Note: Pontiac Grand Prix driver Tony Stewart nearly won last Saturday night's The Winston, posting a second-place finish. He talks about his upcoming Sunday double feature -- the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600.
TONY STEWART (No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix): "The nice thing about being in the Winston Cup Series is that it has trained me to deal with 500-mile races. Knowing the fact that I have to run 600 race laps, as opposed to 1,100 miles, my mindset towards a longer race leads me to relax a little more in the car. I won't make each lap feel as it is the last lap in the car. I will try to relax in the car a little more and be more patient. If there are ten laps left and I have a couple of cars behind me then it will be very stressful. I don't see myself taking many chances. Now that I have run a couple of 500-mile races, I know that I have to be patient at the beginning of the race to conserve myself physically, as well as the race car. I just plan on it being a long day. It will probable be more physically demanding then mentally."
TALK ABOUT THE DIFFERENT DRIVING STYLES BETWEEN INDY AND NASCAR CARS. "If you start out with the IRL cars you have the different wings and the underbodies. The turbulence of the air becomes a critical factor with the handling characteristics of the car. You need to know how to handle that going into the race. Your turbulence will be at the start of the race and since we are starting 24th, we are going to have to be pretty careful. I think my experience in the last three years in IRL has prepared me for starting that far back even though it is uncustomary for us. Dealing with the aerodynamics all day you try to keep the car flowing in clean air because that is a big part of handling the car. When you switch gears and go to the Winston Cup cars, you have a lot of banking to hold the car, unlike IRL. When you are dealing with a 3,400-pound car, you are dealing more with mechanical grip then aerodynamic grip. You pay a lot more attention to the balance of the car. You do deal with some aerodynamics when you tuck up behind another car drafting, but you are primarily working with mechanical balance, like spring rubbers, wedge in or out and track conditions."
SURPRISED WITH THE AMOUNT OF SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD AS A ROOKIE? "Absolutely. I am definitely surprised. The Winston Cup Series is so competitive, that to come in as a rookie, you just want to make the races and then complete them. If I had accomplished that goal as a rookie, that would have been a good season. To have the finishes we have had, and get the experience that we have had, we are surprised with where we are at. It is due to the race team, our great sponsor in Home Depot, and Greg Zipadelli as a crew chief. We have the key ingredients to make us successful. As a driver, sometimes it is nice to know that you are the weak link. I am the one who has to catch up with the race team right now. I obviously thought that I was going to be knocking fences down early this season, having guys lean on me a little bit and move me around the race track. Fortunately all the drivers on the Winston Cup circuit have been very nice to me this year. Mike Skinner has been a big help and Bobby Labonte, my teammate, has been a tremendous help. It is like the commercial that you see on T.V. where the guy hits the hole-in-one on the golf course and they say having a witness is priceless. That's what Bobby has been to me. I can't put a value on how much a teammate has meant to me. There are so many drivers in Cup that have come over and helped me whenever possible. It really surprised me at this level."
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO RELAX BETWEEN INDY AND CHARLOTTE? "Whenever I have had a break in the schedule, I just sit done and relax. I have watched a lot of movies this pass weekend. That seems to help me relax while conserving energy. I try to make sure I don't relax too much, but I do take enough time out of the schedule for some private time."
HAVE YOU TALKED TO JOHN ANDRETTI ABOUT THE DOUBLE DUTY EXPERIENCE? 9"Not really. The difference between this year and when John tried to double was that the time schedule was a little different. Now that Charlotte has put the lights in at the speedway, the start of the 600 is later. It has increased our window of opportunity." 0
IS THIS A ONE SHOT DEAL AND WHAT DOES JOE GIBBS THINK ABOUT IT? 9"Actually, it was Joe who made sure that he put this seal in my contract. In the contract, it says that every year, I am allowed to do that. This is a tough situation to run both races, but at the same time, if we can be fortunate enough to win it, it would probable be the last time I try to run both. I want to stay involved in the IRL as a car owner not as a driver."
HOW IS YOUR TRAVEL SCHEDULE GOING TO WORK? "Tomorrow, we start at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, take a whole day there. I fly to Indianapolis tomorrow night and participate in Carburetion Day on Thursday. I don't think we will take the full two hours, because of the practice schedule at Charlotte on Thursday afternoon. I will fly back to Charlotte and stay through Saturday night until happy hou r is over, then fly back to Indianapolis that night to get ready for the show on Sunday."
HOW WOULD RAIN AFFECT YOUR DAY ON SUNDAY? "We are obviously are concerned about the rain because it is the one element in this project that we can't control. That is our number one concern. I think it is a privilege that Joe and Home Depot allowed us to come to Indy and try to run both races this year. We have had a very successful year with the Winston Cup car and Charlotte and is my No. 1 priority, the Winston Cup program. If we were leading Indy with five laps to go and it was time to go on the airplane, I would have to leave. We would stop the car and made sure I got to Charlotte on time. I am not going to be late to Charlotte. We would have to quit early."
WHO WOULD MAKE THE CALL TO LEAVE INDY DURING THE RACE IF YOU'RE RUNNING LATE ? "I haven't put a cell phone in the Indy car yet, so I don't think I'll worry about Joe (Gibbs) calling me. We know what time we have to leave. I won't have a clock in the car obviously, but we all know what the situation. We all agree that the No. 1 focus is on the Winston Cup car right now. We'll make sure we make those arrangements."
WHAT DOES YOUR CREW CHIEF, GREG ZIPADELLI, SAY ABOUT ALL THIS? "Greg has been very supportive. Greg actually called me Saturday right after we completed our practice session at Indianapolis and told me on the phone while I was standing on the pit lane, 'Make sure you take care of what you need to get done there. We'll get everything taken care of here.' So Greg has been very supportive. He's asked a lot of questions. He doesn't know much about how the Indy 500 works and qualifying and everything. He's been very supportive to this point and I think he's as excited as we are right now."
WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO THE DOUBLE? "I guess the main reason, I obviously felt like Winston Cup was the direction I needed to go for my career to be successful. This is where I want my career to end. I think the Winston Cup Series is the final destination of my racing career. Obviously, getting associated with Joe Gibbs was the right decision there. When you grow up in Indiana, and I grew up 45 miles south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and to live this close to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and not pursue the dream of not only competing in the Indianapolis 500 but being a contender to win, I didn't think I was being honest to myself if I didn't at least somewhrsue the opportunity of coming back each year and having the opportunity to win. If we hadn't been competitive the last three years, I don't think I would have pursued this with the Winston Cup career. The fact that we've led every race we've run at Indy, I couldn't justify myself not at least trying."
HOW WOULD YOU HANDLE THE WINNER'S INTERVIEW AT INDY GIVEN YOUR TIGHT SCHEDULE? "They can get as much as they can get before we get on the airplane. We'll have all day Monday to do as many interviews as they want. My No. 1 priority is the Winston Cup program and if we're fortunate enough to win it I can promise you I'll take just enough time to drink the milk and hold up one finger so they can take the pictures and they can drag the microphones all the way to the airport if they want. I am sticking to the schedule no matter what happens win, lose or draw. We may have a busy media day Monday, but we're going to get to the airport on time."
WILL YOU RECEIVE ANY MEDICAL TREATMENT TO GET RE-HYDRATED BETWEEN RACES? "We will have a nurse on the airplane with us that will follow us to Charlotte. I think they're going to take me to the medical center if we have an extra few minutes after the 500 is over with to make an evaluation on my status. We'll make the adjustments accordingly. If we need to do that we are prepared to do that."
WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING BOTH RACES ARE? "I'm sure they are astronomical right now. I've got two great race teams that have prepared me two great race cars. We had a great weekend in the Open and The Winston. With that in mind, it gives us an awful lot of confidence going into Sunday, obviously. I think my experiences in past 500s proves we can lead the race. It was always a factor of whether the motors were going to last. I feel like we have a realistic shot at both tracks. What the actual odds are to win both races, I'm not an oddsmaker, I'm a race car driver. If luck is on our side, I'd say sure it's a possibility. If we win one or the other it would make for a very good day for all of us."
HAVE ANY OTHER DRIVERS AT INDY EXPRESSED INTEREST OF GETTING INTO WINSTON CUP? "Actually none of them have talked about the path of how to get to Winston Cup, but they all have interest in what I'm doing and they do follow me. That's what's interesting about leaving the IRL. A lot of the drivers I was friends with the past three years they've followed me in the Winston Cup Series this year and they tell me they watch every weekend when they're not racing. It's been the same way vice-versa. There's been a lot of Winston Cup drivers that have paid attention to what we did this past weekend in Indianapolis and have been following every day what's been going on in the news. It's made me feel good that not only all the drivers I participate with now, but in the past have kept up with what we're doing."
IS THIS WHOLE EXPERIENCE A LITTLE OVERWHELMING? "I guess it hasn't been from the standpoint that I haven't had to worry about all the details. My background in USAC, I was used to running a midget on Friday night on a dirt track and running Saturday on a pavement race in a sprint car and maybe running a dirt mile on Sunday in a silver crown car. I was used to having to be versatile and switching mind sets depending on which car I was in each day. We're only dealing with two race cars and we've had two weeks to prepare for this. It's made life a lot easier."
WHY IS WINSTON CUP THE BEST VENUE FOR YOU? "The open wheel series with the IRL, I learned a lot. Obviously, it was a dream of mind to run in an Indy Car and run in the Indianapolis 500. The Winston Cup Series suits my driving style a little better, I believe. The closer competition and the fact you're racing 34 times a year instead of 11 is what I felt I needed to do as a driver. In 1995, I ran 106 races that year and I was very happy with that schedule. Only having 11 chances to race in a year was not enough track time for me. The Winston Cup Series having 34 races a year versus the IRL's 11 races or 17 of CART, it felt like that's where I needed to be. Every week you're racing somewhere and that's the schedule that I want to keep the rest of my life."