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2013 Daytona 500 Q&A: NASCAR Sprint Cup - Tony Stewart
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 BASS PRO SHOPS CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed the new race cars, why the Daytona 500 is so tough to win, bump-drafting, and more.
Q. Probably been asked a thousand times, but the discernible difference for you when you got behind the wheel of the new car, what was that like for you?
TONY STEWART: I ran a day and a half at the tire test at Phoenix and we didn't even have a steel body car, it was a fiberglass bodied car. Didn't really notice a lot.
We had the one day at Charlotte. That was probably a bigger understanding of what we got than what we learned at Phoenix.
The car's got a lot of downforce so far. A little easier to drive. For a new car to come out in that short amount of time, for it to drive that well, that's a pretty big feather in NASCAR's cap to have a car that drives that stable.
Q. Some guys say it allows drivers to attack.
TONY STEWART: You're able to be a lot more aggressive with it. I'm not sure you have to have as much finesse with it.
I think it's going to give more drivers an opportunity to run a lot better with it because, like I say, it's got a lot of downforce and a lot of side force. It will definitely catch mistakes that they make.
. You've had a tremendous amount of success, won 18 races here, but not the 500. A lot of great drivers have never won the 500. Why is it such a tough race to win?
TONY STEWART: I think SPEED had a special going on last week about guys that hadn't won it. I saw three or four clips of races where I remember we had a shot and let it get away from us.
Everything has to go right. The Indy 500 is the same way. It's easy to compare those two because everything has to go right that whole day. You don't normally get the opportunity to have a mistake and come back from it. It just seems like it's hard to make up from a mistake.
You look at the guys that normally have that trophy at the end of the day, they're guys that had no drama at all during their race. It's one that you just can't afford to make a mistake.
Q. Because of that is it harder to get a feel on whether your car is really good, who could be a favorite, because there's so many variables going on?
TONY STEWART: Yeah. I think by the time you get to the qualifying races, you have a good idea of who the players are. The difference is by the time you put both groups together for the race, groups get separated and make new groups, there's partnerships that don't happen in the qualifying races that come up in the 500. Now a group of three or four groups may turn into six or eight groups that have the potential to get up there, at least in the past.
It makes it hard to predict because you don't totally know. Even guys that have had good racecars have got held up in the back of the pack with less than 10 laps to go and they just can't get through. It's hard to know where to be at the right time and hope you haven't gotten yourself in a predicament in a spot that you can't get out of.
Q. Is it fair to say it's a combination of a science project and the luck of a casino?
TONY STEWART: That's the most educated way I've ever heard it been put. It is exactly that way. You do everything in your power to take care of the science or technology side, do everything you can to build the fastest car you've got. Then if you don't have the luck to go with it. Even if you don't have any drama with getting the car touched, nothing happens to the car, if you're just in the wrong spot at the wrong time at the end, it can take you out of the opportunity to take the best racecar in the field and a chance not to get through. It is exactly that combination.
Q. Any other races than Indy that approach that?
TONY STEWART: Not that I've ever been a part of. Those two races, the drama that's involved in those two, the pressure that you put on yourself, I've never had any other race like it.
Not any championship race or anything. If you go to Daytona and Indy, there's just something about running those two races that you don't get anywhere else. You don't have that emotion. That's part of the equation that doesn't get factored into the other races because it just doesn't exist like it does here and Indy.
Q. Danica was talking about Indy and stockcar racing. She said, I really have fun in the stock cars. Do you understand why?
TONY STEWART: No, but I'll ask her about it. I'm definitely going to find out why she said that.
Q. She said it was more nerve-wracking in the IndyCars because of the nature of the racing.
TONY STEWART: Well, yeah. I think probably, you know, the course of a stockcar race, you're not pushing 100% for 100% of the race. Where an IndyCar race, everything is so fine and minute. I understand it 'cause I drove them. The passing opportunities are a lot less than what you have at a Cup race, a lot less pit stops. All of that puts each stint of that race at higher importance.
Our races are longer. You're going to have more opportunity to pit, more opportunity to think about your car than you are thinking about pit strategies and all that during the race.
Other than that, I'm not sure exactly what she's talking about, but I would assume that's what it is.
Q. What makes Ricky Stenhouse a good driver?
TONY STEWART: I got a lot of racecar frames in my lake that have his name on them or cars that he crashed.
But the thing about Ricky that was good about him from the start was he was always fast. It didn't matter whether it was the Sprint car, the Midgets, the Silver Crown car, all three cars he got in and was quick right away. The hardest part was pulling the reins back in on him. There were races he'd have half a lap lead on second place and crash the car with 10 laps to go. That was the hard stuff to get him to understand, is you don't have to go 100% every lap. That's stuff that he's learned in the last couple years in Nationwide, is how to take his aggressive style and at the same time be smart about it, make it work to his advantage.
Q. It seems like you may have a kindred spirit in Kyle Larson. Both of you share an appetite for racing. He wins this championship on the last lap of the last race. What do you see in him that reminds you of you?
TONY STEWART: I think he reminds me of a lot better than me. Everything he's got, I mean everything. Even when he got in a stockcar the first time, it was just natural to him. Go from lightweight car to a heavy car is a hard adjustment for a lot of drivers. It's a lot easier to go from a heavier car to a lighter car.
To watch him run his first couple races in a stockcar, that's what shows you this kid just has natural driving ability. He's just good in whatever he gets in.
Q. Last fall at New Hampshire, wins a race. You send him to Eldora, he wins there. Is that symbolic of what he can do, his potential?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the hard part of that day for us is we throw him on the jet. He goes up and wins in somebody else's midget, crashes in somebody else's Sprint car, and he's supposed to start on the pole in my Silver Crown car. Never got the chance to do it because he crashed the Sprint car and got hurt.
It does, it shows how versatile he is. He's the kind of guy, I've been around a lot of wing Sprint car races, I don't think he ran a lot of that, but he ran a lot of non-wing races. The wing races we'd go to, you would watch how quick he adapts to it. It amazes you how good he is.
Q. Is he the next generation type star?
TONY STEWART: Yeah. You can bet the farm on it. I guarantee it. If not, you can take everything I own because I'm that confident.
Q. Pretty stout prediction.
TONY STEWART: It's not a matter of if, it's when.
Q. Is he just smart? Pretty intelligent for his age.
TONY STEWART: I don't know how smart he is, I just know he's good. I mean, you watch him, in between racing, he'll be playing video games on his phone. He just naturally gets in it and he's fast. He just has that ability.
The great thing is he's still a kid and he still acts like a kid. Nobody's tried to make him grow up too fast, put pressure on him to do anything. He just gets in and does it. That's something that I don't see there being any red flags with him. I've seen good drivers in the past that have come up and you see red flags, you see problems or hurdles they're going to have to cross in their career. He doesn't have any of those signs.
Q. The elephant in the room, Danica and Ricky dating. Is it an issue for you at all?
TONY STEWART: Why would it be?
Q. I don't know. They could on track...
TONY STEWART: I had a run-in with Matt Kenseth, but I'm not dating him, so... I still don't see the relevancy in it.
Q. Racing is about give-and-take. Relationships could play a part in whether you give somebody an inch, who you might push at the end of a race. That's the way we perceive it.
TONY STEWART: Okay, we'll move on to the next thing (laughter). God. We're at Daytona and this is the stuff we're talking about at Daytona. Amazing.
Q. Years ago you were outspoken one way to end bump-draft is making sure the bumpers don't line up. Do you feel that's been accomplished with this car?
TONY STEWART: I don't know. We've only seen one guy try it so far, it didn't end up very well. I doubt that's the last time we'll see it tried. I'll say by Thursday we'll have a really clear idea if that's going to be possible or not.
Q. Is it a step in the right direction to get away from that type of racing?
TONY STEWART: I mean, it's a theory. Like I say, I think having Saturday and Thursday night's races is good. The logic, if you push a guy, it picks the guy up and wrecks him, doesn't make guys want to do that much if that's the end result.
Q. How will that affect practice?
TONY STEWART: You'll see somebody try it. Somebody's bound to try it again. Just 'cause it didn't work the first time doesn't mean somebody else isn't going to try it. I will say at some point during practice somebody will try it. It may just be on the straightaway at first, but somebody's going to try it to see if they can make it work. If one makes it work, everybody is going to figure out how to do it.
Q. You're not going to be the guy to try it first?
TONY STEWART: I'm too old to be the first guy to try anything now. So I'll anxiously wait for the crew chief to say, Yeah, that just happened and we're going to have to figure it out.
Q. Almost like a test pilot mentality?
TONY STEWART: I would assume that's what it's going to be like. Somebody's going to have the nerve to try it, be impatient and try it. That's when we'll have the answer.
Q. (No microphone.)
TONY STEWART: I think you got to go out and at least see what's going on. You got to see how the car is going to react. You're going to have to see mostly how it sucks up and how when you get there how it pushes a guy without physically touching the bumper.
We've always talked about air being like a spring between the cars and that's still in play. I think you're still going to have to go out there and physically figure that out, figure out what you have to do, what you can and can't get away with.
Q. Do you still have those sponsorships?
TONY STEWART: Yes.
Q. As an owner, is finding the right sponsor one of the hardest things?
TONY STEWART: It depends on which aspect you're asking. There's a lot of different aspects. Financing the team is one thing. Finding the right personnel is one thing. The right teammates. There's so many variables. It's one of many variables that compiles into making a successful race team.
The funding is a huge part of that. Funding is a big result of a lot of those other things happening, but still just one of those pieces of the puzzle. You can have the best finance team in the series. If they don't know how to apply it, it doesn't matter.
There's teams that have taken less money and gotten better results out of it because they know how to use the money, where to put it, have gotten the right results.
Q. How much of a frustration has it been with all the changes that have happened with the cars?
TONY STEWART: I think it's expected. The history of the sport, there's always been changes, real changes. The frustration this winter was trying to build racecars and not being able to get the parts we needed to build racecars. That's got a lot of teams in a bind here for the first probably five or six weeks I would say.
As far as going through the changes, I mean, for us as car owners, if it's better for the sport, it's well worth the investment. It will come back eventually.
You don't look at it as it's money wasted if it's a good thing for the sport and makes it better for everybody.
Q. Roger Penske is giving AJ Allmendinger another chance in an IndyCar. How do you expect that test to go?
TONY STEWART: I haven't been in an IndyCar for 11 years really. I honestly don't know. AJ hasn't been out of them that long. I honestly think he'll pick it right back up is my gut feeling. It's a hunch. But I think he'll pick it right back up.
I think if he can pick it up in those early races, he can be ready for Indy no problem.
Q. What do you think of Roger's loyalty to him? Many would have passed on him.
TONY STEWART: I said last fall when they reinstated him, he's the perfect pick right now. Roger is a smart business guy. He's not dumb. He has always been loyal to his drivers.
I think this just shows how deep that loyalty really goes.
Q. You have three Cup drivers that are going to run a half marathon before their qualifying on Sunday. Does that give drivers an advantage to be in that kind of shape to do that?
TONY STEWART: Do you anticipate me running any marathons anytime soon? In case you didn't know, we won the championship two years ago. I don't think a lot has changed since then.
Q. If you told Earnhardt and them back in the days you're going to have drivers running half marathons, what do you think they'd say?
TONY STEWART: Nobody would have said anything because nobody would have thought about that question. I don't think it matters. Unless you got to get out and push the car, it's a different deal. Nobody is having to get out and push these things.
I don't even know where to go with this. It's like people live in Alaska. They're used to living in the cold. People that live in Arizona, they get used to being in the heat. They don't have to work out to do either one of them. You get acclimated to it and do it. Running a marathon or not running a marathon doesn't make an ounce of difference.
That's all I got on it.
Q. You here about the generation six. Are you hearing from Chevrolet or other manufacturers, saying Chevrolet instead of referring to it as the generation six?
TONY STEWART: I think as a whole that's why everybody is talking about it as the gen six. As we get in our individual cars, I think you'll hear less about it being called a gen six. You'll hear as the season starts here the teams and drivers will do a good job of separating the brand identity.
Q. When you talked about Ricky, him being fast, rein him in, how difficult is it to take somebody and make them understand that's not the best way?
TONY STEWART: It's easier to pull them back than it is to try to make them fast.
Q. How easy is it to pull them back?
TONY STEWART: I mean, the guys that get it, they figure it out with some guidance. There's guys that I race with still that still have that mentality. They'll win one every now and then, but they can't put a string of them together and can't win a championship. There's some that get it and some that don't. That's why you got guys that are champions and guys that aren't.
Q. Is it important that you realize that?
TONY STEWART: With him?
TONY STEWART: I had help just like everybody else. I had a guy explain to me how slowing down would make me go faster. I'm like, Are you kidding me? Didn't make sense to me either. It's like the first time you do it, feel it, it's like the light switch kicks on and you understand.
Q. When you move up, is it big awakening to move up to Cup, even if you're a great Nationwide driver?
TONY STEWART: The competition level is the biggest thing from going from Nationwide to the Cup Series. The Nationwide cars always seem to drive a little bit better than the Cup cars anyway. That inherently is part of it.
At the same time the biggest thing is you've got a lot, you hate to say it, not taking anything away running in the Truck Series or the Nationwide Series, but you're running with the best of the best when you get to this level.
It's tough in the Truck Series. It's a little bit tougher in the Nationwide Series. It's real tough when you get to the Cup Series. You have more guys that consistently have a shot to win the race every week.
Q. It took Darrell Waltrip a long time to win, and others. Do you find any solace in knowing there are legends that took so long to win?
TONY STEWART: You can look at it that way, or you can look at guys like Rusty and Mark Martin that have never won it, never have won it. You never say, Well, it's okay because of. There's still that opportunity that it couldn't happen, that it might not happen.
You approach each year with the attitude of doing everything you can to win it. If it doesn't happen, the only thing you can say is you have to wait 365 days to do it again. That's the reality of it. That's what makes the plane ride home suck. There's nothing you can do about it. You can go win the race the next week somewhere else, but it's not the Daytona 500. Once you start this first race, once the first race of the year is over, you either accomplished the goal or you got to wait a whole year to do it again.
Q. Feels the same in the brief time you did Indy?
TONY STEWART: Felt like you got mule kicked and nothing you could do for a year. Sit there and think about what you did wrong, what you could have done different. It's a miserable feeling waiting, feeling like you have to wait the whole calendar year to get that opportunity again.
Q. (Question regarding Brad Keselowski.)
TONY STEWART: Well, I think in his case, I think his demeanor is one that is not going to be a bother to him. I don't think like he's going to feel that pressure that weight.
Brad is pretty good about kind of doing things his own way, having his own identity. I don't feel like that's really going to be anything that weighs on him at all. I think he's a guy that's not going to look at the past as much as he's going to look at the future.
Q. In terms of him being a good champion, what constitutes a good champion?
TONY STEWART: Kerry, what constitutes a good champion? You have to deal with them.
KERRY THARP: I like a guy who wins and enjoys winning and enjoys being the champion. You fit that mold.
TONY STEWART: On Keselowski's side, I don't know. I assume he likes to win races. I don't know anybody that likes winning more than he does. I think a good champion is a guy that does it his way, not somebody else's way, too. For sure he does that.
Q. Who doesn't enjoy being the champion?
TONY STEWART: I haven't seen anybody yet.
Q. I watched this on YouTube after the Talladega spring race. That was a masterpiece of sarcasm.
TONY STEWART: No, where is David Newton when somebody actually calls a spade a spade here and calls it right. The dumb guy that asks the marathon question, you need to go down there and tell him. That's the highest form of flattery, what you just told me.
Q. Are you proud of being so sarcastic? Where did you find this talent?
TONY STEWART: I'll be honest, it just came to me one day. I think I was born with it. I take a lot of pride in the fact that I feel I'm probably the most successful driver at being extremely sarcastic.
Q. (No microphone.)
TONY STEWART: Oh, no. You are the closest thing to making me lose it because I was looking at you the whole time and you had a bigger shot at losing it. That was the only shot I had at losing it, was watching you laugh. I was able to put on my game face and stay true to character.
Q. Don't shoot the messenger. Do you think it helps Danica, because of her high profile, she's always been used to dealing with extra media, that because there is a lot of talk about her and Ricky, it's not as big a deal to her because she's used to already having to answer all these other questions all the time?
TONY STEWART: I would tend to agree. I would say it's less of a distraction to her because she has to deal with media, a high amount of media, every week. I don't think this is anything that will be any distraction to her whatsoever. Logical question.