GM Racing - Stewart, Zipadelli interview, part II

GM Racing interview of Tony Stewart and Greg Zipadelli at Daytona test day two. Part 2 of 2 STEWART: WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR THE NEGATIVITY TO DISAPPEAR WHEN IT COMES TO WHAT IS REPORTED ABOUT YOU? "Shoot, I don't know. You guys (the media)...

GM Racing interview of Tony Stewart and Greg Zipadelli at Daytona test day two.

Part 2 of 2


WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR THE NEGATIVITY TO DISAPPEAR WHEN IT COMES TO WHAT IS REPORTED ABOUT YOU? "Shoot, I don't know. You guys (the media) are the ones that write about it. You tell me. I know who I am as a person and what 90 percent of [the fans] think isn't who I am as a real person. The direct link from me to those people - 98 percent of it is through you guys. It's about how much you guys want to focus on it and how much of it you guys want to let go. Every time that they show something on TV or they read something in the paper about something that happened three years ago that hasn't pertained to anything that we've done in the last year - you guys are reminding them. We're not reminding them. I don't know what it's going to take.

"Am I going to screw up in the future? I'm sure I am. How do you get me to not screw up in the future? But, I think there are a lot of other things we can focus on. And, I'm not saying cover up anything I do. There is one thing I've always told my friends in the media - I'll never ask anyone to lie for me - ever. But, you don't have to take something that happened one time and grind it into the ground 20 times in 20 different pieces that you write. It's a little overkill.

"I'm still going to make mistakes. There is not one of us in the garage area that doesn't. But, what's really important? I don't know. I sit at home at night and for some reason I've thought about lately. What's really important to these people and what's really important to those people up there (the fans)? But, I've got a lot of questions I'm wanting to get answered about that topic. But, to be honest, it's like I said earlier - I could worry myself to death to an ulcer with worrying about what is going to happen and what people are going to write and what they aren't going to write.

"I went home for the holidays and I saw the people that I've always been around all my life. Every one of those people know who I am. They don't treat me any different than they always have. They know who I am as a real person. And the people that I don't know and don't meet, you guys are our direct link to them. If you guys portray it different than what it really is, there is nothing I can do about it. You guys always have the last word, so there is not much I can do in all reality. But, at the same time, it's not really much for me to worry about. Most of those people I'm not ever going to see. And, I don't want them to think the way they're going to think, but at the same time, I'm not going to let it rule my life - worrying about what is in the papers and all that. The only thing I can control is what I do on and off the racetrack and I'm really trying hard to change that part of it myself."

IS IT HARD FOR YOU TO IGNORE WHAT IS SAID? "That's probably been the hardest transition, is not concentrating on what I read in the paper and reading the letters that fans write into each publication and this and that. It's like I said, I read some of the articles and I almost laugh nowadays.

"I met three people while I was home at the holidays in the town that I grew up in and those three people did not like me. But, we were at a local pub and we were there because it was the closest place to a pool table and they spent 20 minutes around us and you would have thought that we were all best friends by the time they left. It happens every time we get an opportunity to spend time with somebody like that. The thing is, you can't spend it with four or five million people like that and show them who you really are, but those three cases alone were probably one of the highlights of my off-season - being able to sit there and show three people who I really am and see how they changed and how their attitude changed toward me."

HOW DID THEY LET YOU KNOW THAT THEY DIDN'T LIKE YOU? "They came up and said, 'We don't like you.' Real easy. I'm pretty forward with people and most of the time people that come talk to me are pretty forward talking to me. They were pretty clear about what they thought when they got there. But, it was actually funny. I started laughing and then it kind of made them mad. Then, when I explained to them why I was laughing, then it kind of started to turn the other direction. But, it's hard to convince people up in the stands. I could spend more time trying to convince people who I really am versus driving the car, but I came here to drive race cars.

"I read a letter the other day that a lady wrote into - I can't remember what magazine it was. Her letter pertained to - I shouldn't be the Winston Cup champion from the fact that she doesn't like how I act outside the race car. It kind of brought me back to what I was saying at Homestead. I said, 'The last time I checked the Winston Cup champion was the guy that got the most points' - plain and simple - no matter what you do inside or outside the race car, whether you pick your nose, whatever you do. It didn't matter. The guy that got the most points won the championship. And this lady wrote in saying that I shouldn't be Winston Cup champion this year because of all this other stuff. I thought, 'Wow, what has this all turned into now? Have we all focused on stuff that is so trivial now that we forget what we're actually really here for? It's for [Greg] to work on a car, it's for me to get in and drive a car. You asked why I like going back to the Chili Bowl? It's because that's what you go for. You go to drive and you're done. You go home. You don't worry about all this other garbage that you have to deal with here every week. Trust me, I'm not going to leave this stuff because of that. I still enjoy racing against the best of the best in the country that drive stock cars every week and I enjoy racing in front of all those people every week. There is no bigger thrill than running in front of a packed grandstand and the more people the better. That part is not going to change."

ON YOUR APPROACH TO DAYTONA THIS YEAR AFTER LAST YEAR'S DISAPPOINTING FINISH: "I look at it this way: it should be easy to do a lot better than I did here last year. As much as I would like to say, 'Yeah, I'm so disappointed from last year I've got to win the race just to make myself feel better about it.' No. My confidence of how we ran here last year is probably what carried me through that weekend. We had an awesome week. Even though the end result wasn't what we wanted, just to know that every day we were competitive, every day we felt like we were in a position to win the race and we just kept fine-tuning and making ourselves better every day. That is probably what I took away from here, saying that the way we ran at Daytona - that is what told me in my head that we've got a shot at winning this championship even though we're leaving here 43rd in the points.

"I think all around there is less pressure this year and I'm going to have a lot more fun this year, probably."


DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE TEAM HAS SOMETHING TO PROVE THIS YEAR? "No, the only thing to prove is to come out and do what we've done the last four years, which is to run competitive and put ourselves in a position to have a shot at winning the championship come the last five or 10 races. That's what we're here for. That is what we're going to do. Knowing that we did it last year, I think just gives this whole group more confidence that no matter what happens we're going to put it behind us and we're just going to keep digging because we can overcome a lot of things. I think that is one thing that we all took away this year from the season.

"Coming to Daytona last year, we went home that night and the motor department rebuilt the motor because they felt like we had a problem, came in, put it in that morning - we did everything that we thought was right. It was due to lack of effort and that is one thing that I can say about this group. No matter what happens, it's not due to lack of effort. We may not get the results out of it, but we'll just keep doing what we've done. If we think that is the right thing to do and it doesn't pay out the next day we'll try to learn from that. But, I don't think we're coming into Daytona and saying, 'We've got to win this because we had a good Speed Weeks and it didn't end.' Hey, everybody wants one Daytona 500. If we can come here and run good and win it, it will be another accomplishment for this group. Are we capable of it? Yeah. If we work hard and things play our way, we may have a shot at it."


HOW DOES THE PONTIAC COMPARE TO THE CHEVY? "It's hard to say. It still looks the same from the inside. It's the same chassis we've run in the past. I don't think the (chassis) number is the same.

"It's probably a new car. But, it's hard to say here at Daytona because you hold it wide open. A place like Charlotte or something like that is going to give me a lot better read on what I've got aero-wise. Here, you hold it wide open.

"You don't have to lift, so you don't really notice the handling characteristics versus last year. It's a good question, but I honestly can't provide a good answer for it until we get to Rockingham, until we get to Atlanta, Vegas and get further into the season where we can get to tracks where you have to lift, where you have to run behind cars. When we come back for Speed Weeks, after we get through with qualifying practice and qualifying and we get running in groups we'll have a better idea of what we really have."

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST CONCERN DURING TESTING HERE? "My number one concern for yesterday and the next two days is to get over my cold right now before I go to Tulsa, to be honest. I've got to worry about three things and that is making three gear changes. That's about the worst of my responsibilities for three days here. It's a bigger grind on the crew than it is the driver. This is the one test out of the year where I'm just kind of like a NASA space monkey. I just get to strap on and ride it around for three laps. I really don't have a big role here. This test is more focused on what the crews do with the car than what the drivers do. The drivers really don't have much emphasis on what happens here."


ON THE SAFETY MEETING THAT WAS HELD ON WEDNESDAY MORNING: "They're just trying to educate us on the things they're learning. It's great because there is a lot to learn and the more we learn, the better we understand, the safer we can make these cars. That is what it's all about."


ARE YOU CONSIDERING RUNNING THE INDY 500 THIS YEAR? "I've thought about it and I decided even before I left Homestead that I wasn't even going to try it again.

"It's hard. It's a strain on Greg and the guys, on the team. Every day that I'm up there they worry about a tire blowing out or an engine blowing or something that is out of my control to where I hit the fence and screw something up to where I can't do my job here. It's kind of like what we talked about with IROC and some of these other races that I normally run. As much as my heart wants to do it, I need to take care of what I signed up for here. They're not holding me back by any means. Joe [Gibbs] hasn't said I couldn't run and Zippy hasn't said I couldn't run it. I just made the decision. This is what I do. I'm a stock car driver. Do I feel like I can go back there and still be competitive? Yes. Every year that I don't go back or every year since I quit running full-time in '98 that goes by, it's more difficult for me to go back because I get out of date with the technology. A lot of that stuff has passed me by.

"If there is a day that I ever quit Winston Cup racing, I may go back and try it. But, I think as long as I'm in Winston Cup racing I probably won't go back anymore now."

ARE YOU LETTING YOUR GRIP ON THAT DREAM GO A LITTLE BIT? "I'm not sure I've let my grip loose - at least I don't think of it that way. I look at it this way - the best I've finished there was fifth. I fall back on, 'Hey, I've won an Indy car championship, I've won a NASCAR championship, I won three national championships in one year in USAC.' I don't have to prove I can win that race. I want to win that race really bad, but there are a lot of guys that haven't won the Indy 500. I always had the feeling that if I never won that race that it was going to be a void in my career. I don't feel that way anymore. I'm pretty proud of what I've accomplished in 23 years. If I get chance to go back someday I would. But, I think it's about priorities. I'm not going to say I'm getting wiser as I'm getting older because I'm not sure that has ever been the case. But, at least I'm trying to take care of the people that are working hard for me each week."

HAVE YOU TALKED TO A.J. FOYT SINCE YOU WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I called him that night. I woke him up at 10:30 (p.m.). Trust me - that was high on the priority list. He just started laughing. He goes, 'Yeah, but I've still got four Indy's (500 wins).' That's the only thing he could tell me. It's actually cut him down quite a bit. His response to that comment, every year it gets shorter and shorter now because I do something else that he hasn't done. To be honest, we probably spoke for 30 minutes and he was telling me how proud he was of me. Of that day, that was probably the highlight of that day. Other than making Zip cry - that was the highlight of my day, but talking to Foyt was probably the second highlight of my day - having a 30-minute conversation with him."


HOW ARE YOU GOING TO PACE YOURSELF THIS YEAR? "We'll just go until we can't go anymore, I guess. If you stop you're going to get run over in this sport as much as things are changing and as much as we've got going on at the shop. For myself and all of our guys we've all gotten to take a little bit of time off. Just going to New York, it was a week off. There were a lot of things to do, but it was away from the shop and it was fun. We always shut the shop down between Christmas and New Year's. A few people worked to try to get some speedway cars done, but for the most part everybody has gotten a little bit of time off and got to enjoy themselves and their family and we're ready to go again."

ON STAFF ADDITIONS AT THE TEAM: "We just filled a couple of gaps that we had. It was kind of scary. I was telling some friends that I had down how excited I was about this year because we really did fill a couple of holes - big holes - that we haven't had in the last couple years.

"Moving Jimmy Makar to the position he is in this year, to be able to spend more time with us, to go to the wind tunnel so I can spend more time at the shop - doing a lot of little things like that; a lead engineer to take care of all the guys that we have. We were all kind of splitting that responsibility over the past couple of years. Then, just brining more help in. It's extremely exciting for me personally. Those are all people that I can lean on, that can help me figure questions out and the end result - give [Tony] a better product every week. I don't mean that's going to make us run any better. As a group we're going to be able to deal with things better - just building better cars, answering questions that we have within our organization, have people be able to work on projects and finish some things that we haven't been able to do in the past. It's really exciting."

ON THE SATISFACTION OF ACHIEVING WHAT YOU HAVE ACHIEVED: "I kind of grew up like Tony - racing Friday nights, Saturday nights and taking those steps. I used to watch this every Sunday and dream of being able to come down here and just work. There was a time when I just wanted to be able to go to a Winston Cup race and sit in the stands. To be here and accomplish what we did in the last four years - not just last year, but what we've done as a group since we started this team - is very personal. It's gratifying for me personally and I know all our guys - they're racers. We all did this before we could make a living at it because we enjoyed it. Personally, I don't know if it makes you feel any better than other people that were born and raised in it down here. But, when you grew up and dreamed about it, it's just something - I don't know if I can really explain it. But, yeah, it's a pretty cool deal."

Part I

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart