DETROIT (July 28, 2000) - Every win is important to Home Depot Pontiac driver Tony Stewart. In the past 29 Winston Cup races he has collected six victories and each one has its own importance. But now the series heads to Indianapolis Motor ...
DETROIT (July 28, 2000) - Every win is important to Home Depot Pontiac driver Tony Stewart. In the past 29 Winston Cup races he has collected six victories and each one has its own importance. But now the series heads to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and for a native of Columbus, Ind., and a former resident of Indianapolis, winning at Indy takes on a whole new meaning.
Stewart, who has three wins and six top 10s in his last seven starts, will have a couple shots to visit victory lane at The Brickyard next week. One will be during the running of the Brickyard 400 on Saturday, Aug. 5, while the other will come the day before in round four of the IROC Series, where Stewart will pilot a Pontiac Firebird from the outside of the 10th row.
THOUGHTS FROM TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX
.on his chances heading into the Brickyard 400: "We went to the open test just like everybody else and felt like we had made gains from where we were last year. We had already tested faster in qualifying set-ups than we had the previous year and did a lot of work on race set-ups the next day, and felt like our race package was a little better. We're pretty excited. It's hard when you don't have both manufacturers there at the same time because you don't have everybody to compare to. But as far as all the GM cars we felt like we were pretty competitive."
.how different is it to run a race in his home state of Indiana?: "We're more of a household name in Indiana than we are in other parts of the country. But at the same time there are advantages to that, too. I get to go home and see all my friends and family. It just makes that week a lot more enjoyable. I know where every restaurant is in Indianapolis, where to go in the evening to have a good time, I get to go back to IRP and run the Silver Crown car on Wednesday and watch the truck and Busch race there. It' s just a fun week for me. It's very hectic. We've got our fan club picnic there on Sunday after the Brickyard. There are a lot of things happening there in a four-day period that most people would cram into a seven- or eight-day period. But at the same time it's a lot of fun to see everybody and do all those things in a short amount of time."
.on comparing the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400: "From a competitive standpoint, every year that I ran at Indy the first and foremost concern that I had was how long was my engine going to make it. You hate to go into a race with that approach, but that's what you always had to think about. We always had competitive cars that were capable of running up front all day. It was just a matter of whether the engine was going to last. From a competitive standpoint you get cars at the '500' that separate themselves more than you do with the Winston Cup cars, and you get a lot more cars a lap down. But it's a very technical day there."
"You're very limited on your set-up changes. What you start the race with - you can make adjustments, but you don't have near the range of adjustments that you do with a Winston Cup car. It was always very nerve-wracking, everything leading up to the race, not knowing whether you had everything in the set-up that you needed to be competitive all day and adjust for track conditions.
"From a personal standpoint I like both races. But it's like comparing apples to oranges almost. I like driving the Indy car there and nothing could ever take the place of winning an Indianapolis 500. But at the same time, as competitive as the Brickyard 400 is as far as how many cars stay on the lead lap, how many cars run around each other all day like they do, it's a more fun race to run. But there is no way that it could ever replace a win during the '500.'"
.on what a win at Indianapolis would mean to him: "As far as Winston Cup, if I had to pick two races that I wanted to win it would be Daytona and Indy. Indy means as much to me as Daytona does to everybody else, so obviously I want to win there. I grew up 45 miles away from The Speedway. When you learn the history of the place and when you live that close - even when I moved to Indianapolis and lived there I used to drive by The Speedway daily. Being on the outside of the fence looking in I always wanted to win there. It's never going to take the place of winning the Indianapolis 500, but it's very important for me to win there in a Winston Cup car."
.on running a Silver Crown car at IRP: "I'm driving for George Snyder and A.J. Foyt there. I'm looking forward to it. Obviously being a Winston Cup driver now, Joe Gibbs has obviously tightened the clamps on what I can do outside of the Cup car, and he doesn't want me to put myself in jeopardy. The nice thing is a Silver Crown race there is a really safe race. I don't think I've ever seen anybody get hurt in a Silver Crown race at IRP. That's why we made that decision to go. Some of my Home Depot guys are going to come down and help out and watch, and kind of see what some of my roots were. It's going to be fun to see a lot of the people that I used to race with on a regular basis. It's going to be fun racing with George again. The limited time that I drove for George Snyder I had a lot of fun racing with him. To me that's going to be a real nice kick-off to the week there at Indy. I'm really looking forward to going back there and doing that."
.on the aspirations of most short-track drivers today: "I think everybody is still pointing at the Winston Cup Series. The nice thing about the Cup Series is car owners still hire drivers strictly on their talent. It's starting to come back that way in both CART and the IRL. But the budgets for CART teams and IRL teams are so still high that anytime that you can get a driver that can bring some sponsorship money, it's welcome. So it's a lot easier to hire a driver that can bring some sponsorship dollars than it is to hire a driver purely off of his talent. I think everybody that we still talk to, and just looking at the drivers in the last six or eight months, if you look at where they're pointing they're still pointing toward NASCAR. That series is very competitive and more competitive than both the IRL and CART, and like I say, the drivers get a chance to pick up a ride strictly on their driving talent and not on how much money they carry in their back pocket."
.on his strategy to have a shot at the IROC championship, which will be determined at Indy: "To be realistic about it, (I need to) try to get out front right away and work my way to the front because we're going to have to start toward the back. But the best thing we can do is just try to get to the front to where you're leading the pack and you're not having to follow a car and make your car tight because you are following somebody. The strategy is to try to get out front. If you can get out front and you have a decent car, then I think you can stay out front, hopefully. Our strategy is just to try to stay out front all day."
.on starting the IROC race from the 10th row next to his teammate Bobby Labonte: "The nice thing is that the guys that are both behind me and having Bobby beside me makes me real comfortable. Those are guys that I race with on a weekly basis. Bobby and I are good friends, whether it's an IROC race or the Cup race so I'm real comfortable starting around him. Having Dale (Earnhardt) and Mark Martin start behind me helps, too, and makes you feel more comfortable in those cars."
.on Eddie Cheever, Jr., in the IROC race at Indy: "I think he'll do well. Everywhere we've gone this year with the IROC cars Eddie has driven more practice laps at each track than anybody. It shows how determined he was to be good at each of those tracks. That determination paid off at Michigan. I think getting that first win under his belt in an IROC car is really going to give him some confidence going into Indy. He's run probably more laps there than any of us have, so I would say he is a favorite to go out and win that race."
.on rookie Pontiac driver Mike Bliss adjusting to Winston Cup: "I think the hardest thing for Mike is he doesn't have anybody to reflect off of and has very few people that he probably trusts to ask questions to right now. When I started in '96 with Harry Ranier in the Busch Series I felt the same way. I struggled actually worse than Mike did my first year in Busch. That's just because you have so many questions about what's right and what's wrong, and what to do and what not to do, and how to drive the cars that it's hard to figure those out on your own.
"When I stepped into the Joe Gibbs program, even though I was the only guy in the Busch Series and Bobby was running Cup, Bobby was there a lot to answer questions for me even with the Busch car. Then when I stepped into Winston Cup it was even better because we weren't comparing apples to oranges at that point. We were both running the same type of cars, we were going out in the same sessions and it was easy to walk five garage stalls down and ask him questions. That helped my learning curve and gave me a lot of confidence right away. I'm sure Mike has a lot of questions each week that he has a hard time getting answered. I got the advantage of learning things firsthand from Bobby when Mike is having to learn them all on his own. That probably helped us adapt a lot quicker, I believe."
.is his schedule getting any better: "I wish I could say it was repetitious each week as far as what we did. Each week is different. The schedule is always different, so I'm not sure that it ever gets into a pattern where you feel like you're caught up or anything. But we're starting to learn. Every week that goes by you go through different experiences and you learn a little more. It's just a matter of going through that time and adjusting as you go along. But I feel like it's changed as much as I think it's going to change this year. Now this next week it might do something totally different and things might change again. But I feel like as far as this point in the week and this point in the season that all the things that could happen to us have happened, and as far as new experiences, I think we' ve had all the new experiences that we're going to have for awhile."
.does he enjoy owning the various short-tracks cars that he owns?: "I love it actually. I'm having a lot of fun as a car owner. The reason that I joined so many series as a car owner is just from the standpoint that I can' t participate as a driver anymore. I've always understood Joe Gibbs side as far as why he didn't want me to run these other series. But I don't think he has fully understood the benefits of me running those other cars. Going to a USAC midget race or going to a USAC Silver Crown race and just watching, it wasn't any fun for me."
"It wasn't even fun to watch it on TV anymore because I'd sit there and look and say, 'Well I could still beat that guy,' and think I could still win races. But when I stepped into the ownership role in the USAC series with the Silver Bullet Series and Bob East, I started having fun again because if I showed up at a race I felt like I was competing. I wasn't sitting in the seat, but I was helping make changes to the car or I was nervous watching the car, and that brought the excitement back for me.
"I own two three-quarter midgets that one of my best friends and my father race, I've got the Silver Bullet car that Jason Leffler runs part-time for me. Currently the biggest project I have going on right now and probably the most important project that I have outside of the Cup car is my World of Outlaws program that I'm building for Danny Lasoski for next year. I've been racing with him quite a bit this season. We took our car to Florida and won seven out of eight races. To date we've won nine out of twelve, I believe, so we're really have a lot of fun with that car and I'm looking forward to trying to get some more sponsorship secured before the end of the season to get ready for the World of Outlaws season for next year. It just gives me a way of kind of getting away from the Cup Series and going and having a good time, and still feel like I'm competing without having to sit behind the wheel."
.on Kenny Irwin: "I raced with Kenny for nine years. We probably had one of the best rivalries in auto racing in all reality. It just never got covered because we were racing in USAC at the time.
"After the accident I spent probably two or three hours one day with his parents, and we talked about the past. I talked to his parents more in that two- or three-hour period than we had in nine years. It's because we were all so competitive. We knew that when we showed up at a racetrack, if we were both there we had to beat each other to win the race and nobody else really mattered. It was more that we battled each other than we battled anybody else. We had our tough times and we had our problem times. But the thing about racing with Kenny is that nothing ever lasted long as far as a grudge. We always had that rivalry and we always had the competitiveness with each other. But when we'd leave the racetrack, that part was over for the night. When we both lived in Indianapolis we used to go eat dinner together, go play pool together, we used to go hang out together after races were over. And that wasn't uncommon for those type of cars for guys to do that. But when it came to being on the racetrack we were fierce competitors with each other.
"When the accident happened at Loudon it was a reality check for me. That was the toughest thing that I've had to go through as a driver. I lost Scotty Brayton as a teammate in '96 at Indy. The difference there was that I had only known Scotty for about four months. Here I had known Kenny nine years and spent a lot more time with Kenny. I knew the caliber of driver that Kenny was. It shows no matter how good or bad a race car driver you are, things are out of your control at times. That was a reality check. It was hard to take and it's still hard to get used to today. But at the same time, I talked to his parents and I learned more about Kenny than I even knew before, and realized how similar we really were. It was just nice to spend some time with them. I think that was probably the best thing I've done since the accident was to be able to spend two or three hours with his parents, and talk about Kenny's life and talk about the period in his life where I was involved and see different perspectives about how those nine years of our lives compared."