Atlanta II: Stewart visits media



LAST WEEK AT MARTINSVILLE YOU WERE PRETTY UPSET WITH GREG BIFFLE. IS THAT A ONE-TIME THING THAT YOU'RE OVER, OR IS THIS A PROBLEM? "No, that's the only time we've had a problem with him. But when you're racing for a championship and you've got a guy who is having a bad day and he's trying to make it bad for everybody else, that's when you get frustrated."

DO YOU SEE BIFFLE AS SOMEBODY WHO COULD JUMP UP AND WIN A COUPLE OF RACES AND BE BACK IN THIS RACE FOR THE TITLE? "Sure. That's how he got in the top 10 in the first place. He got on a roll early in the year on tracks like this."

OF THE FOUR RACES LEFT, WHICH ONES ARE YOUR BEST TRACKS AND WHICH ONES ARE YOU NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO? "I'm pretty excited about all of them. We didn't have a test here that I wanted to have. We had the one-day test, but we didn't run quite as good as I wanted to run in the test. But I think we'll be fine here. This is the part of the season with tracks coming up that are really good to us. Phoenix is one where I think we'll be a lot better than we were there in the spring. We've got Denny (Hamlin) going out there to test and we should learn a lot from his test. At Homestead last year, we were dominant all day. We just got caught up in the end and got an air pocket in the fuel somehow were it vapor locked for a second and we lost spots and ended up fourth. At Texas we ran decent in the spring and we've really come on to the 1.5-mile program since Texas so I think we're going to be a lot better too. I'm not really concerned about any of them. I'm just excited about all four of them."

IS IT ALL ABOUT DAMAGE CONTROL NOW AND TRYING TO GET GOOD FINISHES? "Yeah, being in the second year of this Chase, it's more about making sure you don't have bad luck at this point. That seems like that's the biggest controlling factor in the point championship. There's a reason that all 10 of us got in the position we're in. It seems like the biggest changing factor each week is looking at who has bad luck."

LOOKING BACK, IS THERE ANYTHING YOU'D CHANGE ABOUT THE SEASON AT THIS POINT? "Yeah, I probably would have skipped the first half of the season because it was miserable. We kept digging and that's the thing I'm probably most proud of. With the way it all ended up, I think we would keep it the same way it was. The struggles we had early in the season built character for our team and really brought us closer. This has just been a year that our team has been the strongest amongst each other. The results that last half of the season have shown that."

DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHY ONE CAR HAS ITS STRENGTHS AND THE OTHER CARS HAVE NOT? "I think it just gets so technical like Formula One and Indy Car racing where if you find something, the competition is so close that if you find a little thing that helps, it can show up really big on the race track."

WILL THE TITLE COME DOWN TO THE RACE AT HOMESTEAD? "It was last year. With a 10-race stretch, it's going to come down to Homestead. But nobody is going to be able to say that Homestead was the deciding factor. It's all 10 that make it what it is. But if you're in that battle at the end, you want to make sure that's a place you feel strong going into that race and you need to have a good test for that."

DOES THE HISTORY AT HOMESTEAD STILL APPLY WITH THE NEW SPOILERS AND TIRES? "I think it changes a little bit, obviously. We were awesome there when it was flat. Last year, they banked the track. We led the race; got black-flagged, went to the back and drove right back to the front and took the lead again. It was two different race tracks, but at the same time we were still strong and dominant there. So, hopefully this year will be the same."

DO YOU FEEL FOR BOBBY LABONTE ALWAYS BEING COMPARED TO YOU THIS YEAR WITH PEOPLE ASKING WHY HE'S NOT RUNNING AS WELL? "Yeah, that's a tough position to be in. But the thing people have to keep in mind is that we have two different driving styles. We like our cars to have a different feel. When you're so dependant on the packages we're on this year, if one driver doesn't take to it as well because he doesn't like the feel, the changes are going to be different. The year that Bobby won the championship, I didn't like the feel. We were on a different tire construction and compound for the majority of the races and Bobby excelled at it but I didn't take to it very well. I think it's just more of a feel thing than anything right now. It doesn't mean he's not a good driver. He hasn't forgotten how to drive a race car."

DO YOU THINK DENNY HAMLIN AND J.J. YELEY ARE READY TO MOVE UP TO CUP YET? "They are very close. Denny, obviously, has taken to it like a duck to water right now. "J.J. is still in that transition period from open wheel cars to stock cars and it's just taken a little longer than I think he even anticipated to truly get the feel of it. But every week that goes by, you get more confidence and you can see in his driving style that he's gaining confidence and getting more comfortable with the cars."

WHAT ADVICE HAVE YOU GIVEN TO J.J. ABOUT MAKING THAT TRANSITION? "The hardest thing for him is there's nothing I can tell him at this point. It's more just about getting that feel like we were talking about with Bobby. You just have to acquire the feel of what radial tires want and what a 3400-pound car wants. He didn't have any experience before he came down to the Busch Series. He came strictly from 1400-pound Silver Crown cars to 3400-pound stock cars. It's probably been a bigger adjustment for him than it was for me."

IS THERE A RIVALRY BETWEEN THE NO. 48 AND NO. 20 TEAMS OVER WHAT CHAD KNAUS SAID ON THE RADIO LAST WEEK? "We'll see what Chad says the remainder of the season. I did watch the TV shows and Michael and DJ said it best when they said you can trash talk and intimidate and there are guys that it is going to work the opposite with. I don't think Chad thought deep enough into it to realize that you don't want to do that with us because you're picking with the wrong guy there because we pick back. I think he'll be a little less vocal these next few weeks."

IS IT ACCURATE TO CALL IT A RIVALRY BETWEEN THE NO. 48 AND THE NO. 20? "I don't think it is. There are other guys out there racing. He's just one of the guys we've raced all year. It's no different. You ask why it's such a big deal? It would be like somebody talking about your mom. It's something you don't like."

BUT YOU'VE BEEN STRONG ALL YEAR, WHO CARES WHAT ANYBODY SAYS? "Well, like I said, let me keep talking about your mom and see what you think about that. That's the easiest way to describe it."

WAS HE (CHAD KNAUS) SPECIFICALLY TALKING ABOUT YOUR TEAM AND YOUR CARS AND THAT THEY WEREN'T GOOD AND THAT THEY WERE S-BOXES, OR WHATEVER? "Yeah. I'm not going to quote him. But if you had a team and he was talking about you the way he talked about us.. It was done with the intent of intimidating us. But there are some guys you can intimidate and some guys where it works the opposite way. If you're willing to take that risk. There is a reward that can come with it or there is a penalty that can come with it."

IS IT HARD TO PLAY MIND GAMES WITH YOU? "I've been doing this for 26 years. I've played mind games with people and I've had people play mind games with me. When it comes to the mind game side of it, he's bringing a knife to a gunfight. So, he's probably better off picking on one of the other nine teams that he's competing against for the points and try that angle.

"I think we sent a message to him last week that let's just duel it out on the race track and leave the words to yourself. It goes back to the sticks and stones game that your parents teach you. But there are some guys you can mess with on the radio and with words and maybe you can use it to your advantage, and there are some guys that it works the opposite way with and I think he figured out last week that we're the wrong guys to try to play mind games with."

HOW MUCH OF A MOTIVATION WAS WHAT WAS SAID BEFORE THE RACE LAST WEEK? "It was. For sure. We haven't been playing mind games with those guys all year. We just want to stick to what we're doing. But when you hear things on the radio in practice that he said, he'll deny every bit of it I'm sure (because) that's kind of his style. But when you say things like that, it's going to get back to your driver and your crew chief what you're saying. There are some guys you can actually use that to your advantage and get inside people's heads. And there are other guys that it's going to work out the wrong way for it. So it's better to let us duel it out on the race track like we've been doing all year."

WHAT WAS SAID? "We know what was said. We're not going to tell you guys (media) what was said. We're trying to take the high road on this and at least try to deal with this in the right way."

HOW MUCH OF IT WAS ON YOUR MIND WHEN YOU WERE RACING JIMMIE JOHNSON IN THE CLOSING LAPS AT MARTINSVILLE? "It wasn't. We're looking at it as we got a run on him three or four times and the contact we had was probably the least amount of contact you saw between two drivers all day. We didn't wreck him. We didn't spin him out. He moved up a lane -- one lane was all he moved up. Nobody just barely moved up a lane all day. So, I think a little bit of that has been blown out of proportion all week. But, in the closing laps if you're faster than a guy, you're going to do everything you can to get by. We got under him just enough that when he came down, he came across the bumper. It wasn't much, but it was just enough to move him up the race track. It wasn't anything any different than Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt or anybody else has done. That was short track racing. It was the least amount of contact you saw between any two drivers all day."

YOU'VE ALWAYS LED A LOT OF LAPS HERE AT ATLANTA. IS THAT LAST LEAD CHANGE A BIG DEAL? "Yeah, we're looking at the last quarter of the race right now -- trying to figure out what we have to do to be good at the end of the race -- not be good right at the beginning. Our approach will not really change, but as far as the way the car feels today, I'm probably going to be looking for a different feel than I normally have at the end of practice as to how I want my car to feel knowing that it's going to change during the race."

IS THIS WHERE YOU WANT TO BE IN THE POINTS? "No, I want to be 125 points ahead like I should be. If you take Charlotte out of the equation, we should be over 100 points ahead of the field right now. But it is what it is. I would rather be 15 points ahead than 15 points behind right now. I don't think we can complain really about where we are. We only need to win it by one (point).

IF YOU WERE TO BOIL IT DOWN TO ONE REASON WHY YOU WILL WIN THIS CHAMPIONSHIP, WHAT WOULD IT BE? "I can promise you, I want this championship worse than the rest of the drivers do. A lot of them have not won a championship yet, so people are going to ask how come I want it more. The one we won in 2002 kind of had an asterisk with the team. It was just not a clean year. We had a lot of turmoil and trouble amongst ourselves internally. I created a lot of turmoil with things that happened on and off the track. This is one I want to win for Greg Zipadelli more than the rest of the competition can possibly imagine. So, it doesn't mean we're going to win it, but if they're going to win it they're going to have to take it from me at this point."

IS THERE POSITIVE TURMOIL GOING ON BETWEEN THE NO. 48 AND NO. 20 TEAMS RIGHT NOW? "It's not turmoil. It was last week's news. It's old news. There is still Greg Biffle and other guys we have to worry about in the points. We're not just racing the No. 48 car, we're racing the entire Chase field right now. We're not focusing on one team. We weren't focusing on them in the first place. That's how it all started. They were focusing on us. We're going to go out today and not worry about them. We're just going to go out and do what we do every week that got us in this position."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Greg Biffle