Continued from part 1 Q: When you go back to a racetrack that you've raced at so many times, even back early in your career in IRL, when you sit there alone in your thoughts looking at that racetrack, does it juice you up ...
Continued from part 1
Q: When you go back to a racetrack that you've raced at so many times, even back early in your career in IRL, when you sit there alone in your thoughts looking at that racetrack, does it juice you up with confidence?
TONY STEWART: Sure. Any time you go back to a facility that you've had success at, you're always excited to go back there. It's not only just the performance that we've had there isn't the total draw for me enjoying Phoenix so much. We had a chance to go to Manzanita, Dennis Wood's dirt track. In the fall there, my Sprint cars are out there. I get a chance in the evenings to go watch my own cars race as well as do what I do at the Cup track. The friends I've made along the way, the (indiscernible) family, all the people that I've got to know out there at the facility, those are people that I look forward to seeing when I go out there.
It's just kind of the total package when I go out there. It's a great facility. Obviously, I mean, there's not too many tracks you go to that you look over the backstretch and you see mountains and cactus everywhere, you hear people talking about cowboys going up there in the morning with a bag and grabbing rattlesnakes the day of the race to clear them out so people can sit down. It's just a pretty special racetrack.
Q: You touched earlier about how it's been easy to replace Bobby sort of this year. How hard has it been for you to be doing so good and see him struggle?
TONY STEWART: It's always hard, especially with the attitude we have. We have the attitude as a team that we all want to run well and we want our whole organization to run well. That's kind of what hurt us last year is that Bobby's team kind of got in a rut. When we were running well, he was in a rut, we couldn't really rely on him for help. That's what makes it hard.
You have a weekend like we had at Texas where all three cars were competitive and all three guys were fast, it made the information that we shared with each other even that much more valuable. It makes that side of it exciting.
Like I said, I miss Bobby as a teammate. He was the one that got me my ride at Joe Gibbs Racing in the first place. With the success we're having here, it's a great position to be in right now, having three cars that are running well. With two rookies, you can't expect them to go out there and have the success right away that we've had and we're having. To see the runs they've had this year, see the experience they're gaining, that in itself is as good and valuable as some wins are.
Q: You said a while ago that you consider yourself a bit old school. You talked about being nostalgic about the bridge, things like that. Do you talk to the guys about the supposed good old days? Is there a side of you that kind of wishes maybe you came around three decades earlier?
TONY STEWART: I don't know if three decades would be accurate. Maybe two. Three may have been a bit far for me. This past weekend, I went and raced the late dirt model two nights, and I didn't fly to the tracks and get out, I rode in the truck with the team. We rode in a motorhome together. The whole entire race team was -- we were all sitting there working together, riding together. We were telling stories about races five or six years ago.
Yeah, it makes you appreciate those times. I mean, a lot's changed in racing, not necessarily all of them are for the better. They all have happened for a reason.
With that, it's fun to remember those times. I may not have been in the era with AJ and those guys that I respect the most, but still I still have a lot of good stories and a lot of good things to talk about with friends.
Q: Looking ahead with May just around the corner, do you still have those urges to get into an IndyCar again? Do you miss the 500? Do you think that we'll ever see you in an IndyCar again?
TONY STEWART: Wow, it's amazing, this topic comes up every year at this time. The answer is always the same. You can almost look at everybody's notes from last year and get the same thing that I'm going to give you right now.
Yes, I miss being in an IndyCar. Trust me, I'll be at the Speedway during the month of May when I have days off just hanging out and having fun seeing people that I used to race with there.
I don't know. I mean, with my age now, the earliest that I could be back in an IndyCar would be 2010. I'll be almost 40 years old by then.
Q: Michael Andretti is 42 and he's doing it.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, but he's around it every week. It's hard when you're not around that to go every week to get caught up. I don't know. Every year that goes by, it just seems like that's a part of my career that is kind of like a chapter in a book that seems like it's closed and we've moved on to another chapter.
I don't know. I would honestly say I doubt you'll ever see me in an IndyCar again. I've learned to never say never also.
Q: Last year I believe is the first time the series ran two races at Phoenix. How different was the spring race to the fall event?
TONY STEWART: The spring race was the first time we ever raced at night. That in itself was pretty exciting. It was a neat perspective to see that track at night. The fall race was a little more -- we started a little later in the day. It was just a late afternoon race. The track conditions were a lot slipperier when we started the race in the fall.
Hopefully, like we said, like was mentioned earlier, hopefully the weather is very warm this weekend and that will give us an opportunity to get the track nice and warm to where it gets a little slipperier and the guys get to move around more.
Q: How much are you looking forward to the IROC and road race?
TONY STEWART: I'm really looking forward to that. That's something I haven't had the pleasure of doing yet in the IROC Series, is running the road course race. Very excited about that. It's a track that I'm obviously familiar with, running the 24 hours. I'm looking forward to it. It ought to be a very neat race. I think it's a great opportunity for the IndyCar drivers and the road racers to shine and show their level of talent. Where we always have an advantage as Cup drivers on the oval tracks, this is an opportunity for them to be the favorite, so to speak, show us their side of the sport. Hopefully those guys will have an opportunity to shine and redeem themselves from some of the oval races.
Q: Do you think that champions have common traits and abilities? If so, what are they?
TONY STEWART: I don't know. To be honest, I mean, you look at some of the other champions, we all have a desire to win or we wouldn't be champions. If you don't have that desire, you just won't be successful. I don't care how good you are, you have to have that feeling in your gut that you want to win every week when you go out there.
I don't know. I mean, I think there's similarities and I think there's differences. That's just people in general. I'm not necessarily sure exactly what all those common traits are other than the fact that you want to be competitive and you want to win every race that you run.
Q: Greg, it's April and you guys look like you're already in mid-season form. That's a bit different for you, isn't it?
GREG ZIPADELLI: A little bit. I mean, we finished a little better than we have in the past. Last year, I think if you look, we ran well at a lot of races earlier. We just made some mistakes, some things were costly to us. We didn't win as early as we should have last year. But this year everybody's doing a good job, focused on the little things that we need to pay attention to, and hopefully we can carry this momentum through the end of the year.
Q: Tony makes no secret of the fact that he really enjoys Phoenix International Raceway. I assume it's one of your favorite tracks, too?
GREG ZIPADELLI: It is. It's a cool place. It's pretty unique. That racetrack is different. Both ends are so different. You know, if you're good, you can race and you can pass there.
Q: Looking ahead a week, but because of what NASCAR has been doing, what is your evaluation of the changing of the bumpers for the plate races? Do you think it will have significant effect? Also some people expressed concern those bumpers might be able to be cheated up anyway. What is your overall evaluation, whether they'll work or not?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I think it's not going to solve the problem, but it's certainly a step in the right direction. I think if NASCAR inspects them like they do everything else, then I don't know how much cheating up there will be. You know what I mean? I think it's a fairly cut-and-dry, black-and-white area. They regulated how many braces you can have, the thickness of the tubing that you can have.
I think it's definitely a step in the right direction to make the bump-drafting minimal. What's going to happen is these cars, these noses are so sensitive, the air inlet and that radius, if you damage that, your car's going to run hot. The way the noses are mounted on these cars, they're so high, the cooling, it's a really hard thing to get mastered anyways. If you hurt that radius, you're going to just make yourself a real long day.
I think everybody's going to have to be aware of that, and hopefully it will help the situation.
Q: Do you think there will come a point late in the race, two or three laps to go, that drivers just won't consider the overheating aspect of it and use that front bumper anyway?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I don't know. I mean, I guess we'll find that out here shortly. The end race is the end of race; everybody's going to do what they got to do.
I think a lot of it just goes back to having respect for each other, racing people like you want to be raced. You know, it's restrictor plate racing. It's just part of the environment. But it's tough to ask a driver to go out there and do that for so long, when other people can dictate what you can do. It's just so different than going to California and Texas and working on your car. You need other people to do things to make your moves, and you need help.
I think hopefully the message was -- you know, everybody kind of received the message and everybody will be a little more respectful and hopefully this won't be a topic in the future.
Q: Is there something that NASCAR could look at more or less or do away with in the inspection process? I guess along the same lines, again, just how difficult is it to cheat or sneak something by with as thorough as the process is now?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I mean, they're pretty thorough. I think it just depends on what areas you're talking about. But I think, you know, the severity of the fines that they've been handing out hopefully deter most people from looking and working in that area.
I know one thing, I don't want to sit home for a couple weeks. I think it's quite embarrassing and it's costly to your race team. You make a commitment to come here and work for your sponsors, the guys, the other people back at the shop. You know, I know what goes on. It's not encouraged around here, nor do I agree with it.
Q: Growing up, did you have any heroes in racing, anybody you admired, whether it was a crew chief, mechanic, driver, that you really looked up to and wanted to mould your career after?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I don't know. There's always obviously people that you looked up to racing. I mean, Jim Makar was one as a crew chief, seeing how he had gone to different teams and had success with different people. Dale Earnhardt obviously was a huge hero of mine and probably most of everybody else's.
I don't know. I'm not really, in all honesty, that big on that. I always just kind of worked on my stuff, whatever I was doing at the time, was just wrapped up in that.
Q: Have you noticed any difference on the 48 team since Knaus came back? Was his absence and return completely a non-event as far as you were concerned as a competitor?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I mean, again, I've not focused or looked at it to say, you know, how it affected him or didn't. It's not really -- it doesn't matter to me. You know, it doesn't matter who's over there, Chad or anybody else. We go out to try and beat the 48 and the other 41 race cars that we're competing against any given week. It doesn't really matter who's there or not.
I'm sure it puts a little drama to their team, some stress on other people. From the outside looking in, they all handled it well and did a good job.
Q: You have the highest average running position during a race this year. Is that more of a testament to the way Tony is driving or the way the guys are performing in the pits and the shop?
GREG ZIPADELLI: I think it's a combination of everything. Tony has been on since Daytona. He's been like a machine. He's been fun. He's really intense about his race car, giving good feedback. I think it goes back to the guys at the shop being able to build good race cars week in and week out. We've had a lot of new race cars and they've all performed pretty good.
I'm proud of everybody. It's truly become a team effort. I know we have if not the best, one of the best drivers in the sport right now, or maybe ever to be here. But if we can't give him what he wants, what he needs, none of us are going to do very well.
NASCAR has done such a good job of keeping things so competitive for other people. It's frustrating to us at times when you have something that works, and they kind of take it away or implement a rule. What it does is it helps the other people. If you're off just the slightest bit, there's three, four, five, 10 guys that can win any week, where years ago it was a lot less than that.
I think it's tougher. I think everybody has to be on 110% to be able to run in the top five every week.