Fontana: Stewart - Friday media visit

TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OLD SPICE / OFFICE DEPOT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the real start to the season, sizing up the teams, his Open Wheel teams, the importance of the draft at Fontana, and more. HAVE YOU HAD AN EXCITING DAY SO ...

TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OLD SPICE / OFFICE DEPOT IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the real start to the season, sizing up the teams, his Open Wheel teams, the importance of the draft at Fontana, and more.

HAVE YOU HAD AN EXCITING DAY SO FAR? "Ah, yes. I had a little bit of a moment off of (Turn) 2 (during practice). I just got loose and I needed about 12 more inches that I didn't have. But it really wasn't bad. It was just more cosmetic than anything as far as the paint. It got the right front fender just a little bit, but they've already gotten it fixed."

THERE ARE SEVERAL THAT HAVE SCRAPED THE WALL. IS THERE ANY SURPRISING LACK OF GRIP? "No, that's what makes this place fun is because it's not loaded up with a ton of grip. (Turn) 2 has always been a challenge. You guys would know better on the stats side, but the exit of (Turns) 2 and 4 is always tricky. It seems like (Turn) 2 is a little trickier than 4 is. But that's also where if you can get your car driving good there, you can make up a lot of time."

CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW YOU ALWAYS SEEM TO WIN RIGHT AFTER THERE HAS BEEN SOMETHING CONTROVERSIAL? "Oh, that would be perfect if that happened (laughs). If that's the case we'll be planning something else next week. No, I don't know. It's just coincidence."

SO I SHOULDN'T BET ON THAT IN LAS VEGAS? "I don't think so. We'll see after this week then."

WOULD YOU RATHER BE OUT ON THE I-10 DRIVING, OR ON THE TRACK WITH FIVE ROOKIE DRIVERS? "Five rookies, for sure (laughter). I've been on the 10 freeway and I get nervous. This is one of the few parts of the country that I get nervous on the freeway but they do it every day and they make it and so you can tell they know how to do it. But when you're not used to being in this much traffic as they have out here, I'd definitely take my chances with five rookies. At least we're all going the same direction."

ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT GOING TO VEGAS AND SEEING THE USAC BOYS RUN? "Oh, yeah. It's really a cool weekend because we get to watch the USAC guys on Wednesday and then the Outlaw guys on Thursday, so I get to see both sides of my Open Wheel team run two days in a row; and then I get to play the rest of the weekend. So I am excited about that. That's what always makes going to Talladega and Charlotte and some of these other places so much fun is that we do get to see our other programs running. So we'll get to see all our Chevy teams out there and that will be fun."

HOW DID THE TEAM DO AT THE CHILI BOWL? "I thought they did a really good job. Tracy (Hines) running second and winning his preliminary I think was awesome; and Levi (Jones) had a great run going. He ran second in his preliminary night was running fifth when for some reason, it just shut off. So I don't know if it was electrical or fuel or what. But they both ran really well. Josh Richards, who doesn't run my Midget but once a year gave the best performance he has had. So I was really excited. This is the first year that we've been able to bring the new Chevy Midget engine down there."

DO YOU VIEW THIS AS THE REAL START TO THE SEASON? "Yeah, I do. I think so. This is the first time all year that we get to go out and run and we're not depending on everybody else around us. So I do. I do feel like this is really the first true test of where everybody is at, and a truer read to the season than just Daytona."

IS IT SAFE TO SAY IF YOU'RE A FAN AND YOU WATCH CALIFORNIA, LAS VEGAS, AND ATLANTA, YOU'D HAVE A PRETTY GOOD IDEA ABOUT HOW THE EARLY PART OF THE SEASON IS GOING TO GO? "I believe so. I honestly believe you're right 100 percent on that. It's a truer test than what Daytona is. You get big groups of wrecks there that you can get caught up in easily and the draft plays such a big role, where here, it's more about individual performances where who paired up with who and got going."

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DRAFT AT FONTANA "The draft is important here, but still, when you get to the corner you're not running flat so the handling of the cars is 100 times more crucial here in making sure that you get your car driving good and you're not going to see packs of cars drafting and catching a car that's a single car out there. It seems like once guys get in a clump like that it's normally the first guy that's holding the rest of them up and then they start cycling through one at a time.

"So, this is more about individual performances versus Daytona, which is still about individuals, but you still have to have guys around that dictate what your deal is."

IF THEY PUT RESTRICTOR PLATES ON THE CARS HERE, WOULD THAT MAKE A GOOD SHOW? "I wouldn't be in favor of it. I don't think it's a good idea. I don't think the speeds are in a range where it's uncomfortable for any of us or unsafe for any of us. I don't know what the need would be to put them on for here."

NOT FOR SPEED, BUT JUST TO BUNCH THE CARS UP FOR PEOPLE IN THE STANDS? "That wouldn't work. Your idea and the path you're going down is right, but it wouldn't work that way because the handling is so crucial.

"If you got to where you lost momentum in the corner because you slipped a little bit, it would hurt it so bad that you wouldn't be able to recover as quick as you can with an open motor. So it would almost work the opposite."

WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR MOST DARING MANEUVER ON THE TRACK? "Oh, I don't know. I'd say probably it's been at any of the restrictor plate races where you had to go and switch two lanes at one time and slot in between a couple of cars. That's always probably the toughest thing we do. I've been doing this 28 years and I don't know that there is one particular moment. I don't know. I still think it's that first win when we won at Richmond. It seemed like after eight or 10 laps, the second line was where the groove was and we were able to stay on the bottom and just kind of pick away and pass guys like Dale Sr. and Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton and Mark Martin. Those were guys that we raced with all day and had to just kick our way by. You couldn't just do it in one lap. You were taking five or six laps to clear a car and that is probably one of the biggest races for us."

WHEN YOU TURNED 16, WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR? "Ha, ha, I still wasn't driving at the age of 16. My parents wouldn't even let me. My first vehicle was a '79 Plymouth Valarie with a slant six, with wore out front shocks on it that was used as a mail car (laughter). It was one of our close family friends, it was his father's mail car that he used. It was white with a blue vinyl top. And about every hour and a half you drove, you had to put a quart of oil in it. It was awesome. Good times. Trust me, I was just happy to have a car and get off the bike."

HOW DO YOU LIKE BEING BACK WITH THE BOWTIE? "Love it. It's a good homecoming for sure. I'm definitely glad to be back. It's fun working with the Hendrick organization. Their engine package with Chevrolet has been awesome for years. It's nice to finally get to see it. When you've raced against them for so long, you want to see what they've got and now we're in a situation where we can finally see what all the Hendrick guys have had for so long and why they're so happy about it."

CAN YOU GET A SNAPSHOT OF WHERE THE TEAMS ARE FROM THIS ONE PRACTICE SESSION? "At least from our side, we were happy with our car and the lap times we were running in race trim so far. But I think 24 hours from now and after we run that second session, we're going to have better idea of what we have at this point because you don't know who was in qualifying trim the whole session or who was in race trim and when they switched. So it's kind of hard to get a gauge on it right now."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Josh Richards , Mark Martin