NASCAR NEXTEL CUP SERIES WAKE UP CALL FEATURING TONY STEWART CHICAGOLAND SPEEDWAY July 8, 2005 TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO has risen from 10th to third in the championship point standings in the past three weeks on the...
NASCAR NEXTEL CUP SERIES WAKE UP CALL FEATURING TONY STEWART
July 8, 2005
TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO has risen from 10th to third in the championship point standings in the past three weeks on the heels of a second-place result at Michigan and back-to-back wins at Sonoma (Calif.) and Daytona (Fla.). He enters the USG Sheetrock 400 as the defending race winner.
(HERE AT CHICAGO, YOU HAD A THIRD PLACE FINISH IN 2002, A SECOND PLACE FINISH IN 2003, AND THEN A WIN IN 2005. WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM YOU THIS WEEKEND?)
"Either negative one or zero this week according to your records (laughs). I don't know. This is the same car we ran at Michigan where we ran second to (Greg) Biffle and hopefully that stuff that we learned there will help us this week."
(WITH YOUR ROOTS NEARBY IN INDIANA, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO RACE HERE?)
"It means a 28-minute flight from Columbus, Indiana to here. Tonight, I'm going across the street to watch my World of Outlaws Sprint Car team. Danny Lasoski and our Bass Pro Shops car is running tonight. It was funny this week. I was only home basically yesterday. We tested in Loudon. But I've got a lot of work from a lot of people in Columbus that are coming up this weekend. People who have never even been to a race, but because I've been home now and they've gotten to know me a little bit, they have gained more interest in what we're doing. They actually bought a whole race package, I guess, which is what you have to do to get a ticket here. They bought tickets they won't even use so they can come to a Cup race."
(WHAT DOES RACING TO PLAY WITH THE KABOOM! PROGRAM MEAN TO YOUR PROGRAM?)
"That's a pretty cool deal. It's something that Joe Gibbs Racing and Home Depot and KaBoom! and myself got together and basically they're building ten NASCAR-themed playgrounds in ten race markets across the schedule. It's pretty neat. They go in there and build a playground in one day and at thee o'clock, you're done. They start at six in the morning and two days later the kids can come play on it once the concrete and everything has settled. It gets the kids interested in NASCAR. The coolest part is just seeing how excited the kids are that are there when you're in their neighborhood and they know it's something new and something that's a safe place for those guys to play and meet new friends this summer. It's a pretty neat feeling knowing that you're doing something to give back to the community."
(EARLY IN THE SEASON, THERE WERE SOME FRUSTRATIONS. NOW YOU'RE ON A ROLL. IS THERE A DIFFERENT MINDSET IN THE WAY YOU COME TO THE RACE TRACK NOW?)
"Not really. I think we're pretty realistic. We've always run well at road course races. I think it was a matter of time before we finally got a point paying win at Daytona after all the laps we've led there. When you look at the big picture of the season, it's two weeks that account for six with two road courses and four restrictor plate races it's a situation where I don't think we can say hey, we're back on track now because of a road course race and a restrictor plate race. This weekend is going to be big. It's going to be a telltale weekend for all of us. The weekend we had a Michigan was huge - running second there. That was something that we finally kind of broke into that category and interrupted the Hendrick and Roush dominance there that day. So if we can have a good weekend this weekend, I think it gives us a lot to look forward to when that 10-week stretch starts at the end of the season. This is a very pivotal week for us in my opinion."
(WITH THE SHORTER SPOILERS AND SOFTER TIRES, HOW MUCH OF YOUR NOTES CAN YOU AND ZIPPY WORK OFF OF THIS YEAR OR IS THAT ALL OUT THE WINDOW?)
"To be honest. I don't know. I don't set them up. I couldn't tell you what four springs we're even going to start with today. Probably by Sunday when it's all said and done, I probably won't know that by Sunday either. Zippy is pretty good at knowing what we've had to adjust. The good thing is we've run half the season at this point, so he's going to know what changes need to be done to compensate for the rules changes."
(DOES YOUR SECOND PLACE PERFORMANCE AT MICHIGAN ACTUALLY GIVE YOU MORE ENCOURAGEMENT FOR THIS RACE AND THE STRETCH OF THE SEASON THAN YOUR WINS AT DAYTONA AND SONOMA?)
"Absolutely. That's 100 percent on the money. That's why I say this weekend is such a pivotal weekend for us. If we can have a really good weekend this weekend, that backs up what we had a Michigan. We had a Michigan test and thought we learned a lot there. Now hopefully what we learned there and what worked for us at Michigan will work for us here. If it doesn't, it tells us we found something that works good at one track. If it works good here, it tells us that we may have found something that's going to help us catch up and close that gap between the Hendrick and Roush teams."
(HAVE YOU FELT MISUNDERSTOOD OVER THE YEARS AND DOES WINNING CHANGE THAT MISUNDERSTANDING?)
"It's amazing. I get that question about four or five times a year and the answer is the same. I don't know and to be honest, I don't care whether I'm misunderstood or not (laughs). At the end of the day, I've got to go drive race cars and when I go home I don't worry about whether I was misunderstood or not anymore. I've just simplified everything. I quit worrying about stuff like that. I could do an interview with ten people here and I could give the same quote and if nine of you take it one way and one person takes it a different way, I can't control that. Whether I feel like I'm misinterpreted or whatever, it doesn't really matter. At the end of the day, as long as I'm happy when I go home and the people I'm around are happy and don't have a problem with what I'm doing, in all reality I shouldn't worry about it. You can't please everybody 100 percent of the time anyway and to be honest, it's just made everything a lot easier when I finally just quit worrying about it. It seems like I've gotten less stressed out about it and been less edgy because of it."
(EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT HOW YOU SEEM MORE RELAXED THIS SEASON. DID THE MOVE BACK TO INDIANA HELP THAT? ALSO WHAT IS IT LIKE BEING AROUND PEOPLE WHO KNEW YOU BEFORE YOU WERE A NASCAR STAR?)
"It's been huge for me. That's probably been one of the biggest factors that's helped me be a lot more relaxed this year is just being back home. I'm in the same house I was raised in from the time I was 10 months old. The neighbors on both sides and across the street and behind me are all the same neighbors. They're just older now. They don't treat me any different than they did when I was a kid. I'm still the kid who used to hit the baseball through their windows. So, I just don't hit the ball through the windows anymore. We kind of went through a period when I was home this winter. In the past, I had not gone out a lot while I was in town. I just stayed around home and around my friends. But I started going out more and went through a period where it was a lot of hassle where hey, sign this (giving autographs), and asking questions about racing. Now, I've been there long enough that I'm just one of the guys to most of the people I'm around. Even when we're out, there are not a lot of people that ask for anything anymore. I'm settled in and they let me be me. The newspaper in Columbus has done a really good job of informing people that's why I come home. It's because I want to relax and not feel like I'm at work. It's paid off huge. I can just relax when I go home. It's been a pleasant experience and makes me look forward to going home after the weekends."
(WHAT IS YOUR IMPRESSION OF CARL EDWARDS?)
"I think he's done an awesome job. We used to look at Speed Sport News every week and look at that article in there with his face in there and laugh like crazy thinking, 'What is this kid thinking?' It's just not that easy. You're just not going to put your picture in there and think that you're going to get a ride. The awesome thing is that he's a great kid. I didn't know him then, and now we've gotten a chancre to know him. He's got a lot of talent. He runs Silver Crown cars with us, which I think it kind of cool because it gets back to my roots a little bit. He's brought a nice breath of fresh air to our sport."
(ON CLIMBING THE FENCE TO THE FLAGSTAND LAST WEEK AT DAYTONA)
"I thought they (the crew) would kind of climb up there with me a little bit - not all the way. But it wasn't' anything that we really planned. It was jut one of those things I decided at the last minute. I think it's been so popular because nobody thought I could get my fat butt up the fence to the flag stand in the first place. I proved them wrong once again, I guess. That's all everybody has talked about all week (laughs). Nobody has really talked about what happened on the race track. They've talked about what's happened off the track and up the flag stand."
(ON RUNNING BETTER THAN THE OTHER GIBBS TEAMS)
"Jason (Leffler) had a good car last weekend. The finish didn't end up where we wanted, but he ran close to the top 10 the majority of the day there. And Bobby (Labonte) just didn't have a chance to. He got crashed in that one wreck. I don't know. I wish I knew that because I feel like we all need to be pretty much on the same level performance wise. When we've got two teams that are struggling a little bit and us having a little bit better success, it makes it tough for us to have another resource to rely on. But in Bobby's defense, he's had absolutely miserable luck. I don't know what he's got to do -- maybe carry a lucky rabbit's foot or a horseshoe or something. He needs to find every good luck charm he can find right now. Jason is still just going through that transition period. He's working with a new crew chief (Mike Ford) right now and that's understandable. And Bobby is having bad luck and we're kind of moving along doing what we do. I think that pretty much accounts for the three of us in all reality."
(ON HIS LONG RELATIONSHIP WITH CREW CHIEF, GREG ZIPADELLI, AND WHAT KEEPS IT WORKING WELL)
"I think the biggest thing is that we're so much alike. We didn't know each other. I would have tripped over him and not known who he was until the day I was introduced to him. But it didn't take long to figure out how much our personalities were a lot alike and how much our desire to win was a lot alike. I think that's really been the glue that's held us all together all along. We think a lot alike. He's obviously a better group leader than I am. He's been the team leader from day one. He's been able to keep everybody pumped up and tried to keep me out of trouble in bad times. But to me, it's like having a big brother that's a couple of years older than me. To him, it's like having a younger brother. No matter what happens with the rest of our careers -- if we never win another race or another championship from here on out - we consider each other family. When you have a working relationship like we do where we're with each other as much as we are with our friends and family, that's something that's very important. At this point in the game, not only have Zippy and I been together for a long time, but so have the crew guys. We win as a team and we lose as a team. That's the attitude we've kept. We'll probably always be that way."
(PRE-SEASON, YOU HAD TROUBLE WITH THE HANS DEVICE. WHERE ARE YOU WITH THAT RIGHT NOW?)
"We got used to it finally. I'm still not sure that I agree with their decision to make it mandatory because it goes back to the same thing I've said from day one. We can realistically loosen our straps up and make them long enough to where it doesn't even do what it's supposed to do. I think it was NASCAR's way to appease you guys (media) and get you off their back. But with any safety restraint device, there is always a way of making it to where it doesn't work but it's hooked up. We keep shortening the lengths of it to keep it to where it does work where it's supposed to. At first we couldn't do that. We had it a little longer than we probably should of to get me comfortable. We've shortened it back up so it's in the proper zone. We have no problems with it now."
(ON MARK MARTIN AND RUSTY WALLACE AND THE FUN THEY'RE HAVING FUN THIS SEASON)
"It appears that way. They're both running well. Obviously when you're running good, you're having fun. If either of them were struggling, they would be looking at it different and not enjoying their final season. They're not quitting because they're not competitive, that's for sure. They're both just as competitive as they've always been."
(WHAT DO YOU WANT TO CLIMB AT INDY?)
"Oh, I don't know..probably climb up into my suite in Turn 2. I can get a drink quicker that way."
(ON UNHAPPIER TIMES IN HIS CUP CAREER?)
"Yeah, I am in all reality. The single biggest thing that drives me nuts with media is having to answer questions about things that happened a year ago or two or three or four years ago. There's nothing I can do about those previous years. There is nothing I can do to erase it. Theirs is nothing I can do to change it. All I can do is control what happens from the moment I'm sitting in this chair forward. So when people keep bringing up all the things you've done in the past, it drives you nuts. There is not a thing I can do about it. But I've had a better year this year. I haven't annoyed everybody. I've tried to be a little better with the photographers and media and fans. Everybody has kind of noticed that. Still, every week somebody's got something in there about terrible Tony and this or that. Now what am I doing wrong? That's the stuff that gets annoying. The rest of it all falls into place. But yeah, I am enjoying everything a lot more - both my professional side and personal side."
(ON RACING AT CHICAGO)
'The neat thing is it's a very smooth place. From what I remember this place from last year, there's one small bump going into Turn 1 and the rest of it is a fast, fast place. I remember the first year we came here it was a one-groove race track. The second year, it kind of moved up to a lane and a half, maybe two lanes. Last year you could move all over the race track. Every year this track and Kansas - they're twins of each other - but every year the racing gets better and better. We've run good here. We love it when it gets a second and third groove because it just means if we have a fast race car we have a place to go where we can at least try to get by guys. I'm excited about the weekend. The weather is good. I'm ready to get going."
(DOES THIS TRACK SUIT YOUR STYLE AND CAN YOU TALK ABOUT LAST YEAR'S OIL SPILL WHEN YOU HAD TO GO TO A BACK-UP CAR?)
"It's just one of those deals where Zippy has had a good package here. It's just one of those situations when you get a car that drives good. A lot of it depends on the car you bring and the package the crew chief puts on it. We've just always run well here for some reason."
"Last year, it was just a situation where a guy lost a motor getting into Turn 3. When I got down there it was a small bobble in the oil, but enough that I couldn't gather it back up before I crashed."
(HOW MUCH OF A SETBACK IS THAT?)
"Well, obviously when you win the race it's not too big of a setback. We qualified in the top 10 with the backup car and won the race. Trust me, I'd be more than happy to crash another car today if it means we're going to win the race on Sunday."
(IS THE RACING BETTER WITH THIS YEAR'S PACKAGE?)
"Well, I think you've got to take the last two weeks for what they're worth. Normally the guys who are good road racers and have good cars will get out in front and lead a lot of laps. I remember three or four years ago, a guy named Dale Earnhardt Jr. did the same thing at Daytona. He went out and led a ton of laps and was dominant. I don't think the rules package had anything to do with the last two weeks. But I don't know, to be honest. The variables are still the same when you get behind somebody. It doesn't seem like when guys get behind you it makes you as loose as it used to make you. But I think everybody is trying to work about the package. Two particular car owner teams have figured it out."
(HOW MUCH ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THE CHASE AND HOW PREPARED ARE YOU?)
"We have one more two-day test left which we're going to save for Homestead. I think we've got either three or four one-day tests left. We plan around that. If it rained on Wednesday, we were going to take that second day and make that a one-day test and use the second day at Indy, which is going to be one of our one-day tests. The hard thing is when you've got a new rules package like this it makes you want to use them at the beginning of the year going to track you're going to twice to say hey, this give us a heads-up on what we're doing for the season. But at the same time you want to save those tests for later in the year when the tracks are a little warmer and try to dial you car in for those conditions instead."
(ON TESTING IN NEW HAMPSHIRE)
"I don't know what to expect. There weren't a ton of us up there. I think there were five cars each day. I think we had an awesome test. Jimmie Johnson was there and we were just a little bit quicker than him. I've been to test there with Jeff Gordon and when he came back he was a tenth quicker than us. So, I'm not too locked in to how my feelings are about the test. I think we've got a good car for there. There wasn't a Roush car there, so I'm interested to see what they do when they get there. But we at least had one Hendrick car there and it felt like we were reasonably competitive compared to them."