Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS and his crew chief, Greg Zipadelli were guests on the NASCAR weekly teleconference to discuss the upcoming Subway Fresh 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. The following is...
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS and his crew chief, Greg Zipadelli were guests on the NASCAR weekly teleconference to discuss the upcoming Subway Fresh 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. The following is the transcript of the question and answer session.
Q: Tony, can we count Phoenix among your favorite venues?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, it is. I've been there a long, long time with USAC and the Copper Classic, then when I switched to the Busch Series and Indy Racing League. I didn't get a chance to run there in Busch, but was there quite a bit in the IRL. I got to be really close friends with Dennis Wood, who was part of the track out there, Buddy, who owned the facility before NASCAR bought it. It was kind of really considered and still is considered my West Coast home away from home.
It's a track that I've really enjoyed, spent a lot of time out there and love the area. Very, very excited about going back out there this weekend.
Q: What about that track is the most enjoyable thing as far as the actual layout that you enjoy?
TONY STEWART: I'll be honest, I liked it in its old configuration. I liked having the Goodyear bridge that used to go over the top of the track, really used to like the way you used to come off of turn two, used to be really tight off of turn two before it got changed.
It's still a unique track. Turns one and two are a tighter radius than turns three and four are, and having the two ends different like that are what give the Phoenix track its own personality.
Q: In your view, some of the things that have happened already among the drivers and their friends, is it possible a situation like that could even get nastier and lead to some ugly confrontations as the series goes along? Do you think maybe family and friends should be barred from the pit areas?
TONY STEWART: From the pit areas?
TONY STEWART: I don't know. I mean, yeah, we always have friends and we have guests. A perfect example is Bob Nardelli, on top of the pit box at Martinsville. We don't really look -- even though he's the CEO of Home Depot, we look at him more as a friend than we do a business partner. His presence there, he's as excited about the race team as we are.
I think especially considering the situation with the amount of money that Home Depot puts in there, if he wanted to stand on the pit box, he should be allowed to stand on the pit box. He enjoys it. We give him a radio. He's not just there watching. He hears everything, all the conversation that goes on.
As far as the rest of it, I don't know. I really don't have an opinion on it, to be honest.
Q: I wanted to ask a little bit the obvious question about Talladega. What is your opinion of the change in the bumpers, what it might or might not do for the plate racing?
TONY STEWART: I give NASCAR 1000% credit for being proactive. Hopefully it's the right thing. I mean, it's something we discussed when we were in there with our discussion with them in February. You know, if it's something that makes the racing better for everybody and keeps everybody out of that situation, then it's done its job.
At least NASCAR is trying something for this event. We'll see how it works out.
Q: Has etiquette kind of disappeared on the track, and become every man for himself out there, more so than in years past? Is there still etiquette on the track?
TONY STEWART: There is; there's not as many people exercising it. I think the veterans and the guys that are used to winning a lot of races are still using that. There's a lot of young drivers in the series that don't have that respect for the series and for the veterans of the series.
Having respect for them doesn't mean you have to lay over and give them the wins, this and that. That's not what I mean. Realizing that a 500-mile race is a 500-mile race, not a 200-mile race like a Truck or Busch race, there's a difference in how we race in Cup versus how those guys race when they came through the Busch and Truck Series. I think those guys need to learn how we race. For them to think they're going to come in and change how we race is ludicrous.
Q: A couple Talladega questions. You've always run so well at Talladega, yet you've never won. Does that bother you?
TONY STEWART: No, not at all. I mean, Talladega is a track that you can't do anything on your own there. You have to strictly rely on of what everybody else around you is doing.
We haven't won there. Look at how many second-place finishes we've had. I think our finishing average is pretty high, higher than most for the amount of races that we've ran there. I'm pretty satisfied with the way we've run there.
Q: Tell me about your dog you bring to all the races.
TONY STEWART: Actually, I just had to throw her off of me to get to where I could get a better signal here. She's a six-pound Chihuahua. Everybody kind of laughs. Their first impression is, wow, this tough guy has a Chihuahua. It's not really -- doesn't make it very easy to bring a 150-pound dog in a 45-foot bus all weekend.
Having a little dog with us that's used to traveling, she's kind of been our good luck charm from day one. The races that we don't take her to are normally races we struggle. We kind of look at her as a piece of the puzzle, of the luck.
I think just about everybody in the series, I mean, if you look, I would say well over 90% of the drivers in the bus lot area have some sort of pet with them on the weekend. It's nice to have a companion with you on the weekends. It's just something that kind of brings home a little closer to us when we're on the road all week.
Q: Your championship run didn't pick up speed until Infineon last season. You're in better shape heading into Phoenix this year. Are you feeling more confident at this point in the season than last year?
TONY STEWART: I mean, obviously, yeah, I mean, we're in a lot better shape than we were last year at this time. You still have -- at the end of the day, you still have to take it one week at a time right now. I wish I could say, yeah, I'm real excited about the opportunity and possibility of winning another championship this year.
I mean, this business is strictly a week-to-week business. What you did last week may or may not work this week. The main reason for that is technology. I mean, every week people are working to get their programs better than what they were the week before. If some organization hits on something, you could be a top five car and all of a sudden now just a top 10 car, outside the top five.
You know, I'm happy with where we're at. I'm glad we've got such a great start to the season and hope we can maintain that. Our team is working hard towards that obviously. There's still -- in this business, there's never any guarantees that what you're doing now is going to get you to the Chase, nor is it going to -- nor is there a guarantee it's going to win you a championship.
Q: Temperatures are supposed to hit about 90 by Friday. Do you prefer PIR a little hot and slippery?
TONY STEWART: Absolutely. I mean, that's when I do the best there, seems like. No matter what type of car it is, when it gets slick, I seem to do better there. I'm hoping that -- I'm hoping it gets 120, as long as it doesn't feel like that in the car.
Q: Looking ahead, big news last week was announced that for the All-Star race, it's going to be a little bit of a rock concert as well as the race. As a driver, how do you feel about that? Also as a track owner, how do you feel turning a race into a race and rock concert?
TONY STEWART: Keep in mind, racing is an entertainment business. We are entertaining hundreds of thousands of fans. If it makes the experience for those people that come to the race -- if it makes them happier, it adds to that experience, it's a positive thing.
Trust me, there's a lot of -- I don't really know what's going on that weekend, so I'm not going to act like I know exactly what's going on.
Q: It's the Red Hot Chili Peppers playing between the two segments.
TONY STEWART: Okay, you know, there's a lot of rock artists that are big NASCAR fans; a lot of race fans like rock'n roll music. If it's something that adds to the show, makes it a more pleasant experience for those people, obviously Humpy Wheeler has been a pioneer in being a promotor. He normally makes pretty good decisions.
Like I say, the fans are going to be the ones to tell you whether it's a positive or negative thing. That's why they do it. They do it strictly for the fans. If it makes it a better experience for them, that's a great thing.
Q: The media was polled last month regarding the all-time greatest crew chiefs in NASCAR history. I have a feeling 10 weeks from now if they would take that poll again, Greg's name would be up there. Could you comment on him, what has made this relationship so successful and what makes him such a great crew chief.
TONY STEWART: The thing that makes him such a good great crew chief, he's so dedicated to the program. He lives, eats, breathes, sleeps this race team. There's sometimes I feel like he neglects his family because of it.
He's a great person. I mean, what makes him such a great crew chief is the fact that - I'm not going to speak for his wife, but I think I can answer for her in that saying he's a great husband. I've seen him, he's an excellent father. I hit the lottery getting him as a crew chief. He's the reason we've been so successful together as a team is because we both have the same passion and desire to win.
His work ethic is unbelievable. He cares about people. He learned a lot from Joe Gibbs. He treats -- you're only as good as your weakest person. We're always striving to make ourselves better than what we are, but at the same time he treats everybody as an individual.
I could sit here for two hours and talk about him. But he's just a great person. I mean, he's one of those people that when times get tough, he's in the shop 14, 16 hours a day till we get out of the rut that we're in. That's how dedicated he is to our program.
When you put two guys together like Greg and myself that have the same desire to win and same passion to win, it's hard to beat a combination like that normally.
Q: Gibbs Racing, have you seen the whole team elevate this year?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, absolutely. You know, it's just amazing sometimes. I miss Bobby as a teammate. Bobby was a huge, huge, huge leader in our organization the whole time I was there.
You know, it just shows a lot of times chemistry-wise it's amazing what happens when you change the chemistry a little bit. Having two young guys come in that have fresh ideas, that have fresh attitudes, see what we've been able to do so far this year, how well we work together, it's really an exciting time for us at the shop.
I feel like we've really taken our program to another level. It's not been because of me; it's been because of the two young guys coming in, the attitude -- their attitude has kind of spread through the shop. It's really just kind of given everybody a new fresh attitude and approach to what we're doing this year.
Q: You have one more off weekend before the end of the season, that being at the end of July. What is your opinion on how the off weekends are spaced? Would you like another one further into the Chase?
TONY STEWART: We ran Daytona, and I think we went straight to California, then had a weekend off. I'm not sure that we needed a weekend off after two races. I would like to see that weekend, that off weekend, be moved down later in the year, maybe the weekend before the Chase starts even, to where it gives everybody a chance to kind of catch their breath.
We get a lot of breaks early in the season here. At the time of the year when everybody is really getting run down and are tired and need a break, we don't get anything.
You know, it's hard for NASCAR. I mean, obviously, there's traditional dates, this and that, that you can't move around. It's a delicate balance for them. But if there was any way possible to take, you know, maybe the first weekend off that we had and move it later on in the season there, I think it would definitely benefit the drivers and the teams and the owners.
Q: Ford won the last race at Talladega, ran well at Talladega. Have they closed the gap some?
TONY STEWART: I don't know. It's such a chess match there anyway. You can be leading the race one second, and you can be fifth the next second. I think it's just a matter of timing and getting yourself in the right place at the right time.
I don't know if they have or not, to be honest. It's just a matter of -- I think a lot of that is just the luck of where you're at and whether you're in the right place at the right time.
Q: What is your dog's name?
TONY STEWART: Kayle.
Q: You talked about the changes earlier with the Phoenix racetrack. Overall, do you like the changes? Does it suit you better? Would you rather go back to the old way, if you could?
TONY STEWART: Honestly, I liked it the way it was. It was just really unique the way it was. Having bridges going over the top of racetracks, it was a walkway bridge is what it was. But I remember going to Winchester, Indiana, they had a walkway bridge that went over, because they didn't have a tunnel that went underneath the racetrack. It's things like that that kind of take the past of our sport.
Obviously, you want to update facilities all the time to bring them into current standards. But that was just one more thing. That was the last track in the Cup Series that had something nostalgic like that. I hated to see that go. Just the way turn two was, it really made -- it was very challenging getting off of turn two. I liked it that way. In every division I ran there, it made it a lot more fun.
I don't know that it doesn't suit my style. I mean, I had a great run there in the fall. I think the racing is still good there no matter how they do it. I'm still old school in a lot of ways. Like I said, I spent a lot of time at Phoenix. When some of those changes came, I wasn't necessarily a big fan of it.
Continued in part 2