Sonoma: Pontiac Racing -Tony Stewart interview

TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: YOUR INITIAL THOUGHTS ON THIS WEEKEND "We're always excited to come to California. It's nice for us to come to the west coast. We always enjoy the weather out here. It's nice to come to our...

TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:

YOUR INITIAL THOUGHTS ON THIS WEEKEND "We're always excited to come to California. It's nice for us to come to the west coast. We always enjoy the weather out here. It's nice to come to our first road course race of the year. It actually gives us an opportunity to do something a little different from our normal daily grind. Being able to come out here and enjoy the 'wine country' and run a road course race is a lot of fun for us."

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET AROUND A ROAD COURSE? "A lot of throttle control, probably more than anything. A lot of the Winston Cup tracks we go to, you lift, you brake, then you get back in the gas and you put the thing right to the floor. That is something you can't do when you go road course racing - especially at Sears Point. It's not got an over-abundance of grip, especially for a 3,400-pound car. With the heat it makes the track conditions a little bit slippery throughout the day, so it teaches you to utilize a lot of throttle control, probably more than anything."

IS PATIENCE MORE OR LESS IMPORTANT AT A ROAD COURSE? "No. I think you have to be patient. You have to keep the car on the racetrack. But, a lot of times, track position in very, very important at Sears Point, even more so than Watkins Glen. Being able to stay in up in the top five or six cars all day, a lot of times is a pretty big advantage as the day goes on. You have to be patient and take care of the car, take care of the tires, but at the same time, try to do everything you can to maintain that track position."

IS THIS RACE A MAJOR "STATEMENT" RACE FOR YOUR TEAM? "The way we've run the last couple weeks, if we're not the leader when we take the checkered flag, we at least need to be able to see the leader take the checkered flag. That's something we haven't done for the last couple weeks.

"I think it's a good week. The fun thing this week is you won't hear anybody talking about Dodge, Ford, Chevy, Pontiac aerodynamics. You won't be hearing them talk about over-abundances of horsepower. You'll hear them talking about working on the balance of their cars and drivers that are doing a good job in the cars. This is a weekend that you throw away the aero variables and the horsepower variables, and let's see who does the best job of getting the mechanical balance of the car. I look forward to that because I don't have to answer all the aero questions this week, but at the same time we can go out and have a good weekend.

"If anything, I feel like this is a big pressure weekend for us because we need a good weekend this weekend to get us back on track."

DID YOUR WIN HERE LAST YEAR MAKE YOU AND THE OTHER DRIVERS BELIEVE THAT JEFF GORDON COULD BE BEATEN ON A ROAD COURSE? "I think when Jeff walks through the garage area at road course races, we all felt like we were supposed to kneel on one knee. I don't think anybody dethroned the man, by any means. He went back and won Watkins Glen, so he obviously showed that he is still on course there. But, it was just nice.

"It's just like, probably one of the biggest wins of my career was not a points-paying race in Winston Cup. It was the Bud Shootout two years ago, beating Dale Earnhardt and Jeff at the Bud Shootout. That was probably the biggest win of my career, being able to beat Dale Earnhardt in his element. He was obviously one of the best at superspeedway racing, where when we come to the road courses we know that we have to beat Jeff Gordon. To be able to win at Sears Point last year, that was a big win, knowing that you could beat a guy that has been so dominant and so good at a track like that. It gave you a lot of pride. For us, it was just a pretty big pat on the back, knowing that we did a really good job that weekend."

IS HAVING ONE CONTINUOUS PIT ROAD HERE THIS YEAR, WILL IT MAKE IT POSSIBLE FOR SOMEONE TO WIN FROM THE BACK? "Our qualifying setup to our race setup is really nothing drastically different, like they are on a lot of the ovals, because it just seems like it's more similar as far as qualifying setup to race setup. So, if a guy doesn't have it right for qualifying, he's probably not going to have it really where he needs it to be for the race, either. I don't really think that is going to change a lot, unless a guy just flat blows the lap -- if he has a good car and makes a mistake in his qualifying run. But still, that is a long day to work yourself through 40 cars to try to get the top three cars after that. I don't think it will really make that much difference this year. I haven't really seen it be a big difference in the past, just from watching."

ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JEFF GORDON "Our sport is a fairly clean sport, so anytime that anything is a little bit off-center, it's a lot of news to write about. If a trip over my shoelaces, at least three newspapers the next day have it as a major column. It's like I've always told people: the NASCAR series is like the Walton's on steroids. You've got 43 brothers every week that start the race. We're running 38 races a year with each other. If we didn't disagree once during the entire season, neither one of us are trying very hard. You're going to disagree sometime along the line. And anytime a guy like Jeff and I disagree, it's a major story for [the media]. If you don't have that once in a while, you don't have two guys that are very competitive and you don't have two guys that are trying to win races every week.

"We don't think much about it. I think of him as another guy. I see him more than I see my own family, so to a certain degree, he is my family. People always want to try to make rivalries. It's not rivalries. It's just guys that disagree. When you think about races like Martinsville and Richmond and Bristol where we're running up to 500 laps, there are a lot of disagreements in 500 laps with 42 other guys. But, to do that 38 races a year, it's going to happen once in a while, but it's not as big of a drama as what [the media] wants to make it out to be. A lot of times - like our deal at Watkins Glen a couple years ago - we argued about it for five minutes and for the next six weeks [the media] had a 'hay-day' with it, and it lasted five minutes. Ten minutes after that we probably laughed about it and we laughed about it for six weeks. [The media] makes more out of it than what is really there, whether it's us or anybody else in the series.

"That's just the way my perception on it has been. You argue with a guy. You scream and yell, just like you did your brother and sister, and a half hour later you go eat lunch together and do something else."

DO YOU APPROACH THIS YEAR'S RACE HERE ANY DIFFERENTLY, HAVING WON IT LAST YEAR? "We don't approach it any differently. You look at the box scores of where we finished the last three years (here) and it doesn't look very good, other than our win last year. But, if you look at how the race actually ran, we ran really good all three years that we've been here. That is more comforting than knowing that we won last year. Knowing that we consistently ran up-front here means more to us than the win does, in all reality, as far as approaching this year's race. Having that first road course win under our belt sure doesn't hurt our confidence level, either."

ON THE 'KINDER AND GENTLER TONY STEWART' "Everybody says, 'kinder and gentler.' I'm not sure I'm kinder. I'm just more reserved about what I say. You learn a lot that honesty is not necessarily the best policy in our sport anymore, as much as your parents try to teach you that. I'm not going to say they're wrong, by any means, because they weren't wrong until I became a Winston Cup driver. I'm not sure that I'm kindler and gentler. I'm just more reserved. I've really enjoyed my personal life, even though I don't have much of one to begin with because of the time schedules that we all have. But, the little bit of time that we have had - hanging with Jeff a couple days on the lake - we've had a lot of fun and have been able to enjoy being normal people once in a while and not having to take those days off and do damage-control for something we said to the media."

-pontiac-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart