DETROIT, Mich. (May 10, 2000) - Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix driver Tony Stewart returned to familiar form during the Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway last Saturday. He qualified well, ran strong and had arguably the...
DETROIT, Mich. (May 10, 2000) - Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix driver Tony Stewart returned to familiar form during the Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond International Raceway last Saturday. He qualified well, ran strong and had arguably the best car in the field. It was the first time in the first 11 races of the 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup season that Stewart has come close to satisfying his own expectations. Although he didn't win, the second-year driver found plenty of positives in his team's effort at Richmond and is now hoping to harness that momentum as they prepare for back-to-back stops at Lowe's Motor Speedway for The Winston on May 20 and the Coca Cola 600 on May 28.
THOUGHTS FROM TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX
.heading into The Winston: "We're really looking forward to that. Leaving Richmond still finishing in the top 10, we were still happy with that. Obviously we wanted to win the race and felt like we had a car that was capable of winning the race. But we just had bad luck and that's part of the sport. We've had a lot of bad luck this year so it wasn't a real shocker to us. But the nice thing is we did run well and that gave us a lot of momentum, and we really are looking forward to going back to Charlotte because of that."
.on not running the Indianapolis 500: "In all honesty it (running the 500) really wasn't much of a distraction. I'm used to running multiple divisions on the same day or on the same weekend. My past really conditioned me for what we did last year. The best part about it was I had a lot of people that worried about all the details such as helicopters, and making sure that I got to my flight on time, and just getting all the details taken care of to where all I had to do was worry about driving the race car. From that standpoint it was a lot easier than it sounded. But it was very physically demanding and that's the number one reason why I'm not doing it again this year. I think the Indy 500 started at 11 o'clock last year and we finished the 600 at around 11 o'clock in the evening. A thousand and 90 miles and 12 hours later there wasn't much of me left. Basically it was just a decision that the Winton Cup race is so tough and tight that to run for a championship I felt like I needed to give a hundred percent - not that I didn't feel I needed to do that last year. But my rookie year we knew was going to be a learning year and we didn't have any aspirations of trying to run for the championship. It wasn't even a realistic goal we didn't think so we didn't really worry about it. That opened up the door for me to run Indy. The guys would still let me run Indy this year if I wanted to. But I made the decision last year and told them that I wanted to make sure they knew how committed I was to trying to win a (Winston) Cup championship. Whether it happens this year or not, it's irrelevant. But it was important to me to show them how committed I am to running for them."
.on being a co-owner of a team that will run the Indianapolis 500: "I've had a lot of help throughout the 21 years that I've been racing. My family wasn't a family that bought me everything that I needed to go racing. My family carried me through go-karts and then it got to the point to where we couldn't even afford to do that. I've had to rely on a lot of other people's help. Obviously USAC was a big part of my career and my opportunity to move up to the IRL. I'm a part owner of a Silver Crown car there. Then I joined the IRL. Having Larry Curry as a team manager and crew chief, was very instrumental for all the press for as well as we ran in the IRL. When I made the decision to move to Winston Cup some things happened at the team that we both worked for. When Larry was released it was a great opportunity for me to get back involved in the IRL if it was only just from the owner's standpoint. To me it's a way of kind of thanking the IRL for everything they've done for me and my career, and it gives me an opportunity to stay involved in the series. I really believe in the series. Being able to be a part of it with Larry and to stay involved with the IRL is just giving me some satisfaction that I'm able to somewhat give back to the IRL what they gave to me."
.on his emotions following a disappointment at the racetrack: "I was talking to a guy yesterday and it was funny. He talked about imagining that you are playing basketball with Shaquille O'Neal and you go up to slam dunk the ball and Shaq slams the ball in your face. Nobody sticks a microphone in that guy's face and says, 'How does that make you feel?' You always finish the game, and then they always have a 15-minute cool-off period or a 20-minute cool-off period, and then they go into interviews. We don't have that luxury in our sport. As soon as we get out of the car, people are sticking microphones in your face. If I got out of the car and I wasn't upset about what happened I wouldn't be driving Winston Cup. Nobody would want me in their race car. Whether it's politically correct or not - it probably is not. But at the same time I think people deserve to see true emotion. When you guys ask us a question we try to give you an honest answer. If we can't give you an honest answer or if we get in trouble for giving you an honest answer, then what is the point in you guys asking us the questions? Yeah, I was upset afterwards (following the pit road incident at Richmond), but I was just upset because it happened. I was upset because I went from leading the race to 23rd in the race. I wasn't mad because it was Dale (Earnhardt, Jr.). I wasn't mad because I felt like he did anything wrong. I was just mad at the circumstances. The next day we went fishing and I was fine. Was I still disappointed? Yeah. Was I mad about it anymore? Not at all, I found a way of looking at the positive side of it. The positive was we had another top 10. To come from 23rd to eighth in the last 35 laps, I felt like that was a pretty good accomplishment for those last 35 laps. I tried to put the positive spin on it. Now I think it 's fine. It was just racing luck. I haven't had any racing luck all year this year. It was just one of those nights that we thought everything was going to go our way and at the end we had some bad luck. That's all it can be attributed to. The positive thing is we ran well, and we knew we ran well and now we hope we can take that momentum to Charlotte."
.on whether or not he is putting more pressure on himself this year: "I think we at least want to match what we did last year. I think it's realistic to expect to at least do what we did last year. But at the same time maybe it's not realistic because I know that last year we only had one DNF, and that was only because we ran out of fuel on the last lap at Michigan. We only had two events where we got in crashes, one being Las Vegas and one at Martinsville. But realistically for any of the other veterans that would have been a championship winning season. To expect to go out and do the same things, it probably wasn't realistic, but I hoped that we would at least have the consistency that we had last year. That's the part that's been disappointing this year. But are we putting more pressure on ourselves to do that? I don't think so. We go into each race with the same attitude this year as we did last year. We just haven't had the same results unfortunately."
.does anyone pressure him to hold back from saying what he thinks? "No, in all honesty NASCAR has been good about it and The Home Depot, in certain cases, has applauded the fact that we speak our minds. The funny thing is you hear so many reporters say, 'Man you are a breath of fresh air because you don't give the cookie-cutter answers.' But then one person out of the five that is sitting there in the room when you give that interview crucifies you with it. It's up to you guys (the media) to decide whether you're going to hurt us with it or whether you are actually going to use it and be productive with it. I think you would have a lot more drivers give you better answers if that were the case. But this sport is such a clean sport. You don't have drivers beating their wives, and drug abuse and alcohol abuse. There is no controversy to write about nine days out of ten. When a driver says something that is a little bit controversial or a little bit off par, everybody jumps on it. That's why all the drivers revert back to cookie-cutter answers. It shows up in the paper, and then the next thing you know you're getting hate mail in your mailbox and you're getting bad e-mails on your websites. It's a lot easier for me to give a standard answer like everybody else does and not have to worry about making somebody upset."
.on pit road rules: "I think all in all, not only in NASCAR but in the IRL, I think they all do a great job with pit lane speed limits. They keep it at a relatively safe speed. There is only so much you can do with that. If you have to make a green flag pit stop, a lot of times at some of these tracks we go to, with the pit lane speed limit we go two laps down automatically and there is nothing you can do about it. But I think they keep it to a reasonable speed that both keeps you competitive on the racetrack during a green flag stop, and at the same time make it safer for the crew guys. I wasn't involved in the series when there wasn't a speed limit, so I don't really have anything to compare to. I think NASCAR keeps doing a better job about it. I think the only thing they could do to make it safer for everybody is give us bigger pit boxes to where we didn't have to even drive into each other's pit boxes at all. When we go to Talladega and Daytona, it's hard to not drive through the guy in front or the guy behind's pit boxes either entering or exiting your pit box because of the fact that you just can't physically turn the wheel fast enough and hard enough to get in and out of the box without cutting through somebody else's box. But I feel like they do a very good job on continuing - they are never satisfied with safety. They are always looking forward and trying to find a way to make it safer for everybody. I think this latest rule with them requiring everybody to pull their tires back, that's made it safer. You don 't have a tire rolling down the pit lane now that can be used as a hockey puck. I think they are doing everything they can to make it as safe as possible. I think they are doing a great job.
.on any changes he would like to see in pit road rules: "Recently also they started moving where pit lane speed starts. It used to be right at the first pit box. That put those first two or three pits in jeopardy if somebody wasn't in control of their car when they got to that line. But they've moved it back further. Normally it is about 40 or 50 feet before the first pit box now. Other than making the pit boxes just longer to where there was more separation, I think they've done a great job. I don't think there is anything I can think of that I would recommend to make it better."
.on rookie performance this year: "I'm going to kind of stick my chest out on this one and say I was the one that called it. I said at the end of last year that not only Earnhardt, Jr., but Matt Kenseth and possibly Dave Blaney could win races this year. For sure I felt like that both Dale Jr., and Matt Kenseth were both very capable and still are very capable of winning at least and maybe more races. I'd say Junior is right on schedule. I'd say Matt is a little behind schedule. He probably should have gotten his first win at California. I think they are both doing a great job. Like I said, I think this is a record that will probably last only a year and I'm still sticking to my guns with that. Obviously with Saturday night Junior is even a step closer to that. I'm not the least bit disappointed with it. It's great company to be in. They've both got more stock car experience than I do anyway. There is no shame in having a record like that broken. Both of them are extremely good race car drivers and you are going to see a lot from both of them in the future."
.on the reaction of other drivers to his outspoken nature: "Most of them would like to say some of the things that I say. They're just scared to. Either their sponsors don't allow them to do that, or they just worry about seeing the response on e-mails and fan mail. I'm a firm believer that you don't have to like me. I've never asked anybody or told anybody that they have to like me, but just respect what I do and respect the fact that I have an opinion. If somebody asks me an honest question I am going to give him an honest answer. Why other people don't do it? I don't know. There may be a point to where I don't last very long in this series because of what I say. But at least at the end of the day I can go home knowing that I've given everybody that asked me an honest question an honest answer."
.on open-wheel drivers that have struggled this year in Winston Cup: "Anytime you come in with new teams it is hard to start with anyway. I had the luxury of joining an established team last year. We had a lot of help from Bobby (Labonte) and Jimmy Makar. That helped our team a lot and the fact that (crew chief) Greg (Zipadelli) came from the '99' car helped a lot, too. But I think some of these guys looked at last year at what we did and thought, 'Well look how easy he is making it look,' and I think they thought it was easier than what it's going to be and what it really is. We had a perfect season last year. I think those guys looked at that and thought, 'Well, man, he is making it look easy and it may not be that tough.' I don' t know whether that was their thought process or what, but it's just a tough series. We've gone through 11 races this year and we haven't won a race, either, and we've had some DNFs. I think this series got tougher over the winter, and it's always tough for a new team and drivers that haven't been involved. I at least ran the Busch Series a couple years. Robby (Gordon) has always been involved in (Winston) Cup in the past but things have changed since he was here, so he is having to adjust still. But guys like Scott Pruett haven't run anything but IROC. It's going to take guys like him a little longer to learn. He is more than capable of doing the same things that we've all done. It just may take him a little longer to get acclimated than it did some of the other drivers that went through Busch or trucks."
.on next year's schedule additions: "I think I am coming into the (Winston) Cup Series at the right time. Last year we had the opportunity to go to Homestead for the first time with the (Winston) Cup car. Next year we're going to go to Chicago and Kansas City. I'm excited about being able to go to new racetracks that nobody has been to yet. From my perspective, and I think I can kind of look around at a different angle and see it from other drivers' perspectives, too, but from my standpoint I'm excited about having two more races. It's two more opportunities to race on weekends during the year. But from other drivers' standpoints they have families and wives and children, and they want to spend time with them also. Obviously I'm single so I don't have to worry about having to spend a weekend with a wife, so it's a lot easier for me. It may create problems for some of those guys. But it's probably more just a luxury of me being able to run more races from my standpoint."
.on eliminating testing: "Realistically two of our tests are set for us at Daytona and Indianapolis, so we only get an opportunity to test at five of the 36 tracks we run. I don't think that is out of the question. I think as the schedule continues to increase I think the amount of tests should increase. Trust me, I don't want it to increase by five or six more tests. But I don't think it would be out of the question to add one or two more tests in the next couple years to accommodate the amount of races that we have to run."