Tony Stewart's thoughts on New Hampshire and Kenny Irwin

TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: (INITIIAL THOUGHTS) "I couldn't be happier. The rain got us into a tough predicament today. We were going to have to come in and pit. The reason for that was that we didn't pit the lasts...

TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:

(INITIIAL THOUGHTS) "I couldn't be happier. The rain got us into a tough predicament today. We were going to have to come in and pit. The reason for that was that we didn't pit the lasts time it rained. Leading the race we couldn't afford to pit. We had the fastest car out here all day, so I think this is justified."

(ON THE WEEKEND OVERALL) "We've had a really good car all weekend. With Kenny's deal on Friday it was hard to go out and qualify. I had a better car than sixth place (in qualifying). I don't know if I could have beaten Rusty, but I could've been on the front row for sure. I messed up driving the car. I was way too easy getting into the corners. I didn't find out about Kenny's thing until after practice, and that's probably why I didn't get into the corners. My mind wasn't really into qualifying at that point. We still had a good starting spot and still qualified well. But we had a great car all weekend. This thing was stout all day yesterday. You know we've got a good car when you walk through the garage area and Mark Martin's guys, and Jeff Gordon's guys, and all those guys come by and say, 'Hey, slow down.' Everybody on this Home Depot team just did a great job. I think Greg (Zipadelli) is probably happier than anybody right now because this is his home track and this is the place where he wants to run well. I've run well in everything I've run here. It's just a matter of getting the right break at the right time."

(DID HE THINK THE RACE WOULD GET AWAY FROM HIM BECAUSE OF HIS NEED FOR FUEL?) "I knew we were going to have to come in, but I'm just glad it ended up the way it did. We were going to come in and take four tires, and go race them hard at the end. I'm pretty confident we could have gotten back up to the front, but I don't know if we could have gotten up far enough to win it." (ON THE TEAM BUILDING MOMENTUM) "They sure are. These guys never give up. They are probably the one pit crew in all the 21 years I've been racing that's had the most heart. These guys don't complain about hard hours, long hours, their families don't. They work really hard. "[Spotter] Mark Robertson's wife, Melanie, she got paralyzed over the holidays last week. We want to wish her well. She just got out of surgery a couple hours ago. We hope she is doing alright."

(ON THE RACE) "This whole weekend has been a long weekend. I want to dedicate this win to Kenny Irwin. We were teammates and I knew him and raced with him for the last nine years. We weren't always on the best terms with each other, but we always respected each other in a race car and what each other could do in a race car. This isn't the first time I've made this quote, but he is part of the reason I got to Winton Cup because he made me become a better race car driver because I had to beat him every week, and he was as tough as anybody around week-in and week-out no matter whether it was a sprint car, or a Silver Crown (car) or a midget. He was the guy that I had to beat every week to win the race. He made me a better race car driver and probably got me ready to be a Winston Cup driver, to a certain degree. So I want to dedicate the win to him.

'But it was a long weekend. We should have qualified better than sixth. It wasn't a bad qualifying effort. I just didn't qualify the way and didn't run the car as hard as I probably could have. I was just upset with what was going on with Kenny's deal and it gave us kind of a slow start to the race. The track really was a lot different at the beginning than it was yesterday during the morning practice or during 'Happy Hour.' It was very, very slick. Everybody's cars were real loose. We kind of just fought our way up to the front. We had a good car. Greg (Zipadelli) and the guys kept making adjustments and making the car feel better to me. I was making adjustments inside the car with the brake balance, and we just kept talking about what the car was doing and what we could do to make it better. Every time we came in the car was better than the time before, so all the guys did a great job.

"The first red flag, I'm sure that probably took three or four years off Greg Zipadelli's life because you're leading the race. What do you do? Do you come in and pit under they yellow like everybody else does? Do you stay out and hope that when it goes back to green that you are only going to run 18 laps to get to the halfway and it rains, or what? It's just a tough situation for him. Luckily, all I have to do is drive the race car. He is the guy that's got to have all the weight on his shoulders of whether it is the right call or the wrong call. I support him 100 percent by staying out. We couldn't afford to give up that track position. We worked too hard to get there. When we went back to green we started pulling away like we had before. But with all those guys that had come in during the pit stop, they had the fuel to stretch it longer to where they were only going to have to stop one more time. With the way it was working out, we were going to have to stop twice. That set of green flag stops was a real pivotal point in the race to where it took the tables and turned them. It took it from where we were having an advantage leading the race to where we were at a disadvantage because everybody was having to pit under green flag stops, and it didn't even up the field again, so it put us at a deficit.

"And trust me, I was happy to see that rain come. The rain was what hurt us to being with, and the rain came back and justified itself. Do I feel bad about winning a race this way? Absolutely not. We were the fastest car all day. There's no reason we shouldn't have won this race, and the weather was going to be the reason that we didn't win it if we didn't win today - not because we didn't have a race car that could win."

"You always hate it for the fans. We're sitting down there (in turn one) and I'm sitting down there with Joe Nemechek in one and we're listening to fans yelling in the stands. The majority of it was supportive. But you know in their minds, they want to see the thing go to the end, and they want to see how things are going to turn out, so it's not fair to them. But at the same time it wasn't going to be fair to us to have two red flags take a win away from us."

(ANY CLOSE CALLS TODAY?) "Ward Burton tried his darndest to crash us all day when we were trying to lap him. You don't expect a guy like him to race you like that. Every time I got beside him he drove into me. I would try to be more patient and I was trying to be patient, but at the same time, I've got second, third and fourth place guys running behind me and trying to get by me. So I had to do what I could to try to get by Ward, but Ward would've rather crashed me than go a lap down. It's a tough situation. Greg is telling me to take care of the race car and I'm trying to take care of the car, and at the same time, try not to lose the lead. That was really the only close call we really had all day. Other than that, everybody else was pretty good. I mean, everybody raced you hard, but if you got underneath a guy he let you go. There were only a couple of guys today that weren't like that and it made it pretty rough on you to run through traffic that way."

(ON THINKING ABOUT KENNY IRWIN DURING THE RACE) "The first part of the race it was hard to focus. Friday was hard. Yesterday was little easier to deal with everything because everybody got back in race mode. I was kind of frustrated and mad to a certain degree that we were all that casual, and that we were all that complacent --or whatever you want to call it - that we were able to go back like that. But once we got in the car and got to doing our work, I mean, we had work to do. But as the afternoon went on -- we watched the modified race and everything Friday, and then watched the Busch North race yesterday - you kind of got back in race mode, and I thought I was going to be alright. Then I started watching the TV shows this morning. I'm watching TNN and ESPN and watching the tributes. I did everything I could. I was late to an appearance because I didn't want to miss any of the tributes to Kenny because he deserved them. It was just important to me to see everything that was going on. Then chapel service this morning is probably when it bothered me the most, to be honest. Hearing Robert Yates talk about Kenny and everything, and everybody that spoke had nice things to say about him, and he was a great person. "It's just a wake-up call. It's a reality check. I didn't know Adam that well, but I spoke with him many times. It was a different situation when it was with Adam because I wasn't here. I was in Indiana. You jus think about the limited amount of times that I had spent with him, where Kenny, I had spent the last nine years of my life with him more than I spent with my parents. You know we've had our ups and downs. We've had a relationship just like the relationship I had with my fiancée last year. We had good times and bad times. But when it came down to it we respected each other and had a mutual respect for what each other could do with a race car. It wasn't a bitter rivalry, but it was a rivalry and we pushed each other all the time.

"Getting ready to start the race today, it was like, 'Well who is there to push me?' I always would look at the sheets after practice sessions and say, 'Well where is Irwin at?' I just wanted to know. I don't know how to describe it. It was just a weird feeling this morning trying to get in a race car and try to race without him today. It just didn't seem right. I still think I'm going to walk around a corner and he is going to be there somewhere.

"It's just a hard thing to have to deal with. It's not the first time I've had to deal with something like this, but it gets hard and harder every time for some reason. My rookie year at Indy I had to deal with losing Scott Brayton in the same car I drove the day before in practice. To see that happen, it's a reality check of what we do every week. Does it scare me to get in a race car? Was I ever scared to get back in a race car? Absolutely not. It's much safer. I would rather run 190 miles per hour all day than I would with half these morons on the street.

"I watched a special last night. I was sitting in the bus with Krista. We were sitting there watching TV and it was just showing idiot drivers. I got to thinking, 'You know what? We sit here, we do what we love and we know the risk involved.' But I can promise you that Greg and every one of these guys on our team and everybody that works for any team in the garage area, they do everything they can to make sure their driver is as safe and comfortable as possible in these race cars. I never have a doubt in my mind. We're all humans, and it's like I told somebody else, I don't even care what happened. But somebody on that team had to go home Friday night and think, 'Did I make a mistake?' And that's the people you feel bad for because you know these guys pour their hearts and souls into what we do every week, and we're all humans. We all make mistakes. Some of us get chastised more for it than others, but it happens. We all make mistakes. The day that we don't make mistakes this sport is going to be real boring because it's not going to be much fun to watch anymore."

"It was just weird. I had the same feeling when I ran in '96 (in the IRL) with Scotty (Brayton). I got in his car when they re-built it. We took all of our qualified cars and took them back and re-built them. They brought that car back and Danny Ongais was going to drive it in the race, and Larry (Curry) asked me to drive it. I went out and run like 233 (miles per hour) on my third lap by, which was fast time for the day, I think, in race set-up. For those cars at that time, that was pretty quick, and I swore somebody else was there driving. I knew it was Scott.

"It was just like today.  There were times I made mistakes in the car, but I didn't panic
and it just felt like somebody was there with you, helping.  To me, it felt like Kenny was
there, and you just felt like he was there, giving a hand.  It just was a weird day."

(WAS THE FACT THAT HE RAN OUT OF FUEL LAST YEAR ON HIS MIND TODAY?) "It was during that last red (flag). I couldn't understand why we couldn't make it. But then when I sat down and thought about it and thought what happened during the first red (flag), it all made sense. It's like I asked them, 'How do we get ourselves into this?' We're looking at each other and we're both about half mad about it. But it's like, 'How did this happen again? We're the fastest car on the track again, and yet we're going to have to have a miracle almost to help us win this thing.' When we sat down and thought about it during that break, we were probably going to have 24 or 25 laps to race these guys and they all had laps on their tires. We were going to put four fresh tires on during the stop. There was no doubt in my mind that I could've gotten back to the front because I had an awesome race car today that could have gotten there. But it was like, we lead all these laps and then at the end of it when it counts, those last 25 laps that you want to be leading and you want to be out away from everybody, now we've got to fight for our life just to get back to the front.

"But the circumstances made sense. The first red we had to stay out. You had no choice as the leader but to stay out. Everybody else doesn't have anything to lose, so they end up getting the benefit from it. But the second rain kind of made everything right. The guys that were running up front that were quick were still up front and quick when the rain came, so the guys that earned their spot still got their spot today, in my opinion."

(DID HE EVER TRY TO CONSERVE FUEL TODAY?) "Thank Goodness he (Greg) never told me to try to save fuel today because I don't know how to save fuel anyway. To shut the motor off is the only way I know how to save fuel. He told me after that first red, he said, 'Go hard. Go hard and try to get as many guys down as you can.' That way when we did have to come in we could build up as much time. It wasn't a deal where we were trying to make a bad race out of it or anything like that, but we knew that we were going to be in bad shape. We ran as hard as we could to try to build up as much of a lead to be able to come in, get our fuel, get back out and hopefully not go from first to 15th or 16th, but hopefully come out maybe 10th or 11th instead."

(DID HE THINK ABOUT KENNY IRWIN'S INFLUENCE ON THE LAST RAIN SHOWER?) "I kind of looked up there and I said, "Hey big buddy, a bucket of water right now wouldn't hurt us any.' He made me wait a little longer than I wanted to wait for it, though. I don't know. He is probably busy at the check-in counter up there or something. He probably made me sweat for it a little bit. That's like him."

(DID HE THINK HE COULD GET BACK TO THE FRONT, IF THE RACE HAD RE-STARTED?) "We had a good car. We had a lot of room for improvement, I felt like, on our race car, making it better. On that last stop we were going to make some changes that probably would have gotten us right where we needed to be. There's no doubt in my mind with four fresh tires, the way that we were on new tires - we were really good initially on our runs. So even though it was going to be a short run, I think we were going to be OK. I think we were going to be able to do something with those guys because we were out there on older tires than they were running the same lap times that they were."

(RESPONSE TO MARK MARTIN'S COMMENT ON LOOKING FORWARD TO TONY HAVING TO PIT AT THE END) "Sure he was. He was going to inherit the damn lead. Are you crazy?"

(HOW DID HE THINK HE STACKED UP TO MARK MARTIN DURING THE RACE?) "Let's put it this way. I went out with new tires once before and I ran him down a whole straightaway in about 10 laps, so you tell me if I had what it took to measure up. I felt like I did. That's why I said I felt like we could have got to the front. We had a good car, and like I said, we felt like we were going to make it better if we had to make that last stop and if we had to go the rest of the way.

"We're fighters.  We're used to 'Saturday night, 30-lap, get out and swing wrenches at
other drivers and crew-type guys.' We were going to slug it out to the end.  We weren't
going to give up.  I had the confidence and I thought I had a car that could get there."

(ON PLAYING WITH THE WEATHER) "Playing with the weather? The weather plays with us. We have no control over that.

"You tell me one thing that would be fun about trying to guess what this weather is going to do, and when to pit and when to stay on. It's the only variable that you can't really control during the day. You never know. It's the most unpredictable factor there is, almost. (Greg) is telling me from the radar, 'We're 30 laps from the halfway point. There is weather coming. Keep that in mind.' When he says that, I'm going -- not 95 percent -- but 100 percent because I'm thinking, 'If it rains and I get to the halfway point, first of all, I get 10 grand for the halfway money'...and the second thing is you never know what's going to happen. You want to be in that position to be there if it does (rain). If it doesn't, then it normally ends up messing you up somehow and that's what happened. But at least it messed us up twice to where it made it right."

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ward Burton , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Joe Nemechek , Danny Ongais , Robert Yates , Mark Martin