Richmond: Winning team press conference

TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO START IN THE BACK? "As bad of shape as this racetrack has been in all weekend, it wasn't a very good sight to start back there. After watching the Busch race we all knew...


WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO START IN THE BACK? "As bad of shape as this racetrack has been in all weekend, it wasn't a very good sight to start back there. After watching the Busch race we all knew how bad it was going to be and how tough it was going to be. But, the biggest thing was just to be patient and try to get them one or two at a time. The hard part was that we started the race from the back. Our car - it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't exactly the way we wanted it in 'Happy Hour,' but we ran by ourselves a lot. They keep making tires harder and they keep putting more sealer down and they got it to where it was a one-groove racetrack. It got to where when you were behind somebody, even as much as I say it never happens, this is the first time I've ever been to Richmond when aerodynamics played a part in it.

"The aero part - the drama that we have there every week is getting worse. It has started to trickle down the three-quarter mile tracks now. The next thing you know, we're going to go to Bristol and you're going to have aero-pushes. It's a problem that is going to get worse before it gets better probably. But, started back there, there wasn't a lot of clean air, so it really made our car real tight and it was worse behind traffic. For the most part, the majority of the day our car really wasn't that good, but about halfway through the race we started making some really, really big changes that we've never ever made before. That was due to Greg Zipadelli. We had to make drastic changes to compensate for the race car because it wasn't where we wanted it to be. Finally, it started responding and sure enough, we just kept going in that direction. We've got a setup in that car right now - I'm scared to go back there and look and see what all the weights are and percentages are because they would probably make me not even want to climb in it again."

YOU HAD TO AVOID A LOT OF INCIDENTS TODAY...HOW MUCH OF THAT IS LUCK, HOW MUCH IS BEING PATIENT, ETC.? "I probably ran one of the most patient races that I have ever won and it wasn't because I wanted to. It was because I had to. When the car got tight, it was easy to make your problem even worse. It seemed like if I could sit there and be patient, it wasn't making our problem any worse, we just weren't where we needed to be each run. It was a matter of just kind of riding it out until we got an opportunity to come in and work on it some more. All day long, guys were wrecking in front of us and guys were wrecking behind us. We didn't really have too many close calls. We had a couple. But, I'm sure it was frustrating for all the drivers. You could see it by the way everybody was driving. There were a lot of guys that were being very courteous, and a lot of 'give and take' going on out there, but then there were a lot of guys that were in a big hurry. It seemed like the guys that were in a big hurry, sure enough as time went on, they were dropping out like flies. The guys that seemed to be a little more patient were the guys that were around at the end."

WAS THERE ANY GRIP OUT THERE? "There was grip on the bottom. But, we've always had a Thursday night race here that at least got it started. Then by the time Friday night came around and the Busch cars ran, at least a second groove started.

"Then, that gave us the opportunity in the Cup race to run two grooves. I don't know why we don't have a Thursday night race this year, but we don't have it. We told them when we came and tested here a couple weeks ago that it was going to be a problem and it didn't seem like anybody was in a big hurry to make any adjustments or changes for us. We were the fastest car here in testing and I had the most to lose by having them do anything to the racetrack. But, I didn't think it was going to be very fair to the competitors or race fans to run under the conditions we had. I can't imagine that it was a very good race today, in all reality."

ON COMPARING RYAN NEWMAN'S ROOKIE YEAR TO YOUR ROOKIE YEAR "That's your job, not mine. The last time I checked, I was supposed to drive the race car and you were supposed to create stats and comparisons. '

"His performance, today, I thought was awesome. He is probably the smartest, most calculated young driver we have in our series right now and he's not got his win yet. But, a day like today, where you lose it in the last 20 laps is the day that really makes you appreciate it when you do get that first win. To come here, under the conditions that we had today, he was up front all day long. He was smooth, consistent and didn't make mistakes. At the end of it, he's got a second place finish. He's got his career best finish in Winston Cup and to do that under the conditions we had today, I thought he did an awesome job."

ON THE LAST RESTART, PASSING RYAN NEWMAN FOR THE LEAD "Our car was really good on restarts. When we got to fourth place and were lined up behind Mark Martin, we were able to get under Mark going into one and that got us into third and the caution came right back out. On the next restart right away, we were able to get underneath Jeff Gordon. They're cars were moving around on the racetrack and our car was really, really good on restarts, for some reason. That's not our normal characteristics here. Normally it takes us 10 to 15 laps to get going and we pray for long runs, but today we needed shorter runs. Even when we got into second, like I said, it's getting to where it's more aerodynamic dependent and the closer you get to the front the better air you're getting. Every spot I gained, the car drove a little better and a little better and a little better. We kept getting those restarts and I knew Ryan's car was weak on restarts and I knew ours was strong. I knew that if I could get by him in the first three or four laps, that once I got in the lead it would help my car aero-wise and hurt his car at the same time. Once we got out front there, it forced him to - I don't know if he was running 100 percent when we were behind him, but I was running 100 percent behind him and I couldn't gain ground on him. But, when he got behind us, it was like he could get up so far and then he was stuck to. I'm sure he was doing the same thing I was doing to try to get the lead back.

"Like I said, we've got a big problem starting here with aerodynamics and how aero-dependent these cars are getting. We're getting Indy car-style racing in Winston Cup cars and something is going to have be done about it soon or else we're going to start putting on bad races for the fans.

"How many times this year have you seen us take no tires or two tires and that wins you the race? You can be out there on 60-lap older tires. Just like Martinsville - we had the fastest car there, but Bobby Labonte stayed out and won the race. We were racing our guts out with four fresh tires and could only get back up to third.

"It's just going to get worse and worse. It's a problem that's going to get worse before it gets better, but I hope it gets better before the race fans quit coming."

HOW CAN IT BE FIXED? "I don't know - make them to where they're not so good in the air, I guess. These cars, when they weren't so good and when people weren't taking them to wind tunnels, you could race side by side and nose to tail all day long and the cars didn't know the difference, just because they weren't good aero-wide anyway. But, now they're getting so good and so efficient that any disturbance in the air in front of you is directly affecting how your car drives. That's what happened to us in Las Vegas. As long was we were in the first two or three cars, we had a great running car and that's on a mile and half track. Now, we're at Richmond and you're going through the same set of problems that you do on a mile and a half. It seems like it's getting to the shorter tracks. The next thing you know at Bristol we're going to have this problem. If you get that problem at Bristol, then we've pretty much taken a lot of this sport away from what it used to be."

JEFF BURTON SAID THERE WASN'T TIME FOR PATIENCE TODAY, YOU SAID YOU HAD TO BE PATIENT...EXPLAIN "It used to be that a typical run here, we used to look at an 80-lap segment as an average segment if it went green all the way through. You basically planned your run through that and you didn't run 100 percent at the beginning because you didn't want your tires to go off. But, everything is so dependent on air and tires these days that you have to run 100 percent. Now, it doesn't mean that you have to be reckless. I was still running 100 percent every lap, but I was only running as fast as the car was capable of going at the time. Under situations and circumstances like we had today, guys were having to run over that to try to gain spots because it was the only way you could get spots. That's where guys were making mistakes and crashing and having the problems. For the circumstances we had, I ran a patient race, but I ran every lap like it was the last lap. You have to run as hard as you can every lap because of the way that the rules are these days, I guess."


WHAT WAS THE ENGINE PROBLEM YOU FOUND THAT FORCED YOU TO CHANGE ENGINES? "For some reason, we lost a valve seat. It started to move. I don't know if it was heat-related - cycling. It was a new cylinder head. The '18' and the '20' car both had new cylinder heads and had the same problem. We won't know more until we get back to the shop and see what really caused it. But, we would have dropped a cylinder if we didn't catch it."


WHAT IS IT ABOUT RICHMOND? "I don't know, to be honest. I didn't run the race that I typically run here and not the race that I've won the last two races here. This is just a track that I like. Typically, this place is a lot of fun because it's two and three wide racing. You've got an upper groove and a lower groove and you can do some things with the race car that some guys haven't done yet. Today was a whole different day. We were all running the same line and all running the same way. The conditions changed a lot as the day went on. I don't have any secrets here. I guess I just get around here good."

ON FEELING FRUSTRATED EARLY ON IN THE RACE "Honestly, after the first 50 laps today I didn't think that we would even get in the top 15. That's the situation I was in. We kept throwing so many things at the car in 'Happy Hour' and we threw things to it last night before the rains came. We were somewhat optimistic that with the sun coming out today that the conditions might change and our car might free up a little bit with more heat. I had the same thing at the start of the race today that we parked last night, so it was easy to get down. With the way our last two weeks have been, it's easy to break your confidence down after having two bad weeks like that. We didn't need a day like that today, especially after having the bad luck with the motor. We knew it was going to be tough to go from the back. Then, when it was so hard that we couldn't even pass cars at the beginning of the race, I thought that we were going to be lucky if we didn't get lapped here. That makes it frustrating for you. But, Greg will listen to me whine and carry on on the radio and he'll let me get depressed, but at the same time, he'll kind of let me vent my frustrations out and he won't get frustrated. Then, he'll come back and start pumping me up and the next thing you know, we're back on track where we need to be. But it's almost like I've just got to vent my frustrations and once I get that out of my system, then we can go on and start being productive again.

"It was extremely frustrating early today. Guys were doing a lot of weird things on the racetrack that we have never had to do at Richmond before - blocking and chopping people off and this and that. The conditions were terrible, so it was easy to get frustrated because of our performance, it was easy to get frustrated because of the conditions we were racing under. But sure enough, the one thing is that Greg stayed focused all day. In my opinion, Greg is the one that won us the race today. I didn't do it. I still drove the car and I still had to do my job, but he is the guy that single-handedly won us the race today because he stayed focused more than I did. As the race went on and we got about 250 to 280 laps into the race and finally, we started seeing some changes in the way the car was driving and it was actually trying to come around and was making improvements. That started getting my confidence back. It was due to Greg's cool head and staying focused about what changes we needed to make. Like I said, we threw so many things at it last night and this morning that didn't make any difference, that finally he found something that did respond and then we just kept working in that direction the rest of the day."

ARE YOU RESPONDING TO TOUGH SITUATIONS BETTER THAN YOU DID A YEAR AGO? "I haven't been in any trouble this year so far, so I'd say I'm doing pretty good. I think I'm dealing with it better. I have so much confidence in Greg and the guys. It was this way when I ran in the IRL and it was this way when I ran midgets and sprint cars. When you work with somebody like Greg for as long as we've worked together, you get a great amount of confidence in what his capabilities are and I think it works the other way around, too. Knowing that he is not going to give up on me, even when I'm having a bad day and am frustrated, knowing that he is going to keep trying and keep working to find a solution to the problem - the back of your mind you never really fully give up. You know that there is a possibility that you're going to stumble on something. He's never let me down yet. In four years, he's never once let me down."


WHAT CHANGES DID YOU HAVE TO MAKE TO THE CAR? "It was frustrating because we came here and tested and felt like we had a pretty good package to start with. We put it under the car after qualifying and it just didn't seem like the same race car. It was severely tight. Then, we made a lot of changes before the race and I was actually thinking that we'd be too free, but I thought it would be easier to tighten it up than it was going to be to free it up. I missed it a little there and don't know why. I don't know if we had a little bit of a problem that we missed or if something's not right - I don't know. I'm puzzled. But, we made a lot of changes during the race. We went to spring rubbers, we went to wedge, we went to track bar, we went to air pressure. We took everything that we could adjust and we adjusted on it in every way we could to free the car up. The last two segments it started to come around. We got in better air. Our lap times were as good as anybody all day. That's what we needed to do was work on it, get our track position, get Tony up front to where he felt like he could race these guys, get away from the lapped car and it just kind of worked out."


HOW IMPORTANT WAS THIS WIN FOR YOU? "It was along the same lines. I expected to do well here. We tested here, we ran really well in the test, we were the fastest car in the test here. Anytime that we've ever qualified up front anywhere, we've raced good. We were the quickest car in practice - under the track record by almost a half a second, so I was optimistic that we were going to have a pretty good weekend. Then, once we got to the back and got to 'Happy Hour,' all of a sudden whatever we were doing, it wasn't right anymore and what we had during testing wasn't working out like it did at the test.

"I guess the thing that was different this year than in the past was our performance up to this race on-track has not been where we wanted it to be and then all of a sudden, this is a place where we finally get running good on the track.

"But, this year is different. Every place we've been this year, starting at Daytona, we were fast every place we've been and we've been a contender to win almost every race we've run, but something happens. But, everywhere we've been, even though the finishes and the box scores aren't showing it and the points aren't showing it, we've been competitive and we've been a contender at every race that we've been to this year, so I don't see feel like this is a landmark for our season. It was important, more so, for the last two weeks the way we've had bad luck the last two weeks. Knowing how much we've lost in the point standings and knowing how much of a deficit we've already built, we needed a day like today to get us back some of those points and hopefully get us on the road to getting the point deficit dwindled down a lot closer before the end of the season."

DOES IT MATTER TO YOU THAT YOU STARTED LAST, BUT WILL BE CREDITED WITH STARTING THIRD? "Ten years down the road when they look in the record book, they're going to look at where I finished. They aren't going to care where I started. It's not going to matter. As far as I'm concerned, I don't care where they say I started. As long as I won the race today and as long as there is one more number added under the 'W' column, that's all I really care about. There are a lot more things to worry about in life than being that knit-picky about. I don't want a big pat on the back for saying that I started last. Greg deserves that pat on the back today, not me. I don't care where it says we started and where we finished. It says where we qualified and that shows our effort during qualifying. I feel like it's two separate events all weekend. You have your qualifying run and you have your race run. Sure, would I like people to know that I had to come from the back and had to work my way up through there? Absolutely, we're proud of that. We're proud of what we did today. But, we're also very proud of how we qualified and that number is something to be proud of, too. You can look at it either way. It's robbing Peter to pay Paul. Who cares?

"I'm not a statistician. I don't look at stats. I honestly don't care. All I care about is going home and when I walk in there and I turn on the light, I see all of those trophies. That's all I've ever cared about for 23 years and nothing is going to change now."


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Mark Martin