To say Tony Stewart has been successful at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in recent years during the month of July would be an understatement. He’s won the July 4 weekend NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the track four times in the last eight years. Prior to Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at the track, Stewart took time out to speak to the media. During the press conference, such topics as his Daytona success, restrictor plate racing and commercial shoots were discussed. Here’s a transcript:
TALK ABOUT COMING BACK TO DAYTONA; CERTAINLY A PLACE THAT HAS TO BE FOND IN YOUR MEMORY:
“Yeah, definitely any place you win 19 times at you kind of look forward to going back to. It’s cool, I didn’t realize until I think three weeks ago or something when we were here for our winner’s circle appearance that we have the opportunity to tie David Pearson this weekend. That’s a pretty cool stat to be brought into. Obviously if we get lucky enough to get another one that would be something to be really proud of. Definitely excited about having that opportunity. Excited our buddy Johnny Morris is going to be here this weekend with a bunch of people from Ducks Unlimited and that is a really big deal for us this weekend. Excited to have them on the car and excited to have a good weekend. Last night was pretty neat being here in town and actually having an evening to go enjoy the fourth (of July). It was fun to remember why we all get the chance to be here.”
DO YOU EAT SODA COOKIES? DID YOU DO THAT SPLIT YOURSELF OR WAS THAT A STUNT DOUBLE?
“Let’s make no mistakes about it if I got down there I would still be down there (laughs). No they did not ask me to do that, they had me get down on the ground for the camera shot, but they had green screens. They had some male gymnast do it. I don’t know who it was. I didn’t want to be there when he did it. It was actually a lot of fun shooting the spots because I’m sitting there and I never look at what the spots are supposed to be before we get there. So I get there and I’m starting to read the scripts and it’s saying Tony is getting on an exercise bike, he’s doing the splits and I’m like which Tony is doing this by the way? Is there another Tony? But it was fun. Mobil 1 is pretty creative with their spots and I can’t say that I have ever just sat down and grabbed a Coke and grabbed Oreos. I’ve ate Oreos and then chased them with a Coke, but I can’t say that I have done a lot of dunking. It’s actually pretty good. It might start a new trend now.”
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT COMING TO DAYTONA THREE WEEKS AGO AND WHAT YOU DID FOR THE MEDIA TAKING THEM ON RIDES AROUND THE TRACK:
“Yeah, the memory that keeps haunting my dreams is Holly Cain (writer for NASCAR.com) screaming at the top of her lungs in the car when we took her the ride around in the pace car. It was fun. It’s fun for us to be able to do that. The media that were here it’s actually cool to be able to do that because it’s not every day they get the opportunity to go ride around the track like that. It would be a lot more fun if we got to do it in a Cup car, but a pace car was a lot of fun. We had a good time.
“To be able to talk through what we are looking for while we are on the track and having media members be able to actually physically see what we are talking about and the challenges. It just adds that much more depth to what you guys are able to talk about when you are here for the race weekend. It was a lot of fun.”
OBVIOUSLY FOR YOU TEAM IT WOULD BE VERY GOOD IF DANICA (PATRICK) WON A RACE. IF PUSH COMES TO SHOVE IF YOU GOT IN POSITION AND YOU WERE IN POSITION TO HELP DANICA WIN THE RACE OR WIN THE RACE YOURSELF WOULD YOU PUSH HER OR TAKE HER TO THE WIN OR IS SHE ALL ON HER OWN AND YOU ARE GOING TO GO FOR THE WIN?
“I don’t know if you know, but I actually have another teammate that drives for Stewart-Haas Racing named Ryan Newman. It would be good for him to win a race too. Yeah, a win for any three of us is a splash for the team. I will be honest I’m going for the win. So, I’m still a race car driver first. You can call me selfish if you want, but that is how I got in this position. To be an owner and a driver is because I’m competitive and I want to win. I’m not going to let somebody else win unless I feel like I can’t.”
TALK ABOUT STARTING THE CHASE AT CHICAGO AND ALL THE THINGS THAT HAPPEN AROUND THAT RACE:
“It’s actually fun. The thing that probably I remembered most about last year is a bunch of the guys went out after it was over and for a lot of them because we have so many obligations up there the married drivers that have children didn’t have their kids up there and they were all excited because they all got to go out and do stuff. I remember when I started and a bunch of these guys didn’t have kids and its stuff we used to do anyway. It is it’s a lot of fun. It’s the calm before the storm and doing the media stuff before we actually get started. Chicago is a huge race from the stand point that it really can set the tone for the next nine weeks after that. It’s not critical to get a great start there. I mean if you don’t have a good start it doesn’t mean you can’t recover from it and win, but if you have a solid finish that first race of the Chase there it really gets that 10 week stretch kicked off in the right way. You can carry that momentum. It’s fun for me. I grew up four hours south of Chicago and didn’t realize how much fun downtown was until I actually got to go up there through NASCAR. It’s a beautiful place and NASCAR is gracious enough with all the obligations that they do have for us up there to give us some time to do some stuff on our own. It was neat to walk around and just see things up there.”
WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AT A MOVE YOU MADE TO WIN HERE LAST SUMMER PASS GREG (BIFFLE) AND MATT (KENSETH) HOW MUCH OF THAT IS TAKING ADVANTAGE OF AN OPPORTUNITY THAT IS THERE ON GUT INSTINCT AND HOW MUCH OF THAT IS BASED ON WHAT WORKED AND DIDN’T WORK IN PAST RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES?
“It’s very much exactly what you are saying. It’s a lot of trial and error. I lost the Daytona 500 here that I wish over and over I could have done different and maybe would have tried something. I may have gotten wrecked doing it, but I wish I would have at least tried. There are times that I have tried things that didn’t work and there are times when I wish I would have tried things that may have worked. A lot of it is instinct and trial and error. Anybody that sits there and says they know exactly what to do at what time is pretty much lying to you. Its guess work. A lot of it is just the right circumstances at the right time. You can do the right thing as a driver, but there is still 10 guys or 20 guys behind you that their scenario maybe different and may alter what your decision was. It’s very much I call it the Peyton Manning deal. You are constantly calling an audible in those last two or three laps. It may work it may not work. You can’t sit there and say okay this is the playbook this is what we do, this is where we want to be on that last lap. There are no guarantees. It’s just literally adjusting what you think you need to do by what you are seeing in the mirror and what you are seeing in front of you.”
DO YOU THINK EXPANSION HAS THAT HURT STEWART-HAAS RACING, OR IS THAT A REASON WHY MAYBE YOU GUYS THROUGH THE FIRST HALF OF THE SEASON HAVEN’T GOTTEN THE RESULTS THAT YOU WANTED?
“I don’t think so. I mean I think we have got enough depth there to cover the three teams. It’s just I think the combination of…we planned for all the expansion over the winter, but with the new car there were a lot of parts and a lot of things that we had to really wait late in the off season to get completed. I think for us we got ourselves behind with that. I think we have caught up since then, but I think just learning a new car and learning what it wants and what it likes and how to transfer that to the feel we are looking for. It’s something that Ryan’s (Newman) struggled with Danica’s (Patrick) struggled with and I’ve definitely struggled with. I think it’s been a combination of trying to figure out exactly what it’s wanting. I think we did get a slow start to the year because we were behind on getting things prepared. But I don’t think it was due to the expansion as much as it was just the cycle of going through to the new car. But it was the same for everybody just some teams did a better job of getting off on the right foot than we did.”
YOU SAID YOU NEVER LOOK AT SCRIPTS AHEAD OF TIME. MIGHT YOU DO THAT AFTER SODA COOKIES?
“You’ve got to remember, and you guys love this stuff. I’m not smart enough to remember the scripts if I look at it before so there is no point in me looking at it until we get there. We have done some pretty fun stuff in the last 15 years with partners. I think a long time ago sponsors figured out that drivers aren’t good actors. So the funnier they can make it the better off it is. This has been a set of spots that Mobil 1 has done that has been very successful because of the comedy in it. You get Jenson (Button) and I to both do all this and have it turn out the way it did I think they are pretty happy with it.”
THERE WAS A LOT OF CHATTER IN HERE YESTERDAY THAT TALLADEGA WAS A LOT DIFFERENT THAN DAYTONA. SOME DRIVERS EXPECT TOMORROW NIGHT’S RACE TO LOOK MORE LIKE TALLADEGA THAN THE DAYTONA 500. DO YOU HAVE ANY SENSE AFTER PRACTICE YESTERDAY WHAT TOMORROW NIGHT MIGHT LOOK LIKE? MIGHT THERE BE A MOVE LIKE YOU MADE TO WIN THIS RACE A YEAR AGO?
“Sure, it might. The hard thing is literally I don’t know that you can predict what is going to happen, especially at the end of the race. As far as what the race is going to look like for the first 300 miles or 350 miles I don’t know what that is going to be like either. Everybody in practice is not trying to figure out what to do late in the race, they are trying to figure out how their car will suck up to the car in front of them and what they can do to pass guys. What the sense of urgency for these guys during the course of the race is going to be different than what it was in practice. It’s hard to get a feel for it. At least from my mind like I say I’m fairly simple so I’m not sure I’ve realized it as much as some of these other guys may have. I don’t know that we can predict what the race is going to be like. At the end of the race I think guys were trying yesterday to figure out what they could do to get a run on guys. It’s always hard to predict especially if you get a caution late in the race. It can definitely jumble it up quite a bit.”
19 DAYS UNTIL THE TRUCK RACE AT ELDORA. DO YOU GET MORE INVOLVED IN THE PREPARATIONS FOR THAT NOW THAT WE ARE JUST A FEW WEEKS OUT? AND YOU ARE NOT DRIVING THAT RACE, CORRECT?
“I am not driving in that race. Honestly, Roger Slack has done a great job and all of our staff at Eldora has done a great job getting things ready. I will be there after; I’ve got sprint car races that weekend. I’m going straight I think Sunday night is my last race that weekend and I will be there Monday on. It’s more out of curiosity for me. I will be available for whatever they need me to do that I can do. If I had to be a part of it and had to actually be there hands on to do it I wouldn’t have the confidence to do it. I’m more than confident in Roger and our staff up there that they’ve got everything squared away and ready to go and prepared. It’s not something that somebody like me coming in a week before is going to get it ready. It’s been months and months and months of work to get ready for this event. I’m very confident in everything that they have done up to this point.”
LEVI JONES RETIRED LAST WEEK. DID THAT SURPRISE YOU?
“A little bit. Levi has won five championships for us in the sprint car series there and he’s won a Silver Crown championship. He talked last year about cutting back on his schedule a little bit. His family has expanded obviously. His family has got a very successful business in St. Louis and he told me last year that is why he didn’t run our Sprint Car full time this year because he wanted to cut his schedule back and spend more time with his family. It wasn’t a total shock by any means. I thought there were other things that he wanted to do in Sprint Car racing.
“I know he wanted to run a wing car some and he had started to do that a little bit. I was a little bit surprised. I think it’s good that if that is the decision he wants to make. He’s in a financial situation now where he can go work with his family’s business and retire from racing on his own terms. I stand behind him 100 percent on it. I’m sad that he’s not going to be running, but at the same time I understand why too.”
DID HE HAVE MORE RACES PLANNED FOR YOU THIS YEAR?
“Yeah, he was driving our Silver Crown car. We definitely had races on our plate that he was going to run for the rest of the year. I think when a driver makes that decision as an owner and as a fellow driver you understand. Race drivers don’t make those decisions very easily. They don’t make them overnight. For him I know it was something that he had thought about a long time and like I said he had started talking about it a year ago. It wasn’t a surprise, but at the same time when they finally make that decision you stand behind them 100 percent. You don’t make them question why they are doing it. You don’t ask them why. They have thought it through already.”
WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON MATT KENSETH’S SUCCESS DRIVING FOR GIBBS THIS YEAR?
IS KENSETH GOING TO BE YOUR TOUGHEST CHALLENGE IN SATURDAY NIGHT’S RACE?
“Yeah, definitely. Matt is one we will definitely see in the front at some point tomorrow. They ran really good at Daytona and they ran really good at Talladega. There is no reason to think that they won’t do the same thing. Matt is somebody who, in the last couple of years, has taken his restrictor plate program as a driver to another level, and gotten even better than he already was.
“And now he’s in cars and an organization that seem to be a good fit for him. He’s done an awesome job this year in that car. I don’t think anybody doubted whether he was going to have success over there. It was just a matter of how much and how quick. And it was right out of the box. When they came down here they ran well. And he’s been on a winning streak ever-since. He’s definitely done a great job. He’s pushing his teammates over there and that’s a good scenario to be in.”
IF THE NO. 3 CAR RETURNS TO CUP RACING NEXT YEAR, HOW DOES THAT COMPARE TO WHEN YOU BROUGHT THE NO.14 BACK INTO COMPETITION FROM A.J. FOYT? WHAT SORT OF RESPONSIBILITY DOES THAT CARRY? DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AS NO. 14 OR WILL NO. 14 ALWAYS GOING TO FOREVER BE A.J.?
“In my scenario, I look at is as it’s always going to be A.J. In my career, I’ve run a lot of different numbers, whether it was No. 20 in the IRL and Cup, and I had No. 20 in the Sprint Cars, but I’ve always had different numbers in my career. And A.J. had different numbers, too. But A.J. made the No. 14 famous just like Dale (Earnhardt) Sr. made the No. 3 famous.
“I’m not sure there’s really a sense of responsibility. Since Austin (Dillon) has been racing, he’s been running the No. 3, whether it’s been in the truck or in Nationwide. So it’s a part of his legacy now, too. So, even thought he’ll start next year in the Cup series in the car that was Dale Senior’s number, it’s been his number as well and been in his family forever. That’s how it became Dale’s number. Yeah, I think it’s generations. I think newer fans that have been following the sport the last three or four years will associate that No. 3 with Austin more so than Dale. Fans that have been around this sport a long time, if you’ve been around here more than 15 or 20 years, when you think of the No. 3 in the Cup Series you think of Dale Senior. And if you’ve followed IndyCar racing, you’re thinking the same thing about A.J. Foyt, no matter who runs the number afterwards. For me it’s definitely going to be a huge part of my career the rest of my time. My Sprint Car is No. 14, and when we run a Modified or a Late Model, we run the No. 14. So, that’s my number now, too.”
WHAT THINGS DO YOU THINK YOU WILL TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION ONE DAY WHEN YOU DECIDE WHETHER TO KEEP DRIVING OR NOT?
“I don’t know because I’m not even close to that. I really don’t know. It’s not even on my radar. I don’t see myself retiring from racing for a long, long time. So, I think a lot of it, for drivers that have families, that’s a huge part of it. Since I don’t have a wife and children and I don’t have that extra burden or responsibility, so to speak that I need to consider. I have the ability to lead a more selfish lifestyle from a driver’s standpoint and I don’t have to worry about somebody at the end of the day. But I’m sure that plays a huge part I would assume, and is probably a bigger factor than most people would like to admit.”
WHEN YOU LOOK AT BRAD KESELOWSKI, CAN YOU DRAW SOME PARALLELS BETWEEN YOUR SITUATION A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO AS OBVIOUSLY A VERY TALENTED DRIVER, STRUGGLING A BIT WHO CAN GET ON A ROLL AND MAKE THINGS HAPPEN AT THE END OF THE SEASON?
“Yeah. It’s a new year. It’s different I think from most years. It’s a totally different package this year. They were really strong last year with figuring out how to get the cars skewed and get the side force in the cars and this year’s package takes all that away; not some of it, but all of it away. So, it’s tryng to figure out a whole new package. It just shows how tough this sport is form the technology side. You can have the same people in place, but technology plays such a huge role in year to year. But when you take a season when you throw a whole new body style in it and a whole new rules package, it really can take a lot longer for some teams to adapt to it than others to find that sweet spot. We know they are definitely capable. When they hit on something and find what they did last year and find something that’s working for them, they definitely can put together the consistency do what they did just like last year. It’s just a matter of getting themselves to that point.”
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR