TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: COMMENTS FROM VICTORY LANE "I would have sworn that car behind me was black and had a '3' on it because Dale (Earnhardt) Junior may have 'Jr.' behind his name, but he drives like Dale ...
TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
COMMENTS FROM VICTORY LANE "I would have sworn that car behind me was black and had a '3' on it because Dale (Earnhardt) Junior may have 'Jr.' behind his name, but he drives like Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. He's got all the talent in the world; he's got all the talent that 'Sr.' had. It was an honor to run with him. "We were both good in practice and we knew if we could ever get hooked up in the race, we could both get to the front. We proved it twice. I was good behind him or in front of him; he was good behind me or in front of me, too. We knew it was going to be between us at the end. I knew he'd help me get to the front there when I'd helped him get to the front, but at the end, we knew it was every man for himself."
DID YOU FEEL LIKE BEING OUT FRONT WAS THE PLACE TO BE IN THE CLOSING LAPS? "My car just drove a little better out front. It wasn't bad behind him, but we got a really big run on the '36' car there after the round of pit stops and I knew if I didn't go, he'd go, and I knew if I went that he'd go with me. We just both went and knew once we got in the top two there that we'd be able to take car of each other."
YOU GOT BEHIND A LITTLE ON THE PIT STOP...WERE YOU CONCERNED AT ALL ABOUT THAT? "No, I think I learned a little something there. But, that's something I'm going to keep in my back pocket for next weekend. The pit stops, as long as we had good partners - and we had the '36' in front of us when we came out and he was good all day, so we knew that we were with some good cars there when we came out."
DID YOU LIKE TO SEE JEFF GORDON GOING UP THE RACETRACK IN YOUR MIRROR? "I liked it when they finally got side-by-side. But, I kind of felt bad because 'Junior' and I had worked together all day and I didn't want to see him lose second. I knew he was going to challenge us for the win, but if he wasn't going to beat us I wanted him to run second. After we worked together for so long like that, I didn't want to see him lose second."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS RULES PACKAGE? "It definitely put more emphasis on the drivers. The pass that we made on Schrader, we had to move up and down the racetrack a lot. When we passed Rusty Wallace, same thing - we had to move up and down the racetrack. It gave the ability back to the drivers instead of being at the mercy of the air. It made it a little harder to pass for the lead, but you could get to the front. Gordon got to the front from the back. I started up front, got to the lead, got cycled back to the back of the lead draft and by myself, worked my way up four or five spots there and got close to the front again. You could pass. The nice thing is that we feel like we're driving the car again. With last year's package, I felt like the car was driving me and I was just riding along. This year I feel like I'm at least in more control of my car. It doesn't mean that it drives perfectly. We were tight at times during the race; we were loose at times during the race, but at least I felt like I was in control of what my car was doing."
ON THE POINT IN THE RACE IN TURN FOUR WHEN YOU AND SCHRADER CAME UP ON JUNIOR AFTER THE PIT STOPS "We got hooked up out of the pits. A lot of the guys that pitted later were by themselves, which is not advantageous - to be out there alone. We just had a big run. We had already passed two or three cars getting to Junior. By the time we caught him in four we had a lot of momentum. To give Junior credit, he could have done something real erratic and pulled up and jammed us up pretty tight and made us get in a tight spot, but he didn't. He tried to ease his way up there, but he was doing it in a safe manner, which I applaud him for.
"I knew that I wanted to be with Junior at that point, but I knew that if I checked up to get with him that, not only was it going to mess the run up that I had, but it was just going to create more of a problem than helping us out. I knew that he was going to be able to fall in behind us and get right back to us."
WERE YOU AWARE THAT JUNIOR WAS TRYING TO GET A RUN ON YOU? "I told the guys downstairs, I go, 'He may have 'Jr.' behind his name, but he's got just as much skill and talent as his father had.' It was the same tricks his father tried to pull last year to get the lead."
"That was his only shot to get by. Nobody could help him get a big enough run without doing that to get by us. I was just kind of conscious of what he was doing and making sure - I probably looked two-thirds of the time behind me and a third do the time ahead of me of where I was going. Probably five-sixths of the time on the straightaway, I was watching behind me, but in the corners I paid a little more attention to where we were at. You had to be conscious of where he was at and what he was doing because I knew that he was going to have to pull something out of his hat to get by. You know what the move is, you've just got to know what counter-move to put along with it."
DOES THE LEADER HAVE MORE CONTROL OF WHAT IS GOING ON BEHIND HIM? "I think so, to a certain degree. But, I think that is pretty fair to have. If you've earned your way to the front and you've earned your way to the lead, you ought to be able to do something about it instead of being a sitting duck every time. It shouldn't be a revolving door to roll your way up to the front and roll your way back to the back. It doesn't mean that I wouldn't have gotten passed. With them two-wide behind me like that, if we had to run another lap, the outcome may have been totally different. But, it worked out today at least, to where when it did get two-wide we were far enough into that lap to hold them off."
WILL SUNDAY BE A 500-MILE CHESS MATCH? "I've always said that. That's what I've always said about restrictor plate racing, but the way the package used to be was more like playing Keno - just pick numbers and see what happens. At least this way, we have the opportunity to do something as drivers to create our own strategy and to somewhat control our own destiny versus it controlling us."
HOW GOOD OF A CHESS PLAYER ARE YOU? "I'm a terrible Checkers player, so you tell me how good of a Chess player I am. Not very good."
DO YOU STILL FEEL THE SAME WAY ABOUT MIRROR DRIVING? "I still feel the same way as I always have. That back straightaway is straight and everyone of you guys can get in a van, come off turn two and look straight down there, and there is not one bow or bend in it. When guys are making lefts and rights down the backstretch to block guys, I hate that. I think it's wrong. I don't like seeing it in our sport. I don't think it's good for our sport because it's going to hurt somebody eventually, and it killed somebody last year here because they had to block.
"We're a step in the right direction by having the yellow line and at least keeping us up on the racetrack now. Now, the challenge is to try to get it to where we don't have to weave and bob all over the racetrack to keep guys behind us. You do it because you have to, not because you want to. I don't like doing it, but that's what we had to do to win today. I do it about a third as much as everybody else does, just because I can only do it so much and then I can't do it anymore."
HOW DID THE RAIN AFFECT THE TRACK? "It didn't. All it did was clean the ARCA rubber off, which, if anything, made it a little better for our cars because the rubber is a little bit different. It was dry everywhere. If there were damp spots, they were just damp. They weren't saturated to where it was going to create a problem for anybody. I thought the conditions were good when they dropped the green."
DO YOU STILL THINK THE YELLOW LINE IS NECESSARY WITH THIS PACKAGE? "It probably is still. We probably still need it. We may not have needed it today, but with twice as many cars next week I'm sure there is going to be a point somewhere during the race where somebody is going to get close to it and have a situation where it might become a factor, so it's nice to have a boundary there. It's got it's own separate set of rules, I guess, which makes it a little bit more tricky and difficult, but at least it keeps us up on the racetrack."
WILL NEXT SUNDAY'S RACE BE BORING? "I don't think so. Here is my standpoint and reality check on it: if you think back to the second Charlotte race, Sterling Marlin won. He was six seconds ahead of me, I was nine seconds ahead of Ward Burton, who finished third -- fifteen seconds between the first three spots. There were what - maybe a half a second between the first three of us today? I don't think you can put on a bad race here."
AT WHAT POINT DID JEFF GORDON COME ON YOUR RADAR? "My radar was full of the Budweiser '8' car the majority of the time. I didn't see him until he popped out in turn three. I knew he was in the pack and I knew who the players were in the lead draft there, I just didn't realize he had gotten by Sterling at that point to be perfectly honest. But, it didn't matter whether it was Gordon or anybody else. Whoever it was that popped out was going to be a threat, so when I saw him up there I saw he had a really big run. I just had to make sure that we didn't lose the momentum and didn't get in a situation to where we were paying too much attention to Dale and lost sight that it was Jeff up there and that he had a big run."
DO YOU THINK THESE RULES COULD CREATE A POTENTIAL PROBLEM ON THE LAST LAP? "No more than we normally have had. If anything, it should be less of a problem, to be honest. You're not having the closing rates that you had last year. If anything, in my opinion, I can honestly say that I think it's going to make it a safer race for us. I told Greg Zipadelli after we had our 'Happy Hour' session for the 'Shootout' yesterday that I didn't feel like I ever had to hold my breath because I felt uncomfortable out there. It was the first time that I've felt comfortable at a restrictor plate track in two years now."
YOU SEEM VERY LOW-KEY RIGHT NOW...IS THAT YOUR ATTITUDE GOING INTO THE '500' WEEKEND? "I'm just tired from getting back from the sprint car races late last night, after watching my sprint car driver win. I'm excited. It's already been a long week here. I've got some other obligations other than at the Winston Cup track each night. I've enjoyed being out there with my sprint car team, but yesterday our day started at 8:30 in the morning and ended at midnight last night, so that's a long day. I wasn't tired today, I guess I've just been kind of refreshed since we've been here. I'm putting everything in perspective. Today is today. I am excited about winning today. Anytime you can beat the Earnhardts at Daytona, you beat the best. To win here two years in a row, in my opinion, is a great accomplishment for our team and for our sponsors. But, today is over with now and it's time to look toward next week. The bigger goal starts on Sunday with the first points race of the year. We're setting our sights at the end of the year and it starts a week from Sunday, not this Sunday."
IS THIS YEAR'S PACKAGE MORE LIKE A POKER GAME? "I like Poker a lot better than Keno. I would say so. It's nice to somewhat control your own destiny, where in the past you got in line and hope for the best and hoped that your line went better than the other two lines out there. At least now you can race guys more one-on-one. You used to race lines. It used to be that you were either on the inside line, the middle line or the outside line and hoped that your line was faster than the other two. Now, it's putting a little more individuality into it."