I felt like internally myself and the organization we were a contender at that point, and I didn't think anybody should overlook us yet.
Q. I have a question for you that maybe only you can answer, and that is you were so brilliant in the driving up on the wheel. One we'll be talking about forever and others seemed to have raged at that point, even when they get out of the car and even up on it. How close is that line between I'm going to get this and being in control, and having that rage turn into rage? You know what I mean?
TONY STEWART: I think the fact that we were coming from behind let us stay calm during the drama at the beginning of the race. It just seemed like once we were able to overcome that, it just gave us so much confidence that we did have a good race car and we were able to battle back right away. You just kind of had the confidence on your side and it was about staying focused.
I don't think there was any part of the race where I actually felt any kind of anger other than when I made contact with David Reutimann. After talking to David, I was the one that made the mistake there, not him. So it was more just not putting yourself in any bad positions, and other than that it was just staying focused and having fun driving the car.
Q. Your two Chase championships, looking back at 2005 and this year, you won them in two very different ways. In 2005, had you five regular season wins, but you didn't win any during the Chase. Then of course this year you didn't have any regular season wins and got five Chase wins. Can you talk about the difference in your mindset between those two championship runs?
TONY STEWART: Definitely. When we came to Homestead for the finale in 2005, we had a lead. I think the scenario in '05 was we had to finish 22nd or better to lock it up. At that point, you're not worried about where everybody else is running. All you're focusing on is making sure can you stay in the top 22.
I think there are a lot of opportunities in those situations to make mistakes because you just get out of your rhythm of what you need to do. Where this year's Chase, we were in a unique position to not have to worry about going backwards. I mean, we couldn't go any further than second in the standings backwards.
It really, honestly, put us in a position where we just didn't have anything to lose, and we had the opportunity to gain and win the championship.
For us, I guess it took a lot of the pressure away that we had. We had a lot of pressure in '05 to keep that lead and win a championship where this year there really didn't seem that pressure that we had before. It just seemed like we had a great opportunity, and our performance was really good going into Homestead. So I think that took all the pressure away and made it feel totally different.
Q. I was wondering, you had mentioned that over the course of time you felt like you had found something, some advantage over Carl, and that you wouldn't tell us until after you won it or whatever. Was it mental? Was it some sort of strategy play? Can you shed some light on that?
TONY STEWART: I think I'm going to keep that a secret. I may want to use it down the road again.
Q. All right. How about if you make a deal with us, if you do the same thing next year, then can you tell us?
TONY STEWART: We'll review it.
Q. Okay. Keep it under review. Thank you.
TONY STEWART: Thanks.
Q. Penske Racing announced that Steve Addington won't return to its organization next year. Are you interested in him being your crew chief or have you changed your mind at all as far as Darian is concerned?
TONY STEWART: We're looking at all of our options right now. After we get through with all the media obligations today, I'll getting to back to the shop and we'll sit down as a group and try to come up with a decision and figure out.
We already know some options that are available, and we'll try to sit down and see what we think is the best option and decision for the company.
Q. I just wanted to follow up on something you talked about on Sunday night when you and Darian were sitting there next to each other and you were talking about Atlanta and whether or not he made a change on the car, and he said he didn't. You sort of seemed surprised by that. Did you have any further discussions on that? Can you clarify exactly? Did that thinking that maybe he changed something, did that play into your mindset at all? Give you some confidence in terms of just a confidence boost rather than just a simple performance boost?
TONY STEWART: Well, obviously I didn't know about that until after the race on Sunday night. That was on a race that happened before the Chase even started. From what I gathered out of that, he didn't make an adjustment all day on the car, and we just found something at the end there and got going.
I was under the impression that we had made changes all day, so that was a surprise to me. Had we had anymore discussions about it? No. Literally, when we got done with all the photos, with sponsors and the media interviews, we didn't get done until 2 a.m., and it was straight to the airport and fly to Connecticut to go to ESPN yesterday.
So I haven't even talked to the guys or seen them since we were on the stage doing photos and everything. So I'm hoping I'll get a chance in the next couple of days to see or at least talk to these guys.
Q. There's been a lot of talk, and I'm sure you probably were questioned a few times about having a new face or a new champion, anyway, and how that can help promote the sport. I'm just wondering how you think that will have an impact on the sport or what impact you think it will have?
TONY STEWART: I'm not really sure I understand what it will do. Obviously, it's been a long reign the last five years of having Jimmie win the championship. Obviously we're not oblivious to listening to the fans and them saying they want to see somebody else win.
So hopefully no matter who it was, it is the shot in the arm the sport needs right now. I think looking at TV ratings from this weekend and the attendance numbers the last couple of weeks, I think it's hopefully a sign that we're starting that road of recovery.
Not that we were in dire straits by any means, but I'm glad to see the numbers going back up again, and I don't know if we're going to be responsible for it because of winning a championship. But we're all just hopeful that it's going to keep going the direction it's going right now.
Q. Tony, congratulations from Columbus, Indiana. Your hometown was buzzing Sunday night and is continuing to buzz. I guess have you talked to people and do you have a message to maybe some of the folks that you haven't who have been following you from the beginning?
TONY STEWART: I haven't had a chance to talk to anybody. As we sit here now, I have over 300 text messages that I haven't been able to answer yet. I've got a lot of replies to send back, but I'm excited about coming home in the next couple of days.
Especially there is something about coming home, and the childhood friends of mine that I'm still friends with and people that I know in town, I'm excited to be able to come back and celebrate a championship with them. That's something that's really high on my priority list right now is getting the chance to come home here in the next couple of days.
Q. Will we ever see you in the Indy 500 again?
TONY STEWART: I don't believe so. Not because of lack of desire or anything else, but honestly, it's the logistics of having the time to prepare for the race and getting the seat time and run races before the 500.
I thought it was just a little bit different from the standpoint that we just didn't have that pressure going into it like I thought we would.
I don't think that after being out of those cars for 11 years now, I'm not sure that I can just go sit in one in the month of May and feel like I was up to speed with the technology and everything that's going on with those cars to compete against the best in the sport there.
So I would think that we'd have to do a lot of testing, and I think we'd have to run some races before Indy to really feel like we were even remotely up to speed and up to pace with those guys.
Q. How much did being a past champion help you deal with the pressure of this particular Chase?
TONY STEWART: I think I feel like quite a bit, to be honest, really only from the pressure standpoint. You know what going into that last race is like. You know the strains and the pressures that go along with it.
But I'll be honest, Carl Edwards I thought did an excellent job of going into Homestead also. With the fact that he hasn't won a championship, I thought he dealt with the pressure very well. I firmly believe that he's going to get one pretty soon here.
But I felt like from our side, I thought it was just a little bit different from the standpoint that we just didn't have that pressure going into it like I thought we would.
Q. I was curious. In the last couple of days, is it a big deal to be a three-time champ and the people that you kind of join on that list, virtually all Hall of Famers?
TONY STEWART: It is. I'll be honest. I feel very flattered and very honored just to be a part of that list. Those are guys that every one of those drivers that have won three championships are icons in this sport.
I somewhat honestly feel out of place being on that list. At the same time, I feel honored to be in it with them. I feel like it's an episode of Sesame Street when you read that list: Which guy doesn't belong and which is not like the others?
Those are some of the greatest names in this sport, and it truly feels like an honor to me to be a part of that group with them.
Q. What we've seen out of you in the last couple of weeks is just unbelievable determination, confidence, and what resulted is one of those rare sports moments like we see out of Michael Jordan back in the day, a Game 7 kind of stuff. Did you see it unfolding like that, or were you just in the moment and you had to get the job done?
TONY STEWART: I think it was more in the moment. I think looking at Texas, to me, Texas by itself was kind of surprising that the top two guys in the point standings ran first and second in the race. I don't think that I would have been able to predict that we were going to run second and third at Phoenix, and actually run first and second at Homestead.
I'm just blown away by that stat really. I think it truly was one of the best battles, I feel like, in the history of the sport because of that. Not just because of the outcome of who won, but just the fact that you had the top two guys that literally fought it out. And rather than Phoenix, we ran second and third there, but we virtually raced the wins to race to the win to win a championship at the same time.
It wasn't just a head-to-head battle and who got more points than the other by finishing ahead. We were winning races and finishing in the top three to do it. To me, that's the part of it that kind of brings out the race fan in me. That it was just that competitive in the last three races of the year, the most important three, that it was that competitive and that tight up front to get it done.
Q. You talked about getting the chance to go home a little bit. But can you take us through a little bit of this off-season? It doesn't seem like because of the championship and all the obligations, when will you finally get time to kind of catch your breath and relax a little bit in between all the hoopla, if you will?
TONY STEWART: Like I said, I'm looking forward to being able to go home to Thanksgiving for a couple of days. Obviously Vegas is a long, but important week at the same time.
Honestly, I haven't even looked at my schedule. I know we still have stuff booked for the rest of the year that are obligations that we have to get done. Obviously, we're still trying to fill the competition director role, and we're still active in trying to help get sponsorship for some of Ryan's races next year.
So as much as I'd love to just go and take a break, I still have a lot of things that are on the to-do list with the organization that need to be done before the year's out. But we'll find the time.
I'm not really concerned about having time off right now. I've actually enjoyed being up here in New York today. I've enjoyed being on the ESPN campus yesterday, and I know that probably just gave half of you guys heart attacks hearing me say that. But I truly have enjoyed talking about it. I feel like I was a part of something Sunday that was really special, and I'm very proud of that fact.
Q. Have you learned any more since the race about what happened with your grill there early on? Was it apparent to you that something was wrong there immediately?
TONY STEWART: It wasn't apparent immediately. Honestly I didn't even feel the impact. The impact came and hit the screen which is just a wire mesh. It's pretty vulnerable when it comes to an impact in the radiator duct work. Basically it was the part in between the joint of the transmission and the drive shafts. It was a pretty large, substantial piece and thinking back to it, that was a large piece of luck that we had in the race that it did not find its way to the core of the radiator. It very easily could have broken the radiator and taken us out of it.
Q. Have you been able to go back and watch a replay of the race where you were wild about some of the things that you did as much as we were?
TONY STEWART: I actually did get a chance last night to see the last half of the race, and it was fun to watch. Obviously, we knew from the driver's standpoint what was going on, but it was fun to listen to the commentary and to listen to them trying to analyze what was going on and what everybody was thinking.
It was fun to watch. It was fun to watch what Carl was able to do in the car. It just, I guess, added to the experience of what we went through. But to see it from that angle and see the highlights of it and watch the race, ironically enough, I was just as nervous watching. I was more nervous watching the race, even though I knew what the outcome was, than I was being in the car. It was fun to watch last night. I enjoyed it.
Q. I wanted to ask you a little about your relationship with A.J. Foyt. When did you first meet him in person and tell me about that experience.
TONY STEWART: I think I met A.J. the first time I believe around '91 or '92. I got a chance to go to the speedway in Indianapolis during the month of May, and I got to meet him in the garage. Then when I was racing in USAC around '94, I got the opportunity to be a crew member.
I'm sorry, I take that back, it was '95. I was a crew member on the 14 car, and that was when Eddie Cheever was driving the car. That was when they had the big wreck on the first lap with Cheever and Stan Fox. I didn't get to do anything during the race. My job was to work what they call a dead man valve on the fuel tank. So it's not a real high-tech job or important job, but nonetheless, I got an opportunity to work on the crew. But our race lasted eight seconds, unfortunately.
But since then I got a chance to drive a Silver Crown car for A.J. and George Snider. I got to be around him a lot more and that friendship kind of grew, and then he gave me an opportunity to test for him in Phoenix in '95. I did a test with him and got a job offer with him.
Then I was working with his son on a bush grand national program at the time also. Was just about finished with that when my test with A.J. came up. A.J. wanted me to make a decision of not doing both. I tried to do both divisions and Ranier was willing to let me do that, but A.J. wanted me to focus strictly on the IndyCar.
I actually ended up not taking the IndyCar offer because of the relationship I had with Renniers too at the time.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you again for joining us, Tony. We appreciate it. Congrats again on the championship.