TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT/OLD SPICE IMPALA met with media and discussed his expectations of the Daytona 500, the motivation of the No. 48 team's success, Danica Patrick entering stock car racing, and more. GIVE US YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT ...
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT/OLD SPICE IMPALA met with media and discussed his expectations of the Daytona 500, the motivation of the No. 48 team's success, Danica Patrick entering stock car racing, and more.
GIVE US YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT SUNDAY'S 52ND RUNNING OF THE DAYTONA 500: "Obviously it is our biggest race of the year so we are excited about that coming up. I was looking forward to having the practice today. Unfortunately, I don't think that is happening. No driver is happy with their car. Everybody still wants to work at it. I was looking forward to the practice time today. I am definitely utilize a lot of the time tomorrow to finish some of the direction we ended up yesterday in the qualifying race. If we can have a half-way decent day like we had yesterday, I think we are going to be ok."
WHAT STYLE OF RACE ARE YOU EXPECTING SUNDAY? "Pretty much the same style we saw yesterday (Gatorade Duel at Daytona). I mean, I don't know what to expect other than what we just did. That is kind of what we are going to have, just going to have a bigger pack of cars. The cool thing is handling is going to be key. Guys that can get their car balanced, unless you get a caution every 10 or 15 laps, everybody's cars are going to be moving around. I am hoping to see a lot of long runs because, the first half of the qualifier yesterday, we were barely hanging on to the lead draft. We made some adjustments and it got us up to the front at the end of the race. It is going to make that handling really crucial and where you are going to be able to keep your car and where you are going to be able to stay track position wise. I think that is what is going to make it exciting for us as drivers. We are finally in a situation where we have to drive these cars and you aren't just 100% having to rely on who is around you and behind you."
WHY IS THE DAYTONA 500 SO DIFFICULT TO WIN FOR SOME DRIVERS AND THEN SOME OTHERS HAVE WON IT BUT NEVER BEEN HEARD FROM AGAIN? "It is just unpredictable, that is the hard part. Especially with the restrictor plate stuff, that has always thrown an added element to it that can bring guys to the front that may not always be able to get there in a typical race weekend. That is what makes it so hard to win here because instead of a handful of guys with the opportunity to win each week, you have half the field that if things go their way and they get in the right positions and do the right things during the race can get themselves in a position to win. It is just unpredictable from that standpoint and that is what makes it to where you never can, you can say somebody is the favorite, but there are so many variables that are different here than at a typical race weekend, that make that a different equation."
IS THE DAYTONA 500 ON THE TOP OF YOUR LIST OF MOST AGGRAVATIONS OF NOT HAVING WON AFTER ALL OF YOUR OTHER ACCOMPLISHMENTS? "Well, Indy (Indianapolis 500) is the one that frustrates me the most that I haven't got. The good thing is, I still have opportunities here. I'm not going to have anymore Indy 500 opportunities, that side of it is past so that is why that is frustrating. This at times has been frustration because we have been so close so many times. It is like I told somebody earlier, that is what, if we ever do win it, that what's going to make it so gratifying is because we have worked so hard. We have been so close so many times; to finally accomplish that goal will make it even more special."
ARE YOU STILL WILLING TO WIN IT UPSIDE DOWN ON FIRE? "Absolutely! I can get out in victory lane and my legs can be on fire and I am fine with it. I don't care, just give me the trophy. I realize there will be like 20 of you guys with five-gallon jugs of gasoline and torches to do that, but I am fine with that still."
HOW ARE THE BUMPS IN THREE AND FOUR UNDER RACE CONDITIONS? "I don't feel like they are any different than they have been. That is the great thing. I would hate to see them re-pave this track right now and make it like Talladega because right now, the drivers are actually a huge part of the equation. Knowing what to do when you get to those bumps and knowing what your car is going to do and how it is going to react, that is making us have to use the whole race track. It is making us have to really work on the handling of our cars. That is the part that has probably excited me the most since I have been here. Nobody's car has seemed to be perfect and it is making everybody have to really work on the balance versus just trying to get raw speed out of it."
ROBIN PEMBERTON ACKNOWLEDGED THAT THE SAFETY RECORD OF THE CAR IS THE REASON THEY ARE ABLE TO RELAX THE RULES AND LET YOU HAVE IT ON THE TRACK A LITTLE BIT. DALE JARRETT COMMENTS THAT MAYBE THE FANS HAVE TURNED OFF A LITTLE BIT BECAUSE NASCAR IS TOO SAFE. DO YOU FEEL LIKE IT IS TOO SAFE OUT THERE, THAT FANS MAYBE LIKE THE DANGER A LITTLE BIT? "Well, I could say that the media center is getting boring in here and it is too safe because you guys have four legs on your chairs. So, we could start sawing legs off. I don't think fans that watch NASCAR want to watch their drivers get hurt. So...no."
AFTER THE SHOOTOUT AND DUELS, DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU WANT TO HOOK UP TO IN THE 500 AND WILL YOU GO TO THAT GUY OR GUYS BEFORE THE RACE AND SAY 'HEY MAN, MY CAR WORKS REALLY WELL WITH YOURS, LET'S STICK TOGETHER' OR WILL IT BE A MORE IMPROMPTU THING DURING THE RACE? "Definitely going to be more impromptu. I'm not sure, I feel like this year more than ever, where at Talladega where it used to be always Dale, Jr. and I would always get together, I don't think it is really is a scenario where you can even plan that you are even going to get in to those scenarios. Right now, I am just trying to get my car driving good enough by myself, let alone worrying about who I am going to be around. My focus, until we get to Sunday at least, is going to be trying to work on the balance of my car and getting it to drive to where the longer we get in to a run, I can stay wide open. That is my focus right now is making it have a good enough balance to where I don't have to sit there and crack the throttle, because anytime you are doing that, it is a big momentum-killer here."
WILL WE SEE CARS FROM SAME MANUFACTURER LINING UP TOGETHER? "All the cars are the same; it is just different decals on the nose so it really does throw that out of the equation. Like you say, when we ran Pontiacs back in the day and the spoilers on the Pontiac was shaped like the deck lid. It did. They all had different profiles on how the air came off those cars. That was a lot bigger factor in the equation, but it really is out the window now."
DO YOU THINK THERE WILL ACTUALLY BE A LITTLE MORE LATITUDE IN THE END FOR DRIVERS TO SHOW MORE OF THEMSELVES NOW AS NASCAR SAID AND DO YOU WONDER WHY IT WASN'T DONE SIX YEARS AGO? "Well, we aren't going to be able to chance what happened six years ago anyway, so who cares. The good thing is, we have got it now. You guys have got to remember that this sport is so different from all the other professional sports. The balancing act that we have with corporate America versus our sport and the entertainment side of our sport is what makes NASCAR unique. We've got major corporations that we are representing where guys get in a fight at a basketball game, it is no big deal because nobody cares because it is just that team doing it and they don't have a corporate sponsor to be accountable to at the end of the day. I think NASCAR has always been good in the direction of how to grow the sport. NASCAR has always been really good at listening to what people are saying too and knowing what the fans are wanting and giving us that ability to kind of police ourselves again to a certain degree. Am I buying it? Absolutely. The one thing I believe about NASCAR, if they tell you something, they have thought about and they have thought through it pretty well before they tell you that is what they are going to do. I at least have the faith in NASCAR that when they tell us something, that is what is going to happen out of it."
WHAT ARE YOU DOING DIFFERENTLY OR NEW TO ADD VALUE TO YOUR EXISTING SPONSORS AND HOW DO YOU INTEGRATE THOSE SPONSORS IN TO YOUR DAILY LIFE? HOW MANY WHOPPERS DO YOU EAT DURING A GIVEN WEEK? "My share, I can promise you that. It makes it a lot easier when they gave me that gold card and I can just go up there, I don't have to have cash in my pocket. Trust me, I exercise my right to use my King Card when I get to the drive-thru window. Every week is different. There are weeks that I am home. There are weeks that I am on my property and I never leave my property for two or three days at a time. Then there are times when you are at Daytona Beach, Florida and at the end of the day, I will be the only one in the bus and I don't cook. So, there is a Burger King right outside the tunnel. You make a right and you make a left and you are there. But as far as adding value, you just try, the thing we have always done since day one since we had our first World of Outlaws team back in '01 to present day, is we have always tried to under-promise and over-deliver. I don't know how you do more than that. You try to make everything as efficient for your sponsors as you can. You try to find ways for the sponsors to work together to add value to it and make it more efficient to where if one person is doing something, the other sponsors can kind of piggy back it and then they return the favor on the other side. You try to think of every way you can to just try to make it efficient and make them feel like they are getting the most bang for their buck."
ARE YOU DOING MORE APPEARANCES OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT? "Not unless they start adding more hours to the day and days to the week. There is only so much time you have available to do what you have to do. You pretty much allot all of that at the beginning of the year anyway. If they will give us another 100 days in the year, we can do more appearance obviously. But you are kind of stuck with what you have got right now."
YOU HAD A REALLY SUCCESSFUL FIRST YEAR AS A TEAM OWNER, BUT HAVE YOU LOOKED AT WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN YOUR WEAKEST LINK AND WHAT YOU HAVE TO ADDRESS AND IMPROVE UPON SO YOU ARE RIGHT THERE THIS SEASON TO BE THERE WITH JIMMIE (JOHNSON) AND THE OTHER CHASE CONTENDERS? "If we all knew that variable, we would all be Jimmie. I think we just found a couple of things that we missed on and it wasn't until the end of the year and after the season was over that we found mistakes that we made and kind of got off track a little bit and didn't realize that was what had happened. Obviously if we had known, we wouldn't have let it happen. We did find a couple of variables that we felt like we slipped on a little bit and that may, those two variables, might have been things that kept us from having that shot. We will address those and try to make sure that doesn't happen again."
DANICA (PATRICK) SEEMED PRETTY LOOSE AND RELAXED ON YOUR RADIO SHOW LAST NIGHT, DID THE CROWD THERE REACT WELL TO HAVING HER THERE? "Absolutely. We had (Mike) Helton there then when Danica came out, we couldn't see the computer to look at what the producers were telling us because we do it all off of the computer screen, we couldn't even see it because of the flash bulbs. It was pretty cool. The fans were very receptive and were excited about it. I told her, this is a show where we aren't doing an interview, we are just going to sit down and talk and have fun. I think she knew we weren't going to do anything that was going to throw her a curve ball or back her in a corner and we had fun with and I think she did too."
WHAT YOU SEEN A LOT OF DIFFERENCE WITH THE BUMP DRAFTING AND HOW IS IT WORKING OUT? "I don't think it is as big of a factor here because you can't push guys through the corner like you can at Talladega. At Talladega, you can literally get to the guy's bumper and you can comfortably push him around the race track until the guy who is doing the pushing water temperature goes through the roof and he has to get off of that person. You can't do that here at Daytona. If you try to do that, you are going to do that, you are going to wreck the guy in front of you. You are going to wreck yourself and wad up half of the field. You can do the pushing down the straightaway and that is not such a bad deal. It is frustrating for us when you get a run on somebody and then you are stuck and you just have to stop and you can't do anything with it. So it is nice to be able to push that guy in front of you and help carry that momentum a little bit. But I haven't seen that get out of control. There is nothing that sends up a warning flag that ways hey, we have to re-look at this. I think it has been pretty tame."
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES DANICA PATRICK WILL FACE IN THE TRANSITION TO STOCK CAR RACING?
"She's got a heavier race car now that will move around a lot more. That's the biggest thing. It's just learning a different race car and the feel of it. The good thing is that she is focused and determined and is logging a lot of miles right now and that's what you have to do. If she can run the whole Nationwide race here tomorrow and not have a problem, she's going to have so much knowledge when she leaves here about these cars. Obviously what we have here isn't what we'll have at California or Vegas. But at least with the restrictor plate package she'll have a lot of knowledge between the ARCA car and the Nationwide car if she can run all the laps tomorrow.
REALISTICALLY, WHAT CAN PEOPLE EXPECT TO SEE?
"Everybody should expect to let her learn. There is a lot of focus on her and pressure. She's done a great job of dealing with that. Everybody's got to remember she's a rookie. Anything that she does is not like she didn't meet a goal or she exceeded a goal. This is a learning experience this week. If everybody treats it that way, then everything will be fine."
WHERE DO YOU WANT TO BE ON THE LAST LAP OF THE DAYTONA 500, THE HIGH SIDE OR THE LOW SIDE?
"It's just like what Jimmie Johnson mentioned yesterday and Brian Vickers mentioned it too. It seems like if you get your car balanced on the bottom, then if you go to the high side, you're really loose. It's a matter of where your car is driving good and where the guys that have speed are lined up. If they're lined up on the bottom, it's going to carry more momentum down there. If you've got guys that are kind of line-committed to the top but they've got speed, that's going to push that line forward. I don't know that you can say exactly where. When we were leading the race, Kasey was moving around up and down and we kind of just ran the middle because I knew my car at that point drove well enough that I could move down if I needed to or move up if I needed to. The middle is normally a no-zone for us. We don't like to run there too much but it seemed to work yesterday. A lot of it is going to be balance of where you're race car is running good."
LOOKING AT THE SEASON AND WHAT THE NO. 48 HAS ACCOMPLISHED, TO WHAT EXTENT DOES THAT MOTIVATE YOU & YOUR TEAM?
"That's the benchmark. That's what everybody is looking at. You hear a lot about saying they've got a bullseye; it's not that as much as everybody is saying that's where they want to be. We want to do as good a job as those guys are doing. That is our benchmark. That's what we're looking at and where we want to be as soon as we can get there. I hate to say five or ten years from now. It could happen next year; we don't know, or this year, we don't know. But that's definitely the goal. When you've had a team that's done it right for that many consecutive years, you say they've got it figured out and this is where we need to be. Now it's just a matter of figuring out what they are doing and how do we do that.
"They are the team that's outperforming everybody. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. That's what this sport is all about. It's about performance and who does the best job. They've done the best job for the last four years. They should be the champions. Is it bad for our sport? Absolutely not. Every year somebody's going to outperform somebody else. It doesn't have to be a different guy every year. If they do it a fifth time this year; it's kind of cool at least from my perspective and I've been able to watch Penske dominate and Junior Johnson dominate and Bill Elliott dominate. Everybody has had their periods. Every form of racing has had somebody that's had a dynasty and had that period where they've been the guys to beat. We're in that period with Jimmie Johnson. And it's not a period that frustrates you. It just makes you want to work that much harder to be him. You want to be that next group that does what he's doing right now."
WHAT DOES THE EXTRA HORSEPOWER FROM THE LARGER PLATE DO FOR YOU THIS YEAR?
"I'll be honest; I haven't noticed much from it. That's part of why we feel like we need that practice today and tomorrow is that we feel like we're missing something. I'm not really seeing that like I've seen in some other cars. I've seen cars that are able to get out of the gas and be able to get that recovery back pretty quick. I'm not seeing that with my car and that's what we're trying to work on and figure out how we can get that. It just seems like you don't necessarily get stuck quite as easy. It used to be if you got yourself in a bind or bogged down, it took a long time to get back up. And guys are being able to recover a lot quicker and I think takes some of the frustration out of it for us as drivers."
GIVEN WITH WHAT HAPPENED WITH BOBBY HUTCHENS OVER THE OFF-SEASON, WHAT WOULD THAT DAYTONA 500 TROPHY MEAN TO YOU?
"It's a great feeling. Not only is Bobby feeling a loss, but our whole organization does and I think a lot of that is because we're really preached from day 1 when we joined Gene Haas's operation that family comes first with our group and during Sharon's term with the cancer there were a lot of days that Bobby wasn't at the shop and there were some trips late in the year that were further away from Charlotte that we didn't let Bobby go to because we didn't want him to be too far away from home if something were to go wrong. To celebrate in Victory Lane here at Daytona would be special and it would mean even that much more to Bobby, having the tragedy and the loss that he's had. He lost his wife. He lost his best friend. And to be able to have an accomplishment like that this Sunday would be something that would be a really big pick-me-up."
HOW MUCH TIME AND MONEY IS YOUR ORGANIZATION PUTTING INTO RESEARCH ON HOW THIS NEW SPOILER IS GOING TO WORK VERSUS TRYING TO ADVANCE WHAT YOU'VE GOT WITH THE WING RIGHT NOW?
"I would say realistically there won't be much work going into the next five races. I don't know for sure. You'd have to ask (crew chief) Darian (Grubb) to know this 100 percent. But I would pretty much say that easily 90 to 95% of the focus right now is going to be on that spoiler and what we have to do. You don't want to get behind, that's the thing. You don't want to start into the spoiler portion of it behind everybody else. So everybody is going to be focused on that. Everybody kind of knows where everything the wing stuff is going and so we'll focus more on the spoiler side than we will the wing."
-source: gm racing