TONY STEWART , NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - was today's NEXTEL Wake-up call guest. In three races at Kansas Speedway, Stewart has finished in the top 10 every time. His best finish was 4th place last year. He has had two wins this ...
TONY STEWART , NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - was today's NEXTEL Wake-up call guest. In three races at Kansas Speedway, Stewart has finished in the top 10 every time. His best finish was 4th place last year. He has had two wins this season and 15 top-10 finishes and is currently 6th in the point standings. Highlights of his session with the media:
TELL US ABOUT YOUR VERY BUSY WEEK
"This has been a long week. We tested Tuesday and had Dale Jr's 30th birthday party, which lasted I think a total of three days. Wednesday we had a satellite media tour. Wednesday night had our foundation concert. We raised over $275,000 for three local charities in the Paducah, Kentucky area. The rest will go to Victory Junction Gang Camp. We had Trace Adkins and the band Diamond Rio there. Dale Jr. and Kyle Petty were there. It was the first time that our foundation has held an event like that. Eddie Jarvis, who is kind of my right hand guy who takes care of my scheduling, was in charge of that and did a flawless job with that. It absolutely went off without a problem. I was really proud of that. Thursday, I think we signed a total of 2300 autographs between the die cast appearance and a Home Depot appearance. And then we did Busch, Cup, Busch, Cup, Busch yesterday and an appearance last night for GM. So needless to say, this morning was not exactly the place I wanted to be. I didn't want to wake up at 7:45 this morning versus the customary 8:45 a.m."
HOW WILL THE EXTRA TIME ON THE TRACK, ALONG WITH THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN CHICAGO AND KANSAS HELP YOU ON SUNDAY?
"It's probably more so between Chicago and Kansas than it is the Busch and Cup. Yesterday we went out in the Busch car and it was tight on entry. The rest of the corner was pretty good. I jumped in the Cup car and it was loose on entry and then was pretty good. It just shows that the two cars are really different from each other even though by theory, they should be a lot the same. I had to work through two different scenarios all day. We had a really weird draw for qualifying. We were second to last in the Busch Series and then first in the Cup car so it was about 10 minutes difference in time. I just had to keep telling myself that this was the Cup car now and this car is driving this way versus the car that I'd just gotten out of. We've got two practice sessions today and the Busch race and then a fairly simple day tomorrow with the Cup race."
DUE TO THE SPOILER AND TIRE CHANGES, DO YOU THINK THAT JEFF GORDON AND RYAN NEWMAN THE ONES TO BEAT? DO THEY STILL HAVE THE KEY TO THE TRACK?
"Honestly, I'm not sure that's the case. Every year everyone makes improvements to their program, so it's not necessarily a rule change as much as it is that everybody does their homework over the winter. Historically if you look back, guys who typically run well year after year at a particular track, they don't normally fall off the next time you go there. So you can normally count on those guys being contenders for the win again."
THERE WAS A CRASH ON THE LAST LAP AT TALLEDEGA, BUT THE YELLOW FLAG WASN'T THROWN. WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO SEE HERE IF THERE IS A CRASH ON THE LAST LAP?
"I expect to see me not in that crash, hopefully. Hey, if it's green I race, if it's yellow I slow down. It's pretty simple. We can theorize all day, but I'm not much on theories. I graduated from high school and I got A's in geometry. That was the last time I dealt with theories."
IN LIGHT OF THE SITUATION WITH DALE JR. LAST WEEKEND, DO YOU THINK THERE SHOULD BE A LONGER COOL-OFF PERIOD BEFORE BEING INTERVIEWED?
"I saw Dale Jr. at the airplane when he was getting ready to go home and that was three hours after the race and he was just as excited as he was when he did his interview. I think what happened last week has been highly blown way out of proportion. I think we're starting to knit-pick and scrutinize way too much in this series. Since when does something that somebody says have an affect on winning the championship? And when should it have that affect? A fellow competitor that I spent a lot of time with this week probably said it best. From the time that car goes through tech, to the time that checkered flag drops -- any time in that period where anything that happens can affect how the race was run - that's when points should be taken away, not something that happens before that period and not anything that happens after that period. And the last time I checked, we had freedom of speech, correct? Since when has that changed now? I didn't know the Constitution changed in the last couple of weeks. What he said didn't cheat anybody on the race track. It didn't have any affect on how the race was run.
"That can directly have an affect on millions of dollars and how their sponsors have to handle this now and the pressure it's put on their team. I think it's been totally unfair to him and his race team, what has been assessed to him. Where is this process going to stop? What's going to be the next thing now? If we don't show up to the car for practice on time are we going to lose 25 points for that next? Where is it realistically going to end?"
DALE JR'S BIRTHDAY PARTY WAS TUESDAY NIGHT, THE SAME DAY NASCAR ISSUED THE PENALTY. DID THAT SEEM TO AFFECT HIS MOOD?
"He was having a great time. I expected him to be not quite as happy about what was going on. But they had a great birthday party for him and he was real happy to see all his friends there. The surprise to me was the fact that Mike Helton was there. I'm surprised his invitation still held up by Tuesday night. I can promise you that if it had been my case, he wouldn't have gotten in that night (laughter). He would have flown up to Charlotte for nothing, even though I like Mike. No, I thought he dealt with it really well. He's a professional. It's kind of like the old thing. Most of you guys (the media) have been around this sport a long time and know how NASCAR is. The easiest way to sum up the relationship between the drivers and NASCAR is that we are pawns on a chessboard. We don't make the big moves. We're just sacrificial lambs so to speak. They have their way of explaining to you very quickly that you can be replaced very, very easily in this sport no matter how popular you are. My favorite quote of how this series is, 'It is what it is.' That's the easiest way to sum it up."
YOU'VE HAD ISSUES IN THIS SPORT. KNOWING WHAT IT FEELS LIKE, CAN YOU EMPATHIZE WITH DALE JR.?
"To be honest under this situation, I couldn't. The situations I've been in in the past were totally different. This has a real chance of impacting the championship and if he were to lose the championship by less than 25 points, I would hide all sharp objects from him. I can promise you, you'd have to from me. Under this situation and if you think of how important this Chase has been and all the obligations they've asked us to do and the responsibilities they want us to have as drivers, to fine a guy 25 points for a word that he says on TV after the race is over, I can't even picture that in my mind. It's totally unrealistic to me. My situations have been different, but not for something as petty as that."
NASCAR REFERS TO THIS AS A TEAM SPORT. WHEN SOMEBODY IS FINED IN THE NFL, IT DOESN'T HURT THE ENTIRE TEAM. IS THIS CONTRADICTORY?
"There are a lot of things that NASCAR does that contradicts what they say. I think that speaks for itself."
DO YOU THINK ROBBY GORDON SHOULD HAVE BEEN FINED OR HAD POINTS DEDUCTED FOR THE INCIDENT AT LOUDON?
"Again, where do we stop all this madness? We're driving race cars. I think they should deal with it like we used to deal with it in every series I grew up running on my way to the Cup Series. You used to get out and fistfight with the guy if you disagreed with something he did. And then you'd help the guy load his car up and you guys would go eat dinner together. That's the way it used to be handled in the real world. Now we're in fantasyland up here and things have to be dictated by the All Mighty now instead of the drivers handling it themselves. It is what it is like I said earlier. It's racing too. I'm sticking to my guns. What happened at Loudon was just racing. That's nothing new. That's not the first time that somebody has taken somebody out because of something they'd done, and it's not the first time it was broadcast on the radio that that was going to happen. I think Robby has taken enough heat over it. I think Robby's penalty was more than I even thought it would have been. Most guys wouldn't have even gotten that penalty. So it's just another one of these cases where it's somebody holding their hand over everybody's head again."
DO YOU FEEL FRUSTRATED BECAUSE YOU ARE PAWNS ON THE CHESSBOARD?
"I've been frustrated over that kind of situation for years, but at the end of the day I still get a paycheck and still have a job that I thoroughly enjoy. I guess I've come to the realization that I've learned what my role is here. Every other series that I was a part of, the drivers had a lot of input and the officials really worked with them. At this level, it's done in a totally different situation. You realize it doesn't matter what you opinion is. They don't care about your opinion.
"I think that's why this series has been as successful as it is too, because they've stuck to their core organizing skills. This formula they've had over 50-plus years has been pretty successful. So I guess I'm not as frustrated as I used to be because I've realized that's partly why it's gotten where it has is because they've done it their way and not listened to everybody else who has come and gone throughout the series."
AT THIS POINT IN THE YEAR, DO YOU FIND YOURSELF BEING MENTALLY FRUSTRATED OR WORN OUT? IF SO, WHAT DO YOU DO ABOUT IT?
"Every week is different. And that's a really good question because this is the time of year when everybody gets concerned about it. Every week is different. With the schedule I've had this week, I thank God I do not have it the rest of the year. This week I'm worn out. Next week is a totally different week. What do I do to help combat that? I bought property in Indiana just outside of the town I grew up in. I'm going back there Sunday night and I'm going to be there Monday and Tuesday. Everybody has one or two things they really enjoy doing. At this time in the season, that's what every driver is really probably trying to do is the one or two things they enjoy doing or trying get that balance in the week so they can get away from everything for a couple of days."
EVERYBODY IS BUSY. IF IT'S SOMETHING FUN, WE CAN ALL FIND THE ENERGY TO DO IT
"Yeah, but your body is still like a gas tan whether you're having fun or not. You can go a little longer if you're having fun doing it. But there's still a point where you finally run out of gas. This has been a fun week for me. It's been a busy week. But not everything this week was bad by any means. Our concert was fun. Dale Jr.'s party was fun. I had a lot of fun yesterday running the Busch car again which I don't get a chance to do very often, so this has been a fun week for me. At the same time, you do kind of run out of gas. It's when you feel like you're 'Stretch Armstrong' where somebody grabs this arm and somebody grabs that arm and the next thing you know your arms are 20 feet apart from each other. So that's the part where it starts getting hectic is when you've got different groups pulling you in different directions at the same time."
TO GET BACK ON TOP, IS IT ABOUT THE POINTS OR THE COMPETITORS YOU HAVE TO BEAT TO GET THERE?
"To be honest, there's only one guy I'm looking at and that's whoever is leading the points that week. The only number that matters is the difference between were we are. It doesn't matter if whether we're 40th in points at 150 back or second in points at 150 back, you've still got to gain those 150 points to get in the lead. It's not really the physical numbers of how many people you've got to pass to get there, it's realistically how many points you have to gain on the guy who's leading to get there.
"If you look at our 2002 season, nobody after Daytona would have predicted we'd come back from that - especially with 12 races to go, nobody would have predicted it - let alone seven or eight. We're close enough right now in the points that theoretically we could even be leading or be second in points at the end of the day tomorrow. Seven weeks to go is a long time. It's not out of reach by any means. Even for somebody like Jeremy Mayfield. It's not out of reach for him. Anything can happen in this series from week to week. Realistically, you have to take it one day at a time. Something that happens on Friday and directly impact what happens to you on Sunday. So literally, you have to take these next seven weeks one day at a time until the end of the season."
DOES THAT MAKE KURT BUSCH VURNERABLE? WOULD YOU WANT TO BE OUT FRONT AND HAVE EVERYBODY CHASING YOU?
"If I spent that much time worrying about what everybody else was doing, I'm really not doing my job as a driver. It's more important for me to make sure we're doing everything 100 percent. We can't control what they do anyway, so why worry about what they're doing? The only thing we can control is what we do. We need to focus 100 percent of our energy on what we're doing and not on what everybody else is doing."
TONY STEWART, MATT KENSETH, AND JEFF GORDON ALL QUALIFIED BACK IN THE PACK. WILL THAT HAVE ANY IMPACT ON SUNDAY'S RACE?
"If you look at the Dover races we won back-to-back that one season I don't think we qualified any better than about 24th there. Obviously that's a track that's fairly easy to pass at because the groove gets so wide.
"But for the most part if you look at why we were where we were yesterday it's because we spent the first three-quarters of practice yesterday working on race set-ups. We've got 90 minutes more race practice than a lot of guys in the field do already going into this morning. It's really not a big deal where we qualify. There are some tracks where it's easier to pass than others. This is not the easiest track to pass at, but that's why we figured it was more important to work on the race stuff. Going out first didn't help us yesterday in the heat of the day. As the session went on, the track kept cooling off. That was a contributing factor. We didn't have a terrible car by any means. Can it be a factor tomorrow? Absolutely. If something happens two cars ahead of us we could go back and said if we'd qualified later or if we'd spent the whole two hours working on qualifying set-ups instead of race set-ups, but again it's hindsight."
WHAT WILL YOU DO AT YOUR INDIANA PROPERTY? RIDE A TRACTOR? PLUCK CHICKENS? WHAT?
"I don't have any animals on the farm. I've been working on a lake. I've got a 10-acre lake on it. I'm kind of weird I guess. When I bought the house I grew up in years ago, the first thing I did was spend a week and a half straight working on a race shop that my dad and I race go-karts out of and never even touched the house. It's kind of the same thing out there. I've not done anything to the house. All I've done is worry about making a really killer fishing lake out there. We've had construction crews out there for three months now working on this lake. When they know I'm coming home, they don't book a guy to come in. They always leave a spot open and I'll work whatever piece of machinery they need me to work on on Monday. That's a good enough release for me. That's like a vacation for me to be able to do that."
ON A TWO-DAY RACE WEEKEND SCHEDULE VERSUS A THREE-DAY SCHEDULE
"On that two-day schedule topic, I'm all in favor of a two-day weekend. I think Talladega last week on Friday was a perfect example of how we can really waste a lot of time doing what we do. Two hours of practice and two laps and the garage was open more than 12 hours. I don't think that's fair to the crew members each week. If we're only at the track two days a week, that may open up a day for all of us to actually have a normal life for a day.
"And it's not as bad for us drivers as it is for the crew members. Those guys are lucky if they get one day off. I can promise you that those guys were not only up, but were in the garage at 6:00 a.m. this morning. I got up at 7:45 am. On a typical Cup day, those guys will be here three hours after I'm done for the day. Those guys have it worse than anybody. Drivers are looking into early retirement and now the crew guys are looking into early retirement because they're gone so much. They're burning the candle at both ends because of the schedule that NASCAR makes us keep. If we're going to be at the track, let us be productive. In the amount of time we were at the track on Friday, we could have practiced, qualified, and ran two different Happy Hours in the amount of time were there. I'm all in favor of those two-day weekends if they ever decided to do that. But you know how the promoters are going to feel about it. That's one more day that they're going to lose part of their billions of dollars they make each week and they're not going to like that too well."