An interview with Tony Stewart

THE MODERATOR: Welcome to our NASCAR teleconference and NASCAR CAM today featuring our two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ Tony Stewart in advance of Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway. Tony drives the No. 14 Office Depot Mobile One Chevrolet, is sixth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, 19 points behind our leader, Carl Edwards. Tony has got two career wins at Martinsville.

And they are not to the level of Office Depot and Mobile One on the car obviously, but nonetheless they are very important to us and we value their partnership.

Tony Stewart

We appreciate your time and your patience today. Got a couple of lead questions for you specific on and off the track. First of all, your Stewart-Haas Team has announced some good news on the sponsorship front, can you talk about that?

TONY STEWART: We have re-signed Kraft. So really excited to have them on board again coming up this year and very appreciative of their support and everybody at Stewart Haas Racing. It's been a lot of fun to work with them. And they are not to the level of Office Depot and Mobile One on the car obviously, but nonetheless they are very important to us and we value their partnership.

THE MODERATOR: Before we go our media questions, we have one fan question for you via our @NASCAR account on Twitter, and @ChrisMeyers (ph) would like to know, if you were not driving in NASCAR, what else would you be doing?

TONY STEWART: That is a really good question. You know, I've been really -- I had a lot of fun this year. I ran the Talladega short track Saturday night before the big race on Sunday and ran in the World of Outlaws Sprint car series, and I guess if I were unable to drive at the NASCAR level anymore, I would love to go back and race the Sprint cars as much as possible. We ran 25 races with the wing Sprint car this year and had a lot of fun doing it.

So I guess if we were not running NASCAR, I guess that's what we probably would do.

Q. What was been the biggest difference in the performance of the old car versus new car at Martinsville?

TONY STEWART: I'm not sure that it's been a huge deal other than the fact that we are running on bump stops now on the front that have really changed the ride quality of the car, the way it transfers weight to the front and when you go into the corner, under-braking is a lot different. And depending on which side and whether it's the left front tire or the right front tire, that engages the bump stop first, changes the way that that feels and that transition.

I think once it gets down to them, it doesn't feel a lot different other than the ride quality. But definitely the transition of being on the gas, on the brakes and sitting on those bump stops is probably the biggest thing that we have seen.

Q. Martinsville this weekend, is it drastically different for your mind-set going in? How hard is it going from restrictor plate racing down to a short track, or is it just a switch?

TONY STEWART: It's just a switch. We, you know, we still have got in street cars when we got out of the airport and drove ourselves home and that's a different deal than driving at Talladega, too.

A week in between, you start practice on Friday and you remember where you're at and what you did at Talladega really doesn't -- you don't think about the driving style differences. When you pull in there you realize that you are at a lot different place and you is settle in really quickly and the mode of back to what you have to do to be fast at Martinsville.

Q. What happened with Ryan Newman? It seems like a lot of different teammates were having issues with their other teammates.

Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

TONY STEWART: Yeah, that's the risk of running with your teammate. Obviously Ryan didn't do anything wrong there. I got out on time there as far as where we were at, a tri-oval and I got out of sequence with him and got moving around on the rear bumper trying to get caught back up to him. It just happened that when we caught the double zero car, that I was coming back to the right, and you know, it got Ryan turned sideways.

So you know, I have to take 100% of the blame there. Ryan was doing a great job and I was very comfortable running with him. I just made a mistake and like I said got out of timing with him going through the tri-oval and cost him a bad day.

Q. After you get through Talladega, to any degree, do you feel like you've got three guys in front of you where you want them? In the last ten races, you guys have got seven Top 10's, started with two wins and had a couple bad races and now you have two more Top 10's. Is the team in a position to take it up another notch? How do you see these last four races?

TONY STEWART: Honestly, I mean, I sound like a broken record. I know when -- I know it frustrates you guys, but literally we are taking it one day at a time.

We are going to Martinsville this weekend with Ryan's package that he's been running really well with and we have kind of struggled there so we are going to start with Ryan's setup and work our way from there. We know it's going to be a little different for me and our driving style. Mine and Ryan's are a little bit different. But I feel that's a good place to start for the weekend.

The last four weeks are tracks that I like and that I've had success at, but you know, every time you go to a track, it's a little bit different than the time before. You know, your setups change, your packages change and you hope that you're staying ahead of it.

So it's hard to tell whether we are going to be able to be where we need to be, but we are going to do everything we can to be as good as we can be in all four of those races.

Q. I'm working on something with Hendrick Motorsports about to get their 200th victory here somewhere in the future. You have seen them from a pure competitor standpoint, and now it's still a competitor. What's your perspective? Have you tried to emulate that Hendrick Motorsports model at all, and what's your perspective on how long they have been able to be so successful?

TONY STEWART: It's hard to pattern yourself off of them because I have not been internally involved with Hendrick Motorsports. Obviously we have our relationship with them on the engine and chassis side and technology that we share, but it's hard to know the inner workings without being directly involved with it.

From my standpoint, been easier for me to emulate what Job Gibbs has done and what we saw over there. I think that's the great thing about Stewart-Haas Racing is that we have had so many guys come from so many different organizations, Bobby Hutchins coming from RCR, and Dale Earnhardt, Inc., and Ryan Newman and Matt Borland coming from Penske, and myself coming from Job Gibbs Racing, Darian coming from Hendricks.

We are trying to take the best of what we have seen from each organization and trying to incorporate them into our own package and try to make our organization the best we think it can be trying to take the positives we saw in each of those organizations and take the lessons learned that we think are negative from those and try not to make those same mistakes. We try to learn from a lot of different teams and try to take the best from each.

Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart
Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Q. Are you at all surprised that there's two Fords at the top of the standings right now?

TONY STEWART: I don't think anybody is surprised at any order of the 12 guys that potentially could be there. I mean, it's just circumstance that they are both there together.

But does it surprise me? No, not at all. There were, in my opinion, eight guys that started the Chase that could be in those first two spots right there, and Matt and Carl were obviously two of the guys that I had on that top eight list. So does it surprise me? No.

But as far as if you're referring to the manufacturer side of it, that doesn't surprise me either. They have made big gains in the horsepower this year and I feel like on the Chevy side we are starting to do the same thing. We are starting to hit our stride on the power and starting to make that ground up and hopefully get by.

Q. A follow-up to the Hendrick question, with those guys sort of down in the standings at some point, is it possible you could go to Rick or that organization and go, hey, could we get one more thing to finish up the season to try and win this championship for Chevrolet?

TONY STEWART: I don't think that there's anything that they are holding back from us that we could ask for to be honest. We work very closely with them every week with the setups. Our engines -- I have the ability, and Ryan does, too, if we feel like we aren't getting a good enough engine, we can sit there and look at all six dyno sheets for our engines and hand-pick the one we want if we so desire.

I have confidence that our relationship with Rick and his whole group is very solid and that we are getting everything that we need from them. It's just our job to execute it and finish it out on the weekend.

Q. You're the only driver that's won the championship by accumulating season-long points and by winning the Chase. Is there -- so you're the only guy that can tell me, is there a huge difference between it, the way it was and the way it is now?

TONY STEWART: Absolutely. I don't think there's anybody that's mathematically out of it with four races to go here right now.

So with the old format of the season-long-standings with four races to go, you only had a handful of guys that still mathematically had a shot to win the championship. And you were really racing two to three guys at the most at this point, where there's nobody that's really eliminated from the opportunities to win this championship with four races to go, all 12 guys are still in it.

So it's definitely a lot more stressful trying to do it in a ten-race format versus a 36-week format.

Q. As competitive as this series is, with the move to fuel injection, do you feel a team could hit on something that gives it a distinct advantage?

TONY STEWART: It's definitely possible. Any time that you introduce anything new to the sport, it's a matter of how quick does each organization find out how to maximize that opportunity. There's going to be some teams and organizations that are going to figure it out quicker than others.

I think that's definitely when we will see that if there is somebody that does have an advantage.

Tony Stewart

But yeah, it's definitely a possibility. I mean, the good thing is that NASCAR has been doing a lot unified testing. They ran at Talladega last week. I know we are testing Monday after Martinsville. We ran Charlotte and they had cars at Kentucky earlier this year, and at the Phoenix open test.

So there's all of these manufacturers and organizations team-wise that have had the opportunity to put quite a bit of time on them. You never know. I mean, when we go down to Daytona and we get to the first four or five races, I think that's definitely when we will see that if there is somebody that does have an advantage.

Q. Different topic, can you talk a little about your go-kart experience? We have a go-kart league down here for kids and I just wonder if you could address that when you were a kid.

TONY STEWART: It was an awesome experience for me. I started off local county fair ground racing every Saturday night and by the time I was 14 years old, I was traveling on a national circuit and got to go to more places and more different states and cities throughout the year than most of the kids that I knew got to go to before they even graduated high school.

So I thought it was very valuable. It was neat to meet different kids from different areas and learn their backgrounds and learn what they do and be able to travel and have something that I felt like I was really privileged to do as a kid, to get to go to all of these neat places and states that a lot of my friend had only heard about.

Q. New Jersey looks to be getting a Formula 1 race in 2013 and your reaction to the possibility that we could have two Formula 1 races in America within the next two years?

TONY STEWART: Very exciting actually. To think that we are getting one back is huge. Obviously we were all sad that we lost it from IMS, but glad that Texas picked it up. And now to have possibly a second date on the schedule, I think it's real complimentary of what everybody in the States are doing to get F1 races here. I'm looking forward to it.

I know if we get a chance to get a day where we can sneak over, we have had the offer from the McLaren team to come visit and definitely want to take them up on that if at all possible.

Q. With four races to go, what specifically is the team working on at the shop each week to get that championship, is there one thing that Darian and the crew are working extra hard on to make that possible for you?

TONY STEWART: I hope not, because if they are working extra hard to do something, it's something they should have been doing all along.

This sport is so hard and technical to begin with that you can't go into each week not giving 100%. And you're not going to get more than that. You're only going to get 100% out of each person, and if they are not doing that, then you know, there's plenty of guys out there that will work that hard. But I feel like our guys have done a great job of keeping the morale up and the team, it's been a trying couple of weeks for the 14 car and the 39 car.

Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet
Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

But I feel like our guys and our attitude in our shop is very, very positive right now. We have got a really strong group of true racers that have been involved with the team, guys that have been involved with racing for a long time in different series. They are really keen and savvy when it comes to keeping their morale high and realizing that one bad week doesn't take it out of it until they say we are mathematically out. I feel like they have been giving 100% all along.

Q. You mentioned your go-kart experience and certainly you probably have more experience in a variety of vehicles than just about anybody. Could you tell fans the biggest difference between IndyCars and stock cars and what changes in light of the tragedy that IndyCar just had, what changes would you make to an IndyCar that would improve safety?

TONY STEWART: You know, I don't have an engineering degree, so I'm not sure that I'm smart enough to know what to do. It was a freak accident. It was something that nobody ever wants to see happen, but unfortunately it's a part of all of auto racing. It doesn't matter whether it's NASCAR or IndyCar or drag racing or motorcycle racing. It's just an aspect of our sport and everybody involved knows that and understands that and accepts it going into that.

You know, it's definitely something that none of us wanted to see but I think it's been very easy and unjust for people to sit back on Monday and point fingers and say, well, this needs to be done and that needs to be done. And most of the people that are making the suggestions are not even people that are involved with race teams or sanctioning bodies and really don't know what they are talking about.

It really boils down to the basics of, it's auto racing. Auto racing, football, hockey, they are all dangerous sports. But we all love to do it and the fans love to watch it.

I think safety has come a long way in all of our sanctioning bodies across the board. But you're still not going to make it 100% safe all the time, and everybody is doing everything they can to keep incidents like that happening in the future. But it's never going to be 100% safe. You're always going to have that element of danger that's involved in it.

Q. As far as that goes, trying to research this, and I was amazed at the amount of tragedies in the past, even among fans, and as far as looking at the past and looking at all of the safety changes that have happened, say in the last decade, it's amazingly a lot better. But do you think that fans and some people, they just kind of knee-jerked and they missed that fact?

But like we said, safety has come a long way and technology has come a long way.

Tony Stewart

TONY STEWART: I think they definitely miss that fact. If you look back in the 50s and 60s, it wasn't uncommon -- and obviously I wasn't around, but this it isn't the first time this topic has been brought up. But it wasn't uncommon at all to read in the paper that there was a fatality at auto racing automobile weekly back in those days.

But like we said, safety has come a long way and technology has come a long way. And obviously to each of the sanctioning bodies, whether it's NASCAR, IndyCar or Formula 1, AMA, NHRA, they all have dedicated groups to looking to the safety aspect of it to make it as safe as possible.

If you look at the technology behind the safety equipment, I think it's proved that aside from worrying about just putting a product out there for the fans to watch, that these sanctioning bodies do care about the participants involved and the spectators are doing everything that they can to make it as safe as possible: The head and neck restraints, the soft walls, the collars that the riders wear in AMA, the motor cross tracks, John Force's group with the Medlen project with NHRA, there are a lot of talented and really smart people that have really dedicated a lot of money and time to making our sport and all forms of racing as safe as it can be right now.

THE MODERATOR: We thank you for your time today and patience and wish you the best of luck in Martinsville this weekend.