TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: WHAT WERE YOU THINKING ON THE LAST RESTART? "I knew it was a two or three lap shootout and I was thinking about what I was going to have to do on the restart to get away and get back to ...
TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
WHAT WERE YOU THINKING ON THE LAST RESTART?
"I knew it was a two or three lap shootout and I was thinking about what I was going to have to do on the restart to get away and get back to running my line again."
DID HARDER TIRES ALLOW GUYS TO RUN HARDER FOR A LONGER PERIOD OF TIME
"It used to be somewhat a chess game in Winston Cup racing and now it's not. Now it's just 'get in there and run as hard as you can run for the whole run.' You can still wear your tires out too early, but it's a lot harder now to do it than it used to be. Guys that would take off at the beginning of a run and a guy that would pace himself at the beginning of a run and would run him down at the end - you don't see that anymore. You have to run almost 100 percent every lap the whole day."
DID YOU AND RUSTY EVER TOUCH WHEN YOU RAN SIDE-BY-SIDE FOR SIX OR SEVEN
"Six or seven? It felt like 60 or 70. I got into two guys tonight. One was Rusty down in three and four. He slid up off the bottom and gave me a lane and I thought he knew I was there. I got out of the gas when he came down, but evidently he didn't see me down there. The other deal was Kyle Petty. The spotter said, 'Clear,' and I started down that way. I don't remember if I had to check up or something. He got a run through the corner and it got us together. But for the whole night I never had any problems other than those two little incidents.
"Rusty is a professional and Rusty has always raced me fairly clean. He and Ricky Rudd - both of those guys - we ran side by side, lap after lap and I never once worried about them running into me. They're professionals and they raced me professionally tonight."
ON THE HANDLING OF HIS CAR TONIGHT
"Our car was real good on long runs. It always has been here. We were never very good on sticker tires and that is why we went from second to fifth there in that second to last run. I was questioning whether we were even going to get back there. I thought maybe those guys made adjustments and got their cars really good. I wasn't sure we could get back up there. But, sure enough we started running Rusty down - the whole group did basically. There were five or six of us there that I thought were going to have a shot at winning the race. As the laps went on, guys kept falling off the back. Ricky kept pressuring Rusty, but couldn't get by and then he'd get back in line. I finally got to third.
"Every time Ricky and I would race each other, Rusty would pull away four of five car lengths, so I finally just came to the conclusion that it was time to sit and ride a little bit. That little bit only lasted eight or 10 laps I guess before I felt like Ricky's tires had started to fall off a little bit, too. We had both run Rusty down at that time. We were able to get underneath Ricky again and get a good run. It was just a matter of staying down there and being disciplined and trying not to overdrive the car, to stay on the bottom where the grip was and try to force Ricky into running hard. If he slipped one time, we were able to get by. I think that is what finally happened when we got by him off of two."
"We just kept trying to be consistent and make sure that we weren't overdriving our car in trying to force him into doing that. That got us into second. Once we got to second, I knew we were faster enough to race Rusty. Now, whether we could get by or not was a different story. But I knew we were faster than him. It was just whether we could get by or not."
ON RUSTY'S CAR ON RESTARTS
"His car was real good at the beginning of a run. He could get out away from people and kind of run his own deal and run his own pace, which was probably to his benefit. But about midway through the run, we'd start coming on. As the track kept laying rubber down and as the sealer kept wearing off late in the race, we kept finding spots in the racetrack where there was grip. Guys kept running the same line all night and I kept searching around on the racetrack, trying to find grip and adjusted my line with probably 70 laps to go, and found some spots on the racetrack that I was real happy with. That's what got us an extra tenth or two, here or there."
ARE YOU BACK IN THE TITLE RACE?
"You never know. There are more weird things that have happened this year than any year that I've either watched Winston Cup racing or been a part of Winston Cup racing, so I don't think we can count ourselves out right now. We've got a lot of work to do to be a championship contending team right now, but this is a step in the right direction."
HOW DO YOU FEEL THE TEAM HAS PROGRESSED?
"This is the same thing we do every year, it seems like. It seems like we have to come to Talladega to start our momentum and get going. Don't ask me why we can't get going. The variable that has changed every year has been the tire. But Goodyear is making tires now where you don't hear about tire problems causing a guy to crash. It's been a big benefit. It has been a variable that I don't think about anymore as far as safety is concerned. It's just a matter of trying to figure out what the balance is and trying to find out what these particular tires like. It seems like it takes us about three or four months to start figuring that out, but once we do the top finishes start coming back to us."
IS SIDE BY SIDE RACING FUN OR IS IT STRESSFUL?
"I think the ultimate in fun is when you're leading the thing by a straightaway and you can knife through traffic like they're tied to a tree. When we got to the lapped cars we could go anywhere we wanted to go and get by and that is when you're having fun - when you know that you've got a car that is good enough that you can move around on the racetrack and go anywhere on the racetrack to get around the lapped cars. Every time we'd get by the lapped cars, you'd see them get stuck for an extra corner or two and that helped you get two or three more car lengths of a lead. That's when you're having fun is when you don't have that pressure from behind and you know that your car is driving good in traffic - that you can get through without getting bogged down."
IS IT WORRISOME TO GO SIDE BY SIDE?
"It was for me tonight. I was having some trouble getting into three with locking the left front tire up - not necessarily locking it up, but sliding it getting it. When it would do that, it would move me a half a car or car width up in the racetrack and I couldn't afford to move up because they were there. I was trying to be real careful and not make a mistake and not overdrive the car getting in to where I made a mistake and got into them. That was the stressful time. Your basic instinct when you're underneath a guy is to push the gas pedal down harder and faster to get by. Sometimes you've got to slow down to go faster. It takes a lot of discipline to be down there and stay down there like that. You don't try to pass them in one corner. You try to get a foot here, a foot there, a foot here, a foot there and eventually you're going to get by. But you've got to do it a little bit at a time and be disciplined enough to stay down there and keep working at it."
ON TRYING TO GAIN MORE GROUND IN ONE AND TWO THAN YOU WERE LOSING IN
"We weren't really losing ground down there. We would either break even or lose a little bit, but we were gaining a lot of ground in one and two. The hard thing is we needed to be fast in three and four to get by guys because the front straightaway is so much longer than the backstretch is. If we could have flipped the corners around, we would have been able to get by with no problem. But we needed to be a little better in three and four."
DID YOU EVER THINK ABOUT LAST YEAR'S RACE AT ANY POINT TONIGHT?
"No, I was just worrying about what I would have to do to get a good restart. I knew I was running a different line than everybody else was running in one and two, and I knew if I could get a car length or two lead getting into the corner that I could run my own line and run my own race without having to worry about a guy getting underneath or above me coming off the corner. The big thing was just the whole time I was sitting there I was trying to think what I was going to do on the restart to try to get enough of a jump to where when I got down here that I could do what I needed to do and run the line that I was pretty quick with.
"We had been getting pretty good restarts all night. There were a lot of cases where we were having to lift down the straightaway a little bit because we were getting such a good run. I didn't really think about the gearing as much as I did just making sure I didn't spin the tires. This harder tire, it's a lot harder to get that initial launch off the line. The big thing I was worried about was getting a good jump without spinning the tires and losing ground."
WERE YOU SURPRISED THAT RUSTY AND JEFF DIDN'T CHALLENGE YOU AT THE
"To be honest, I was, with as much as the car was slipped around those last four corners. I think we just sat down so long, the tires cooled off, then they rolled us around there so slow that we picked up the rubber on the racetrack and couldn't get going fast enough under the caution to scrub the rubber off. All we were doing was just rolling it into the tires."
"I went down into one and slid up a little bit. The nose didn't turn quite as good as what I was hoping for and I thought that somebody might get me there. But when I came off of two, the spotter said that I had plenty of room and that let me just focus on doing what I had to do the last lap and a half. I never did make a good corner in those last two laps. The car was just sliding around on the racetrack. But I'm sure their's did, too. That's why they didn't get a run on us."
ON PICKING UP MOMENTUM
"I hope we are. I don't have a crystal ball to see the rest of the season unfortunately. But if history repeats itself we've got a lot to look forward to the last half of the season.
"The biggest concerns I have are the mile and halfs right now. It seems like our short track program is pretty good. Our flat track program is normally always good. It's just a matter of trying to be good on the intermediate tracks."
HOW HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT THE TIRES?
"You work hard to try to find things, but a lot of times it's something that you stumble on in the trial and error process. There is never a clear solution. If there was, we would find it a lot earlier than what we do. It is a lot of trial and error. It's all educated guesses. You can call it what you want. We're working hard at those educated guesses, but to me it still feels like you stumble across something once in a while. You try to find four or five things like that that will help turn things around for you."