Texas II: Race winner interview

TONY STEWART , NO. 20 HOME DEPOT MONTE CARLO SS - RACE WINNER: YOU LED 278 LAPS AND HAVE WON THREE OF THE LAST SIX RACES, TALK ABOUT THE RACE TODAY: "It was obviously an awesome day. Anytime you can lead that many laps and that percentage of...

TONY STEWART , NO. 20 HOME DEPOT MONTE CARLO SS - RACE WINNER:

YOU LED 278 LAPS AND HAVE WON THREE OF THE LAST SIX RACES, TALK ABOUT THE RACE TODAY:

"It was obviously an awesome day. Anytime you can lead that many laps and that percentage of laps in a race, it's a good day for you.

"Today was one of those days when we had a car that was good all day long from start to finish -- last week was one of them and this week was another one of them - but it's few and far in between in 27 years that you can say that you've had less than 10 cars that were that good and that dominant. I'm not even sure Atlanta last week was a car that was that good. We just had such a good car tonight. We could get a straightaway lead at any time. I was loose the whole day, but we were extremely fast being loose. We kept trying to get greedy because we knew at some point those guys would get their cars better and I wanted to see if I could get it tightened up enough to where I could even go faster. We finally got it too tight and that was the run that Kasey (Kahne) could stay with us. The air pressure adjustment that I had them do on the right front I had them undo it when we came in for the two-tire stop. It was right back to being really fast again and we had a straightaway lead there with less than 10 laps to go. And then the caution came out and there was nothing we could do from that standpoint. But the good news was that there were two cars between us and Jimmie Johnson who had four tires. So with the amount of time it took for Jimmie to get through those two guys, I was pretty confident on that last restart that we should be able to hold out own for two laps. If we had to run five or 10 laps, it might have been a different story. But if the caution doesn't come out either one of those two times we win the race anyways. So the woulda, coulda, shoulda's and all that. But we had the strongest car all day and I'm just glad that we finished it off. I wasn't going to give it away with two to go, that's for sure. With the green-white-checkered restart, the biggest concern was not slipping the tires and spinning the tires and letting Jimmie get a run on us in Turn 1. Once I got to Turn 1, I felt confident that the car was good enough to hold him off for two laps."

IT WAS ANNOUNCED THAT THE FASTEST LAP OF THE RACE WAS YOURS ON THE LAST LAP. THAT SAYS A LOT ABOUT HOW STRONG YOUR CAR WAS. WERE YOU HOLDING BACK UNTIL THE END?

"We pretty much were in a situation the whole race where we didn't have to run as hard as we needed to on the front side and guys could stay with us for about 10 laps, but they really, from lap one, we would have a three or four-car-length lead so we never really had to push it hard at the beginning. I'm surprised to hear that. I didn't know we did that. It surprises me that we were able to run that quick at the end. But I guess that's the track getting cooler and probably more so than anything, was having those two cautions back-to-back. It probably picked up more of the rubber out of the track and gave us more of a green race track to run quicker on. But I am surprised we were able to run that quick on tires that were that old."

HOW DOES THIS STREAK COMPARE TO THE STREAK YOU HAD LAST YEAR STARTING AT SONOMA?

"It was just later. That's the obvious thing. But it's very similar in that we've finally hit our stride it looks like. We hit it three months too late. You look at which teams kind of hit strides this year. Look at Evernham's whole organization and all three of their cars are running much better than they have in the past. You look at the Childress team and all three of their cars are running better than they all have in the past, in recent years. We've just finally hit our stride. We've finally caught up now. It's just one of those situations where we all wish we could turn back the hands of time and get on this string three months early and get ourselves in the Chase. But for us right now, the stress level is a tenth of what those guys in the Chase have and it lets us have the ability to take chances and try things and take the first half of practice and try something that we've been wanting to try but just haven't had the luxury to try. If we were in the Chase, we wouldn't have that ability. It gives us the flexibility to really go all out and try to win races without the fear of losing a bunch of points."

REGARDING SET-UPS, IS IT STUFF YOU'RE TRYING OUT FOR NEXT YEAR THAT'S WORKING, OR IS IT JUST STUFF THAT YOU HAVE BEEN USING THROUGHOUT THE SEASON?

"The stuff that we're doing right now, by the time March gets here and we get through with Daytona and stuff, technology may have already passed this stage up even and we may be on to something else. It's not that we're trying anything for next year, it's just that we're trying to accomplish our goal and that's to come into the Chase and even though we're not in it now, set a new goal since we aren't in the Chase and can't run for the championship, that goal has gone away. So the new goal is just to go out every race and try to win the race and do whatever we can to win the race. It's not that that wasn't the goal before, we just finally have hit our stride and things are clicking and now we're winning races. It's not that we just decided all of a sudden to win races. It's a coincidence that the goal we've put in front of us is a reality now."

ARE YOU TAKING ANY JOY IN BEING A PARTY CRASHER IN THIS THING?

"I don't think I'm crashing anybody's party. I'm still not going to be in the top 10 and I'm still not going to be able to go for the trophy at the end of the year. So I don't think we're crashing anybody's party. Our objective each week is different than those guys in the top 10. At this point in the equation, all 10 of those guys are worried about themselves and who they are racing for position in the standings right now. We're in a totally different position. So somebody said something about did I think I crashed Jimmie Johnson's party and I can promise you not. He was the highest finishing Chase guy today. I don't know. Did he take the point lead? I don't think he's remotely even worried about what we did today. I think he is more delighted and overjoyed with what he was able to accomplish today."

YOU HAVE NEVER WON MORE THAN SIX RACES IN ONE SEASON, BUT YOU HAVE FIVE WINS WITH TWO RACES TO GO. HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT THAT AS A WAY TO MAKE THIS SEASON STAND OUT?

"Absolutely. This car that we ran tonight has three wins and zero losses. I want to sleep next to this car tonight and make sure nothing happens to it each night for the rest of the year. I don't care what cars we took to the tests, I can promise you this is the car that I will race at Homestead in two weeks. For our mile program, we'll run a different car than this one. It'll give the guys a chance to freshen this car again. That will make it easier on those guys. We don't have to do anything to the body. So sure, that's a very good goal to shoot for right now is to try to win these last two races and say we were able to win the last four races in the Chase in a row. So, yeah, it would be a great accomplishment. It would definitely be the saving grace for us for this year to break our own record of wins in a season."

ON TEAM THINKING OF TAKING FOUR TIRES ON LAST STOP:

"Honestly no. We knew none of us were factoring in there would be a caution in the last 15 laps. We had been green for a long time. When the field gets strung out like that, you don't normally have a problem. Realistically, with just 15 laps to go, the decision, to me, was an easy decision just to take two tires, shorten the pit stop, get enough fuel that we needed to get out and get to the end and maintain our track position. Those last two cautions were not what we wanted to see. Even after the first one came out and we restarted, even with four to go when the last caution came out, I was really comfortable with the distance between myself and Jimmie. I felt like I could hold him off at that point, but I didn't want to see the last caution, actually either one of those two, but I was comfortable after the first one. The second one I was just a little bit more uncomfortable knowing he had track position right behind us with fresher tires. The important thing at that point was to make sure I got a clean restart and got to turn one before he did and as long as I could do that, I felt like, that off the previous restart, letting the tires cool down during the caution was going to bring enough life in to them to be able to run hard those final two laps and be able to run the pace I needed to win."

ON NEXT TO LAST PIT STOP, DID YOU KEEP ZIPPY FROM DOING MORE ADJUSTMENTS THAN YOU WANTED?

"I had asked for an air pressure change just to see, the hard thing is when you have a car that is that good and that dominant early, we have been in situations in 500 mile races like this that, I don't want to say that we get lazy, but we get complacent I guess, with the way your car is driving. I felt like my car was really, really drove good, but I knew at some point, somebody was going to get caught up and I kept the thought in the back of my mind that we had lost a lot of races because we were that good that early and were just scared to make changes. Even with us being as good as we were, I kept trying to do really small adjustments, when a car is that good, you don't need to make big changes. You just want to little things at a time. We had tried a couple of things that really didn't work earlier in the day. I finally asked for a sequence of changes that I was hoping would least lead us in a direction, if it was going to be the right way or not, and none of them were trick decisions or anything. The were very basic calls and we finally on that run got the car too tight and so we came in for the two tires, we couldn't take all of the adjustment out, it was air pressure adjustments on both sides. Obviously coming in for just two tires, we could only make the adjustment on the right side tires, we did that, and for 15 laps with new tires, it was a good enough change to balance good enough to win the race"

ON HAVING FREE WHEELING ATTITUDE FOR NEXT YEAR'S CHASE:

"Yes, it seems to be work. It is hard to say that you can keep yourself this way, there is just a lot of pressure and a lot of stress involved in trying to win a championship at this level. That is goal that everybody wants. In my opinion, it is."

WHEN YOU GET BACK INTO THE CHASE NEXT YEAR, WILL YOU HAVE THE SAME ATTITUDE YOU HAVE HAD THIS YEAR?

"Yeah, it seems to work (laughs). It's hard to say that you can keep yourself this way. There's just a lot of pressure and a lot of stress involved in trying to win a championship at this level. That's the goal that everybody wants. In my opinion it's the biggest championship in the United States to win right now. Obviously when you're in it it's harder to keep yourself in this frame of mind but I think more so this frame of mind started because we needed to keep the team pumped up. We were obviously all devastated and none of us would have dreamed that we would miss the Chase. We had never finished worse than seventh in the points so none of us would have dreamed we were going to be in a position where we might not even make the Chase. I think the attitude came from hey we can't change what's happened. There's nothing we can do to get ourselves back in. We've got 10 races to go. What do we do and how do we keep ourselves motivated and see how many races we can in the last 10. The guys responded to that attitude of mine and it seems like they feed off of me a lot. When I came into it with that happy-go-lucky attitude they followed suit and we've had a ton of fun. Even though we'd all like to be in the Chase and we'd all like to have that opportunity to win the championship again, since we don't have that opportunity I think we're all enjoying these last 10 races more not having that stress and not having that pressure but trust me, we would all trade these race wins in and everything to be just back in the Chase right now."

WHAT WILL YOU REMEMBER ABOUT TERRY LABONTE AS A DRIVER:

"I remember my rookie year when I went through the Winston Select and went to the Winston Open and started at the tail and I was running second or something on the last restart and Terry ran me up the race track a little but he wasn't going to give me an inch. To win the Winston million was huge. That's the one time that I remember Terry and I really being wheel to wheel for a win. I heard him speak more today in the drivers meeting than I think I've heard him speak the entire time I've been in Cup. He's just a guy of few words and soft spoken and let's his actions speak for him. I've always had a huge amount of respect for him and you always know where you stand with him by the expression on his face because like I said he won't tell you but you'll see it on his face what's going through his mind."

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR WINNINGS AND HOW GOOD IS YOUR RACE TEAM RIGHT NOW?

"Obviously winning two weeks in a row I feel like my race team is pretty good. If I said we weren't very good it'd be a joke but I feel like we're doing everything right. Like I said, I think with us having a relaxed atmosphere and attitude, we're all working better with each other than we ever had. We're probably a tighter knit group than we've ever, ever been and I think that's something carrying into next year these guys are going to have to worry about. I'm excited about it. I feel like the team is doing a great job. It's very easy for the caliber team like we have at Joe Gibbs Racing with this Home Depot team to kind of just give up for the year and get ready for next year and that's something that these guys have not done. Their attitude has been let's see what we can do, let's see how many races we can win. We don't feel like we have to prove anything to anybody, don't get me wrong we're doing it purely for our own satisfaction and well being so I'm happy with the guys attitude. We're all happy and having fun and we're running races. You can't ask more out of a race team than that."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jimmie Johnson
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing