TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: ON TAKING OVER THE WINSTON CUP POINTS LEAD: "I'm just as excited as can be. Home Depot and Joe Gibbs Racing and Greg Zipadelli and these guys have deserved, probably more so than I have. These...
TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
ON TAKING OVER THE WINSTON CUP POINTS LEAD: "I'm just as excited as can be. Home Depot and Joe Gibbs Racing and Greg Zipadelli and these guys have deserved, probably more so than I have. These guys keep working. They work hard. We've got one of the hardest working teams in Winston Cup racing and they deserve this lead right now.
"This is for Bob Nardelli (CEO, Home Depot) and all the people at Home Depot and they're 280,000 associates right now. These people have stuck with us through thick and thin. It's just a great day. We had an awesome day today. The biggest thing was just finishing and not getting in any trouble and we did that. Now, we can get back to real racing again."
DID YOU THINK ABOUT MAKING A MOVE ON DALE EARNHARDT, JR., AT THE END?
"Not at all. I told my spotter to go down there and tell his spotter that I wasn't leaving him. It wasn't 'Top Gun,' but I wasn't leaving my 'wing man.' There's something about that Budweiser Chevy and The Home Depot Pontiac. You get those two cars together on a superspeedway, and if we don't have problems we can help him out a lot."
ON HIS SECOND-PLACE FINISH:
"I'm really happy with it, obviously. To come out of here leading the points like we are, you couldn't ask for any more than that. But, our goal today wasn't to leave here leading. It was to come and basically just survive today. You never know what is going to happen at these places.
"I think we all owe NASCAR a big thanks on this (the new fuel cell rule used at Talladega). That is the best call they've made in a long time - to do the rule on the fuel cells.
"We were all grouped up all day, but at least parts of the race gave you a chance to catch your breath and run single-file to get caught up to the pack. You couldn't send 43 cars in the pits at one time and let them come out three-wide in a pack, so that was a good thing. It at least gave us an opportunity to rest and race each other one-on-one a lot today. You knew as the race was going to go on, if guys had bad pit stops, it was going to start weeding out teams. We had solid pit stops all day. The guys were unbelievable in the pits. We just got out there at the end. I guess it was Kurt Busch and I that came out together and started catching Junior and those guys when they all came out. We just had the momentum to get by a bunch of them. I wanted to get five points for leading a lap, to be honest. That's what I was shooting for when we got to them. We had such a big run, I thought I might be able to get by on the outside and just lead one lap, and then fall in line wherever and then race hard at the end. But, we got up to second there and there was just enough of a gap for me to get in between Junior and Ricky Rudd. I got down in there and it seems like everywhere we've been the last couple years, if you get that Budweiser Chevrolet and The Home Depot Pontiac together it is a pretty potent combination. Once I got there, I needed some help from behind and Ricky was a good pusher. It gave me an opportunity to help out and push, too.
"Our car really wasn't that strong today, to be honest. We had to rely on help from behind to keep our momentum up. But, once we would get our momentum, we could really help a guy in front of us. That's the way it's always been for Junior and I. If I can get back there I can normally help him out pretty good.
"Every time that second line developed I was worried and hoping that they would run out of laps before they could all get to us. But, every time it seemed like there was a second line there, they'd get out there and make a run and then they'd fade and then they'd fall back in line, so it was a pretty good sign. I just made sure that Junior was helping me protect my line on the bottom and keeping the guys behind me from getting underneath me coming off the corner, and they couldn't stop the two of us."
WERE YOU THINKING OF TRYING SOMETHING ON JUNIOR?
"I never even tried. I never thought about trying to go by Junior. It's a trust-thing that he and I have. I know that if I'm leading the race that he has always stuck with me, and he knows that anytime I've been behind him like that late in a race that I've always stuck with him. It gives him a feeling of security and it gives me a sense of security knowing that he is going to take care of me on the front side. All I've got to worry about are the guys behind me. To be honest, I never saw anything in front of me that last lap. I looked coming off of two and I looked coming off of four and that was it - the only time I looked in front of me. The rest of the time I was mirror-driving, just making sure that they weren't doing something behind us to get a run on both of us that would hurt both Junior and I."
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO KNOW YOU ARE THE FAVORITE TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR?
"Being the favorite doesn't mean a darn thing to me, to be honest, as far as winning the points. Does it mean a lot to me to be leading right now? It means a lot from my team standpoint. I've led points championships before. The day I want to be leading is the Sunday at Homestead. That is the day I want to be leading. There is a lot of racing to go on still. Six races is a lot of racing."
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "What do you think winning the championship would mean? It would mean more than anything. It's a question that doesn't even need to be asked. Everybody in this garage area is searching for a Winston Cup championship - even guys that have won it three or four times. Everybody wants to keep winning Winston Cup championships. That's what we're all striving for."
ON BECOMING SO STRONG HERE AT TALLADEGA
"We've finished second three out of the last four times we've been here, so whatever we're doing here, it's right. We got wrecked in the spring race here - something out of our control. But, when we are in control of our destiny we run good."
WERE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT FUEL MILEAGE NEAR THE END?
"Zippy (Greg Zipadelli) said we'd make it. If Zippy, 'We'll make it,' we'll make it, so I don't question that."
YOU GOT AWAY FOR A COUPLE DAYS THIS WEEK WITH RED FARMER...WHAT DID THAT MEAN TO YOU?
"Anytime you can get a break - I mean, between you guys (the media) and everybody else, you keep us running around doing so many 'Mickey Mouse' things that we don't have an opportunity to have a life. So, to have an opportunity to get away from media and civilization and everything else and get in the deep woods of Alabama and go fish for some nice 'largemouth' (bass), that was exactly what the doctor ordered this week."
COULD THIS FUEL CELL RULE WORK AT DAYTONA?
"It's a restrictor plate track, isn't it?"
ON TAKING THE POINTS LEAD AT A TRACK THAT YOU'RE NOT OVERLY FOND OF
"To be honest, I don't even think about it. Just the fact that we're there, that's the main thing to us. For us, it's a matter of racing hard these next six races. I feel like we've got a couple places coming up where we've got a shot at winning. I've got a lot of confidence and a lot of momentum going into the last six races of the season now, and we'll just do the best we can see what happens."
IF YOU WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP...
"Let's don't even worry about 'if.' Let's talk about it six races from now and then we'll talk about it."
IS A SECOND-PLACE FINISH ON A DAY THAT YOU DON'T HAVE THE BEST CAR THE KEY TO WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
"Let's put it this way: I didn't have a car that could win today, but I ran second today. Second still pays a pretty doggone good amount of money today and does the same in the points. If you can't win, get the best you can, and if second is the next best position, you take it. That's common sense."
WHAT WAS YOUR TAKE ON THE MARTIN-JOHNSON INCIDENT ON THE PACE LAP?
"I'll tell you something that was even dumber than that - or odder than that - on my part. It was dumb on my part. They're deal was odd.
"I had already taken my gloves off because my chin strap didn't feel real tight, so I just reached up to tug on it and realized I didn't even have it strapped on at all. So, I took my gloves off, was driving with me knee, was tying my helmet and was driving with me knee and all of a sudden, 'Exit stage left' (Martin and Johnson). I thought, 'Wow, somebody else is having a screwier morning than I am already.'"
WAS YOUR CREW LETTING YOU KNOW THE OTHER POINTS CONTENDERS WERE HAVING PROBLEMS TODAY?
"I knew about the '6' and the '48' and I saw the '6 slow down. But, I knew the '48' was still out there. I had no idea where the '24' was. They didn't tell me. To be honest, I don't want them telling me. If you go out and you win races and you go out and get top fives, the points will take care of themselves. If it was the last race -- sure, I'd want them to tell me. I don't want to take any unnecessary chances. But, we weren't in a position today to take it easy. We had to gain points. We did exactly what we had to do today.
"I'll tell you, I'm real proud of myself today, more than anything. It's no secret that I've hated restrictor plate racing. My mindset this whole weekend has been calm. I told Zippy yesterday after an hour and a half of 'Happy Hour' practice, I didn't cuss anybody to myself, I wasn't screaming, 'I hate restrictor plate racing.' I just did my job and that's what I did all day today. There were a couple times that I got a little discouraged because I couldn't stay closed up with the pack. Zippy said, 'Hey, just start trying some things to see what you've got to do late in the race,' and we did and we started working our way back to the front and it got my confidence back up. It's like I told him after that race was over, I've never given up on him, yet, in any race and I'm not going to give up on him now."
DID YOU FEEL SAFER OUT THERE TODAY WITH THESE FUEL CELL RULES?
"It just gave you an opportunity to not be three-wide for 187 straight laps. Every time you come in the pits it strings everybody out because everybody is not going to come in on the same lap. It takes five or six laps sometimes to get the pack grouped back up, so it is at least five or six laps that you can relax a little bit. You're staying in line with the guys you're around and can catch your breath for a minute. Then, you can get back into it and be tense for another 30 laps. But, doing that solid for 188 laps, nobody can do that. It's hard."
WERE YOU SURPRISED BY THE SIZE OF YOUR POINTS LEAD AFTER THE RACE?
"I was very surprised. I was very surprised. That was huge."