Daytona 500: Stewart - Media Day visit

TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OLD SPICE/OFFICE DEPOT IMPALA met with media and discussed the no-testing rule, self policing, bump drafting, sponsorships, and more. TONY STEWART: The race, it's high on the to do list. We've been close a couple times. I'm...

TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OLD SPICE/OFFICE DEPOT IMPALA met with media and discussed the no-testing rule, self policing, bump drafting, sponsorships, and more.

TONY STEWART: The race, it's high on the to do list. We've been close a couple times. I'm ready to get started today. Excited about it.

Q. Is the Shootout a more important race after having no testing down here?

TONY STEWART: You know, with the package, I don't think it's as critical as it used to be when we were a little more open on the spring packages and all that. But there's no substitute for track time. So I'm not gonna say it's an advantage, but it's sure not an a disadvantage to run the Shootout. It's not giving you the conditions you're going to have during the whole race, but I think there is some things you can learn from that, that you won't learn in practice, for sure. Normally it's on tire wear more than anything.

Q. Can the drivers police themselves?

TONY STEWART: Yeah, you got to remember the bump-drafting deal hasn't been around for eternity. I mean, now the cars, the bumpers match up, which is a better situation for us, because if you run into the back of somebody on accident, you don't wreck them automatically. That's what used to happen. It's always been a situation when I started in this deal, the drivers kind of let you know what the etiquette was. That's how you learned. I don't think it's bad for the drivers to kind of get back into that role.

It's not that NASCAR is just saying, Okay, you guys have free rein. They're still gonna police everything. Trust me, they're still the father figures of the group here, and it has to be that way. When it comes to the etiquette side, they're putting it back into the drivers' hands and I think that's something that we're all appreciative of.

Q. You wouldn't be shy about doing that?

TONY STEWART: I've never been shy about it in the past. I'm not going to be shy about it now.

Q. Said on or off the track?

TONY STEWART: What's that? It normally starts off the track. Then if they don't get it after you talk to them about it, then you do it in the 'tough love session' we call it.

Q. Is this Daytona 500 going to look that much different than last years?

TONY STEWART: Especially on the bump-drafting topic, everybody has to keep in mind, that is a lot more critical issue at Talladega than it is at Daytona. Daytona, you got handling involved, so you're not able to just get on somebody's bumper. Especially as wavy as this track is, this track has its own personality and character that Talladega doesn't have. Talladega, when they repaved that, it is so smooth that you can get on a bumper and stay there, it's no big deal. Here you try to get on a guy's bumper through the corner, you got a lot of bumps to go through.

That's what makes Daytona so cool. You still have a two-and-a-half-mile track here that is a handling track. You have to make your car drive good. Not everybody is going to be able to have that luxury, just being able to push everybody like everybody is talking about. It's more of a Talladega deal than it is for here.

Q. NASCAR is encouraging drivers to be more aggressive. Is that a good thing?

TONY STEWART: I think so. NASCAR has always been smart about how the direction of the sport is going. You know, where our sport is different than any other pro sport, every day when we go on that racetrack, we've got corporate America and Fortune 500 companies on our chests and on our racecars. Other pro sports don't have that. Those guys, some of the stuff they do, compared to what we do, makes us look like fire boys. It's put us in a box in growing the sport.

I think we got to the point where we got too conservative and too corporate minded on that, and even corporate America has kind of said, hey -- when corporate America gives you their blessing, I think it's all right to go ahead and loosen the reins a little bit. I think NASCAR is really smart and conscious of that. They never just say, What we've got is good enough. They never sit on their hands with it. They always look at how they can make it better.

Just because they make a decision, they don't etch that in stone and say this is the way it's going to be for eternity. They're always going back and revisiting how they can make things better. It's nice to be a part of something that's that forward thinking, and that open minded and enough to keep looking at things and trying to figure out, you know, as the times change how they have to change to go along with them.

Q. With that in mind, does it matter how NASCAR loosens up the rules  ?
Is that box always going to be here                                   ?

TONY STEWART: Yeah, to a certain degree, yes, it's always going to be there. You're still representing major corporations. But at the same time I think the different companies are a little more flexible about what's acceptable to them and what's not. So, you know, it's hard for NASCAR to police that for every team and driver when, you know, what some of these sponsors are willing to let go on may be different from team to team.

Q. Do you think corporate America wants a bad boy or two to spice up the mix?

TONY STEWART: Absolutely. Because if it brings more ratings to the series, it's better for everybody. Yeah, I think so. I think corporate America is smart enough to understand that you have to have that side to it.

Q. (Indiscernible)

TONY STEWART: I think we've always kind of seen that. There's a lot that's changed in the 11 years that I've ran in the Cup Series. You know, it's a sport that's always gonna be changing. That's what we mentioned when we were in Charlotte. Basketball courts, they don't change the dimensions of them, they don't keep moving the height of the hoop up or down. Our sport is always in a constant state of change. I think that's what kind of gives us an advantage to a certain degree over other pro sports. Our game isn't necessarily the same all the time. Technology plays a huge role in our sport. Where the technology we know is present in other pro sports, but it's not due -- it's due to the performance of the athletes, it's not the performance of the show necessarily.

I think that's something that, you know, is a positive in our sport.

Q. (Question regarding ownership.)

TONY STEWART: There's no comparison. I think we have four employees on the USAC side. I think we have 160 employees at Stewart Haas. It's comparing apples to oranges. It's a lot bigger organization with all the aspect in Cup versus an open-wheel team.

Q. (Indiscernible)?

TONY STEWART: It's never a routine that you get tired of, that's for sure. You like to make it routine. When you're doing a good job, it's routine.

Q. (Indiscernible)

TONY STEWART: Well, I don't know that there really is a difference. The part to where there's a problem is when the guy that's pushing the guy in front pushes him to where the guy in front becomes out of control or gets put in a situation he doesn't want to be in. That's the part where the bump-drafting gets out of control.

But as far as, you know, how hard the guy gets to the guy's bumper, that's not an issue. It's more what's acceptable to the driver that's getting pushed.

Q. (Indiscernible)

TONY STEWART: Oh, yeah. Well, I think it's more what you want. You know, it never bothered me. I mean, I've had those same hits where it's knocked my head back to the headrest, moved my helmet around my head.

You know, I think that's where the drivers have to kind of self-police what they think is acceptable and not acceptable. That's kind of the hard part about being that car in front is you don't necessarily have control of how hard that guy is going to catch you or push you.

Q. (Indiscernible)

TONY STEWART: I'm not confident that everybody is going to use their head in that. I think there's gonna be some self-policing between the drivers that are going to say, Hey, that's too much or whatever. So at least I hope that's what happens because you don't want to have to put that in NASCAR's hands. You don't want to have to put them in that position to have to make that call.

Q. Is it hard to calibrate the self-policing?

TONY STEWART: Well, no. I think it's what's acceptable to you. It's doesn't matter whether it's your first season or your 11th season, it's what are you comfortable with. If you're doing something to somebody that they're not comfortable with, it's probably not a right thing to do.

Q. (Indiscernible)

TONY STEWART: Well, you got to remember, for the first nine years we didn't have square bumpers like we have now. I mean, when you hit somebody, you try to push somebody, you were picking the back of their car up, too. It was a real defined line of what was acceptable and what was not. This makes the line a lot more gray, knowing you can push somebody and not wreck 'em.

You know, it's kind of like the wreck we had at Talladega. I mean, Ryan is behind me. Ryan wasn't even trying to push me. I had to check up. Ryan checked up. The guy behind him didn't see everybody check up and it pushed Ryan into me. It pushed him into me so hard, it got me sideways and that's how I got in the wall. That's easy after a while figuring out what's going to be all right and what's not going to be all right.

Q. Did NASCAR tell you or warn you or talk to the owners about decreasing the purses before it actually went into effect?

TONY STEWART: No, I didn't know they did that.

Q. Like 5% or so across the board. How does that affect your overhead?

TONY STEWART: The same as it would if they took your paycheck and cut it by 10%. I mean, obviously we have our sponsorship dollars, so it's not gonna be a true 10% cut to the bottom line. But, you know, it's just like anything else, this is a sport where whatever money is available to you, you're going to spend to try to make your racecars as fast as possible. If you lose that in income, then that's just that much less that you have in that flexibility to work on your program. So you'll be smarter. You'll look at what corners you can cut here and there, just like you can any other year.

It does make it tougher.

Q. Can you talk about being back in the racecar. You guys have so many things you have to do. Is that true joy?

TONY STEWART: Yeah, I mean, we all are somewhat stir crazy. I luckily got to go and race a little bit in the off-season. So I didn't, you know, get the cabin fever like everybody else has or some of the other drivers have. But it is. It's nice to get started and, you know, get that first practice session. You always feel better when you get out of the car after that session that you feel like you're back in the routine again. It only takes that one session to really get that feel back.

Q. For the average fan out there, how do you use the next nine days to build the 500?

TONY STEWART: You spend every moment that you're on the racetrack trying to get your balance where you want it. You know, the conditions are going to be different every day. There's going to be overcast days. There's going to be days that are hot or cool. You can't really predict 10 days out what the temperature of the racetrack or the conditions are going to be.

Every day you're out there, you're logging information, you're trying things, knowing that eventually when race day gets here, you hopefully have a day like you had in practice and you know how to start the balance of your racecar. Every bit of track time you get, you're logging information and using that for race days.

Q. No regular formula you use for Speedweeks?

TONY STEWART: Boy, I wish. It's never the same. Never the same.

Q. Is it good for the sport to have a guy like Jimmie that dominates four years in a row or is it better to have a little parity?

TONY STEWART: You know what, I've listened to so many people say how bad they think it is. But I think it's kind of a cool time in the sport. It's not cool if you're the guy that got your butt kicked by him. But it's neat to know we have a sport that's so competitive, but there's one team that's been able to outperform every team for four straight years. It's kind of hard to imagine. It's kind of cool to be a part of that era.

Like I say, you want to be the guy that's doing it. It makes you appreciate what they're doing, you know, how hard they've had to work to accomplish their goals.

I don't think it's good or bad. At least in my perspective it's not. But, you know, I'm not the one that puts the people in the stands every week. Their perspective is what really counts.

Q. Are you as strong as Daytona with this team as you were in the past?

TONY STEWART: I won in July last year, didn't I? Can't get any stronger than that.

Q. (Indiscernible)

TONY STEWART: I don't know about this race. I don't know if it will work in July when I come back. I feel like we're prepared as I've ever been. I feel like I've got just as good of stuff as I've ever had. I've never come to Daytona for the 500 and felt like I didn't have good enough stuff to win ever. I didn't always do a good enough job to do it. But I never felt like I showed up and said we don't have what it takes to win.

Q. You should have a lot of confidence at this place.

TONY STEWART: Yes and no. When you've won everything but the 500, it's hard to have that confidence that you know how to win the 500. But it's like we know how to win all the other races. We just need to figure out how to win the one that matters the most.

Q. The men and women serving in the military across the world watching, want to send a message to them?

TONY STEWART: Yes. Just be careful, be safe. They're not out of sight, out of mind. We're thinking about them every day here. Very appreciative of them. Because of them we get to do what we love to do, get back in a racecar. That's the freedom they give us.

Q. (Indiscernible)

TONY STEWART: You know, I think it's easy for us to all have ideas. But I think the only ones that see the whole picture and see it accurately is NASCAR. It's kind of like the old CART situation. The owners got in the decision making power side of it, and that's in my opinion when CART went downhill.

I think you have to throw ideas out there and then NASCAR has to evaluate those ideas and figure out what they think is best for the series. I think it's good that they do that versus us doing it for them.

Q. (Indiscernible)

TONY STEWART: The good thing is I feel like we have a shot at winning the championship this year. We lead the points for 13 weeks. We missed a little bit when it counted the most. But, you know, we weren't the only ones. We still finished in the upper half of the Chase guys. You know, for a first-year team, I didn't think that was too bad. If we can do that the first year, I don't know why we shouldn't set our goals higher this year, set our goals where they should be every year when you start the season.

Q. (Indiscernible)?

TONY STEWART: Yeah, I think a little bit. I mean, like I said, it was hard to predict what was going to happen. We knew what tools were available to us, but we didn't know how it was all going to come together. It definitely was better than I think we all had anticipated. Thankful for that.

Q. What are your impressions of Brad Keselowski?

TONY STEWART: Which aspect?

Q. A lot of talent, pretty aggressive, pretty brash.

TONY STEWART: Copy. I agree (laughter).

Q. (Indiscernible)?

TONY STEWART: You know, it's hard to say. What he did in the Cup Series is -- what he did in Nationwide may be different than what his approach will be in the Cup Series. You evaluate it when you're around him. If he needs it, he'll get it just like everybody else does.

Q. (Indiscernible)

TONY STEWART: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, obviously I had Bobby Labonte as a teammate. I would be in the Nationwide car. You know, I think back to Rockingham, for example, where the Nationwide garage was on the backstretch, the Cup garage was on the frontstretch. He would make that trip over to help out. Him and Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett, those were guys very early on, Jeff Gordon, that made themselves available. These are guys that you're competing against and guys that are at the top of their game. Why would they want to help out? You realize that part of helping out is also helping them out, too, because it keeps you from making mistakes that could help them, too.

It seems likes that's kind of the mentality there. You want to beat guys because you outperform them, not necessarily because -- I guess everybody just has been willing to help. It's always been that way since I've been here.

Q. (Indiscernible)

TONY STEWART: I don't know that it is different. When I raced Sprint cars and open-wheel cars, it was the same thing. The guy that you wrecked with the night before that was mad at you might have a part that you needed the next night and they were willing to loan it to you to help you get through the night. I think racing as a whole, it's been that way. Obviously when you get to Formula One, it's different than that. IndyCar racing is different. But I think help from the driver side, though, at this level is pretty cool.

-source: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Brad Keselowski , Mark Martin