TONY STEWART , NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: Winner: ON CATCHING RYAN NEWMAN: "When I could see him and when I knew where he was at, I just told Zippy not to worry about giving me lap times and just give me intervals. I knew with...
TONY STEWART , NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: Winner:
ON CATCHING RYAN NEWMAN:
"When I could see him and when I knew where he was at, I just told Zippy not to worry about giving me lap times and just give me intervals. I knew with the fresher tires we'd be faster. But I didn't know he had pitted early until we got out and saw on the board that we were second. And then Zippy said the No.12 car pitted real short and got a big jump with the fresher tires on us and they about won the race doing that. Those guys have been on their game all year and they about made the right call. But the faster car finally won the race and I'm happy about that. These guys down here deserve it and all the fans deserve to see the fastest car win the race for once. I'll be honest. I didn't run at 100 percent when I got within about two seconds of him because I guess I gave myself a false sense of security at that point because we were catching him at such a rate I felt pretty sure we'd get by pretty easy and I just didn't want to overrun the tires to where if we got a caution after that, we'd have to worry about using up the tires just to get to him and to get by and not have anything for somebody else at the end.
"I don't know what Johnny Benson was thinking, but he was right in the middle of the mix there with 15 laps to go when I was trying to race the leader for the win. We'll make sure that catches up with him somewhere else down the line. But it's hard - especially when this is only the second time this year that we've won a race and you get that close at the end and you know you've got the fastest car. They say it every week in the drivers meeting to give the guys that are racing for the win a chance to race for the win. I don't know if he just wasn't looking in his mirror or if he just didn't care or what. I was pretty upset about all that, I guess.
"But when we got to Ryan it really wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be. He ran right in the line where I wanted to be which was the fastest way around all night. I'll give him credit. He about won the race and we had 30 or 40-lap fresher tires or whatever it was when he pitted. We had to run hard to get to him. They about made the right call and about won the race that way. The good thing is that he raced us clean."
IS THIS ONE OF THE TRACKS WHERE YOU'VE REALLY WANTED TO WIN?
"Yeah, this is kind of the home track for everybody with 90 percent of the Winston Cup shops being within a 25 mile radius around the race track here. It's hard not to want to win here. But it's one of the places where it's really hard to win. Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Bill Elliott, and Bobby Labonte all had cars that were capable of winning tonight. It was just a matter of getting good track position. But at the same time, the key for us was just getting long runs. They could stay with us for 20 or 25 laps, but after that it was all over and we'd drive away from them and really keep digging. The strategy really worked out."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT RYAN NEWMAN SAYING THEY SHORT PITTED BECAUSE OF A VIBRATION?
"That means they weren't as smart as I thought they were then (laughs). No, either way Ryan has been on a roll this year. At the end of the races we've all been frustrated because we've been beaten by track position and fuel mileage. But 10 years down the road when they look at the record books and they look at the 2003 season and look at who won the most races and they see Ryan Newman, nobody is going to know how he won them but they're going to know he won them. They've been doing a really good job this year and you can't take anything away from them. They're the ones winning races. We had an awesome car tonight and it felt good to win here and especially to beat a team that's been on their game all year."
WHEN YOU WERE CATCHING NEWMAN, WERE YOU WORRIED YOU WOULD RUN INTO AN AERO PROBLEM?
"To be honest, I thought as quick as we were catching him it wasn't going to be much of an issue. It ended up being that way. I got tight when I got behind Benson. I knew it was going to be tough. I got to where I changed my mind in (turns) three and four and moved up the race track and was able to get a little bit of fresh air on the nose and get the car turned and get a big run off of turn four and close the gap to where I could get behind him and run my line again and he couldn't stay down on the bottom coming off, and I could. I needed to be able to get up to him to be able to pull off what we did. I got to where I was five or six car lengths behind him and for about three straight laps I couldn't gain on him so I had to hunt around and change my line a little bit to find a spot to help me get up there."
GREG ZIPADELLI , CREW CHIEF, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
IS IT HARDER ON THE CREW CHIEF TO SET THE CAR UP FOR A NIGHT RACE THAN ONE IN THE DAYTIME?
"This weekend was probably the easiest. The track didn't change much. The sun was never out and the track never built any temperature, and that's what changes the most. Tonight it stayed the same when we started from where it was in practice yesterday. This place is so weather-sensitive, it's very hard. This was fun; we didn't get a lot of practice. We went back to the way it was in the spring and made very little adjustments."
GIVE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE YEAR IN GENERAL AND GETTING YOUR SECOND VICTORY.
"They always question, can you come back and win, and we never thought--yeah, we did it last year so it shouldn't be that big a deal. We felt like we would be up there contending for it. We just had a lot of bad luck, a lot of crummy runs through the year. We lost a few engines. At the 600 here, we had a great car and lost the engine, I think there were five of them and I think we were leading all five of them when we broke. We had the potential to have for or five or six wins this year, and we weren't able to close the deal on it. We've had some issues, but we came on strong the second half of the year like we normally do and moving us back up in the points where we can make the most of it. It's been frustrating, but knowing that you reached the ultimate goal of winning the championship last year makes this year a little easier to deal with. You still can look back and say, 'we did that last year, and next year we'll have to work a little harder to figure out why we had that little bit of a slow spell through the middle of the year.'"
HOW IMPORTANT IS TONIGHT TOWARD SETTING YOUR 2004 PROGRAM?
"Any time you can come and finish the year as strong as we've been the last three or four weeks, it's sure going to help. Hopefully we can finish the next six weeks here or so and get out of Homestead with some good runs and take that momentum and start next year with it. Us changing to Monte Carlos this year, it took us a little while to get our cars built up and to know what we had. I think next year we'll start a little better than we did this year as far as just being better prepared. We won't have that switch; we'll be just changing to the rules and new templates and we'll be back on an even playing field."
YOUR THOUGHTS ON CHEVROLET CLINCHING THE MANUFACTURERS' CHAMPIONSHIP TONIGHT.
"That's nice. I'm really excited about that. That's overdue. It didn't make a lot of sense last year to have a guy in a General Motors car not be able to help the manufacturer win the championship last year. We may not win the driver's championship this year but it's nice to know, switching manufacturers to Chevrolet this year, we were able to help them accomplish the manufacturers' championship. It makes me feel good leaving here tonight knowing that we helped win another championship."
YOU'VE BEEN FAST THIS YEAR, BUT IS IT A CASE OF THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT LAST YEAR WENT WRONG THIS YEAR?
"I'd say that's pretty accurate. You look at races like California where we were dominating the first half of the race. We were second and lost an engine. Some of the other places we've typically run well, we had silly things happen that kept us out of Victory Lane. Those are the things that did go right last year, and that's why it's so hard to win a Winston Cup championship, and even controlling the variables that you can control, the variables that you can't are what we call luck and having that luck on your side plays a big part in winning a championship. We haven't had a lot of luck on our side this year, but we didn't really need luck tonight because it just didn't come down to it. It came down to just flat winning the race. It was nice to not have to worry about the luck thing tonight."
HAS THIS BEEN MORE OF A CHALLENGE THIS YEAR THAN LAST?
"It's been harder to accept the disappointments this year, but knowing that we won the championship last year, and knowing that there were so many changes in our program, switching from Pontiac to Chevrolet his year. Our engine department has worked so hard over the winter to get us some more horsepower, but with that horsepower gain came some reliability issues. That's just part of gaining horsepower. You kind of just had to bite your tongue and go on. The thing that's gotten the whole team through the whole season without getting down, performance-wise, is saying that we know we're making gains, and with that there are going to be some disappointments. We're making great strides for the future and it may not show up this year, but if we can keep this run going like we have the last three or four weeks, we can finish the season out like that, it's going to give us a lot of momentum for next year. The last two or three races of last year, we didn't really run that well because we were points racing. If we can keep this momentum going, the performance issues from this year will hopefully pay off for next year instead."
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO BITE YOUR TONGUE?
"It's been hard, but the biggest variable is just trying to find the positives in all the negatives. At California, we had one of the best engines we ever had out of Joe Gibbs Racing. It didn't make it, but at least we had horsepower we never had before. At some of these other tracks where something happened, I'm the guy in there instead of Joe, where Joe and Zippy were trying to keep me calm last year, I've been the guy trying to keep everyone calm this year. I've tried to find the positives in all the negatives that have happened."
WHAT MAKES YOU SO GOOD IN THE LAST PART OF THE SEASON?
"I wish I knew, because if I did, I'd make it start at the beginning of the season and carry it through the whole year. The only thing I can think of is, with my background in sprint cars and midgets, I was used to tracks being slippery and hot, and it seems like early in the year, clear up through May and early June, the tracks are so cool they retain a lot of grip. Everybody is fast when they have a lot of grip. It's kind of like a sticky dirt track. Everybody's fast when it's sticky, but when it gets dry-slick and blows off, the guys that really get their teams working good and their cars going good go to the front. At this time of the year, all the heat from the summer is still in the track, and when the tracks get slippery and the tires do fall off, like they did tonight, those are the tracks where we really go good. You have to constantly adjust your line, adjust where you're lifting, where you're getting in the gas, how you're getting in the corner. Just learning to adapt to different track conditions and not always being ideal conditions as far as having optimum grip."
THERE HAS BEEN SOME TALK ABOUT CHANGING THE POINTS. NOW THAT MATT HAS FALLEN BACK, DO YOU THINK IT DOES?
"I don't think, even if Matt had the advantage he had three weeks ago, that it needs to be changed. He was the most consistent driver up to that point and he still is. All these fans save their money months on end to come to a Winston Cup race, and they don't want to see their driver crash out in the last 10 laps because it pays twice as many points to pick up one spot. These fans want to see their driver finish each week. The point system has been a pretty fair system all these year and I don't see any dire need to change it. Winston Cup racing is more competitive now than it's ever been and when you get a guy like Matt who has been on a roll all year--you can't fault the system. He's having a good year and let him enjoy it and reap the rewards from it. He deserves it, has worked hard for it and there shouldn't be a change in the point system to take that away from him. He's earned the point lead that he has."