TONY STEWART: "What, Me Worry?" ATLANTA (July 19, 2006) - Taking a page from MAD magazine's Alfred E. Neuman, two-time and reigning NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Tony Stewart enters Pocono (Pa.) Raceway - site of Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 ...
"What, Me Worry?"
ATLANTA (July 19, 2006) - Taking a page from MAD magazine's Alfred E. Neuman, two-time and reigning NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Tony Stewart enters Pocono (Pa.) Raceway - site of Sunday's Pennsylvania 500 - with a "What, me worry?" attitude after falling out of the top-10 in points for the first time in 15 races.
The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing is unconcerned about his negative point drop, simply because there are seven more races before the Chase for the Championship begins Sept. 17 at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon.
First up in the seven remaining races is Pocono, where Stewart has a win, a pole, four top-fives and 10 top-10s in 15 career starts. And at the six other venues - Indianapolis, Watkins Glen (N.Y.), Michigan, Bristol (Tenn.), California and Richmond (Va.) - Stewart has totaled nine wins, two poles, 25 top-fives, 37 top-10s and a whopping 2,255 laps led in 69 starts.
And since winning is the goal of Stewart and Co. each time they unload at a Nextel Cup race, their strategy doesn't change even if their point standing has.
You're out of the top-10 in points for the first time since Atlanta, 15 races ago. With only seven races remaining before the cutoff for the Chase for the Championship, is there any concern that you may not make the Chase?
"Let's not overreact, because we're not. We're barely out of the top-10 (11 points separate Stewart from 10th place Greg Biffle), and it's not like we're not running well, because we are. We've just had some circumstances that haven't gone our way. You'll have that. We were fifth in points seven races ago, so who's to say we won't be fifth in points or better seven races from now?
"We plan on doing the same thing we do every week. Even with the situation of where we're at in the points, we're not changing our approach. Every week our goal is to win the race, and that's not going to change. That's how we've won two championships. Even though we're kind of in a bind right now, we're not going to let that change our approach on how we do everything. If we go out and win the race, the points take care of themselves. It's always been that way, and it always will be that way. We'll try to go out and win the race each weekend, and at the end of the day we'll look at the point standings and see where we're at. If we don't win, we'll try to get as many points as possible."
After your run-in last Sunday at New Hampshire with Ryan Newman, you mentioned how some of your competitors aren't good at practicing give-and-take throughout the course of a race. What does that mean? Do you race other drivers based on how they race you? Do you race different drivers differently?
"Yes. You have to. I still to this day say that the worst thing that happened to the Cup Series is when Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte quit running the Busch Series regularly. You learned a lot about patience and you learned a lot about give-and-take. That's the thing. There are so many young guys that are coming up through the Truck Series, the Busch Series and ARCA and USAC. They don't spend enough time in the Busch Series and the Truck Series and they don't learn anything about patience because there's none of the veterans running there for them to learn from. Then they get to the Cup Series and they get in really good cars and they're running up front and they don't have to learn about give-and-take. Used to be 10 years ago you got in a car and you struggled in the back like everybody else that had to come up through there that way. I was probably in front of the lucky group of guys who got into good cars. But running in the Busch Series with guys like Mark Martin, you learned about patience and you learned about give-and-take. There is an etiquette that's involved out there. There are 43 of us out there. You hear commentators say that we shouldn't give-and-take. Well, you've got to work with each other. Anybody that says that 43 guys in a 500-mile race don't have to work together is crazy. If we didn't all work with each other, it'd be total chaos out there. Just getting these guys to learn some give-and-take and patience and knowing that when somebody is quicker, let them go in the first half of the race because you're really not accomplishing anything at that point. That's the hardest thing to teach them right now."
The Nextel Cup Series' visit to Pocono back in June was the breakout race for your teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing - rookie Denny Hamlin. What made him so good, so soon?
"You put young guys in good cars and they can go out and win right away. That's something you didn't see 10 years ago. In this era, everybody is looking for a younger and younger driver, and they can get in good cars right away and do well right off the bat. You've got to have that talent, and Denny's got that talent and that drive and that desire to win races. You can put really good drivers in there, but if they don't have the drive and the desire, they're not going to win, and Denny's got it."
What about your other Joe Gibbs Racing teammate - rookie J.J. Yeley? How is he doing?
"J.J.'s had good runs all year, it's just at the end, when it's counted, something circumstance-wise has kept him from capitalizing on it. He's put together some good, solid runs of late, and that's definitely helped his confidence. J.J. hasn't had the success Denny's had, but he's going to have the same kind of success. It just might take a longer time frame to get it.
"I know he has the talent. You don't win the USAC Triple Crown without talent. There really haven't been that many drivers of J.J.'s caliber who could go out in three different divisions and have the equipment in three different divisions to reach such a milestone, but J.J. did. That being said, you can have the three best cars in three different series but still not get the job done if you don't know what to do behind the wheel. J.J. knew what he was doing in USAC and he knows what he's doing here in NASCAR."
(Yeley won the USAC Triple Crown in 2003, joining Stewart as the only drivers to win the USAC National Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown titles in a single season. Stewart won the Triple Crown in 1995. - Ed.)
Once Bobby Labonte departed Joe Gibbs Racing for Petty Enterprises at the end of last year, you became the veteran driver at Joe Gibbs Racing. What kind of role have you taken on in terms of guiding the development of Hamlin and Yeley?
"Basically, I'm just there to answer questions, really. They're both really good guys, and you can talk to them about a lot of things, but a lot of it has just got to come from experience. You can kind of give them foresight on what to expect, but until they get out there and do it, it really doesn't click. What we've found is that it's better to let them go out and do it, and then if they've got some questions about something, come back and ask, and it seems like it's more effective than to say, 'This is what you've got to do.' Everybody has different driving styles, so you can't tell them what to do. They've got to do it their own way."
From a driver's standpoint, what's your biggest challenge at Pocono?
"All three corners are different - that's the most challenging part. It seems like you can always get your car good in two of the three corners, but the guys who are contending for the win are the guys who can get their car good for all three corners. That's a very hard thing to do - get your car good through all three sections of the race track. It's a little different now because we don't go through transmission and gear changes like we have in the past where we tried different combinations to find more speed. With the gears NASCAR says you can run, it's made it a totally different style of racing compared to what we've had in year's past at Pocono. It's evened things out for everyone."
Since Pocono has three distinct corners, where do you start with your race setup?
"We always go out and figure where I feel like I'm struggling the most, because that's where I feel like I'm going to make up the most time. It seems like if we can get our car to go through the tunnel turn well, then we're normally able to get The Home Depot Chevrolet to go through the rest of the race track well. The tunnel turn seems to be our toughest turn on the race track. Getting through turn two and the last corner of the race track that's flat, long and sweeping - those seem to be the toughest two corners to get through. And if you're a little bit off, you're a bunch off. If there's a guy who can get all three of those corners right, then that's the guy who's going to win the race."
What's the most treacherous part of Pocono's layout?
"Probably the tunnel turn. Everybody realizes how fast they're going into (turn) one. And they know that if they wreck they're going to wreck hard. The tunnel turn is a little sneaky. It's a tight fit through there, and you don't really know how fast you're going until something bad happens."
Coming down that front straightaway, the racing can get pretty wide. When and where do you have to get back in line to make it into that first corner?
"It just kind of funnels itself back into line before we get into (turn) one. Everybody tries to get back on the high side to make their entry into the corner, but sometimes it does get a little tight in there. But most times, you just do what you have to do to get The Home Depot Chevrolet back in line."
If you're down on horsepower at Pocono, are you pretty much out of contention?
"Yeah. If you're down on power at Pocono, you're a mid-pack car at best. You need power to go down that front straightaway, and if you don't have it, you're done."
Explain a lap around Pocono.
"Turn one is probably the easiest of the three - you drive it in kind of deep and then try to float the car through the corner. You go down the backstretch and into the tunnel turn and it's basically one lane. It's flat and very line-sensitive. You've got to make sure you're right on your marks every lap when you go through there. Then you've got a short chute into turn three. It's a big, long corner and it too is very line-sensitive. With it being line-sensitive and the fact that we've got a straightaway that's three-quarters of a mile long after that, it's very important that you get through the last corner well. You need to come off the corner quickly so that you're not bogged down when you start down that long straightaway. Each corner has its challenges, and each one tends to present a different set of circumstances with each lap you make."
Pocono seems to be a good indicator of how a team will perform at Indianapolis, which after a rare off-weekend, follows Pocono on the Nextel Cup schedule. Is that true?
"It's harder to pass at the Brickyard than it is at Pocono. There's a fair amount of room going into (turn) one at Pocono, and you can run two-wide there and you can go two-wide in (turn) three at the beginning of a run. But it's pretty tough to run two-wide through the corners at Indy. Still, a good run at Pocono shows your flat track program is pretty good. But at the same time, it's no guarantee that you're going to run well at the Brickyard. Pocono is quite a bit bumpier than Indy is, so a good run at Pocono won't guarantee you anything for Indy. But it certainly won't hurt you, and the aero stuff that we do at Pocono will be used at Indy. So yeah, you can learn some stuff to take to the Brickyard."