NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference GM Racing highlights July 29, 2003 This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet Monte Carlo and '02 NASCAR Winston Cup champion, his crew chief...
NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference
GM Racing highlights
July 29, 2003
This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet Monte Carlo and '02 NASCAR Winston Cup champion, his crew chief Greg Zipadelli, and Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing.
Stewart has posted two top-10 finishes in four Winston Cup races at Indianapolis and was the Bud Pole winner of the 2002 Brickyard 400. His history at IMS includes three top 10 finishes in five IRL races, including a sixth-place finish in the 2001 Indianapolis 500.
The following are highlights of the Q&A's with the media as they discussed the 2003 season and the upcoming Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Part 1 of 3
HIGHLIGHTS OF Q&A'S WITH TONY STEWART
Q: LAST YEAR, IT WAS DIFFICULT TO KEEP YOUR FOCUS ON DRIVING AT INDY. WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO AHEAD AND ADDRESS LAST YEAR, OFF THE TRACK, ONE TIME FOR EVERYONE, SO WE CAN GET THAT BEHIND US AND MOVE ON?
TS: "Sometimes you have to have something bad happen for something good to come out of it. I think there were a lot of frustration with me last year - especially when it comes to Indianapolis because I am from Columbus south of here, and Rushville, and I always want to do well when we come to Indy. Coming back to the Brickyard and being so close so many times to having a good day and having it go south was kind of a boiling point for me. You hate to have it happen at home like that but I think we've learned a lot from it. I got to spend a lot of time with Gary Mook (photographer for The Indianapolis Star) when we were in Kansas City last fall. Gary is a great guy. I think Gary's put it behind me and I've put it behind me. Our actions this year, on and off the track, have proven that we've made some significant changes in the way we deal with things. Hopefully this year when come back here (Indy), we'll be able to just concentrate on hopefully getting the Home Depot Monte Carlo a little closer to the front than where we've ended up in the past."
Q: CAN THE MEDIA AND FANS REALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT RACING AT INDY MEANS TO TONY STEWART?
TS: "I think so. If you take the one thing in life that you're most passionate about, and apply it in your life, it would be easy to understand what it means to me. There's something in everybody's life that they're very passionate about. To me, it's winning at the Brickyard. It's just a situation that it only happens once a year. That's the hard part. It's not something that everyday you can accomplish that goal. You only have one chance out of every 365 days to accomplish that goal."
Q: IN CHASING THAT PASSION, DO YOU SOMETIMES HAVE TO KEEP YOURSELF FROM BEING OVER-PREPARED?
TS: "I think so. I think you can let it monopolize your mind too much. I think that's also what's helped me get to the level where I am - by preparing and focusing on the objective. As every year goes by, you learn how to deal with situations better and how to prepare better and sometimes you can get to the point where you can over-prepare. We've tried to simplify things this year."
Q: THIS IS THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY FOR WINSTON CUP RACING AT INDY. DO YOU REMEMBER THE NEGATIVE REACTION BACK THEN FROM SOME OF THE OPEN-WHEEL GUYS?
TS: "I was actually one of them also that wasn't extremely excited - just because of the history of the place. But now, it's been taken to another level and to another level again. The way we've all adapted our attitudes toward it is the major racing series being the Indianapolis 500 is obviously what the tradition and history of this great race track has been all about for so many years. But to bring NASCAR Winston Cup racing, the premier racing series in the United States, and to bring a Formula 1 race here have brought all the major racing series together at one great venue. It's just like anything else. A lot of times, people are scared of change. As the years have gone on, people have accepted it. In all reality, they've seen what a good change it's been for Indianapolis and the community."
Q: HAVE YOU TALKED TO CHIP GANASSI AND IS THERE ANY TRUTH TO THAT RUMOR, OR ARE YOU LEANING TOWARD JOE GIBBS? HOW ARE YOU DOING ON YOUR CONTRACT NEGOATIONS?
TS: "I really haven't done much with it. I saw Chip at the track last Sunday and said hi when I walked by. Other than that, I haven't really talked to Chip very much. I guess the thing that everybody has missed is that the month of June and the month of July are the two busiest months of my schedule. We've been pretty busy on the road running dirt races and everything else, so we really haven't had a lot of time to do anything with this. But Joe (Gibbs) has sent me a proposal to extend my contract and like I said, we've really been on the road so we haven't had a lot of time. It's not been a real pressing issue because I still have another year on my contract after this year. So, for some reason, everybody else is putting a bigger press on that than I have so far. Joe and I have been working fine on it so far, so it hasn't been a big issue."
Q: RATHER THAN PINNING IT ON NASCAR'S USE OF VOLUNTEERS, DO YOU THINK THAT RACING BACK TO THE CAUTION CAUSES THE DELAY IN RESCUE VEHICLES GETTING TO THE CRASH SITE?
TS: "I can guarantee you that it is. The fact that we do race back to the yellow is exactly why (there is a delay). You can't have safety vehicles on the track when a guy is trying to get his lap back. It's a situation where it's made it exciting for the fans but at times might make it unsafe for the competitors. I think that NASCAR is looking at that and trying to evaluate if that's something we need to look at in the future and whether we need to keep racing back to the caution or whether we need to do something a little different to help speed up the process of getting the safety crews out there. I don't think it's so much because it's volunteers - there can be some seconds shaved there - but when you take a track like Pocono where it's a 50-second race track it takes a long time to get the crews out there. So I'm not sure there's a lot we can do about getting them out there any quicker, with the exception of a couple seconds, when we have a whole lap that we have to wait."
Q: HAVING GROWN UP IN INDIANA, HOW BIG A PRESENCE WAS NASCAR THEN AND HOW HAS 10 YEARS OF NASCAR WINSTON CUP RACING AT THE BRICKYARD CHANGED THAT?)
TS: "It had a great presence in Indiana. Before I joined the series, I was involved in Midget Sprint Car racing and the IRL and the presence was great around here before that 10-year period and during that 10-year period. At the same time, it was mainly like a lot of areas in the country where there wasn't the exposure to it up close and personal like it is now. I think once NASCAR came to the Indianapolis area in person, I think it brought the excitement level to an all-time high here. I think it was a great thing."
Q: IF YOU WERE NOT BEHIND THE WHEEL OF RACING WHAT OTHER OPTIONS EITHER WITHIN RACING OR OUTSIDE OF RACING WOULD YOU CONSIDER?
TS: "That's a pretty tough question for me considering I'm 32 years old and for the last 24 years I've been behind the wheel of a race car. I don't know. I'm sure I would be involved in racing in some aspect. Obviously I'm involved in racing now, aside from being a driver, as a car owner. I've thought a lot about working with sanctioning bodies in the future from an official standpoint. I'm very passionate about auto racing on many levels and in many different series - whether it be dirt track racing or short track racing; I'm very passionate about the IRL still and I'm very passionate about Winston Cup racing. So I guess if it came to a day where I couldn't participate as a driver, I don't ever see myself totally disassociating myself from auto racing."
Q: MANY OF YOUR OPEN-WHEEL BRETHREN HAVE GONE ON TO NASCAR AND IT APPEARS JJ YELEY MAY BE GOING IN THAT DIRECTION TOO. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HIS SEASON?
TS: "He has had an unbelievable season and it's not even over yet. He's tied the single-season record for the most wins in a season. He's tied with Jay Drake, Sleepy Tripp, and I believe AJ Foyt. I don't know how many races there are left in the USAC schedule between the three divisions, but I know for my Sprint Car team that he drives for me he's won 11 feature events for me out of the 19 feature events that he's won total this year. The next win he has will put him in a category all by himself with more wins in a season than anybody in the career of USAC. He's having a dream season. At the same time, I'll admit I'm having a dream season as a car owner. To come into the series as a first year car owner in USAC in the Sprint Car division and be leading the point standings with 11 victories, I couldn't be happier as a car owner."
Q: DO YOU WORRY ABOUT ALL THE GANASSI CONTRACT RUMORS DISTRACTING YOUR TEAM OR HAS THE TEAM SHOWN THAT NOTHING CAN KNOCK IT OFF COURSE?
TS: "Over the course of the last four and a half years, I think we've been able to overcome every obstacle that's come our way. I haven't seen this to be any distraction to the team to be honest. When I listen to you guys (media) I feel like it's becoming a bigger deal than I apparently think it is. At the same time, I'm pretty confident that our race team is probably more focused this year than we've ever been. That has shown in our performance on the track. It doesn't show necessarily at the end of the day with the results, but we've been running better than we've ever run as a race team and I think people are seeing that on the track."
Q: HAVE YOU SAT DOWN AND EXPLAINED TO THE TEAM THAT YOU'RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE?
TS: "This has happened a couple of times with the team. We've extended my contracts before. The team is used to it. I think everybody in Winston Cup is used to it. Drivers are constantly renewing contracts and there are always contract negotiations. It's just like any other professional sport. At the same time, days like what we had last Sunday when we started 33rd and got to the lead, that shows that nothing is a distraction to us right now."
Q: AS THE 2002 WINSTON CUP CHAMPION, IS IT MORE STRESSFUL GETTING IN THE CAR NOW THAN IT WAS IN THE PAST?
TS: "No, not at all. If anything, it's taken a lot of the pressure off in all reality. I'm able to get in the car and just concentrate on what I enjoy doing and that's just trying to win races."