Weekly teleconference transcript - Tony Stewart (part 2)

Continued from part 1 Operator: Our next question comes from Dustin Long from Landmark Newspaper. Long: A lot of people speak highly of some of things that you've done for people. Why is it important for you to remain a part of the lives of...

Continued from part 1

Operator: Our next question comes from Dustin Long from Landmark Newspaper.

Long: A lot of people speak highly of some of things that you've done for people. Why is it important for you to remain a part of the lives of these people when it would be easier for people to forget about them on their climb to the top.

Stewart: I guess it was just the way I was brought up. I don't think any of us get anywhere solely by ourselves, especially not the sport of auto racing. There's always been people to give a break here or there or get a start. The thing I've learned the most about auto racing versus any of the professional sports it's all focused on individual accomplishments a lot of times and I guess what I've learned in auto racing is that even though I'm the one that gets awards at the of the race if we win. I truly understand according to the people that make it happen and I could be the best race car driver in the world, but if I don't have the support from other teams and car owners along the way to help me get here I don't think I would of ever gotten here. I guess it's about what you learn and it's all about people and relationships with people and I've been very fortunate to be surrounded all my life with a lot of good people I've met, a lot of good people across the country in racing. I guess you're right, it would be easy to turn your back on those people, it's just not how I'm made, the people that have helped me. I get the same satisfaction as being able to help those people back now and completing the circle and knowing that how important they are in my life, I'm able to be an important part in their life in a different aspect. I guess that's why I still do that.

Long: As you dad made his Silver Crown debut at Milwaukee last weekend. What did that mean to you to see him do that and were you able to go there or were you waiting on the cell phone call to see how he did?

Stewart: I found out after the race was over. He was alright, that was the most important thing. I haven't' been exactly supportive of that, but I'm glad from everyone else said he wasn't able to wipe the grin off his face all day and that's probably the important thing knowing that he enjoyed himself. To be honest, I was more concerned about his safety. I wasn't very confident that he should be doing that, but the fact the he got through it all right and that he had a good time and enjoyed it. If he wants to continue doing that, I'm behind him 100%, but in the back of my mind I'm not supportive of it. I'm really concerned about my 65 year old father driving open wheeled cars nowadays.

Operator: Our next question comes from Ron D'Amico from It's Race Day on Fox.

D'Amico: Have you thought of yourself changing or questioning your driving style being under the microscope this year like driving in the corners. Do you want to back off or are there any time you question your driving ability?

Stewart: No, not at all, to be honest if you're asking if I'm evaluating myself while I'm driving. After 25 years of this and the races that we've won and the championships that we won I think my style speaks for itself; being put under the microscope that's nothing that's new to us. It's not something that we've been accustomed before the last 5 years. We've never had any problems until recently. As far as me regarding my ability or questioning my style, I don't do that at all. I don't ever intend on changing that style, I think it's my personality, I think everyone has their own personality and everybody has their own style. I don't think we sit there at the beginning of our career saying this is the kind of style, driver I want to be. I think that just the way it happens; it's just the way we drive. It's not something that you really can sit there and change it.

D'Amico: Now with the chase for the championship would you like to see the different tracks in the next couple years with a road course in there and stuff like that?

Stewart: The only thing I want them to add is two dirt races to the schedule. We've got two road courses, there is plenty high quality dirt tracks around. We could run two dirt races on the schedule if we could run two road courses. I'd like to see that happen.

Operator: Our next question comes from David Caraviello from the Post and Courier.

Caraviello: When you first broke into that series (USAC) how viable a career path did competitors see NASCAR and when did it start to change? Is USAC becoming a pipeline into NASCAR as in the last decade or so.

Stewart: Obviously Jeff Gordon probably was the biggest influence on all of our guys focusing on that direction when Jeff had his success in USAC. Jeff won a lot of races in USAC, he wasn't just handed an opportunity in NASCAR. He earned his way down there. When Jeff won his championship and won all the races that he won and had the success he had in USAC, when he got his opportunity to go down to NASCAR and run and opened up a lot of opportunities for other drivers and obviously with the TV packages that USAC had at the time with the Thursday night Thunder series, it brought guys from all across the country. There are so many different sanctioning bodies of midgets and sprint cars, now that USAC series really became a focus for our open wheel drivers. We have drivers coming from Pennsylvania, California, Colorado, Wisconsin, Illinois, guys that normally didn't support the USAC National Series and saw all those races. A lot of them came and started participating in a lot more of those event because of Jeff's success and Jeff getting that opportunity to come to NASCAR. I'm not sure, I think everybody looks that way anyway, and the Indy car option wasn't an option at the time unless you brought a big dollar sponsor and really nobody had help or a short track driver in Indianapolis for a long time so I think everybody's eyes were already pointed in the direction of NASCAR. I think when Jeff had his success down south, it just helped boost everybody's spirits and helped show everybody in USAC that it was a reality and it could happen again as easily as it happened to Jeff if they had the same kind of results on the race track.

Caraviello: Tony, who's in USAC now to look out for who might be the next couple of guys that are going to make that move into NASCAR?

Stewart: I think it's kind of in a rebuilding stage right now but I think there's going to be guys that we'll see down south if the opportunities come for them. I think one of the will be Bobby Yeast, one of them will be one of the young guys that I got in my USAC Midget which is Josh Weiss. Those two guys in particular are young guys that will trend to NASCAR. Car owners are looking into really young drivers and I think those are two guys that are going to be predominant names coming up in the next two to three years.

Operator: Our next question comes from Jay Hart from the Morning Call.

Hart: People talk about the comparison with Dale Earnhardt sometimes. What do you think will make the transition of you for gaining that respect as one of the bad boys to the kind of popular bad boy that everybody sort of likes to see race aggressively?

Stewart: I think we already have a group of hands who are already in line with that. I can promise you one thing. I am not trying to be Dale Earnhardt. I respect that man more than anybody in racing other than A.J. Foyt and his accomplishments came on the run. There's nobody that's ever going to be another Dale Earnhardt. The closest one to be Dale Earnhardt is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. That's not something that I have my eyes set on trying to be like. I would love to be as successful as he's been and would love to have the fan following that Dale Sr. had. I think we already have a fan following that likes us for the way we speak our mind and we're aggressive on the racetrack. That's the kind of fans that we attract nowadays. I think there's plenty of them out there. If you look out there on Sunday, you look at the amount of orange in the stands, I think that speaks for itself and tells the story.

Hart: Can you clarify without me going into too many details, once and for all, what did happen in Chicago and do you think some people say that you were a little too aggressive on that restart? Do you think you were too aggressive?

Stewart: I don't think I was too aggressive. Everybody knows how important track position is on those mile and a half tracks and how difficult at times it can be to pass with the aero situation that we are in. Getting a pass like I did when I passed Sterling (Marlin) I got right back in line and slowed down and NASCAR was the one that pointed out to me before I fully knew it that I was running the same speed that Sterling was running and the same speed that Brian Vickers who was on the lap down line in the inside. I was running the same speed as those two guys. I wasn't being too aggressive. I think Kasey and I need to finish our discussion before I really feel comfortable talking about it. I think there is more to the story than was actually told and I think Kasey is the only one who can tell that story.

Operator: Our next question comes from Jeff Wolf from the Las Vegas Review.

Wolf: I want to get your thoughts on the rule that lets an injured driver start a race and a relief driver come in for the starting driver and gets the points. Do you have thoughts on that? Is the system fine the way it is or anyways to be made better?

Stewart: I don't have a problem with the way it is. We're on our way to a photo shoot today, what if a guy in a semi blows a red light and I get in a car accident? If they say the injury takes two weeks to heal, should I lose everything that we have worked for all year because of something that was out of our control. Whether it's something that happens at another race. Whether it's something that happens in our everyday life. I think it's fair. I think the system is fair for everybody that way. There's nothing that would've kept Dale Jr. from running the whole race. He's going to be in a lot of pain and a lot of discomfort and I think we all look at it from the standpoint that next week it could be us that could be in that situation and we're all a big family. I think all of would of probably not been disappointed if there would have been a caution in the first five laps so we could've got Dale out of the car and taken some of the pain away from him from that standpoint. I don't think it's anything that needs to be changed. I think the fans are pretty sympathetic to what's going on there too. I'll be honest, that's the first I've ever heard anybody ask this question. I think it's a legitimate question with the way NASCAR is changing, but I don't think this is anything that needs to be changed. I hope it doesn't change. I think it's very fair. If the driver is willing to deal with that much pain and get in the car and start the race and know that he could have a problem and extend his injuries so to speak, if the driver is willing to do that then he ought to be compensated with the points for it also.

Wolf: Do you think it's good because it gives the driver an out to maybe don't push themselves too far in a race if they are in pain like Junior was?

Stewart: Good point. You bring up a very valid point. The pain that I'm sure he was in, I'm sure it had to be a distraction to him at some point. So, if it's a distraction to him then it's not that it's going to put everybody else in danger but it could be a distraction that could cause him a problem and somebody could get caught up in that problem. I think there is a lot of good points on why that system in place is the way it is.

Operator: Our next question comes from Steve Ballard from Indianapolis Star.

Ballard: You told me over the last couple of years that you almost dread coming to Indianapolis because it turns into such a zoo for you here. With that race coming up again, is the dread starting to set in again or is it something that you are able to look forward to at least a little bit?

Stewart: I'm looking forward to it. As much as I get the highs of the highs and the lows of the lows, it's a week that I always look forward to. Even though it's a drag sometimes, from the media side it's a much busier weekend than I want to have with the media attention that we get there. Being from Indiana, there's no way to get around that. I'm not sure it's totally a bad thing. At the same time, I get to see my family and friends and get to see people that I don't get a chance to see but a couple times a year. Yeah, more so this year, I'm probably looking forward to more than ever have in the past. I feel like we've got a pretty good game plan based on balance and doing media obligations and the attention and being able to do the things that we want to do.

Ballard: In the wake of what happened with Dale Jr. or assuming what could've happened with Dale Jr., does it give you any second thoughts about some of the other extracurricular racing activities? Should it give you second thoughts with your responsibility to give and responsibility to Home Depot? Is it something a driver should think about?

Stewart: I don't think so, to be honest. There will be more deaths on the highway today than there will be at any other racetracks this weekend. Does that mean we shouldn't drive on the highway today? That's kind of the attitude I look at. Accidents are exactly what their labeled as, they're accidents. They don't happen because people are looking for something to happen. It's just something that happens. If you look at the big picture of what we're talking about here, we're talking about each other's life. We don't get to put our life on pause, we don't get to come back and redo the part that we waited on. I honestly feel like we need to live every day to the fullest. If driver want to race, they should be able to race. If they get into an agreement with a car owner and that agreement doesn't allow them to do that, a tleast they know that going into it and they have the option to agree to that agreement or to not sign that agreement. That's something that has been very important to me, if I want to go race and I don't feel that's a right that anybody should take away from us by any means. Obviously, I continue to sign contracts with Joe Gibbs, obviously it's a concern with Joe but at the same time he's never told me that I can't go drive race cars. He understands that's a passion and desire of mine and it's a part of my life that he's not willing to take away from me.

Operator: Our next question comes from Scott Walsh from Scranton Times Tribune.

Walsh: Pocono has always been a bit of a fuel mileage track. Given the new rule with the potential for a green white checker finish, how do you think that might impact the race more being a fuel mileage race at Pocono at the fact the might be running a couple extra laps there.

Stewart: I think it takes some of the fuel mileage racing out of the equation. Reason being, everybody there knows exactly how many laps they can go. Under the old format, you didn't know how many laps over the advertised distance that we would be going. You knew that if it was a 300 lap race, and if you can run 100 laps on a tank of fuel, you knew that if you pitted on lap 200 or 201 you could make it to the end. Now you don't know that. I think guys will be pitting later in the deal and making sure they have plenty of fuel depending on how many caution laps will happen after that. I think in all reality, I think it will take some of fuel mileage equation out of it, hopefully. I might be wrong, but I hope so.

Walsh: On the SAFER barriers that are going to be installed there, they're only in Turn 1 in the June race, is that going to have any effect and what do you think about the SAFER barriers that they are installing at all of the tracks.

Stewart: I'm fully in favor of the SAFER barriers. Like we were talking about earlier, accidents are accidents. Nobody intends for them to happen. It's part of our sport and if we can either extend driver's careers by taking away career threatening injuries or even the possibility of death due to injury, you can never say any negatives about it. I'm all in favor of it. How will affect the weekend at Pocono? It's hard to say. It didn't change the way we raced the first weekend obviously. It just depends on how far they typically extend the exit of the corner. It's normally not an issue going into the corner but some of the tracks they have extended it 20 or 30 feet, a little longer than what they needed it to be in some cases. We'll have to wait and see when we get there. I'm sure they did a fine job doing what they did.

Operator: Our next question comes from Jon Gunn from NASCAR Illustrated.

Gunn: Did the thought of going to a three car team trouble you in the least from the standpoint of the depth of your team right now and the resources potentially being diverted from your effort?

Stewart: I don't think so. I guess the easiest way to describe it if you have a one car team and if one and one equals two, it's not one and one and one equals three. You don't have to have three times the equipment. A lot of times you can utilize the same resources and not necessarily have to have so many extras, so to speak. Perfect example is our USAC teams. Last year we had two drivers on our sprint car teams and on our pavement we only had three cars. Both of the drivers primary cars and had one back up car. We didn't have to have a back up car for each driver but if you do one, then you have to one back up driver for that car. It's sometimes cheaper to add cars to the equation. I think that's why Jack Roush, he's probably the first guy to realize the more that he added, the more he could share his resources and make it better and not necessarily drain those resources. If you have adequate resources the cars will definitely help, but if you're a team that doesn't have enough funding to begin with your sponsorship, it can be a distraction and can do what you're talking about and can take away from the effort too.

Gunn: Any preference if you were to get a veteran type driver such as yourself, or someone who could use some molding (a younger driver)?

Stewart: No, I think you have to look at it in different ways. Obviously, most people's initial reaction would be to get a veteran that has experience but you look at the case with Joe Gibbs Racing. Bobby Labonte was the one that pushed to hire me and I honestly didn't feel like I had enough experience when I started. He had more confidence in me than I had in myself at the time. I wanted to make sure beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was ready and Bobby saw something in me that I wasn't able to see in myself at that time as far as driving a stock car was concerned. We came into the season our rookie year and broke a record for winning the most races as a rookie. I think there's pros and cons for having veterans and there's pros and cons for having rookies. Rookies bring no bad habits normally to the table, they come with fresh ideas. With the taste of having Greg Zipadelli as a rookie crew chief, you work at starting a pattern. He had his own ideas as a crew chief and I think that's the way drivers are too. It really could go either way. You could get a young guy and be just fine or you can have a veteran and be just fine also.


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Brian Vickers , Jack Roush
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing