Stewart, Benson on Talladega

TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: Compared to daytona, what impact does a wider track here at talladega have? "It just makes us all run closer and tighter, and makes the little mistake that everybody worries about a big ...


Compared to daytona, what impact does a wider track here at talladega have?

"It just makes us all run closer and tighter, and makes the little mistake that everybody worries about a big factor here than at Daytona."

How do you deal with that?

"You just do it. You don't have a choice. We live with it."

How tough is this race on you mentally?

"I lose about two years off the end of my life every time we come here. It's just part of it."

Is there more apprehension for this race than other restrictor plate races before?

"I don't worry about it, to be honest. If it happens, it happens. I can't control 43 cars on the racetrack at one time. The only I can do is try to make sure that I don't get myself in a position where something can happen. All you can do is just do the best you can with your car and try to keep yourself in a safe position all day. The only lap that matters is that last lap. [Dale] Earnhardt proved that last year. What you do for all those laps until you see the white [flag] really doesn't mean anything."

Considering you were basically an innocent victim of 'the big wreck' at daytona, you seem pretty matter of fact about it

"I've been racing for 23 years and I've been in a lot of wrecks that weren't my fault. You just do what you can do. Even when it does happen, it's not something that the other guy did on purpose, obviously, so it's just part of what we do. It's part of our sport.

"When the rules that you run by force you to run that close to each other to be competitive, it's almost impossible to think about 43 guys running 500 miles and one guy not making one mistake. One mistake is all it takes, and it's not because the guy doesn't know how to do his job. But when you're running that close it makes the margin of error so small that even the best drivers out here are going to make a mistake some time in 500 miles. You just hope that you're not around it when it happens."

Do you expect another big wreck here on sunday?

"There may be, there may not be. You never know what is going to happen. We've been to races where it didn't happen; we've been to races where it happened five times in a race. You just never know. But if you go into the race worrying about that, you're sure as heck not going to get to the front. If I worried about it and then it didn't happen, then I'd really feel bad at the end of the race for not doing my job.

"I just concentrate on going out and worrying about how my car is driving, try to make sure that I'm putting myself in a position to where if something does happen that I'm able to get away from it if at all possible and if you get caught up in it, you get caught up in it. There is really nothing you can do about it. You do the best you can and we do it to put on a good show for these fans. None of us are going to let those people down. We're going to do the best we can each week for them."

On Bill Simpson</I></B>

"I think Bill Simpson is the smartest safety guy here. He has gotten the most criticism of anybody out here and I think it's a bunch of crap. He has done for more for auto racing - and not only Winston Cup, but Busch, sprint cars, midgets, Indy cars, you name it - he has done more safety-wise than anybody out here."

Did winning the bud shootout at daytona do much for your confidence on restrictor plate tracks?

"No, not really. It told me that I could win one of those things, I guess. But there are so many variables that are out of your control here. We just need to make sure the car is running right. If we can get the thing driving good, we'll get to the front.

"The hardest thing about here, though, is that it is three-wide all day and sometimes four-wide, and it's hard to pass three lines of cars. It's kind of important to qualify up front. If we can get up front and stay there, then everything will work out alright hopefully.

"The only lap that I'm worried about is when I cross the start/finish line and take the white [flag]. That's when the lap that I'm worried about starts. If you get yourself somewhere close to the front and you can get to that, then last year was proof that you can win it from there. We're just worried about that."

Coming down to the last two or three laps, does it get in your head at all knowing that you are still racing 25 or 30 guys for the win?

"It doesn't get in my head at all. I'm just happy at that point that it's almost over and I can go home.

"You throw strategy out the window. You see something and if you have an opportunity that comes up, you take it. You don't plan anything because there are 42 other guys planning something that they are going to do. No matter what you do, it's going to ruin what you are planning. I've never had a plan work. I had one plan the first time I came here and it 'grenaded' like the second lap, so I'm not going to worry anymore about plans. You just ride the scenarios out as they are presented. You just hope that when you make some moves that they're good moves that get you close to the front to where if you do get in that position at the end, then you can try something. But you're guaranteed there is somebody else in front of you or behind you that is going to try something that might ruin what you're doing, so it's almost impossible to plan something."


Can you use much strategy in a plate race?

"You can't strategize here. You just have to make sure that you're in the right place at the right time, and hope that you're in the right place if something happens. Myself, I don't want to be halfway back in the field in the middle row because if something happens, you're in it. It's almost guaranteed that you're going to be in it - 99.8 percent of the time when a wreck happens and you're in the middle of the field in the middle row, you're going to have some damage to the race car."

How do you approach a plate race mentally?

"I try not to think about it until the race because the race itself is going to wear you out. I try not to get all worked up for the fact that you know that it's going to be a stressful day going into the deal."

A lot of people have tried to run at the back for most of a restrictor plate race and then go to the front at the end. is that the best strategy to use?

"When it comes down to it, you need to put yourself in a position at the end of the race to have legitimate shot of winning the race. If you're in a wreck with 25 to 40 [laps] to go, there is not a whole lot you can do about that because you've got to get yourself in that position. But the first 160 laps you might as well hang out somewhere where there is not going to be problems. You better either be leading it or running last - however you want to play it. Sure, leading is the best place to be. If you're in the top four or five, you're fairly confident that you can run with those guys up there and not have a huge problem. But when you start to get to 10th, man, I would just as soon be at the back. The problem is that you can wreck trying to get out of there to try to get to the back. "You just have to find where you're comfortable. If you're comfortable, then you're OK. But if you feel like you're in somewhere that you don't really want to be, then you've got to do something to get yourself out of there. The problem is it may take you 20 laps to get out of there, so it's a tough deal. A lot can happen in 20 laps - heck, a lot can happen in a half a second."

-GM racing

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Series NASCAR Cup