Chevy drivers Tony Stewart and Michael Waltrip visited with the media during the first day of pre-season testing. Waltrip, who brushed the wall in turn 2 during the morning session, was the fastest in both the morning and afternoon segments.
TONY STEWART , 2002 series champion and driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet, visited with the media following the morning test segment.
ON THE '04 SEASON: "Everyone who comes up here thinks they have a shot at winning the championship. Our team is doing the same thing everybody else is doing. We're all working hard to try to put ourselves in position to run for a championship title like we did two years ago. It's hard to say what's going to happen because you don't know how everyone else's programs are going to be compared to the way they were last year. We're just going to do the best we can."
ON THE POINTS SYSTEM: "You guys (the media) are the ones who have complained about the point system and done all the theories. You are the ones who brought it up. You should tell us what you think. It is what it is. It's been this way for however many years. We (drivers) don't have any say in it, one way or the other. You guys seem to have more say in what happens in Nextel Cup racing that we do as drivers. So we don't worry about it. Nobody has asked me what I think about it."
ON THIS WEEK'S TEST FOR THE ROLEX 24 "I spent three days here and ran seven laps with the road course car. It's a new car so we needed to keep our lead driver, Andy Wallace, in the car as much as possible to help get the car sorted out. I wasn't disappointed that I didn't get to run more laps. We didn't do it by design. Knowing that the car wasn't where we wanted it to be on the first day, we felt it was better to keep Andy in there because he's more familiar with the car. He's done a lot of testing with the car. Just as long as (Dale Earnhardt) Jr. and I got an opportunity to get in the car a couple of times and make some runs, Andy could do a lot better than we could do. We left that work up to him. Of all the tests that we do, this is probably the one test where the driver really doesn't do anything. This is a test for the crews more than anything. The crews do all the work. Our responsibility is to shift three times once we leave pit lane and make sure we run the same line each lap. And at Daytona by yourself, it's really not hard to do. So it isn't really big for us but for the crews, it's huge."
ON J.J. YALEY "Jay Drake is going to drive his (J.J. Yaley) Sprint Car this year as well as Dave Steele is going to run the pavement races and we'll run Jay in a third pavement car. But as far as what we do with J.J. here on the NASCAR side, I'll be available whenever he wants me. I know that was a big comfort zone for me when I started in the Busch Series with Joe - having Bobby (Labonte) as a teammate and knowing if I had a question I had somebody to go to. It's nice to do that for somebody else now and give that back. Anytime that J.J. has any questions about anything, I'll be there for him."
ARE THERE MANY CHANGES TO THE TEAM THIS YEAR? "Not that I know of. I've been to the shop once. But as far as I know, we really haven't. That's one of the strongest things about Joe Gibbs racing as Joe as a car owner is that we probably have the smallest turnover rate of employees than any other Nextel team out there. All we do is add people to the program.
We don't really lose anybody. If we lose, we lose because it's our choice not because people leave. I think people who come to Joe Gibbs Racing really enjoy their jobs and realize it's a good place to work."
WHAT'S THE STATUS OF YOUR OTHER TEAMS? "My World of Outlaws team is still the same as last year. We still have Danny Lasoski driving. We have made some changes with our USAC program. All the Mopar program is now being moved into one building. We just got a new shop in Indianapolis. We added the Midget program in-house full time this year. Where I was a partner with Keith Kunz last year, we decided to do it on our own this year. We've got Josh Wise driving the car. We've got Dave Steele running the pavement and Jay Drake running the pavement and dirt in the No. 20 car. Cory Kruseman is going to run the No. 21 car for the Sprint Car Series. So we'll still have the 20 and the 21 car again. And we've got Jay Drake in the Silver Crown car in which I'm partners with George Snider . We we've still got all that going on. Dave Steele is going to run the No. 9 Silver Crown car that I'm partners with with Bob East again this year. I own half of the Silver Crown teams, but the whole Midget team and the two Sprint Car teams and USAC plus the Outlaw team I own outright."
WHY DO YOU WANT TO RUN IN THE ROLEX 24 HOUR? "Because I get to race instead of sitting around all winter like everybody else does. There are a bunch of us doing it. Dale Jr. is my teammate this year. Jimmie Johnson is driving a team car to our car. They guys who are doing it are the ones who like going out and racing - even though it's not a Nextel Cup event. This weekend, a bunch of us are going Chili Bowl racing. The guys who are real racers go racing when they have the opportunity. I had the opportunity to run the 24 Hr. two years ago and had an absolute blast. It was a lot of fun. We also ran the Paul Revere race here last year with Elliott Forbes Robinson. It's nice to do something different every once in a while. In all honesty, I really feel like it will help me be a better road racer when it comes time to go to the road course races with Cup this year. We learn so much from the guys who are professional road racers. You pick up little things here and there.
"There are only one-tenth of the camera guys and photographers and a lot less hassle, so it's a lot of fun. You can spend time with the team and you don't have to run to your trailer and hide in between sessions because there are mobs of people everywhere. It's a very laid-back setting that's really a fun event. It brings it back to simpler times and simpler days. The cars are very high-tech and very sophisticated and when it comes time to get in the car, everybody is very serious about what they do."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO PUT THE 24-HOUR RACE ON YOUR RESUME WITH A WIN? "I'd like to put everything on my resume. It doesn't matter whether it's the Daytona 400, the Rolex 24 Hour, or the Indy 500. I've got a pretty good resume started. But you always want to add bigger, marquis-events to it. The biggest road course races in my mind are the LeMans 24 Hour and the Daytona 24 Hour. If you can put one of those on your resume, that's a pretty neat addition."
ON NEXTEL BECOMING THE SERIES SPONSOR "There is a part of all of us that are going to miss Winston and didn't want to see them go. But at the same time, everybody is excited about what Nextel can bring to our sport. Marketing-wise, Nextel can do some things that Winston couldn't because of the government. We are all welcoming Nextel with open arms and can't wait to see what happens.
"This sport is going to be around for a long time. I don't think a title sponsorship is going to change teams from getting sponsorships. The economy is in more control of that than the title sponsor is. Knowing that somebody like Nextel has the confidence in our sport and in the economy to commit for 10 years shows how strong the France family is and the NASCAR sport is."
WHAT NEXTEL EVENTS DO YOU WANT TO ADD TO YOUR RESUME? "The Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 are probably the two that I'd really like to do. But last year we won two races that we'd never won before. I like being able to win at different tracks. Before it's all said and done, I'd like to be able to say I've won at every race track we run at."
ARE THERE ANY PARTICULAR WEAKNESSES IN YOUR PROGRAM THAT YOUR TEAM IS WORKING ON? "Technology keeps changing every year. There are always new challenges. It seems like whatever the weaknesses are, that they change departments every year. It's too early this year to see what that weakness might be, but I think everybody has a weakness in their program. It's just not as strong. That's the area you normally need to work on to be a top-notch team."
ON THE DAYTONA PROTOTYPE STEWART WILL DRIVE IN THE ROLEX 24 HOUR "The cars are different than when I drove two years ago. I drove an open-cockpit prototype. Now they've got the windshields and roofs over them again. It's just a different car. But the thing about different cars is that it's fun to learn what a car likes and dislikes. They all have four tires and they're all either tight or lose or have four-wheel drift. Every race car I've ever driven has one of those three conditions. It's fun to figure out what the car likes and dislikes and what you can do behind the steering wheel to compliment what that car wants. That's the fun part about it to me."
ON RUNNING THE INDY 500 "I'm not going to run the Indy 500 until I'm done with Nextel Cup. It's not fair to the team. As many people as we keep adding every year and as competitive as Cup racing gets every year.........just the threat of something happening is what is keeping me from doing it. And, the technology of IRL keeps growing. The last time I did it, it took me two days to get acclimated to the way they worked and the way they operated versus two years before that when I was running with my own team.
"To do the Indy 500 like we would do the Daytona 500 or the rest of the schedule, you really have to run two or three events with the team you'd be running with at Indy before the Indy 500. It's still a dream of mine and still something I want very badly. But, I don't want to do it just to say I did it again. A lot of us would like to do it. But it's so specialized. Everybody is so worried about us getting hurt. We're such a commodity to corporate America right now that we don't have that flexibility like we did in the past. It took an act of God to get Joe Gibbs to let me run in the Busch Series last year. We're going to run a couple of them this year and maybe a couple of Truck races again, but he cringes at the thought that I could get hurt in a car other than a Cup car."
ON VICTORY BURNOUTS "I'm getting burned out on burnouts. I hold the record for the longest burnout after a victory at Pocono. I went the entire length of the front stretch. Unless somebody can beat that, I'm not interested in watching them anymore. The motor guys are getting tired of it too because it normally tears the motor up. Keep in mind that we had to do that because they wouldn't let us get on top of the cars anymore because of the templates."
MICHAEL WALTRIP , two-time Daytona 500 winner and driver of the No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet Monte Carlo was the fastest in both the morning and afternoon test segments.
ON HITTING THE WALL DURING THE MORNING SESSION "We had a wreck. We blew an oil line off and coated the front tires with oil. It happened so fast, I really didn't know what went on. I went down into the turn and a little bit of smoke puffed up and I was in the wall and idling down the back straightaway before I figured out what happened. We had a pretty major oil even under the hood that messed that car up.
"That was actually the car we won Talladega with. My theory is that whatever they build, the most recent car will be the best car. All the folks at DEI do such a good job of gathering information. When they get it all together, they put it into a product that generally becomes the best car we've ever built. There is simply more knowledge to go into the construction of it. So when that car got tore up, I knew the other car would be plenty fast because it's a newer race car. If was. And now, I'm pretty jazzed up about the fact they're going to take the car I crashed to Hopkins at 7 o'clock in the morning for repairs. We'll try to get it ready for a Talladega test that we'll participate in in a couple of weeks. Everything we learn here during these three days will be incorporated into the car we're repairing. There's a pretty good chance that it'll be better than the one we leave here with."
WHAT HAS WINNING THE DAYTONA 500 TWICE DONE FOR YOU? "I think back to when I was a kid and I used to come here to watch my brother, and everyone who has ever aspired to be a stock car driver wants to win the Daytona 500. If someone says that it's better to win somewhere else, that tell me one thing for sure: they've never won at Daytona or they wouldn't say that. It's the pinnacle of our sport. It's quite an honor and I don't take it lightly. I'm real thankful for things working out that we would win the race and come back in the forth year and have a shot at winning it again."
ON THE PROPOSED NASCAR POINTS REVISION "I like it. In history, only one or two guys at most have moved from outside of the top and into the top 10 with 10 races to go. And that's been a move from 12th to seventh at best. Maybe 13th to 9th. That's not much of a story. But having 10 guys with a shot at a championship with 10 races to go is a story. I think it will add to our sport. All the negative talk about it means that people are afraid of change. It's scary at times. The more people understand what the proposed change might do, the more they'll like it. If I'm the networks, I love it. If I'm a race fan, I love it.
"I thought it would be a good idea if that at the end of 26 races they seeded the teams by giving the guy who is first 100 points - and then on down 90, 80, 70, etc. to zero points for 10th places. And then pay the first place guy something for that accomplishment, but not pay anybody else. It wouldn't be fair to do anything during the final 10 races for those 10 competitors that you don't do for everyone (like pit selection, etc). Then we just go back to racing 10 times and see who can win the championship. You're not going to win the championship if you're not in the top five or six with 10 races to go. We know that. So we're just at least doubling the amount of guys - maybe more - that have a chance to win the championship late in the season. I think that would be good for our sport.
WHAT ABOUT PROVISIONALS? "I've thought about this. (My suggestion might be) the only variation of this would be if you weren't in the top 40 in points at the end of 2003 or after four events in 2004, then to qualify for a provisional you must first qualify on time for a race. That would eliminate somebody just showing up that didn't have a prayer for making the race. And there would be 44 cars there at some point in the season. That person just qualifies last and gets to use a spot that he hasn't earned. I think you have to protect your competitors that are there every week for you. So I would like to see a provision put in where if someone races all the races or seeds himself in the top 45 in points, then if you're outside of that group when you show up, you can't just make an attempt to qualify and be eligible for that position. You must earn that provisional by qualifying for an event on speed. So for example, you qualify 30th at Pocono. Now you have earned a provisional to fall back on next time. Does one successful qualifying attempt get you one provisional or four? Those are variations they'd have to think about."