September 7, 1999 - Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix driver Tony Stewart ranks fifth in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. The rookie is only 50 points behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte for third-place in the standings. In 24 ...
September 7, 1999 - Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix driver Tony Stewart ranks fifth in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. The rookie is only 50 points behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bobby Labonte for third-place in the standings. In 24 starts, Stewart has seven top-five and 15 top-10 finishes, including two poles. He has only one DNF. At the same point during his rookie season, Jeff Gordon had six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes with eight DNFs. Gordon ranked ninth in the point standings. Now Stewart heads to Richmond International Raceway, site of Saturday's night's Exide 400.
TONY STEWART (No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix): "You have to keep the fact that I haven't won yet in perspective. I'm fortunate to be a rookie and have as many top-fives as I have. If we don't win, it won't break my heart, but it will be a little bit disappointing because we've been so close. It's my first year in Winston Cup, not my last. If it was my last year and I didn't win, then I'd be disappointed. I thought Bristol was the one that we realistically had a shot at. We ran good at Loudon and that's coming up. You never know the second time around. We'll just have to wait and see."
SURPRISED WITH YOUR POPULARITY WITH FANS? "I had no clue it would be this way. It's been the best part of it. When you go out and get that kind of reception at driver introductions, it's worth a tenth of a second each lap for the rest of the day. It's neat to have that kind of support. Unless you grew up in the South, it's usually hard to get the fan support. They have welcomed me with open arms."
HAVE YOUR GOALS REMAINED THE SAME? "We stick to our game plan and it's worked for us so far so why change? We want to keep progressing and keep learning. We have to finish 500 miles each week and to do that we have to stay off of the walls and out of trouble. The more laps I can run with more experience I'll get and that will help me next year. There's a little part of me being selfish and wanting to win, but you have to keep it in perspective that it's my rookie season. It's hard in your rookies season to think and expect you'll beat these guys."
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF DALE EARNHARDT? "He's been good to me. It's been kind of fun with him. Even in some practice, he has kind of raced me harder than he did in the races. He's never laid a bumper or fender to me and he has raced me clean all year. he's been the most fun guy to race this year. I can remember the first race we pitted side by side and I was nervous thinking this guy was going to growl and snarl and give me dirty looks. One time I was climbing in my car and he'd pull out. One time I was leaning on my toolbox and he'd kick my legs out, just joking around. He was always a guy I looked up to when I watched Winston cup on TV and it's been neat to interact with him."
DOES YOUR TEMPER SOMETIMES LEAD PEOPLE TO MISUNDERSTAND YOU? "Talk to my crew guys and people that see me away from the race track and 90 percent of the time I'm totally different than I am at the race track. It gets disappointing because you have to mold yourself to what people want you to be. That's been the great thing about Home Depot, Pontiac and Joe Gibbs because they have let me be me. I am what I am, take me or leave. If you don't like what you get, shop around the garage and there are 50 other guys and you can find what you're looking for. I always get in trouble when I lose whether I blew an engine or got crashed or whatever and that's when I stick my foot in my mouth. Then everybody seems to be like a vulture flying over my head. If I accepted losing why would you want me to drive your race car? There are time I get sick of being politically correct. I got into Winston Cup because I wanted to be a race car driver. If I wanted to be a politician I would be in Washington."
YOUR THOUGHTS ON YOUR SEASON? "I have had more fun this year than in the past four years combined. This year has been great because we haven't been expected to win. I was expected to win in IRL. This year it's been go out and learn. You're going to learn and we expect you to make mistakes. It's given me the freedom to learn and if I crash, I crash."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT A.J. FOYT GETTING BACK INTO THE SPORT? "I think it's great. It will be nice to spend time with him. It's hard to tell if he will win a championship, but it's hard for me to say, since I'm a rookie, on what it takes to be successful in this series. Only time will tell."