Phoenix II: Stewart "wake-up call" interview

NEXTEL Wake-Up Call with Tony Stewart Phoenix International Raceway November 11, 2005 TONY STEWART, DRIVER OF THE ...

NEXTEL Wake-Up Call with Tony Stewart
Phoenix International Raceway
November 11, 2005


IN 2003, YOU SET A GOAL OF RAISING $1 MILLION IN 10 YEARS FOR VICTORY JUNCTION GANG CAMP, BUT YOU'VE ALREADY REACHED THAT GOAL. HOW DID YOU DO IT AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU? Going through the campgrounds after the race, collecting aluminum cans wasn't really profitable for us. Along with two really, really neat charity concerts that they operated the whole deal on. It helped us raise a lot of money for Victory Junction. There's been a lot of stuff. NEXTEL Prelude to a Dream at Eldora. We had a bunch of the Cup drivers come to that and raise a bunch of money. We just had some neat fundraising ideas that helped us raise the money before 10 years was up.

WHAT IS YOUR ATTITUDE GOING INTO THIS WEEKEND'S RACE? I'll be honest. I sound like a broken record, but this week is not going to be any different from next week. It's going to be versus last week or the way it was seven weeks ago. We are in the same position we were in before the Chase started and it really is going to boil down to something as simple as going out and doing the same things the same way we did to get ourselves in the lead. So, we're not watching where everybody else is. There are so many guys that are still mathematically it in, that's there's no point in even worrying about it. It's totally different when we were in this position in 2002. By this point in the season with two races to go, it was between us and Mark Martin. So, now with so many different people in the hunt right now, the best thing for us to do is just sit there and do what got us here in the first place. That's strictly to do what we need to do on our car and we don't have to make something happen. Everybody else has to make something happen. You know, it's best for us just to do what got us here. I hate for it to sound that simple, but that's truly and honestly how it has to be right now.

IN EIGHT PREVIOUS RACES HAVE THERE BEEN MANY MOMENTS WHERE YOU AND JIMMIE HAVE BEEN RACING SIDE-BY-SIDE? Yeah, just like last week. I knew he took four tires and we took two. And when he caught us, I could have sat there and tried to block like some of these other guys have been doing the whole ten-week Chase, but that's just not how I do things. I'm still racing guys like I did the first race of the year or the tenth race of the year.

So, when he got there, I knew he was faster and there wasn't any point in holding him up. You know, I knew it was going to be a ten-point swing but versus racing him like it was going to be a battle to the death, there wasn't any point in doing that, so I let him go and we finished one spot behind him. I think there's still proper etiquette in what we're doing here. It doesn't matter whether it's him or Ryan or anybody else. Everybody's got to go out there and race the way they're used to racing.

YOU'VE SEEMED VERY IN CONTROL THIS YEAR. HOW IS THAT DIFFERENT FROM 2002 WHEN YOU WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP? I guess just the fact that, it's one thing to race for a championship. When you get to this level it's obviously a little bit different. In 2002 when it was our first time running for it, it was the Winston Cup Championship at that time, now even though it's a different format, we've been through this deal once before. I guess we kind of know what to expect. We kind of know some of the things of how to deal with it better so you don't let the stress get to you and being in the position that we're in right now. Like you said, we're not controlling the whole Chase. But we are controlling the side of it that we can, and that's with our car. That's what made it so easy for us. You look at the other teams and they're all focusing on what we're doing. We like that. We want them to do that. That lets us focus on what we're doing and not what they're doing. So, I guess just the experience of going through it before has given us that opportunity to learn how to focus on what we're doing and not worry about everybody else.

DO YOU PERSONALLY FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE BEEN IN CONTROL AND EVERYONE ELSE HAS HAD TO MEASURE UP TO THE BAR THAT YOU'VE SET? I don't know if I feel like we've set the standard, but I feel like if we did everything we're doing before the Chase started, it's just as good an opportunity to be in this position as anybody else. We can only control 10% of this scenario, obviously, because there are nine other guys involved. So, I didn't worry about trying to control the whole situation. I really just focused on controlling what we were in control of, and that was controlling our whole team. You know, can keep a team from breaking down this time of year when everybody is kind of worried about it. Go there and keep my team having fun. Joking around like we've been having fun. All year and the results came. That's the stuff I've wanted to keep focusing on and keep everybody close knit and keep them from focusing on everything, versus what everybody else is doing with everything.

YOU'VE HAD TOP-10 FINISHES IN 18 OF THE LAST 20 RACES. TO WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THAT CONSISTENCY? The first part of the year we ran so bad I got behind on my bills. So when we finally did get going, it was like man, this is a great opportunity to get everything caught back up. When you start to starve with a belly like this, Poole was sliding my plates out of the door at the media center so I could eat early in the spring. So, it's nice to be able to finally carry my own weight again. No, I don't know. Once we got going, it's kind of like a situation with Formula 1 or IndyCar and IRL have been doing.

It seems like when you find a piece of the equation that works for you, it seems like it works for you at a lot of places. And that's a compliment to our sport that it's getting that technical and everybody is that refined and precise with what is going on. That if you can find one or two things that keep you in the top 10 like that, it just shows you that, to me, it's real compliment to our race team, no matter if it's a half-mile track or 2.5-mile superspeedway or road course or mile-and-a-half or miles, we've been able to be consistent. That shows us that our team is pretty well rounded at this point in the season. It's not really one thing that you can put your finger on, it's really a combination of things that all come together at once.

HOW DO YOU VIEW CARL EDWARDS AS A YOUNG DRIVER? I think he's done a great job, obviously. He's such a breath of fresh air to the sport because I don't think that kid has a care in the world about anything. And I wish I could be a lot like him. It's nice to see a guy that absolutely is enjoying every aspect of his life right now. So, I think that's an advantage to you as a driver, when you can sit there and not be stressed out and worried about things that are going on. It lets you enjoy what you're doing more and the results come with that, so he's a kid that obviously has a lot of talent, and that goes a long way also.

So, you can have all the fun you want but if you don't have the talent, you're still not going to win races. Obviously he's got the talent and he's got the job done. It's neat to see a guy like him come into this series and have the success that he's been having.

CAN YOU COMMENT ON BEING IN THE ZONE? AND, IS CARL EDWARDS A THREAT BECAUSE HE'S IN THAT ZONE? I've seen guys have back-to-back wins, but it doesn't necessarily mean they're in the zone, it means they've had two good weekends in a row. It just seems that when things are going right for you, it's hard to get out of that mode. I've never looked at it as a zone or anything. It just seems like when you get on a pattern of things that are working good for you, the mentality and morale of the team is high and everything just seems to start clicking. That's something that's going to work to Carl's advantage these next two races. Having two really good races back-to-back is a lot of momentum -- especially for these last two weeks. But being in the top 10 for 18 of the last 20 weeks is a lot of momentum for our team. It's something I think works just as good for us as for anybody else at this point.

ON BOBBY LABONTE LEAVING JOE GIBBS RACING: Bobby and I talked last week. We were both kind of laughing about it and hugging on each other about it. It doesn't matter what team he goes to. We still view each other as teammates -- even after the end of the year is up. Bobby is a smart guy. He knows what's best for him. I hate to see him leave. He was the guy who got me hired at Joe Gibbs Racing, and he's been an awesome teammate up to this point. So, I don't see that ever changing. I don't see our relationship ever changing from what it is right now. Only Bobby knows what's best for Bobby. If that means he feels like he needs to go somewhere else, I'm behind him 100 percent. It's hard to second-guess yourself and that's something he doesn't want to do either. I'm happy with where I am. Bobby has been with JGR a very long time. Sometimes you can get yourself in a situation where you've been in one place for so long that a change good for both sides. I hate to see him go, but at the same time I'm happy that he's doing something he wants to do. Hopefully it'll work out for him.

AT MICHIGAN YOU FINISHED 2ND. WAS THAT THE TURNING POINT FOR YOU THIS YEAR? I believe so. We had a test there the week before and left that test very positively that we'd finally stumbled on some things that the other teams had found that were working when the car drove as well as it did during the race. Even though we finished second, I was disappointed just because I couldn't figure out how putting tires on I still got beat. When we left we were very excited thinking that we were finally getting ourselves caught up and getting on the right track. So I feel it was a turning point for us.


OVER THE YEARS, HAVE YOU LEARNED WHEN NOT TO PUSH THE ISSUE AND WHEN TO JUST SETTLE FOR A SIXTH PLACE FINISH VS. GOING FOR SECOND? I'll be honest. I'm not sure when actually I realized all that. I think it's just common sense to know that if you make a mistake and don't finish, it's worse than losing one or two spots because you just don't have the car that's going to get it done that day. It's just something that's always made sense to us. If you wreck the car trying to maintain a spot or get a spot that you think you need, it's risk versus reward. The risk outweighs the reward at that point. A lot of times it's just easier to let one spot go if you have to -- and either wait for the next pit stop or realize that's just all we have that day. Last week, I didn't want Jimmie (Johnson) to get by us, but at the same time I knew I couldn't hold him off and to try and hold him off would risk crashing the car or making a mistake in front of him that was either going to take me out or both of us out. So it was just smarter to let him go knowing he was faster at that point and that we weren't fast enough to hold him off. I was just trying to be smart about it.

WITH ENTERING THE CHASE WITH SUCH A GOOD RUN, WOULD WINNING THE TITLE GIVE YOU AN EXTRA DOSE OF SATISFACTION? No, you still just want to win. It's like whomever was in 10th place coming into the Chase won it, it wouldn't matter. Winning it is winning it either way. I think the thing I'd like to see them do in the future is give some type of reward if you're leading the points before the Chase starts -- not just because it was us this year. But when you take a 200-point lead away from somebody and give them a five-point lead, you should at least be rewarded somehow for that.

HOW DID YOU CARS DO AT MANZANITA SPEEDWAY LAST NIGHT AND ARE YOU GOING BACK OUT THERE? Actually, they would have done a lot better if I didn't touch the cars. I did an A.J. Foyt to them, basically. I got wrenches in my hands and started changing things. And we proceeded to take two cars that started relatively close to the front and proceeded to make them look like they had dropped anchor. Tonight I will stand on the wall with a hot chocolate or a Coke and a hot dog in my hand and probably will not be allowed off the wall without being shot on sight. I'm sure if it were up to them, they'd find a way of keeping me at the track here tonight and not letting me go there, but I'm going there anyway.

WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR WITH NO DISTRACTIONS OFF THE TRACK? It would mean everything to me. That's why I want to win so bad this year. 2002 was probably one of the worst personal years of my life -- even though it was one of the most gratifying professional years of my life as far as winning a championship, but it'll mean 10 times more if we can do it this year with the way the year has been. It think the entire team will enjoy it more with the way that it's gone this year.

YOU WERE FEATURED IN A FULL PAGE OF TIME MAGAZINE. DID YOU EVER THINK THAT YOU OR THE SPORT WOULD GET THAT MUCH RECOGNITION? I don't read Time Magazine, I'm sorry. I'd look at the pictures if I do -- just on accident sitting in the waiting room waiting to do to the doctor. You know me -- I don't read the articles anymore unless it's Speed Sports News. It's really flattering to our sport though. Obviously knowing about Time Magazine's reputation and how prestigious they are. I think it's really neat that our sport is in there and I feel really flattered that I was a part of that from the NASCAR side. I haven't read the article. I hope I did it some justice, which scares me because anytime I'm involved you never know what it's going to be about. So, hopefully I didn't embarrass us too badly.

YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR HASN'T CHANGED OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS BUT WHY IS IT COMING OUT MORE NOW? You guys are finally understanding that it's a sense of humor instead of using it against me (laughs). It's a little easier to open up and have fun with it when you don't feel like you're walking around wondering why is this knife in my back today? I don't know. It's a comfort level. I think we've been around you guys (the media) long enough that you guys finally understand when I'm being a smart-ass and you know when I'm having fun (laughs). I don't know. We're just having fun with it. As time goes on, we get to know you better and you get to know us better and you realize that there is a professional side and a fun side to us that people sometimes don't know how to take it. They don't know if I'm being mean or if I'm just having fun. Our favorite saying at home is that it's all fun and games until somebody gets hurt and then it's hilarious (laughs). And that's just kind of the way it is with us. If we realize our buddy is not going to die even though he may be laying there with a broken arm and bleeding and we're laughing about it and thinking, 'That was really a stupid move you just made.' And that's just kind of the way we are (laughs). It comes across wrong sometimes. But I think you guys have finally started to realize that's just kind of how we get our kicks I guess. Don't worry; it's just smoke signals most of the time.

Growing up in Indiana, I have a lot of buddies whose favorite saying is, 'Hey, y'all, watch this.' And normally you want to stop whatever it is you're doing and watch and that's normally when it becomes hilarious instead of just funny.

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , A.J. Foyt , Mark Martin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing