2014 Daytona 500 Q&A (Media Day): NASCAR Sprint Cup - Tony Stewart
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 BASS PRO SHOPS/MOBIL 1 CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at the 2014 NASCAR Daytona Media Day and discussed: returning to competition; expectations for first race back in the car; expectations for four-car team; 2014 rookie class and other topics. FULL TRANSCRIPT:
Q. HOW MUCH WEIGHT HAVE YOU DROPPED?
TONY STEWART: I have been on scale. I stayed at about 182 for the last two and a half months.
Q. IS TODAY LIKE CHRISTMAS EVE FOR YOU?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, to a certain degree it is. You know, normally I'm thinking in days and weeks. Now I'm thinking in hours. I'm excited about it. It's been a long time since August 5th. Normally we're talking about the off-season. It just seems like it flies by. It's been the slowest off-season I've ever had. I'm ready to get doing something again.
Q. ANY APPREHENSIONS?
TONY STEWART: No. The great thing is everybody at our shop, especially the guy that does the interior on our car; him and Chad have worked really close together. We've tried to think of absolutely anything that could be a problem.
The good thing is in the meantime with all of that our therapy has been going really well and in the last few weeks we've made huge gains.
I don't know how we could be more prepared honestly than what we are right now. The perfect scenario, everything would be healed 100% and we wouldn't be talking about it. Bone is still about 65% healed right now. But as far as muscles and everything, the strength is coming much quicker than I thought it was going to be.
Like I say, we spent a lot of time with pedal angles and everything to make it absolutely as comfortable as we can make it. I don't know what else we can do to prepare than what we've done.
Q. THE FIRST LAP AROUND THE TRACK, I IMAGINE THE SMILE WILL BE PRETTY BIG?
TONY STEWART: We'll be in a pack right away. Not going to have time to think about it. I'll probably be grinning after we do it.
We got work to do because normally Shootout practice, everybody gets the majority of their work done that first run. The fact that guys don't bring backup cars for the Shootout, they won't practice a lot.
We'll get right back to business right away and we'll think about it after the session is over.
Q. HOW DOES IT FEEL WHEN ASKING ALL THE OTHER DRIVERS WHAT THEY'RE EXPECTING OUT OF YOU THIS SEASON, THEY SAY A WIN AND THE CHASE?
TONY STEWART: I mean, we all know each other personality-wise. We all know our drive and determination amongst each other. I remember a lot of these guys have called, checking in, asking how we're doing. They've been a support system as well. They know how we're doing, how we feel. It's a pretty tight-knit group of guys.
Q. THE PERIOD OF INACTIVITY, WAS THAT THE MOST EXCRUCIATING PART?
TONY STEWART: No, I don't think so. Not the time. The time wasn't. The pain was the worst part of it, for sure. You know, that's a level of pain I've never had before. You'd think having the ability to lay in bed, you get comfortable. I've never spent so much time laying in bed feeling uncomfortable in my life.
I'm actually more comfortable sitting in a car than I am laying in bed at the end of the day. Sitting in the racecar the last couple weeks getting everything done, it feels even more comfortable than the street car.
If we can figure out how to take the seat and pedals out of the car, lay it back 40 degrees, I could sleep like a baby for the first time in a long time.
We're comfortable in the car. Even being in a street car, that's been the norm for the last four months. It's more comfortable sitting in a car than it is sitting in a chair or sitting in bed.
Q. REGARDING BACKUP DRIVER
TONY STEWART: You're my one driver. On the record, Bob is my backup driver, so... Step it up, Bud.
We're not going to need a backup driver. We don't need a backup driver.
Q. IS THAT BECAUSE YOU FEEL SO GOOD OR YOU'RE DETERMINED?
TONY STEWART: Both, both. I feel good enough that I'm confident we're not going to have to worry about anything. Like I said, we've planned for anything that we think might or could go wrong. When I say 'go wrong', it's not anything that's going to take us out of the racecar, it's just a matter of making everything as comfortable as possible.
Q. IS THERE ANYTHING IN THE CAR SPECIFICALLY BECAUSE OF YOUR INJURY THAT IS A PROBLEM?
TONY STEWART: Talking about the group of guys that are your peers that check on you. Kevin Harvick didn't even ask me, he just went and ordered -- he runs those knee knockers on the steering column. He's like, You're running this. He didn't leave it as an option. I showed up, it was on my car. You're running this. Shows what kind of teammates I have and what friends I have.
Getting in and out of the car wasn't as big a drama as what I thought. That's what my initial concern was when he told me he was putting it in there.
But we've been to the shop, worked on getting in and out. It's pretty fluid now.
Q. WHAT'S A KNEE KNOCKER?
TONY STEWART: Amazing how two girls want to know what a knee knocker is at the same time (laughter).
It's a pad that hangs off the steering column, basically keeps your knees from going back and forth. A pad, leg brace is on the outside. This is like a leg brace on the inside. Keeps your knees from hitting the steering column.
Q. AT WHAT POINT DO THE DOCTORS EXPECT YOU TO FEEL 100%?
TONY STEWART: Probably about another year, he said, when the bones will be healed 100%. We're about 65% right now. So there are so many gaps in the bone. A hairline fracture didn't have far to grow the rest of the way, but when you have pieces that are missing, it's got to regenerate that bone.
With the titanium rod in there, we have the strength we need. The actual physical healing, it's going to take a little longer.
Q. ARE YOU LIKE A WEATHER VANE GUYS?
TONY STEWART: You're not kidding. When that weather came through last night, I knew it an hour before it got here. It's a barometer. I've had troubles with migraines before. I have a primary and backup system that is going to tell you what the weather is going to do. I could have predicted within an hour when it was going to snow in Charlotte.
That's one thing that is frustrating. We came down, the weather is nice, it felt good. All of a sudden it got cold, the rain came. All of a sudden I got sore. This morning it's not as sore as it was last night but not as good as when we got down here. It constantly goes up and down and it's going to do that for a long time.
TONY STEWART: It's titanium. We really shouldn't bring it up to them. Titanium rods are not approved by NASCAR.
Yeah, it's approved.
Q. HOW MUCH OF AN INSPIRATION HAS AJ BEEN TO YOU?
TONY STEWART: He called me and he said, Kid, you got to quit trying to be like me. We both came out of surgery within a week of each other. I had my third surgery for the infection. He called joking around saying, Hey, you got to quit trying to be like me with all these surgeries.
He's still AJ, he's still my buddy.
Q. REGARDING SCHEDULE
TONY STEWART: No. I mean, it's just being smart about when I'm going to get in other cars. Obviously the Cup car is the priority right now. Until tomorrow we have no idea what it's going to be like, what it's going to feel like. We'll play it by ear. As soon as it feels good enough to go do the other stuff I want to do, I'm going to go do it.
We've made a lot of changes on the Sprint car to try to make sure that never happens again. That's all you can ask.
Q. A LOT OF DRIVERS HAVE BODY TYPES THAT ARE SMALLER THAN PAST YEARS. DO YOU SEE A BODY TYPE AS AN ADVANTAGE AT ALL?
TONY STEWART: No. NASCAR has the weight rule. If you're really light weight, you have to add weight to the car. It's not really an advantage.
I think the seats have come such a long way, they're form fitting, that there's really not an advantage on the safety side necessarily. The bigger you are, the bigger your bones are.
I don't really think there's an advantage.
Q. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE SMALLER BODY TYPES WE'RE SEEING NOW IN NASCAR?
TONY STEWART: They're just small.
Q. IS IT A FITNESS THING?
TONY STEWART: Don't ask me. I'm the wrong guy to ask about fitness, Bud. I don't know (laughter).
I'm sure there's some scientific explanation, but you're probably a little more excited about knowing the answer to it at this time than I am.
It is a fact now. When you figure it out, will you let me know? Kind of curious.
Q. YOU SAID YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT IT'S GOING TO FEEL LIKE IN THE CAR. IS THERE ANY CONCERN THAT THE INJURY WILL ALTER THINGS?
TONY STEWART: No. I mean, when you hear the quote 'it's a seat-of-the-pants feel', you feel it in your core is where you're feeling everything. Everything that is processed through your brain is between your core for the most part as far as feeling what's going on. Your hands and arm are feeling pressure in the steering wheel. But as far as from your legs down, you're not really feeling that sensation. It's more of what your brain is telling your legs to do. Feeling the weight in the steering wheel is a different deal.
If we had to have an area to have an injury, my right leg was probably the one to have that kind of an injury in.
Q. SELF-DOUBT IS PART OF HUMAN NATURE. DID THAT GREMLIN EVER TAP YOU ON THE SHOULDER?
TONY STEWART: No. Honestly no. The reason for that is right off the bat the surgeon, the therapists, they've all said, You're going to have 100% recovery. With that, from day one, it took that doubt out.
Instead of having the doubt, it's a matter of when is it going to be 100%, how long is the pain going to stay, am I always going to have pain, questions like that, more than doubt of being able to do what we love to do.
Q. REGARDING RICHARD PETTY
TONY STEWART: I'm not even going to waste my time talking about that topic. Danica probably addressed it and that's all that needs to be talked about on it.
Q. IS IT YOUR GOAL TO GET ALL FOUR CARS IN THE CHASE?
TONY STEWART: I'd love to. That is what the goal is every year. Especially with this format, it could happen. Danica is good on the restrictor plate tracks. She's going to get stronger on the rest of the tracks we go to.
Definitely got that opportunity to do that. For sure I feel like we got three cars for sure that are 100% capable right now of doing it. You know, Danica is still in the learning process. She'll tell you that, too. For the small amount of time that she's been in a stockcar, I think she's learned a lot. Having Mark is going to be that much more of a help and asset to her.
She can put together a day. It's just a matter of getting that right day put together.
Q. THE UNLIMITED, FOR YOU, IS THAT GETTING YOUR FEET WET AGAIN OR ARE YOU LOOKING AT SATURDAY NIGHT LIKE YOU HAVE A POTENTIAL TO WIN THE RACE?
TONY STEWART: I still feel like we have potential. We will still go out and try to win it. If it's something in the seat or something else that's going to be a problem, it will probably show up Saturday night. 75-lap race, which is 25 laps short of the 500.
The good thing is that gives us a week to get things sorted out. If there's something we need to change that we don't learn in practice with a problem, I mean, this is probably the best-case scenario of what you have as far as a schedule for the week, the process that we can go through to get ready for Sunday.
I think Saturday night we'll have a lot better answers than what we have right now obviously. But I really think because of all the running we'll get a chance to do, we have plenty of opportunity and make adjustments if we need to.
TONY STEWART: I knew pretty early once we got that scooter. Once I saw how much attention I got at Richmond, We can do something productive with this. We didn't know how long we were going to have to use it. The good thing is we've been a big part of the Darrell Gwynn's foundation, a believer of what he does. We knew right off the bat that once it got the attention it got at Richmond, when we were done with it, we were going to donate it to Darrell. Instead of just giving it away to anybody, hopefully this thing can raise some money. These wheelchairs he gives away are worth $22,000. If this can raise $50,000 or $75,000, that's two or three chairs that we can give to somebody who needs it. We can take something that I have $5,000 invested in and hopefully put it to really good use.
TONY STEWART: Always does. I mean, it's that way every year. You always have guys that are moving around. We got a lot of new rookies that you're going to have to try to remember what cars they're in, drivers that are switching organizations. There's a lot of movement this year.
That's a good thing about the spotters. You make the spotters have the memory, they'll tell you who you're around. Every year when we come down here for the 500 week, whether it's a qualifying race or practice, you're always like, Who is in that thing again? You might see a rookie stripe on a car that you're not used to seeing a rookie stripe on, saying, Who is this again?
That's the good thing about each practice session: by the time the 500 rolls around, you pretty much remember who is who by then.
TONY STEWART: See a rookie stripe on the 3 car, too. We haven't seen for a long time.
Q. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?
TONY STEWART: I think it's fine. Here is the thing. We don't own these numbers. These are numbers that we've picked that are available from NASCAR. The good thing is that the guy that owned that car, that made it so historic, is still the guy that owns that number.
When we're all long gone, there's going to be somebody else that's going to drive a 14 car, there's already somebody that's been in a 20 car than me.
We don't own those numbers, but I think it's going to be good for a lot of people to see it back. The ones that aren't excited about seeing it back are not excited for the wrong reasons.
So, you know, I realize it's more than just a number. It was a lifestyle, an iconic number. But that same guy that had that iconic number started in a No. 2 car.
It's just part of change and it's part of moving on. At the same time I think it's a good opportunity to honor the guy that did make that number so famous.