An interview with: TONY STEWART and STEVE ADDINGTON
KERRY THARP: Picking up right where he left off from last season is Tony Stewart, our defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and winner of today's first Gatorade Duel. Tony drives the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet for Stewart Haas Racing. He's joined by his first year crew chief Steve Addington.
Congratulations Tony and Steve.
Tony, you looked strong in the last part of that race. That has to make you feel good about trying to capture your first Daytona 500.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, it really does. We just had a great race car. We had a great race car since we got here, especially when I messed up the car for Shootout, all three teams dug in together and got us a car put back together that almost won the Shootout the other night was a testimony to how hard this organization has worked.
Have a great group at Stewart-Haas Racing that got this car ready, good horsepower from Hendrick Engines. Really proud of this group and this guy next to us. He hasn't been with us very long. He just has done an awesome job of getting acclimated to a whole new organization, whole new group of guys, bringing two new racecars down here this week.
KERRY THARP: Steve Addington, congratulations. Victory number one for you with Stewart-Haas Racing. How does that feel?
STEVE ADDINGTON: It feels great. Like Tony said, everybody in the organization has welcomed me with open arms, has got in there and done everything that I've asked of them. Just told me whatever they need, they'd get it done for me. The reason I came here is because there's a bunch of racers there. We just want to go win races. I'm pretty happy about my decision.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions.
Q: Tony, did you see Danica's crash behind you? What were your impressions of the way she raced today in the draft?
TONY STEWART: I mean, I got to see a replay of it, but I didn't see how it started. I saw in the mirror on the last lap, saw her car making a hard left there. Didn't know what's start of that was.
Kept looking in my mirror to see what was going on behind me, see where she was at. The good thing, with a fluorescent green car, she's easy to pick out. Impressive to see how she kept picking her way through the field. I think she got up to sixth at one point the way I saw it.
I thought she did a pretty good job. I think I'll get a better shot to understanding exactly how her race went when I get to see a replay of the race. The little bit I could see, I thought she did a good job. There wasn't any doubt in my mind she would do that.
It's hard for her now because she's trying to gain the confidence of the guys around her that she's solid and is going to make good decisions, not just going to pull the pin every time she gets the opportunity to break out a line.
I think there's more aggression and confidence in her than what she showed here today. It shows her poise and what she's trying to do to gain the other drivers' confidence.
Q: On the restart at the end of the race when you lost the lead briefly, how much confidence did you have when you got it back so easily on the backstretch?
TONY STEWART: Felt like being on the bottom was probably the better spot to be in, to be honest. Kevin Harvick was an awesome teammate for me today. Having a Team Chevy driver behind us was a big key.
Kevin and I have always worked well together, especially at the restrictor plate tracks. Having him with us was kind of a good, comforting feeling knowing he was with us on the inside there.
But, I mean, it was hard. They got a pretty good run on the outside. He was able to get caught back up to us. Once he got there, we drove on from the pack there. Felt good we had two good Chevys there.
Q: Tony, you have 17 wins at this track, but no Daytona 500. You have now a first and a second this week at this track. How much momentum is that going to give you for Sunday? What are your biggest challenges going into Sunday?
TONY STEWART: Well, I mean, obviously the fact that we've won 17 times here and not won on the right day is proof it's good momentum, but it's no guarantee obviously. It's nice to come here, especially for Steve and I, being our first race together, to be able to come out and have two really good strong and solid races back-to-back is an awesome start for us.
It's good momentum for the crew, everybody at Stewart Haas Racing, to carry that momentum from last year. It gives you confidence going into Sunday. We only raced against half the field in this qualifier. We got the other half going off now. Just trying to see how strong those guys are.
It's a long race on Sunday and a lot can happen. Even though we had success today, it's no guarantee that can happen Sunday.
I think we showed the rest of the field that we have a car that has good speed. That's a really strong point, just like Trevor Bayne showed last year he had a strong car, so people wanted to go with him. Hopefully that will work for us on Sunday, too.
Q: Were you at all nervous? You said after the Shootout you knew you were a sitting duck in front of Kyle Busch. Did you have any nervous moments being out front on that last lap?
TONY STEWART: Well, the hard part was I got a really good push from Kevin that got us back in the lead there from third. The hard part is when it got us up there, they separated us. That easily could have got us freight trained to the back.
Where Kevin was, he ended up just being two wide with Dale Jr., that pulled both of their momentum. My spotter told me to get hooked back up with Kevin. To me, I felt it was better to keep the momentum going.
I felt like unless they just got a really big run, we were going to be able to pick which line got going and be able to hopefully protect and stay leading that line.
So felt like we were better off trying to keep the momentum than trying to break it, get hooked up with Kevin again, take a chance of getting passed by a bunch of guys not having that opportunity again.
Q: Tony, very strong Saturday night, very strong today. How hard is it not to show everything you got before Sunday? Maybe Steve wants to talk about that.
TONY STEWART: Like we said, at least from my side, I mean, I want those guys to see that we've got strength. I mean, I think that's why, you know, Jeff Gordon stayed with Trevor Bayne, that's why everybody wanted to run with Trevor last year during the 500, because he showed a lot of strength.
I think it's an advantage to do that at this point of the game, showing that guys around you are going to hopefully want to be around you and know that you got a car that can stay up there, so they want to stay with you.
I think it's a plus. From Steve's side it might be different.
STEVE ADDINGTON: I think the speed that we saw in practice yesterday, I think everybody paid attention to that. He made comment of it. He said, Maybe everybody was looking at that and seeing how fast we were pulling the pack in practice.
Felt good. Felt like if we got in that situation, that we was going to have people that were going to go with us.
Q: Steve, everybody was saying on the radio afterwards, Don't put anything on the car. Keep the car clean. What do you do and not do with this thing over the next few days?
STEVE ADDINGTON: We're going to put our Daytona 500 race engine in it, a couple of freshened up parts and pieces, run a few laps, make sure we don't have any leaks or vibrations or anything. We're going to put it on jack stands. Our focus is on Sunday.
We talked about it when he got in the car, just fill it out, we'll do what we need to do, but we needed to have this piece for Sunday to have a chance to win the race on Sunday. That's our game plan, to take care of this thing till Sunday.
Q: Tony, what was your temperature gauge showing you throughout the race and how did it fluctuate depending on the configuration you were running?
TONY STEWART: The needle kept moving all day back and forth. Let's just say I was watching it a lot today (laughter).
Q: Tony, as a fellow driver/owner, do you feel for Michael Waltrip when you see him wreck? He started 25 straight here. Pretty impressive streak that would come to an end.
TONY STEWART: And Michael is very passionate about restrictor plate racing. There's a lot of us that like it when we get back to normal racing. This is Michael's specialty. This is what he eats, lives and breathes, is Daytona and Talladega. It would be a shame if he doesn't make it.
He's put a great effort with great teams out here and he's got some good full time teams. He takes that pressure on himself of having to race his way in. It shows what kind of car owner he really is. It would be a shame if he misses it.
Q: Tony, the pack racing seemed much more tame today than it did on Saturday night. What did you learn about the racing today and what do you expect on Sunday? Do you expect it to be a bit calmer?
TONY STEWART: I think it will be similar to what you're seeing today. You know, you got to make this thing you got to get these cars to 500 miles. It doesn't matter what you do at 150. It's a long day. You're going to have to take care of the engine. You're going to have to take care of the nose and the tail on these cars and not get yourself in compromising positions.
I think the guys that get impatient are the guys that will get in trouble, and the guys that are smart will race smart. I think that's typically what it comes down to here anyway.
500 miles at a superspeedway is a long, long, long race. You just got to race the race, you know, be careful of who you're around, knowing when to push, knowing when to ride, and take care of it.
Q: Tony, there's a list of drivers over the years that have been the best of the time, certainly leading drivers. If history was written right now, you would be on it, who haven't won this race. What is the problem here? Is it just because we focus on just this place, and if we looked at other tracks, the same situation would exist?
TONY STEWART: I don't know. I mean, there's just something magical about Daytona. Just like IndyCar racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy 500 are the same way. When it's the most important race of your season, especially the first one, all the drivers and all the teams and all the crews put more pressure on themselves for that one race than they do anywhere else the rest of the year.
Especially at a place where the draft is so important, you don't get away from each other. It really brings everybody into the fold and everybody has a shot at winning this race.
It just leads for no mistakes. You have to get every little ounce of performance that you can get out of these cars. So, you know, it puts a lot of pressure into what it takes to win this race.
Q: Steve, talking about momentum. When you came into the situation, you took over a team with momentum, did you make any changes? Talk a little bit about how that was, how your personality may have affected this. STEVE ADDINGTON: I didn't make any major changes. It was just moving a couple of people around or whatever. But they had a good baseline. I just went in there, and we've talked about it, and we're not going to change baselines. We got racetracks that the 14 and 39 both struggled on that I've had success at that we're going to implement some of the things that I do different than what they did.
We're just going to build on it. We did a Texas tire test. We just implemented a couple little things. Trying to build on it to make it better. You'd be an idiot to go in there and blow the thing out of the water.
Just to be smart about it, look at the baseline, build on it to go out and win races all year long.
KERRY THARP: Tony, Steve, congratulations. Good luck to you and your team on Sunday.
TONY STEWART: Thank you.