DETROIT, July 31, 2001 - As an Indiana native, Pontiac driver Tony Stewart dreams about winning a race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Back in May, he took a shot at it as he pulled "double duty," running both the Indianapolis 500 in the afternoon...
DETROIT, July 31, 2001 - As an Indiana native, Pontiac driver Tony Stewart dreams about winning a race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Back in May, he took a shot at it as he pulled "double duty," running both the Indianapolis 500 in the afternoon and the Coca Cola 600 in Charlotte that night. Stewart, who hails from Columbus, Ind., pulled off a sixth in the "500," but still ended the day with a burning desire to visit the winner's circle at the historic "Brickyard."
This Sunday Stewart gets his next opportunity to prove that "Wider Is Better" with an Indianapolis win as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series presents the Brickyard 400. In two previous appearances in the prestigious Winston Cup event at Indy, Stewart posted a seventh in 1999 and a fifth last season.
Stewart addressed the media Tuesday morning on the NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference to talk about the 2001 season and his chances at Indianapolis this weekend.
Thoughts from Tony Stewart, No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix
ON INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
"Even though it has four corners that are geometrically the same, they all drive different. The differences in temperature from hour to hour and differences in wind speed and wind direction, that makes those corners all different, even though they are, by theory, the same corner. The temperature and the wind at Indianapolis seems to be as much of a factor as the track itself."
IS IT MORE CHALLENGING TO DRIVE A WINSTON CUP CAR OR AN INDY CAR AT INDIANAPOLIS?
"I'd say it's a toss-up. We're kind of comparing apples to oranges. With Indy cars, there are so many variables that play a factor. With the aerodynamics of Indy cars, they are very, very sensitive to 'dirty air' and that creates its own set of challenges by itself, as well as the speeds that you're running there and having that air be disrupted. "At the same time, with the Winston Cup cars - as close as the competition is there - to a certain degree you get that same disruption of air, which creates differences in downforce on your car when you're behind somebody or ahead of somebody. With the competition being so close, it sometimes makes it hard to pass there with it being just a one-groove racetrack. "Both of them are challenging and difficult. The race seems to be run two different ways, as far as how you have to drive the cars."
DOES YOUR PREPARATION DIFFER FOR THE TWO TYPES OF RACES?
"It does. A lot of that just comes in the race practices. In our 'Happy Hour,' in particular, just being able to run behind guys and realizing what you have to do momentum-wise to get a run on a guy to pass. It's the same thing that I had to go through when I was there in May, too. You realize what you have to do to overtake cars. Each time that you get an opportunity to be on the racetrack, it just gives you more time to prepare for that."
WHICH WOULD YOU RATHER WIN: THE INDY 500 OR THE BRICKYARD 400?
"Both. But probably, the Indy 500, in all reality. It's not because I don't think the Winston Cup race is important. It's just that I grew up 45 miles south of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There wasn't a Brickyard 400 at the time. I'd run home from every day, turn the TV on and watch the last couple hours of practice. The '500' still means an awful lot to me, but I can promise you one thing - it would be the biggest win of my career if we could win the Brickyard 400 instead."
DID BOBBY LABONTE'S WIN AT THE BRICKYARD LAST YEAR HELP YOUR TEAM PREPARE FOR THIS YEAR'S RACE AT ALL?
"I think a little bit. We obviously know what Bobby had for a setup last year because we share that information back and forth. But, we're in a different year and different circumstances. Goodyear has brought a different tire to the speedway for this year and that's made us basically throw all those notes from last year away. The different rules package that NASCAR has given us with not using the bump stops anymore - we utilized those quite a bit there, so really everything we had last year we threw out the window and had to start over. That's what made the test last week at Indianapolis so important for us - to be able to go and try to find a baseline to where when we go back there this weekend, it gives us a place to start from and try to fine-tune it from there."
WHERE DO TEAMMATES DRAW THE LINE BETWEEN SHARING INFORMATION TO HELP EACH OTHER AND TRYING TO BEAT EACH OTHER ON THE RACETRACK?
"The way we've always looked at it is if we don't help each other out in practice, by the time the race gets there neither one of us are going to be in a position to win. We try to help each other as much as possible. We've had situations as teammates to where we were racing for a win, also. When it comes time to drive the cars on the racetrack we both had obligations to our sponsors to try to win the race. There were no team orders from Joe Gibbs and I don't see that as a situation that is going to happen to Robert Yates (between the '28' and the '88'). He is going to let his drivers race it out for the championship. But to be in that position you still have to be running up front and to run up front, that's why we have multi-car teams - to utilize the information shared between those teams to get us there."
THERE IS A COKE MACHINE WITH YOUR PICTURE ON IT OUTSIDE OF ONE OF YOUR OLD HANGOUTS - HOW DOES THAT FEEL?
"It's real flattering. The first time I saw it there, it was kind of a wake-up call that, 'Hey, I've finally arrived as a celebrity to a certain degree.' It's nice. It's nice to know that the people from your hometown support you and back you in everything that you do. This is definitely a good time of year for me to go back to Indianapolis and get that support again."
WHAT DO YOU FROM HEAR FROM NASCAR WITH REGARD TO A POSSIBLE RULES CONCESSION FOR PONTIAC GRAND PRIX TEAMS?
"To be honest, I don't even go ask anymore. NASCAR makes its decisions and we have to live by them. I know that this weekend I'm climbing in a Pontiac and the people from Pontiac have done everything they can to help us as much as possible. Whether we're at a disadvantage or not, that's the car I'm running this weekend. I'll get in it and do the best job I can this week."
A.J. FOYT HAS EXPRESSED GREAT RESPECT FOR YOU - BOTH YOUR DRIVING AABILITY ND YOUR PERSONALITY...HAS HE EVER TALKED TO YOU ABOUT THAT?
"He hasn't really talked to me about that. We're very good friends. I've driven for him in the past, so A.J. have spent a lot of time together around the Indy Racing League and around the Silver Crown Series, but we really haven't talked about that aspect very much. But I think when we're around each other we both see the similarities with each other. It's just a different era it seems like. I think our sport has changed since A.J. came along. I'm not sure that the personality I have is a popular personality in this sport anymore."
DO YOU STILL HAVE A CHANCE AT THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
"It's realistic. It's going to be hard. But the one thing about our race team and about Bobby [Labonte'] team is that we never give up, so we've got just as good a shot as anybody else at this point. It's just a matter of being consistent like we have been the last couple of weeks and we're going to need a little help from those guys up front. They're going to have to have a couple bad weeks for us to be able to catch up. We have to be in the top five pretty much the rest of the year to have a shot at it."
DOES PUTTING THE POINTS RACE OUT OF YOUR MIND HELP YOU RACE BETTER?
"I think every second that I take away to think about points and calculate points, those are seconds that I should be worrying about how to make my race car go faster. Every second that I take is just one less opportunity that I have to make my car better. "I've won three championships in a year in USAC (1996), I won the IRL championship in '97 and I didn't sit there and calculate points. I just went out and tried to worry about winning races. If you do that the points seem to take care of themselves most of the time."
DO YOU WORK ON MOLDING YOUR PERSONALITY OR DO YOU JUST LET IT GO?
"I just work on being a little more quiet these days. Expressing my personality doesn't seem to be a popular thing anymore, like it used to be in the old days. A lot of times the fans don't get an opportunity to see both sides of the story anymore. Instead of giving my side of the story, it's better just to let the TV people and the media give their side of the story. I just kind of sit back and watch."
WHAT KIND OF AFFECT DOES HEAT HAVE AT INDIANAPOLIS?
"The biggest thing is just the how if affects the surface temperature. The hotter that racetrack gets, the more it loses grip and that tends to make the track slippery and the cars slide around a lot more. With cooler temperatures come more grip and the speeds come up. If the sun comes out the cars slow down and slide around. It makes you have to alter your setup to try to make it create as much grip as possible with the racetrack>"
DID YOU GET ANYTHING OUT OF THE POCONO RACE THAT YOU CAN TRANSLATE TO INDY?
We hope so. Typically in the past, that's been the case. You've been able to take what you've learned at Pocono, with Pocono having two corners that are very flat and very fast, it has a lot of the same characteristics of what we go through at Indy this week. We'll try to utilize a lot of the things that we learned at Pocono, as well as at the Indy test last week and see if we can just refine on that and make it even better for this weekend."
ARE YOU A MELLOWER PERSON NOW BECAUSE OF THE RECENT SCRUTINY YOU'VE BEEN UNDER?
"I think you're just getting a Tony Stewart that is like, 'This is what you want, this is what you got now.' It's just in response to the feeling that honesty is not always the best policy. I'm learning how to be a politician, so I'll say the politically correct thing instead of the honest thing."
AT CHICAGOLAND SPEEDWAY, YOU INVITED A FAN UP INTO YOUR HAULER TO MEET YOU...CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT?
"This was a guy that had been standing outside the trailer for over an hour waiting for an autograph. I was up in the trailer talking to my crew chief. One of the members of the team made me aware that the guy had been out there a long time. He was the only one out there, so I said, 'Hey, come on in.' It's something that is kind of uncharacteristic in our sport, but the guy had been standing out there. It wasn't a deal where I wanted to send him away after he'd been standing out there that long. I just asked him to come in and had a good time. "I enjoy the race fans, contrary to popular belief. A lot of people don't believe I like the race fans. I just have a hard time adjusting to how to deal with that many race fans. When I go to IRP this week, I'll stay there Thursday night until everybody that wants an autograph gets an autograph. That's the way I always have been there. Being able to deal with that guy on a one-on-one basis - I had the time to spend with him, so I didn't mind taking that time."
WHAT KIND OF THINGS DID THAT FAN SHARE WITH YOU THAT YOU APPRECIATED?
"The thing that probably made me the happiest about the whole ordeal was the fact that he supported me on everything I had done. It was nice to hear a race fan say that they liked hearing an honest answer and liked seeing true emotion. Granted his is one of a million people, but knowing that his mindset and my mindset were a lot alike - as long as I have that guy as a fan for the rest of my life, that means more to me than anything."
WHY ISN'T THERE ROOM ANYMORE IN NASCAR FOR PERSONALITIES LIKE YOURS?
"Big dollar sponsorships, basically and a lot of fan forums where the fans have an opportunity to speak. You may be a driver that is a threat to a fan's driver. If they don't agree with something you did or something you say, they pick up a piece of paper and a pen and they write a letter to your sponsor and express their discontent with what you're doing. The next thing you know, your sponsors are calling your car owners and there is a lot of turmoil with that. All it takes is 10 or 15 people to write into a sponsor and it creates a lot of havoc for us as drivers. The fans have to make a choice somewhere along the line. They have to decide whether they want honesty. Sometimes with honesty, it's not popular. But at the same time, even though it's not popular, you can't control everything all the time and that's why you see changes like you're seeing in me right now. It's a lot easier for me to say things that are politically correct and to say things are going to keep people happy, just so I can keep everybody happy. It's not always the honest answer and it's not always everything that could be answered in the question. But it's one that keeps everybody happy and as long as everybody is happy, life seems to go along a lot smoother. You don't always get the accurate story, but sometimes everybody can't handle the truth."