Atlanta II: Pontiac - Tony Stewart pole interview

Qualifying for Sunday's NAPA 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race was rained out on Friday night. Points leader Tony Stewart, driver of the ...

Qualifying for Sunday's NAPA 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race was rained out on Friday night. Points leader Tony Stewart, driver of the #20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix, will start on the pole for Sunday's race at the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway. Stewart was also the second-quickest car in Friday's practice session.

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

SOME SAY YOU HAVE THE CHAMPIONSHIP LOCKED UP WITH FOUR RACES TO GO - DO YOU FEEL THAT WAY?

"No, we're basically taking the approach that got us here and that's just to try and win each race. Today we were second-quick on the qualifying practice sheet, we were just taking it easy, and today would be one of those days that you would take it easy. We're basically taking the attitude that the reason we got here is because we raced hard each week, and that's what's going to carry us the rest of the way, hopefully. The theory is if it's not broke, don't fix it."

ARE YOU SURPISED TO FIND YOURSELF IN THE POINTS LEAD NOW AFTER GETTING OFF TO SUCH A SLOW START?) "I think it just shows that there's no set pattern of what to do to win a Winston Cup championship. There's no blueprint. Everybody says that if you finish an average of seventh or better then you can win the championship every year, but it's just not that way. The year that Bobby (Labonte) won the championship, he and Dale Earnhardt were the top two and didn't have a DNF at all, and we have 6 DNFs this year and are leading, so there's no pattern, there's no set way it's supposed to go. You just go do your deal and every week everybody's racing for points, and there's 36 opportunities for us to win."

GIVEN YOUR STRONG RUNS IN THE FALL RACES IN YEAR'S PAST, DO FEEL LIKE THIS IS YOUR TIME OF YEAR?

"I guess look at the stats. All you have to do is look at the records, the records show where we run good at and at what time of year. We run at the same tracks in the spring and in the fall, and I like running at them in the spring one year, but I'll like them in the fall too. I don't even look at it that way. It's 36 weeks, and every week pays the same amount of points as the previous week."

HOW DO YOUR CHAMPIONSHIPS IN OTHER FORMS OF RACING PREPARE YOU FOR WHAT YOU'RE IN NOW?

"I'm going to rely on it a lot, to be honest. I haven't been in this position before in Winston Cup racing, but I have run for championships in other divisions. I haven't been nervous, I haven't been uptight about it - there's too many races left. Four races isn't a lot, obviously, but it is when the points are as close as they are. That's what has kept me in the frame of mind to keep on doing what we're doing. We're not going to try and reinvent the wheel in the next four weeks. We'll just keep on doing what we have been doing."

DOES WINNING HERE IN MARCH IMPROVE YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THIS WEEKEND'S RACE?

"Qualifying practice today probably did more than anything. Sure, it gives you a little bit of confidence knowing you've won here before, but the biggest thing is that this weekend counts right now. In this car, we were the second-quickest in practice, and no matter what happens the rest of the night, I'm going to have this confidence for the rest of the weekend. Even if I blow the lap if we get to qualify, it's not going to be a big deal to me because I know we've got a car that's driving good already. It seems if we're not good in practice and qualifying, halfway through the race we're good, so to have a car this good in practice alone is enough to give me confidence for this weekend."

WHY DO YOU THINK THE GIBBS RACING TEAM SEEMS TO RACE SO GOOD HERE AT ATLANTA?

"I don't know, it's just one of 36 races. I guess ask (teammate) Bobby (Labonte)."

YOU'VE BEEN THROUGH QUITE A YEAR. HOW DO YOU THINK THIS IS GOING TO HELP YOU IN THE FUTURE?

"I don't know if anything's going to help. There's been a lot of distractions this year, but I've learned a lot this year too. I don't know if there is anything we've learned except to stay out of trouble. It seems like when we're not doing some kind of damage control over something stupid that I've done, then it makes the weekend a little more productive."

HOW HAVE YOU GOTTEN SO MUCH BETTER AT THE 1.5-MILE TRACKS?) "I think it's been Greg Zipadelli. He's changed our approach on setups with air, and he's found some stuff that's made me a lot more comfortable at the mile-and-a-half tracks. It seems to make the car a little bit better. I think that's been the biggest thing."

IS THIS THE SAME CAR AS MARCH, AND IS THE HULA GIRL BACK ON THE DASH?

"I can't even tell you when we retired her, but she's not back. I don't even know what car this is, I just know it's the orange #20 Home Depot Pontiac. I really don't pay attention to what chassis it is. Whatever car they roll out is the car I climb in and that's the one I've got to work with."

WOULD IT BE EASIER ON YOU IF YOU DIDN'T KNOW WHERE YOU STAND IN POINTS?

"It doesn't matter. I know exactly where I am, I know where everybody is that's close to me in the points, so when I get in the car I'm able to flip up the switch and worry about racing the guys that I'm around at the time.

"I'm still racing to win races, and I think that's due to past experiences and running for championships, having that mind-set. Like I said, we're not going to reinvent the wheel. We're doing the same things that we've done. We haven't been through this as a group, with this group, but I've done this with different teams, different series, running for championships. It's nothing new for me. I'm as comfortable and relaxed as I've ever been in a points race."

HAVE YOU LEARNED ANYTHING FROM YOUR TEAMMATE BOBBY LABONTE WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP IN 2000?

"Nope. It was a totally different year, a totally different set of circumstances. There's no blueprint to doing this. There's nothing he can tell me that's going to help me."

WILL WINNING THIS CHAMPIONSHIP MAKE YOU HAPPY?

"I'm not unhappy anymore. I've found a way to do the things that I want to do, and just enough to keep everybody off our backs, and that gives me time to do what I need to do. I went home this week, and I'm probably better prepared this week than I've been the last two or three weeks. I'm not that unhappy anymore, I'm going to survive."

WHEN YOU LEFT THE IRL, YOU SAID YOU WANTED TO RACE THE BEST AND BEAT THE BEST. HOW WOULD IT FEEL TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP?

"I felt like I raced against some of the best short-track and oval racers in the country when we won in the Indy Racing League. Any time you win a championship, I don't care what kind of division it's in, it means something because you're racing the best in that field. If you take these guys and put them in midgets and sprint cars and ran for a championship there, it would mean just as much as running in stock cars. It doesn't matter to me what kind of car it is, you're racing top-notch competitors and top-notch teams, and you know that you did a better job than them to win it. It would be very satisfying."

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR CREW CHIEF, GREG ZIPADELLI, WILL CONTINUE TO GROW AND HELP YOU GET BETTER?

"If anything has changed with all of the stuff that's gone on this year, my relationship with Greg is probably stronger. He's the one person who has single-handedly carried this team to where it is. It's not Been me, it's not been Joe Gibbs, it's been Greg Zipadelli."

-pontiac racing-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Tony Stewart