Daytona - Stewart, Johnson meet the press

TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: (HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING INTO THIS YEAR? "I feel like I do every year. It's a wait and see attitude. We don't really know what we've got. We need to run races and see what our strengths and...

TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:

(HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING INTO THIS YEAR?

"I feel like I do every year. It's a wait and see attitude. We don't really know what we've got. We need to run races and see what our strengths and weaknesses are."

HOW WAS YOUR OFF SEASON AND DID SKIPPING DAYTONA TESTING ALLOW YOU TO HAVE MORE OF AN OFF SEASON?)

"We're finding places to break the season up more. Right there gave me another week off. Finding little things like that help you extend your off season to help you come back. All we do at Daytona test for drivers is worry about not missing one of three shifts. That's the hardest thing we do at Daytona testing."

(WHAT ABOUT FEEDBACK FROM THE DRIVERS?)

"What feedback? You hold it wide open and you're in the same line every time. It's exactly as simple as I'm making it sound. Literally. You run the same line every time. The guys that are running these cars know how to drive the same line."

(IS PLATE RACING BORING TO YOU?)

"No, but it's a different challenge. This is not a race where you can go out and win it by yourself. You have to think about guys around you. You've got to be confident about the people you're around. If you pull out to make a move you've got to be confident that the guys behind you are going to move with you. It's not a race that can be won by itself. You need help from people to get where you need to go."

(HOW HAVE THE NEW RULES CHANGED HOW RACING WILL BE THIS YEAR?)

"No clue. As far as testing has gone, it really hasn't changed what we do. When it gets warmer, the downforce is going to be more critical when the track gets hotter and loses grip."

(DO YOU THINK YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO RUN SIDE BY SIDE WITH THE NEW RULES PACKAGE?)

"It is what it is when we get out there. None of us know until we're running in the pack. We can speculate but none of us know. It's wait and see."

(DO YOU FEEL THE NEW POINT SYSTEM WAS FAIR?)

"I guess. It is what it is. It's what we've got so why worry? It's the same for everybody. If it's the same for everybody, it's fair for everybody."

(WHEN YOU FOUND OUT THAT GREG ZIPPADELLI WOULD BE YOUR CREW CHIEF, DID YOU KNOW HIM AND WHAT DID YOU THINK?)

"No, I didn't know him. He knew me but I would have tripped over him if I saw him. But honestly it's one of the best things in my career to have Greg as a crew chief. We're like brothers, basically. The funny thing is that we'll be out and people will ask us if we're brothers. I don't know if my milkman was Italian or my mailman was Italian but I know my father wasn't Italian. It's fun to watch people around us thinking we're related to each other. We have the same passions. If we didn't know that we weren't related, we would assume we were."

(WHY HAS IT WORKED SO WELL BETWEEN YOU AND GREG?)

"It's chemistry. We have the same passion and desire to win. He understands me and I understand him. In all reality, I've never been married but I feel that with some of my buddies it's almost like we are married. When I'm having a bad day he has ways to pick me up and when he's having a bad day I have ways to pick him up. That's the kind of thing."

(WHO IS THE DRIVER WHO YOU'D BORROW MONEY FROM IN THE GARAGE AREA?)

"Casey Mears! He was the highlight of the tournament. He was so much fun to be around. He's a great guy. But I can teach him some things on poker. He's the guy you want to play every day of your life because you can beat him."

(WILL HAVING JOE GIBBS BACK IN THE RACING SHOP HAVE AN EFFECT?)

"I don't know. He hasn't been working on the cars these past seven years so I don't think it's going to be that different."

(HOW DO YOU RANK THE DAYTONA 500?)

"I don't know. It's one of 36. It's obviously an important race and probably the biggest race of the year. But at the same time it's at the beginning of the season and not one that you can put all your emotions into."

(HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE RETIREMENT OF RUSTY WALLACE AND MARK MARTIN?)

"I used to think I was a race car driver, now I have to be a columnist. They came along in an era that wasn't exactly the Pearson era, but they were kind of the first young development that came along. They were two guys that came from somewhere other than the south. One came from Wisconsin and the other came from St. Louis. They have fresh ideas and young ideas and they both played important roles in our sport. Rusty's been a great leader and so has Mark. I think they are two guys that have helped the competition side of the sport."

(ARE YOU A VIDEO GAME PLAYER?)

"Oh yeah. I've always been a video game guy. But I'm more of a video poker guy now. I never play NASCAR games on video games, because that's what I do three days a week. That would be like a reporter writing columns all week and then going to play a video game about writing columns."

(DO YOU WISH THEY BROUGHT POKER TABLES TO THE RACE TRACK?)

"I wish! I feel like my poker game is really good right now. Instead of it being a poker tournament on the race track, it's more of a chess match."

(YOU'VE DONE A LOT OF CHARITY WORK, DO YOU FEEL THAT PART OF YOUR LIFE IS AS IMPORTANT AS RACING ITSELF?)

"It really is. I didn't grow up in a rich family that helped buy my rides to get me where I'm at today. I had a lot of help from a lot of people. It's nice to finally be in a position where you can help other people. Whether it is young guys like Kasey Kahne, helping him with Ray Evernham, or doing charity events. The race fans and racing community do a lot for us so it's nice to be able to turn it around. Whether you won or lost it overshadows what you did that weekend."

(HOW DIFFICULT WOULD IT BE TO HAVE A CREW CHIEF CHANGE LIKE DALE JR. HAS GOING INTO 2005?)

"I don't know, I haven't done it yet. It's a matter of chemistry. You guys are smart enough to know how to speculate about it. I don't speculate about anything anymore. I'm concerned with the black and white."

(WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TRACK NOW AND THE NEXT DAYTONA RACE THIS SUMMER?)

"In February it's a lot cooler because of the winter season, obviously. And in July it's a lot hotter and it's a lot harder to get the car driving good. But it doesn't matter too much to me because, you know, it's the same for everyone. It's a matter of figuring out what your car needs to do."

(PLEASE COMMENT AGAIN ON THE DIFFICULTY OF MAKING A CREW CHIEF CHANGE)

"It'd be very difficult. This is my 26th year in racing and I can count the amount of guys on one hand I've had the relationship with in racing like I've had with Zippy. If we were separated it would probably be the biggest change in my racing career."

(HOW IMPORTANT IS CHEMISTRY IN WINNING?)

"Absolutely it's important. That's what makes champions in all reality. You can have the best driver on the race track and the best driver but you need the best crew chief, etc. You need to match them."

(HOW IMPORTANT WAS THAT CHEMISTRY TO WINNING YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP?)

"It's extremely important. Like I said, he's there to pick me up and I'm there to pick him up. We've done that for six years and we can do that for another 26 years."

(HOW MANY WINS DO YOU WANT TO HAVE THIS YEAR?)

"Every year is a different year. Our goals have always been to win every race. When we get to the end of the year we'll evaluate that."

(WITH THE RETIREMENT OF OLDER DRIVERS DO YOU FEEL THE SPORT IS CHANGING?)

"It's a sad time for the fans. It's evolution but you know, there will be a time when I go away and Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr. go away. It's just part of the sport. It's odd because it comes in waves. You hate to lose three great drivers this year. That's going to be a pretty big change for this sport."

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO

(DID YOU THINK YOU WERE GOING TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP LAST YEAR?) "I really felt like things were going our away. With the winding down of the season, the races we were winning, closing up the points gap like we did, I really thought it was our year. Even Sunday morning at Homestead going through different parts of the race, watching the 97 have some problems, I really felt like it was our year and our championship. With about 50 (laps) to go I looked in the mirror and saw 97 there. Then all those feelings started to change and we had a race on our hands. I know for a fact it was the hardest racing I've ever done. A lot of it was side-by-side with Jeff (Gordon) and also with Kurt (Bush). I think as a fan you saw some of the best racing throughout the end of last season. We did all we could. There wasn't anything left on the table."

(DID YOU HUNGER FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP INCREASE DURING THE OFF-SEASON?) "They say before you win one you have to lose one. I hope last year was that case for us. We put up a great effort."

(WERE YOU SYMPATHETIC TO THE DRIVERS THAT DIDN'T MAKE THE TOP TEN FROM A SPONSORSHIP STANDPOINT?)

"Not really. The truth of it is if you were 11th, you weren't going to win the championship. If you look at the numbers throughout the season, as you drew closer to the cut-off and when the Chase started, you had 10th through 15th getting a lot more exposure than they would normally had. If you look at the numbers and the end of the year, I think as a whole all the drivers, sponsors and team owners had more exposure than they did in the year previously. You just kind of feel left out that you're not in that final ten. I think that is going to make this year more intense when we get to Richmond and the races leading up to that."

(WAS MR. FRANCE SMART OR LUCKY WITH THE SUCCESS OF THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP?) "I think he was smart. In order to take the biggest sport in United States and make such a change with it knowing how many people's lives it can affect. I really feel that he made an educated and calculated decision. He did a great job.

"I don't think that NASCAR as a whole would take a chance if there was a chance of it going belly up or hurting our sport. It was a very calculated move and it turned out how they expected."

(HOW DRAINED WERE YOU AT THE END OF LAST SEASON?) "I was beat. I didn't realize it until my honeymoon. I went from the end of the season to New York for banquet to Paris for the race overseas then wedding. On the honeymoon that's when I finally had a chance to sleep. With the way season was going, I was run down. So was the team and everybody. Driving race cars is what I love to do. There's nothing like it and like racing these guys. I could do that everybody. The rest of it is work. It's a tough schedule with the travel and the responsibilities you have as a driver. Those things really wear on you but climbing in a race car - I'll do that any chance I can get."

(WILL YOU APPROACH THE RACES LEADING UP TO THE FINAL TEN AS YOU DID LAST YEAR?) "I know it looked from the outside like we were trying to do some off the wall stuff since we had the points lead. We were experimenting but we really felt like we what we were trying was going to work. Knowing that and if we are in that situation again, I think you have to try to find an advantage for the final ten. I feel like we would take some chances again. If you can find an advantage with something the other guys aren't using for the final ten, you'll be golden."

(ON DRIVING A SPORTS CAR VS. A CUP CAR) "It's a totally different vehicle. They're at least half the weight. On top of that, the strong points of the prototype drivers are opposite of a Cup car. The Cup car has a lot of mechanical grip. We don't have a lot of downforce so you can roll through the turn and use the gas and carry a lot of corner speed. With the prototype you have zero mechanical grip and all downforce and is very light so can brake like you wouldn't believe and accelerate pretty strongly as well."

(ON THEIR ENGINE PROGRAM THIS YEAR) "It's fantastic on a lot of levels. Randy (Dorton) did so many things for our organization. Not only did he run the engine department, he was an important part of developing new products and new things for Hendrick Motorsports and involved with the driver development. He really eye for the future of Hendrick Motorsports.

"We have hired Doug Duchardt this week. I think Doug has the same mindset and was a really good friend Randy's and understood where Randy was going with things. I think that is going to strong asset to Hendrick Motorsports to carry that vision on that Randy had. There's no doubt that there's a huge void there and I'm not sure we'll ever be able to fill it. Randy believed in his guys in the engine department. They had a lot of free reign to experiment and try things and develop our engine program. Jim Wall and Jeff Andrews and all those guys know what to do. I don't feel we will enter the season with a soft engine program or have the excuse that we can't win a championship this year because of it. That doesn't exist. Even if there was something that was affecting us, we wouldn't admit it because we want to carry on Randy's name and everybody that was involved. We won't sleep. We'll work harder than we ever have to make up the difference out of pride and to keep Hendrick where it needs to be."

(DID THE 24 HOURS AT DAYTONA GET YOU READY FOR THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT?) "The 24 Hours is just a fun thing. You get to spend time in a cool race car different than what we normally drive. You do get the racing juices flowing in your mind. The cars are so different we can't apply it."

(ON PARTICIPATING IN THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT) "The Bud Shootout really won't cross over but it gets you ready for the duels and the 500. I think there is a small advantage to being in the Shootout if you go out and work on your set-up a little bit. You also have a chance to get on the track. It never fails you that half way into the 500 something comes to you that you forgot about but wanted to remember. So you get a head start."

(DO YOU THINK YOU AND JEFF GORDON HAVE CLOSED HERE ON THE DEI DRIVERS?) "I think last year showed that. Jeff (Gordon) won two and Junior won two. I don't think there's a gap anymore."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Casey Mears , Kasey Kahne , Ray Evernham
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , CIP