Talladega: Race winner interview

TONY STEWART, No. 20 Old Spice Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finished: 1st How good does it feel to win at Talladega? "With the momentum of these cars I knew I probably needed to not get out too far in front. This is our good luck charm, ...

TONY STEWART, No. 20 Old Spice Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Finished: 1st

How good does it feel to win at Talladega?

"With the momentum of these cars I knew I probably needed to not get out too far in front. This is our good luck charm, Brittany from the Make-a-Wish Foundation that we met today. I told her we would try extra hard to get to victory lane today so I'm glad we got her here. But we're going to have to take her on the road the rest of the year so she might have to miss some more school. This thing was awesome. Dave Rogers (crew chief) and all the guys on this Old Spice team did such a great job today. I didn't think leading was the place to be and I still don't think that -- even after winning the race. I just don't think that being the leader with two laps to go is the place to be. You did what you had to do and they just got spread out behind us and we got the push from behind that we needed so we were able to get back by."

Can you talk about the last lap?

"I knew that move was going to happen -- I didn't know when, but I knew when we came off of four coming to the white that we weren't in a good spot being that far ahead like we were. You didn't want to be in a situation where I think I could have over- reacted there if I would have drug the brake to try to stay close to him then I was going to be in even worse shape. I just let it roll out and saw him get the run. There wasn't much I could do about it, but the good thing was that they got three-wide behind us and that got us some help on the bottom and we got the side draft on him toward the end of the backstretch and then got help from David Stremme and that was the push we needed to get here."

Can you talk about the challenges from Greg Biffle and Mike Wallace?

"Heck with those guys -- what about Morgan Shepherd. He was in the top-10 today -- that is what I'm happy about, maybe happier about that than I am about winning."

How does it feel to win here at Talladega?

"I was telling them in the ride over here and in all honesty, I'm sworn in on a sheriff's department here in Alabama, the people that run my property in Indiana are from down here. Everybody knows how close Red Farmer and Donnie Allison and I are and I don't care if it's a bicycle race -- I finally won a race at Talladega. I'm not going to be able to sleep tonight. I really wish I could put into words how excited I am because this is not just like winning any Nationwide race. To me, this is the biggest one I've had. To finally win at Talladega is something that I wish I could put into words right now, but it's more than I can figure out how to put into words at this point."

How different is drafting today versus drafting on Sunday?

"More guys that are qualified and know how to do it right. It's the same, but different. The quality of cars tomorrow are so much closer to each other as far as the quality of race teams and race drivers together. Not to take anything away from the Nationwide drivers at all because there's talented guys -- we just get the opportunity to do it more because we do it twice in a weekend versus once in a weekend. I'm sure it will be very similar to that -- there will be times where there won't be anything but a single line going around the race track."

Why were you using the low line all day?

"It was just fast there. This place being as smooth as it is and I've talked about it before, once the repaved this track, it's where the fast guys are -- that's where everybody is going to line up. It doesn't matter whether it's on the top or on the bottom. The car was driving so good and the fastest way is around the bottom if you can get enough cars down there. Even the guys that were getting a run on the outside, they were having a really tough time getting any closer than about second or third place up to the lead guys. I felt like as long as we could stay on the bottom and as long as we had Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. with us -- we had the two fastest cars on the race track there so as long as we stayed together it didn't matter who was coming on the outside -- we were going to be able to rally back."

Were you fast even without help today?

"I knew we had a good car. I told Dave (Rogers) when we were in victory lane that even when we were leading the pack and normally you can't get away from guys. If there was a lapped car or a crashed car that wasn't up to speed that we were catching -- as soon as that car could start getting some of the benefit from the draft from that car then he couldn't pull up as good as he could earlier. I knew we had a fast car and Dave (Rogers) told me that we had the two runs in a row where I led (Dale Earnhardt) Jr. after a pit stop. Then after the pit stop, he was leading and we were second and Dave (Rogers) told me that we were three-tenths faster when we were the lead car of the two. I knew we had a good car and having (Dale Earnhardt) Jr. behind you for three-quarters of the race -- that's like having an insurance policy because you know you're in good hands there for the first three-quarters of the race.

"But as much as it's an insurance policy knowing that you're going to have help for the duration of the race, when you get to those last 10 laps, that insurance policy turns bad real quick. I made a mistake and let him get too far back and he did a good job of doing that. There were times during the race when we were nose to tail with each other. There were dozens and dozens of times on both of our parts that we were behind that we had enough of a run to go on by, but we've worked together so well in the past here that we knew that we both had two really, really good cars. Just staying together was kind of insurance for both of us that we were going to stay at the head of the pack. It didn't matter to either one of us who led. We both led laps so we both got the five points for our teams, but it didn't matter what the order was as long as we were the first two cars because we have so much trust in each other. This place is so smooth that you can push each other.

"He came up in victory lane and congratulated us and said they figured out the lap times and we were running 202 miles-per-hour when we were able to run a whole lap tied together like that. That shows you what eight tires and 16 cylinders can run around here -- it's 202- to 203 miles-per-hour. It was pretty cool, the lap times we were running were low 50s and Dave (Rogers) said we ran a 48.9 so to run over a second faster than when we were just leading the pack normally -- it was pretty cool to do that. There were a lot of guys that tried to help push guys, but not many of those guys know how to do it right and Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. does. That's what's comforting about having him behind you because when he would get to you, he would get hooked on and I knew my job was just to be real smooth with the wheel and don't do anything abrupt and he would just follow suit. That's why when we were able to get locked together like that we were able to get so far ahead of the field at times. That's just trust that we have running together and doing that with each other here.

"It made the race fun today because of that, but when we came off of turn four to the white flag I saw how far back he was and I saw the line behind him and I thought there was nothing about this that was good. The whole time down the front straight-away and the whole time through turns one and two I was sitting there weighing what my options were and what I could do or what I was going to do when they get here. I tried to block and I knew as fast as he was coming that if I forced the issue, I was going to take out the rest of the field that didn't get wrecked the first time. It wasn't worth it, but at the same time we had such a good car that we carried enough momentum down the backstretch that even when he went by us we were able to stay with him and get the side draft.

"I looked up in the mirror and they were three-wide behind us. You're hoping -- it's just like watching Monty Hall and sitting there saying, 'what's behind door number one, two or three?' And which line is moving so we went off into three on the bottom and the favorite phrase of the whole race was, 'here comes your help'. When I heard that and I got the push from (David) Stremme and got ahead of the 5 (Dale Earnhardt Jr) car, it was like a weight off our shoulders that we actually had a shot of winning it. I could tell the lead that we had off of turn four, that they were three-wide and nobody was going to get a run on us so it was just a matter of driving it to the finish line."

What has changed in the way you feel about all of this at Talladega as there used to be a fear in your eyes?

"Especially on a day like today, we had the perfect case scenario -- we were around somebody who historically we have always been an unofficial teammate with in Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. Being with him and staying with him like that and being able to stay out front in the top-two spots for probably 90-percent of the day like that. That eases your mind and the Cup cars with the new design and the bumpers matching up -- you don't worry about picking somebody up if you hit too hard. That was a big concern. I think as time has gone on and guys have gotten more used to these big pack drafts. Drafting before was a single line and slingshots and that was it.

"Not we're more accustomed to running three and even four wide like we'll do tomorrow. As time goes on we're all getting use to how to do it and how to be smart about knowing what point of the race we're all in and if something big happens you know it wasn't somebody trying to do something stupid, but it was just close quarters and two guys got going the wrong direction and that's what caused it. I think as time goes on you just get more and more accustomed to the style of racing here. I wish the track or NASCAR would take you guys (media) out in vans at 100 miles-per-hour and let you feel how smooth this track is. It's literally smoother than the highway is -- it's the smoothest race track I've been on of the intermediate or superspeedways. It just doesn't have bumps. Your car is not jumping around, your car is not hitting seams and your car is not moving around so it gives you confidence to know that if somebody catches you in the middle of the corner or gives you a push in the middle of the corner that you're not necessarily going to be put in a bad position."

-credit: toyota motorsports

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About this article
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Greg Biffle , Mike Wallace , Morgan Shepherd , Donnie Allison , David Stremme
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing