2006 ALLSTATE 400 AT THE BRICKYARD Media Conference with Tony Stewart Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2006, Indianapolis Motor Speedway RON GREEN: If I could have your attention. We are ready here in Indianapolis. We'll get started here in just a few ...
2006 ALLSTATE 400 AT THE BRICKYARD
Media Conference with Tony Stewart
Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2006, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
RON GREEN: If I could have your attention. We are ready here in Indianapolis. We'll get started here in just a few moments.
Welcome everyone, my name is Ron Green. I'm the director of public relations here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Which means he only works about two months out of the year.
GREEN: For the Indianapolis media, especially, we want to thank you for your attendance. We know this is a busy week with the Colts heading into their first playoff game, and we do appreciate your attendance today. We have media covering this event in Daytona at the media center there. We appreciate your participation, as well.
As a courtesy to Tony and the other working media, let's please turn off any cell phones or digital devices that may go off during the press conference. Thank you.
2005 was a great, great year for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Dan and Danica duel in the month of May capped off one of the most competitive Indianapolis 500s ever. We did have a third event, as you know the event in June, was memorable for other reasons. We'll skip past that one and head to August.
STEWART: Oh, yeah, great. Let's cover the June, I like that one.
GREEN: Let's jump to August. The race here in August, many IMS historians and old-timers have said that day possibly was one of the greatest days in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Why was that? That was the reaction of the fans and the fans the closing laps and what they did after the event, and a large part of that reason was the winner of the race, and that's Tony Stewart, who joins us here today.
Tony, those are big words, one of the most memorable days here at the Speedway. We're going to get your comments on that in just a few minutes. What we're doing today is a video conference, this is being pumped live in Daytona. We want to make sure we're getting the sound and video right now.
Herb, can you see and hear us?
HERB BRANHAM: Yes, I can.
GREEN: Thank you. After we do the Q and A here in the media center in Indianapolis, we're going to move outside, weather permitting, and do a photo op with the 2006-2005 NASCAR Nextel Cup championship trophy.
STEWART: Go ahead and stay with 2006. I like the sounds of it already.
GREEN: 2006, as well? We can have those changed real fast. And the 2005 Allstate 400 at Brickyard trophy. We have made accommodations for weather. We'll still do it outside but under the front of the Pagoda still on the Yard of Bricks.
Turning to you, Tony, have you been back on the grounds here at Indianapolis since your win in August?
STEWART: I think this is the first time since we won here.
GREEN: Any emotions coming through the tunnel for the first time since you won that race?
STEWART: It actually started on 16th Street before we got to the tunnel. It's like reliving it all over again. You know, we've had a couple other interviews before, we got started right now, and just look around. I mean, it's like you relive it like it was yesterday all over again.
GREEN: I thank the media for attending, we should also thank Tony. This is really his last day off before really beginning his '06 racing season.
STEWART: I'm not sure we can consider this a day off anymore.
GREEN: This is work for you, true. But he begins his '06 racing this weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma, racing in the Chili Bowl race. And I believe you raced up to the last day of '05, and this is a short offseason for Tony and we appreciate you spending time here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
First, throw it open for questions here in Indianapolis and check in with Daytona to see if there are any questions at the Daytona International Speedway.
First for questions here with Tony and Indianapolis.
Q: Tony, we talked right after the race here, did you get the car? That was one of the questions we asked and you were pretty emphatic about keeping the car that you won with here.
STEWART: I don't have it yet, but it's still in circulation. It's actually the same car that we won the championship with at Homestead. So it's still in rotation right now. But don't worry, it's being set aside, once it's retired I'll have that car. But it's still too good a car right now to take out of circulation. It's a car I'm obviously fond of. I really like the way it drives. It's, I think it's going to be a car that's going to be good this year, too. We're definitely going to get as much mileage out of it as we can. But it's not ready for retirement yet.
Q: Were you happy to be living back in Columbus when this happened? Because it's almost been like the state has been celebrating this with you for the last five months.
STEWART: Yeah, I mean it just seems like so many things have fell into place, you know, when I moved home at the end of the '04 season. So it just made it that much more special, the fact that I've been home and I've been closer to the Speedway all year.
GREEN: We should also remind the journalists here in Indianapolis and in Daytona, we are transcribing this video conference, this press conference. So we're asking you to please state your name and your affiliation before asking your question to Tony.
STEWART: There's an awful lot of rules with this today. Whatever happened to just ask some questions and we answer them?
GREEN: Trying to keep it organized for you, Tony.
STEWART: You're very detail-oriented; that's why you're in this position.
Q: Steve Ballard, Indianapolis Star. Tony, the 24 hours has become kind of an all-star race the last few years, guys drawn from a few different series. First of all, what attracted you to this and why do you think so many guys have followed your lead on that? The third part of that, what's been the reaction of the guys that ran that on a regular basis? Do they like to get to compete against you guys or do any of them resent all the attention you guys seem to get above the guys who do that for a living?
STEWART: I think they all look at it as a positive. Obviously the year Dale Jr. and I were teammates there, it brought extra attention, it brought the NASCAR media to the road course and it brought more attention to the Grand Am series, and I don't think there's been any resentment from any of the drivers. I think they've all enjoyed the fact we thought enough of that series to go down there. Like you said, it is a great series, it is an all-star race and that's a testimony to Jim France and what he's been able to accomplish with his visions of how to help road racing become more popular. o I do it just because it's another race I can go run. If anybody wants to go out and have a foot race after we're done with the media session, we'll go outside. I've got new shoes on, they're soft on the bottom, and I think I'll have a traction advantage over you Docker fans. I'll race anything. It doesn't matter to me. I've always enjoyed trying different things and driving different cars I've never ran before. Being able to go run a 24-hour race, it was the idea of running a 24-hour endurance race is something I've never done before. Ever since I did the first one, it's something I look forward to doing every year now. Did I cover all three of them?
Q: Incredibly enough, I know testing is going on at Daytona --
STEWART: Please state your name and affiliation please. (Laughter)
Q: Dave Furst from WRTV --
STEWART: We know you're a superstar here in your own mind, just for the Daytona media to know who you are.
Q: It's only in my own mind, unfortunately. Incredibly enough, testing is going on down at Daytona, you're not a part of that. How much of a luxury is that for you to have somebody hop in the car and turn some laps for you?
STEWART: It's a great luxury for me. Graciously enough, Mike McLaughlin has done that for me the last two years to allow me to go to the Chili Bowl. It's always been important to me to be able to go back and not forget where I came from. I mean, to go over and race midgets and sprint cars when I have time is something that's all been very important to me. I think the fact that I think it's always made those guys even respect us more when we get to the Chili Bowl, the fact that we didn't go to Daytona and test and we thought enough about that race to come participate in it and it would be easy to be the champion of NASCAR this year and say, 'Oh, I'm not going to go do it this year, I'm going to enjoy that.' When I go to the Chili Bowl, I'm no different than anybody else there, and I really enjoy that event. So I think it makes them respect the fact that we care enough about that series to go back and do that every year.
GREEN: We have three questions waiting here and we'll jump down to Daytona. Herb, if you could be ready for a question down there.
Q: Maggie Nixon with the Pilot News in Plymouth. You've raced Fort Wayne two years in a row now with USAC. Can you talk about how much fun that is?
STEWART: It's a blast. I can't think of anything I would rather do between Christmas and New Year's than go race anywhere but let alone be able to race somewhere in Indiana and see guys I grew up racing with and grew up watching race. To be able to go hang out with those guys for a couple days and have a night in between where we can all hang out together and bench race in the evening and talk about who did what that night is a lot of fun for me. So it's just, like I say, anytime I can get in a race car and go drive, I love to do it. The car that I bought and the car that I run up there, the Munchkin, it's an oddly named car but it's just one of those cars. I mean the reason I bought it is every time I've driven that car is it's just so much fun that even if I ran that race and ran dead last, I think I would have a good time because it's just a fun car to go run. So it just makes for a fun couple days when there's really nothing to do.
Q: Nicole Manske, WISH TV. You won the championship twice; you won the Brickyard, which we all know was important to you. But there are some that believe you don't stake your claim as a NASCAR legend until you win the (Daytona) 500. Do you think that's a fair assessment? And how badly do you want to win the 500 now?
STEWART: I don't care about their assessment. I'm really happy with what I've done. I mean, there's a lot of guys that haven't won the Daytona 500, but I think they've had great careers. You look at Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin, they haven't won the Daytona 500, but I don't think anybody is going to say they haven't had a great career and successful career in NASCAR. Michael Waltrip has won the Daytona 500 twice and never won a championship, and he's won, I think, only three races in his career. I don't think anybody is going to say he's had a great career just because he's won the Daytona 500. It's a great accomplishment and for him to win the Daytona 500 twice is an awesome accomplishment, but I don't think you can base your whole career off of one race. I think there's other determining factors on whether you've had a successful career in the series other than just one race.
Q: Tony, Steve Stremme, Midwest Sports. My question to you is now you have had some time to reflect on winning the Brickyard, second time you've won a NASCAR championship, what are some goals still out there for you? You seem like you're still intent on racing, seem like you're having fun doing it. What are some other goals that you have out there that you haven't attained yet?
STEWART: Kind of like Nicole mentioned, our number one goal this year is to go win the Daytona 500. We've led enough laps the last two years combined to win the race outright. Obviously our run in July there was something that was pretty special to us. And obviously with it being the biggest race on the schedule for the year, that's our number one goal. But once we get through Daytona, whether we win, lose, whatever happens there, you never stop wanting to win races. Obviously I'm going to want to come to Indianapolis and try to win the Brickyard back to back. I love being the guy that does things first. I would love to be the first guy to win the Brickyard back to back, and we want to win another championship. Those goals never go away once you accomplish them, they never stop. Even though we had a great year last year, you always want to win more races, win more poles, set new records and continue hot streaks. So that stuff will continue.
GREEN: We're going to check in in Daytona. Herb, any questions down there?
BRANHAM: We have three, hopefully we can get those in.
Q: Bob Margolis, Yahoo Sports. Tony, it's 75 degrees and sun down here.
STEWART: Thanks for mentioning that. Appreciate that.
Q: Tony, historically there's always been a leader in the garage, and I think the perception right now is there's really not that leader in the garage. Is that something that you see as well, do you perceive it to be that way? Do you think there needs to be a leader in the garage? If so, do you make a conscious attempt not to be that leader or would you mind being that leader?
STEWART: I don't really know what we need a leader for down there necessarily. And what everybody really leads that to what category do we need a leader, I guess. But I would say the closest person to a leader that we have is probably Jeff Gordon, in all reality. He's probably the best representative we have for our sport as far as how to deal with the media, how to deal with the race fans, the sanctioning body. And I think he learned a lot of that from Dale Earnhardt, who was the leader pretty much of the group. So I think we got pretty good leadership with the sanctioning body itself, but I know that NASCAR respects Jeff and his views and his opinions. You know, they respect a lot of drivers' views and opinions, but I would say as far as the one person that's probably more or most well-rounded as far as how he deals with all the aspects of the sport is probably Jeff right now. So I don't know if we need somebody in the garage area as a leader, but that would be my pick. I would prefer not to be that person. I mean, it's hard enough just to do the jobs that we have to do, let alone have that responsibility of having to feel like you're responsible for everybody there.
Q: Tony, it's Liz Clarke from the Washington Post. I hope you don't mind if I ask you to comment on another driver. But since you've raced alongside and with Dale Jr., I'm wondering if you could just comment on what you see as his abilities as a driver and whether NASCAR fans have seen him reach his potential yet.
STEWART: It's a good thing I watched 'SportsCenter' this morning so I could hear his quotes on that, I guess. You know, he's a great driver. I mean, you don't get to the level of NEXTEL Cup by not being a good driver. You know, I think he's proven himself already. I was listening to his quotes this morning about he's the only one who knows his true potential. You know, from outside we know that he's got a lot of talent, but in this day and age it's not -- a driver is not going to carry a race team. It's so technical nowadays that you could be a 10 times better driver than anybody else on the circuit, but if you don't have the right crew, equipment, cars, you're not going to be successful. So you know, I really don't know what to tell you on that other than just I have the utmost confidence in him. I think he's one of the best restrictor-plate drivers that's ever lived and his knowledge of restrictor-plate racing, and I think he's a great race car driver in all the other disciplines. He's won it, all disciplines. So I think his record speaks for itself so far.
BRANHAM: Ron, we have one from our teleconference audience. Go.
Q: Debbie Arrington, Sacramento Bee. Hi, Tony, thanks a lot for coming on today and congratulations for 2005. How do you re-energize your batteries during this short offseason and get out for another season?
STEWART: Well, you can't see it, but a lot of caffeine from Coca-Cola Classic, so that's the easiest way to stay up. I'll be honest, we haven't had much time off. The little bit of time we had off was the week of Christmas, and I got sick, which I didn't know how to look at that, but in hindsight it was actually pretty good. So I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day by myself with my dog and actually thought that was pretty cool to not have the phone ringing off the hook. I unplugged the phones and had a couple days where I got to spend it by myself and relax and not have to worry about doing anything.
The good thing is, I got looking at the schedule, I've never been so excited to have the season start in my life, because after the Vegas race I think we actually get a week-and-a-half vacation. So I'm excited to get started just to get to my vacation finally. So I don't know, it's really not, I guess after a while, I mean we've been doing this so long now that you kind of forget that you have an offseason. You just treat it like any other job, and we've still been having fun. Even though we've not been racing a lot in the offseason, all the stuff we've been doing, even the stuff we've done so far today has been fun. I guess when you're having fun doing it, it's not hard to recharge your batteries that way.
BRANHAM: Ron, you're in control up there, we have three more down here.
STEWART: We like being in control now. (Laughter)
Continued in part 2