Atlanta: Tony Stewart winner's press conference

TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: "I'm excited. That was the first thing I thought of when we crossed the finish line is that I finally won a 500-mile race today. I don't know why we haven't won one before today. But, it just...


"I'm excited. That was the first thing I thought of when we crossed the finish line is that I finally won a 500-mile race today. I don't know why we haven't won one before today. But, it just seems like the races that we really run well at are 400-mile races or shorter. It was nice to finally get one here - to get one on a mile and a half oval. It gives me a lot of confidence. We were good last week on a mile and a half. We've been good this week. The majority of the tracks we run all year are mile and a halfs, so hopefully this is a sign that we'll have a good year this year on those tracks."

DOES THIS BLOW THE THEORY THAT PONTIAC NEEDS A RULE CHANGE? "Not if you sat in the car with me and sat back in about fourth or fifth spot behind a bunch of cars. All you have to do is look at last week and look at this week. Every time we were in clean air we were really fast. Every time we were behind cars - I think two runs before the end of the race there, we were stuck in fourth place and I could not catch third, I could not catch second. It took those guys actually running away from us before my car actually drove good again. "It's not a matter of the car being a bad car by itself. Where the Pontiac is at a disadvantage is when you get in traffic. The pit stops today were great. The guys had awesome pit stops all day long and kept us in good track position. With that, that is what kept us up there today. But, if we had ever had one bad pit stop and gotten mid-pack, we would never have been able to overcome it."

HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO GET UP FRONT AND STAY THERE? "Pit stops. When everybody started the first run of the day, there is a lot of disparity as far as how everybody's cars are driving. Once everybody 'singled' out and got single-file and started stretching away from each other, we were racing them one-on-one and were able to get to the front. Once we got there, it was just a matter of having good pit stops to keep us there all day. As long as we could stay up there, then that helped."

ON GOING FROM 43RD TO FIFTH IN THE POINTS IN THREE RACES "I'm real excited. I'm looking at it from [the perspective of] top fives. We've been in the top five the last three weeks, so that right there makes me extremely excited about the possibility of what might lay ahead of us. We've just got to keep our nose to the ground and keep pushing. We're still 100 points out of the lead right now and that's still a pretty good margin to try to overcome. We've just got to go out and do what we've been doing the past three weeks. If we can be consistent and be in the top five week in and week out, we're going to keep knocking those points down. Hopefully, we'll get there before the end of the year."

DOES THAT MAKE YOUR FINISH AT DAYTONA MORE OR LESS FRUSTRATING? "I don't think it's either really. You can pretty much count on having three or four bad days a year, whether you get in a wreck or whether you blow a motor or something like that. It just meant that that was one of those three or four and meant that we were going to have to try to minimize those days the rest of the year.

TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: "Being able to go from 43rd in the first race to being fifth at the end of today, I'm really proud of our team for what they've been able to overcome from Daytona. It makes me proud that they didn't let Daytona get them down. The next week we went to Rockingham and finished fourth. We went to Vegas last week and finished fifth and then won today, so I'm really proud of the work these guys are all doing and the work they've done over the winter."

DID YOU FIGURE YOU WERE DUE TO WIN HERE? "You never know. Bobby has always found a niche about this place that makes him successful. I never really felt like I was due here. I just felt like this was one of the tracks that we were always about a 10th place car and if we had a really good day, we could move a couple spots higher and if we had a bad day we were 11th to 15th. It was just a matter of trying to find that balance. Last fall when we were here we led a lot of laps early in the race and then as the race went on we started fading back, fading back, fading back. When we came back this year we were trying to find a setup that was going to be tolerable at the end of the race to be good at the end of the day. I really didn't think about that. Joe Gibbs Racing has had a great history here, but that was all due to Bobby Labonte. I didn't have anything to do with that until today."

ON COMPARING LAST WEEK TO THIS WEEK "I don't really think the pit stops helped us today, but the guys in the pits did a great job today. They kept us up front where last week when we had those cautions late in the race, we fell back spots. There were teams that took only two tires that beat us out. The hardest thing is that late in the day, all the guys have had the whole day to work on their race cars. At the end of the day, everybody has got their cars pretty close. The opportunity to have the cars string out isn't there normally at the end of the day, especially here. The key for us was having good pit stops to keep us in the top two or three spots to where the air was relatively clean to where if we did have a good enough car to win or lead, we could race those guys one on one and then stay up close enough to the front to where the car wasn't losing so much downforce and skating all over the racetrack and actually losing time at that point."

WAS YOUR GOAL TO LEAD EARLY ON? "Not really. Like I said, at the beginning, I don't think anybody's car drives exactly the way they want it to - especially after having the ARCA race yesterday and having some rain and everything. We had the same thing happen last year. We started the race, started mid-pack and got to the lead. The biggest thing that worried me was, 'Are we still on pace for where we need to chassis to be at the end of the day and not overcompensate?' You can ask Greg Zipadelli - we made minor changes. The car was really good right off the bat. If the car was a little bit loose, we didn't get too worked up over it. We didn't really change a lot. Normally, I would try to get the car right. I told him, 'If anything, I want to stay on the loose side versus the tight side.' I think that is what helped us all day.

"It really wasn't our strategy to get to the front. It just seemed like those guys - whether their chassis were off or whatever - we were able to get through and they strung out so easy that it gave us an opportunity to race each guy one on one when we got there. We weren't racing a pack of cars at a time."

HOW HARD WAS THE 'SLIDE JOB' YOU USED TO GET THE LEAD? "You don't turn right - that's the hardest part. It was like that. I probably had four or five of those today where it was like, where you run in and kind of slide up in front of the guy. But, you have to know where their weak spot is on the racetrack. If it's the entry of the corner and your car is driving good on entry, then that gives you the opportunity. But, with Ward on the outside, I could not pass him on the bottom. We found that out the first segment there after we came out of the pits. He was really strong on the outside of us and it kept me from running the line I wanted to run. The biggest thing was just beating him into the corner and trying to get in front of him - even if I had to check up once I got in front of him. The biggest thing was making sure that I kept him on the inside of me, instead of on the outside of me."

HOW ABOUT THE HULA GIRL IN THE CAR? "She is one for one, so far. What can you say about her? I wanted her on the dash because I wanted to see how much she would actually lean over in the center of the corner. But, we got Home Depot decals on her dress and the whole bit. She is 'Corporate America' now. She's a winner. She's been in victory lane. She's done more in one race than I normally do in one race. I found out she is going to Darlington, too, so if you guys want a press conference with her, I'll see if I can line it up for you."

ON ARTHUR BLANK "We had to establish some base rules from day one: he was not allowed to drive the race car. But, other than that, he is really excited about what we do. Watching him and Joe interact - knowing his interest in football - it's been a lot of fun to watch Joe and Arthur around each other. Arthur has learned a lot in a short period of time about auto racing and he real excited.

"Bob Nardelli, the new CEO, was here today and he is real excited about auto racing. When we won the Bristol race last year, him and his wife and family were there. With 20 laps to go, they took a helicopter out to beat the traffic. I knew if we were anywhere close to the front that he'd be in victory lane if we won this thing. He was the first person to shake my hand when we got there. The support from Home Depot - and not only the store associates, but in the corporate office there - seeing the excitement on their faces, it really makes it worthwhile to win in their backyard."

ANY CHANCE THAT ARTHUR WILL LET JOE GIBBS RUN THE FALCONS FOR A YEAR? "I think he asked if I was going to let him, and the answer is, 'No' - under no circumstances."

WERE YOU CONCERNED THAT YOU USED YOUR TIRES TRYING TO PASS WARD BURTON? "That is why I switched my line. I kept trying to work him on the bottom. I could get a big enough run to get to him on the bottom, but the problem is that once I got hung down there, I couldn't get by. I tried to time it right to where I could get up on the outside of him. I thought as long as I could get on the outside, it seemed like my tires would last longer on the top of the racetrack. At the beginning of a run you wanted to be on the bottom because it was the shortest way around and you could really keep your momentum up on fresh tires. It was just knowing when to move. Every run, I was probably moving up quicker than anybody else. I felt like if I could do that and still maintain my lap times, even though it was the longer way around, that at the end it was pay off and have better tires at the end of the run. I was worried about it to a certain degree, but my mindset was more that if I could just get by him and get in clean air, that it was going to pay off more than the tires, to be honest."

WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN CONCERNED ABOUT TIRE WEAR IF THE END HAD COME DOWN TO A LONG GREEN-FLAG RUN? "I was concerned, to be honest. Wasn't the last run after our last pit stop 31 laps? It really wasn't a full-length run. The thing that you fight as a driver is how hard can you run, knowing that you don't have to make a full run out of it, but at the same time, not burn them up too quick and too easy, because it is easy to do here. It didn't used to be that hard, but I think that's what I like about the tire that Goodyear has brought here now. You finally have the opportunity to play the chess match again. It's not just run as hard as you can for 50 laps anymore. It makes you actually plan as a driver how hard you're going to run, when to push, when not to push, when to move around on the racetrack. It puts a little bit more of the strategy back in the drivers' hands, versus just being able to run every lap as hard as you want to run it and as hard as you can run it."

HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT FOR TODAY'S RACE TO END WITHOUT CONTROVERSY? "Are you telling me there's not going to be any controversy after today whatsoever in anybody's articles? I know everybody is working hard towards something. To be honest - I said it at the [Winston] Preview, I said it in all the pre-season interviews - I'm not even worried about it. You guys write whatever you're going to write. It doesn't matter what I say down here. All I'm going is filling in quotes for you guys to write whatever article you're going to write anyway. To me, it doesn't matter. I'm just worried about not screwing up, not making mistakes and getting out of here to where I don't have to worry about getting call from Joe [Gibbs] or Home Depot in the morning, saying I did something wrong again. So far, I'm four weeks for four right now. I'm tickled to death. "I stay away from controversy now. I don't care if it's about the weather, the hula girl - whatever you want to complain about. I'm out of it. I'm just happy to not be a part of controversy anymore."

WARD WAS OUT FRONT WITH TWO TIRES AND WAS STRONG...ONCE YOU GOT PAST HIM HE FADED...IS THAT A GOOD EXAMPLE OF THE AERODYNAMICS YOU EXPERIENCE? "I think it is. To be able to take two tires and run that strong versus a guy that just took four - it surprised me. We went through turns one and two and I got a really big run and I had to check up in the middle of the corner because I could have driven by. I just didn't have enough room to go between him and Jeff Burton. I was surprised after that when we did get beside him that he was able to hang on as long as he did. It just shows how important the aero packages are. That's why I said I didn't want to be on the inside because being on the inside of him made me loose. As long as I was on the outside, I was getting a little better air up on the outside of the car. It is showing quite a bit about how important aero is. It's showing that Winston Cup racing is turning into an aerodynamic sport these days."

ON STARTING SO FAST THIS YEAR "I'm just excited about it. History has shown that we need to get through the first eight or nine races. If we can get through that and be fairly close the front, that we actually might have a shot at winning a championship, hopefully. It seems like our weakness is the first eight or nine races, so being this close to the front this early in the year and running the way we have been running - I don't think looking at the points sheet is a true reflection on how our race team has been. We ran really well at Dayton - winning the Shootout and finishing second in the '125' and everywhere else we've been we've run good. It really excites me knowing that we're getting off to hopefully a good start to the year and hopefully getting ourselves in a position to where we might be there at the end of the season finally."

HOW CLOSE WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN TO RUNNING OUT OF FUEL IF THERE HAD BEEN NO CAUTION AT THE END? "I don't know. I don't have a calculator or a computer in the car. You'd have to ask Greg Zipadelli, to be honest. I know they were working on it. I asked them and I never got a solid answer because they said they were still working on it, which most likely means 'no,' but they never told me. They just said to save as much fuel as you could on the caution so that is what I was doing."

DOES IT FRUSTRATE YOU TO KNOW HOW IMPORTANT AERODYNAMICS ARE NOW? "It seems like it's not frustrating if you're in a Dodge or a Ford, but it seems frustrating if you're in a Chevrolet or a Pontiac. When you're talking about a quarter inch of spoiler - you go to the wind tunnel and you actually see what that quarter inch really looks like on numbers - it would shock you. I understand them because I was involved in Indy car racing and I know what changing an eighth of an inch on a wicker bill was like at Indianapolis running 230 miles per hour around there. I know what downforce is, I know what a lack of downforce feels like and this series is starting to creep along the lines of Indy car racing with full-bodies cars. That's why I always like short-track racing so good.

"You never hear anybody at a short track complain about, 'Well, their nose is kicked an inch and a half further than ours,' and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It's who did the best job that day versus the next guy. It's only when we get to the miles, the mile and a half tracks, superspeedways that you hear that. But unfortunately, that is what we race on. We race on mile and half tracks, it seems like, 80 percent of the time, so that's why it's brought up all the time. That is what we're forced and faced with each week. I'd love nothing more than to see them all come up with aero packages that gave everybody even downforce and the manufacturers still have their representation with the rear spoilers and the front of the cars. But, they never let us go to the wind tunnels when they go to the wind tunnels. Each Sunday I get into the same Pontiac Grand Prix that got in the week before. I can only control the car that I'm in, so we let the powers that be control the rest."

DID THE HULA GIRL PROVIDE ANY AERODYNAMIC ADVANTAGE? No, she was not aerodynamically sound. Actually, they're probably going to have to take an air gun tool because she was in the back of the car. I didn't want her to try and backseat drive, so we put her way back there where I wouldn't be able to hear her over the call of the radio.

"I never could actually see her in the mirror, except for getting in the car. I kind of leaned up and Zippy kind of rocked the car so I could see her moving around back there, so I knew she was still there. I never saw her at all during the race."

WITH 13 WINS AND BEING SUPERSTITIOUS, ARE YOU IN A HURRY TO GET TO 1DID THE HULA GIRL PROVIDE ANY AERODYNAMIC ADVANTAGE? No, she was not aerodynamically sound. Actually, they're probably going to have to take an air gun tool because she was in the back of the car. I didn't want her to try and backseat drive, so we put her way back there where I wouldn't be able to hear her over the call of the radio.

WITH 13 WINS AND BEING SUPERSTITIOUS, ARE YOU IN A HURRY TO GET TO 14? "Winning 13 hasn't hurt me, yet, so I can't imagine it being too bad a deal to have won 13. I know a lot of guys that would love to have 13 wins right now in their career. I want to win every race I run, so the sooner we can win the next race the better, no matter what the number is behind it. I just want to win."

HOW SUPERSTITIOUS ARE YOU? "I'm pretty superstitious. I won't drive cars with 13 on it. I won't stay in hotel rooms if room number adds up to 13. I've got all kind of quirky little things that when it pops up I remember. But, having 13 wins - I'm not going to go home tonight and take back roads to try to avoid traffic or worry about going under ladders or anything. I'm pretty happy with the way the day has ended up, so I'm not going to be too concerned about everything else the rest of the day, I don't think."

YOU WON TWO MONTHS EARLIER THIS YEAR THAN YOU EVER HAVE IN YOUR CAREER... "It is kind of a weight lifted off my shoulders knowing that we're getting a good start to the year and that every track that we've been to so far this year, we've been fast. It makes me feel good. But, at the same time, I'm not really dwelling on it. We just know that historically the first eight or nine races seem to be where we get at our biggest deficit of the year, so this is just hopefully easing a little bit of the weight off our mind. It seems like everything that we started stumbling setup-wise last fall, mechanically, has really helped us this year. Most of that is due to Greg Zipadelli. I'm not doing anything different in the car as far as how I'm driving the race car. The packages that we've been taking to these last two or three races, the mechanical setup of the car has been quite a bit different than what we traditionally run."


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing