TONY STEWART, NO. 14 MOBIL 1/BASS PRO SHOPS CHEVROLET SS, WAS THE GUEST OF THIS WEEK’S NASCAR TELECONFERENCE.
BELOW IS THE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We’re joined today by Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet for Stewart‑Haas Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and owner of Eldora Speedway. Tony, thank you for joining us.
TONY STEWART: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: You have a busy week ahead starting with Wednesday’s Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora. A few interesting notes, fans are coming from 45 different states and as far as Canada, Australia, Great Britain and Sweden to attend the second annual Mudsummer Classic. Talk about the popularity of the event and what it’s like for you to see it all coming together and watching from the owner’s seat?
TONY STEWART: It’s about as close to being a proud father as I can imagine being. It’s just a lot of work, and it’s not been a lot of work from my standpoint. It’s been a lot of work for Roger Slack and Larry Boos and Chad Schmitmeyer, and everybody at Eldora. Anybody that thinks that putting on a single NASCAR event is easy, let’s just open the gates. People think you start working I think a week ahead of time to get ready for stuff like this, and it’s been a very large, eye‑opening experience for me to see what the Eddie Gossages and people in Bruton Smith’s group, and everybody at ISC and SMI and everything has to do to put on an event each week. It takes months and months of work, and so many details.
It’s really cool. This is the fun part of it now is getting down to the last couple of days and the biggest thing I worry about is this weather right now more than anything.
Dirt tracks don’t dry out as fast as pavement tracks do, but the rest of it is something that after going through it last year, I’m really excited and ticket sales are great. We’ve got less than a thousand reserve seats left. Still do have and will have walk up ticket sales for lawn seating, so a lot of good seats available, and looking forward to a great event.
THE MODERATOR: Looking ahead to this weekend, you have two wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s your home track and a place you’re always really strong. With that said, this weekend lines up as a good opportunity to get your first win of 2014 and lock up a spot in the Chase. Talk about your thoughts going into this weekend.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I hope you’re right. I hope it would be the perfect place ‑‑ if you can’t win the Daytona 500, this is the perfect second to get your first win for the year. So we were one of the teams that did the Goodyear test a couple weeks ago, and we felt like our car was pretty quick. So I was pretty excited about that. It’s just a matter of going back and trying to keep that speed in the car.
Q. Congratulations on your big return to sprint car racing this past weekend. How good did it feel?
TONY STEWART: It felt great. I mean, it wasn’t a World of Outlaw race or a big paying race by any means, but there were some good cars there that we had to race to win, and we got a little bit of luck. Actually we were probably going to run second, but a guy late in the race got pushed off the track by a lap car, so we got a little bit of luck there. But it just felt good to get in one, period, and just run again.
This weekend the Outlaw series was in Pennsylvania, so that’s probably the toughest place in the country to try to go back. It’s probably the toughest race to go to, period. Pennsylvania’s tough weekly shows, let alone with the World of Outlaw there, so I didn’t feel like that was probably the best place to try to go back for the first time. But it was neat to get back in the car finally in a scenario that was low‑pressure, and just got to kind of go in and race for a couple nights and really enjoyed it. It felt really good.
Q. Just a quick follow‑up, do you plan to do much more of it this year?
TONY STEWART: I’ve got some more on my schedule. Not as many as I was originally wanting to run, but I think I’ve kind of worked with Zippy and sat down with our management and just trying to pick some places that we knew might not be quite as high risk as others because of speed and everything. So we tried to pick some tracks that we thought might be a little slower. And there are some races on there that I really have my heart set on running, but I’ve tried to be smart about where we’re going. As I said before, we’ve done a lot of things safety‑wise in the cars that I feel very comfortable with too. I’m just trying to be smart with the amount of races I’m going to run the rest of the year.
Q. What safety things have you changed in the sprint car that you have now compared to the one you ran last August?
TONY STEWART: It’s the same car, but basically it’s got a clamp around the center of the torque tube, which is the part that actually hit me in the leg. There are two tethers that go 90 degree off the side of the frame rails and those two tethers will keep the torque tube from going left and right. There are two more tethers that go back at a 45‑degree angle that go back to the center section of the rear end, and it will keep it from pulling the torque tube from one side or the other. It’s a pretty good system. It’s not something that’s heavy to install in the car. Sprint car guys are very, very weight conscious because you have 1200‑pound cars, so you can imagine the percentage per pound that you’re putting back in the car, versus a Cup car that’s three times the weight.
This is a system that the tethers are rated for 14,000 pounds of force each. So it should be hopefully adequate to take care of a scenario, but for sure it’s much, much better than anything we’ve seen in the past with that.
Q. Kind of switching types of cars, I was curious if what you went through last year, has that changed at all your attitude about being 19th in points and without a win?
TONY STEWART: It’s a new year. It’s a new car, a new rules package. I felt good in the car. There is nothing that’s not felt good from day one. Even when we were at Daytona we felt comfortable in the race car, and there wasn’t anything that was a distraction. So mindset‑wise, there is nothing that is different other than we just need to ‑‑ as much as the emphasis is on wins and not points racing, we’re kind of in a position where we’re close to being in that part of it as well where we could get in on points, but a win would solve that. It’s kind of a double‑edged sword right now. Do you get yourself in a position where you go for the win and risk if you run second losing that opportunity? Or do you sit there and say, well, I need to have a solid point day because we have the opportunity on the other side of the coin.
We still have two shots at getting in the Chase, obviously, one being a win and the other being getting in there because of the point position.
Q. If you could just kind of talk about, the way the season has gone, getting this win this season, granted not in the same kind of car, but just kind of the good juju that gives you, headed into if you could talk about this has to be such a huge week for you between Eldora, and we know how you love Indianapolis?
TONY STEWART: Well, everybody loves good juju, Holly, so, yeah. It was honestly a good way ‑‑ it was more than just a good way to start the week. It was a confidence boost for me. Maybe kind of answering what Bob was asking a second ago as well. But dealing with when you haven’t won, and you haven’t been necessarily a contender to be in the top two or three each week and having those opportunities to win races this year, you start questioning what is it in the equation that you’re missing. It’s easy as a driver. We’re all finicky when it comes to running bad and you sit there and start questioning if you’re doing something wrong or if you’re not adapting to the car, like I said, with the new rules package and everything, you start questioning what is it. Is it something that you’re doing or not doing as a driver? To be able to go out and win on Friday night and ran third on Saturday night, and to have two good runs like that in a car that I haven’t been in for almost a full year now, that was a huge confidence boost and made me feel like, hey, maybe we’ll just meet and find something else.
So it’s nice to hopefully eliminate a variable from that side of it, and feel like it’s not necessarily what you’re doing behind the wheel or whether I’m holding us back.
So it just shows us that we’ve got to keep working and tweaking and Chad and I keep learning each other better and better each week. I really like Chad Johnston. I think the world of him. I think he’s probably been the best match personality‑wise of any of the crew chiefs I’ve had since Zippy.
So I’ve had four really good crew chiefs now, but I think Chad and I really are kind of on the same page, so I’m excited about that side of it. We’ve just got to find that one piece of the puzzle that gets us the rest of the way there. It is a long week also. As we speak I’m actually driving through downtown Rushville on my way to Eldora right now. So it’s kind of cool to be back in my stomping grounds and getting ready for a busy week at Eldora. It’s almost like two weeks in one for me. Eldora’s enough to cause you enough stress to last you for the rest of the year, and then going to the Brickyard, that’s a big race for me as well. It’s a lot in one week, but it’s like I mentioned earlier, you have people like Roger Slack and Larry Boos, Chad Schmitmeyer at Eldora and Mike Arning from the PR side, and all these guys that are in place doing the heavy lifting, as Mike would say, they’re getting the things done. My job is to show up and worry and get in their way.
So I’m a couple hours from there now, and I’ll get there and be a pain in their butt when I get there. I’ll act normal, I’m sure.
Q. My first question is about sprint car racing. Can you explain what it is about it that you love? Does part of you ever wish that you could only do that form of racing?
TONY STEWART: No, I like doing what I’m doing. I get the best of both worlds. I get to race with the best stock car drivers in the world every week, and I getting to and run dirt tracks in either the off nights or sometimes during a Cup weekend I get to go sneak off for anything.
But it’s two totally different forms of racing. I never was a driver brought up running one type of car and one type of surface. I always ran dirt and pavement. I like that. I like the challenge. I like the dirt tracks because they change all the time. Pavement tracks, when I got in the Cup series, the pavement racing I had done before that, tracks really didn’t change a lot. In the Cup series, the groove moves around and it gets wider and you might run the bottom for a little while and the top, and that’s a lot like dirt racing too. I like that challenge of trying to figure out as a driver what to do to make yourself better.
I just like it. I’ve always liked dirt racing. I’ve always liked racing Sprint cars, and it’s just what I enjoy doing. Everybody has hobbies. Everybody has stuff they like to do when they have downtime, and that’s just what it is for me. That’s what I like to do when I have extra time.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing it. I feel like there are a lot of other things I could be doing that are a lot more dangerous and a lot bigger waste of time with my time off do than doing that.
Q. Do you still view Indianapolis the same way you did five, ten, 20 years ago? How do you like your chances?
TONY STEWART: I do look at it as the same. When you grow up 45 minutes from Indy there is nothing ‑‑ that is sacred ground to me. It always has been, always will be. I don’t care how many times you win there, it’s never enough. It’s nice to have won two races already there. That gives you confidence of knowing what you have to do to win. It’s just a matter of doing it.
I think when we did the Goodyear test a couple weeks ago, we actually were really good compared to the guys that tested around us. Who knows when we get back here this weekend what we’re going to have, but we had a really good car before we blew the tire and crashed it, so hopefully this new car that we’re bringing that replaced the one we crashed will be as good as the last one.
Q. Wanted to ask you about Norm Benning. You bought his truck from last year’s race, and I wanted to find out what made you want to buy Norm’s truck and how does that rank in your collection?
TONY STEWART: It was important to me just because of the history of the event. I don’t know that everybody remembers who won the race as much as everybody remembers Norm Benning’s last couple laps just to get in the race in the last‑chance race. So I thought that just kind of summed up what the inaugural event is all about and how that was a defining moment of what bringing the NASCAR trucks back to Eldora and bringing them back to dirt, what it was really about. I thought being able to purchase Norm’s truck and help him out, help him get a newer truck and for us to have that bit of history, I thought that was pretty important.
I think for our racetrack that was really huge. We’ve been able to purchase a couple other cars that have won at Eldora, and this one ranks very high. I just think that one moment was really what summed up the entire event and what it was really all about and what it meant to everybody.
Q. As far as coming from your open‑wheel background, how did you initially perceive the fact that cars were going to race at the Brickyard?
TONY STEWART: Honestly, I was one of them that absolutely thought it was a crime initially. I’m a purist. I’m old school. It’s always been sacred ground to me. I remember when they did the tire test there and everybody ‑‑ there was so much excitement after that, and that really didn’t even get me to switch sides. I was actually in Illinois the day that the Brickyard ran, and when I got back and saw the replay of the race it was very evident that this was something that wasn’t breaking religion so to speak or sacrilegious for it to be there. It really showed why NASCAR belonged there.
But I was one of them that didn’t like it at first until I actually got back and saw the replay of the race and saw how much excitement it brought. It was the month of May historically, and all of a sudden it was the month of May and August now, and you had the same historic racetrack and now you had two events instead of one.
Q. Did winning change your mind or just the first time you drove a stock car there, was winning more the mind change for you than actually racing there yourself?
TONY STEWART: No, my mind changed after I saw the first one. I was racing the same day, but when I got back that day and watched the replay, it changed my mind then. There were other people that I knew that were dead against it that went just to see what it was going to be like, and they came back and felt the same way. Their opinions had changed other than ‑‑ like I say, when you’re used to seeing one thing around there, it would be like taking IndyCars to Daytona. It’s like the first time they’d go down there it just wouldn’t seem right, wouldn’t feel right, wouldn’t look right. But if it was a good event down there, they’d get used to it.
But it’s just one of those things that when you’re growing up around open‑wheel cars and around stock cars a lot, the thought of it wasn’t the best at first, but like I said, it really just seeing the way everybody around Indianapolis felt about it, especially the racing community, there are so many race teams around there. The racers are the ones that really didn’t like it. They were more of the purists. But I think everybody changed their mind and their opinion after they saw that first one.
Q. We’re heading to Eldora our first time. We’re very much excited. Question one, how do we open ourselves up to the experience, our first time there, what do we look for, what do we do, how do we appreciate it? And secondly, we’re going to be camping out there, so is there a snack or beverage that will endure us to our neighbors more than any other?
TONY STEWART: I don’t know. I’m actually, my plan tomorrow night is to do the same thing that you’re asking about. I want to go around the campgrounds and I want to see what the atmosphere is like. Last year it was a draining experience for me last year. Every night when we were done all I wanted to do was go to sleep. But this year after you get that first event under your belt, it’s like the final scene of the movie Field of Dreams. You’re out in the middle of a corn field and all of a sudden there is a Speedway, and you’ll see campers before you’ll ever see the racetrack.
So I think the atmosphere there is going to be different than what you see at a normal NASCAR race. I guess just go with an open mind. It’s hard to describe. I’ve been at Eldora so much but different divisions with Sprint cars and winged Sprint cars and late models, and modifieds, the show is different. Even though it’s the same racetrack, it’s always different. It’s not going to be what you expect to see out on a Truck Series event. It’s kind of like taking Cup cars to a road course. The same series, the same drivers, the same vehicles, but it’s just a totally different racetrack. So I think that’s what makes it so much fun for everybody is that it’s outside the box and outside the norm.
Q. I wanted to ask you something different. Obviously, it shouldn’t be easy to get into the Cup series, but when you look at the current roster of drivers, while there are a few guys over 40, it’s not like you guys are going to be leaving anytime soon, and we’re certainly seeing a lot of young talent start to rise up in the Nationwide and Truck Series and even the lower series. What kind of challenge is that going to be? What kind of log jam is that going to create in terms of, especially for those younger drivers, and is it a case that there are going to be some really talented drivers that may not get their opportunity in Cup because there is no room for them?
TONY STEWART: It’s always been that way though, Dustin, in all reality. But I think probably about 12 to 14 years ago we started seeing a push. I’m not going to pick on any one particular car owner, but I am going to point out guys that I saw that had programs. Roush was probably one of the first ones that I saw that had a feeder program. Childress did it, Gibbs did, Hendrick did also. But what it did is they took drivers from series that they were running well in and they ran well in trucks or Nationwide and then there was nowhere to put them.
And sure you have guys ‑‑ and a perfect example of drivers that went through that problem, Josh Wise is probably one of the best examples that I always use. Josh had won a National Championship in USAC, was competitive in all three series, and got an opportunity with Michael Waltrip Racing and got signed. I remember the day he called me and said what should I do?
Car owners are signing these kids for $25,000 to $50,000 which is more money than those kids would see if they had a great season. That was two‑thirds to three‑quarters of what they made if they had a great season, and sure, they’re getting an opportunity. But they were having to sign their life away to do it, and then they get stuck.
Now you see where Josh is. Josh is a lot better race car driver than the car that he’s driving each week. He’s deserving of a better opportunity, but there was nowhere for him to go. So when he got released of his contract because they didn’t have anywhere to put him, he had to scramble and luckily he was able to stay in the Cup series, but Josh’s talent is way higher than the equipment that he’s in, and there are a lot of drivers that have gone through that.
I’m not going to say it poses a problem, because it’s really not a problem. It’s part of what ‑‑ it’s always been that way. It’s been that way in Formula 1 Racing. It’s been that way in IndyCar, NASCAR, Sprint cars, everything. There is always more talent than there is cars to put them in, but I think that’s what is kind of weird about this era of NASCAR of trying to promote 16 to 18‑year‑old drivers that don’t have any background, don’t have any following.
Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson and the Dillons are probably the only exceptions to it that I feel like were justified. The rest of it I feel like it’s been kids that have been kind of pushed through and haven’t really earned their right to be where they’re at. There are a lot of 16 and 18‑year‑olds that I don’t feel deserve their truck rides and their Nationwide rides. They haven’t paid their dues. They haven’t had to do anything the hard way. There are other drivers that I know of out there that aren’t in any form of NASCAR right now that have better credentials and are more deserving of the opportunities than the guys that have them now.
I think there is a flaw in the system already. I don’t understand what the big push is in promoting this generation next when we don’t even promote the generation now that we’ve got.
Q. Would you say maybe back in 2011 lot of people felt your turn around started when you went to Canada in the World of Outlaws race. What did that win mean to you in that series during that time?
TONY STEWART: I just think it was a confidence builder. I know you understand this because you follow short track racing as much as I do. People don’t realize, and I read comments that people had put on the internet after we won, and it’s the same old, same old debate about drivers that go down or people say it’s going down to a lower division. It isn’t going down to a lower division. Just because it’s not NASCAR or it’s not IndyCar or it’s not Formula 1, it’s not going down.
I can promise you, if you go race a dirt modified or a super late model or the winged sprint car with the World of Outlaws, it’s not going down at all. It’s tougher competition in that series than it is in the Truck Series or the Nationwide Series. You’ve got better drivers, better equipment across the board. It’s competitive every week.
For me, it was the fact of being able to beat guys at that level. That was a big plus for me, and a big confidence boost. Anytime you can give confidence to a driver, I think it’s a benefit for sure.
Q. Didn’t you beat Sammy Swindell to win that race?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, Sammy and Jason Meyers.
Q. I was wondering, as a purist and an old‑school guy, what do you think of the new technology they have in terms of bringing racing to the fans that are watching either on TV or the internet? I know you had a chance last year to watch racing, is there anything that you have that is a favorite of yours? They’ve got all these cameras all over the cars and in the pits and everywhere else now, are you happy that they’re doing this? Is this part of the future of racing?
TONY STEWART: I definitely think it is. I know for me it was the two biggest things that I’ve used are NASCAR.com when I was laid up last year. I would get on for every practice, qualifying, the race, it was easy. You didn’t have to know very much. I mean, I’m not very technology savvy by any means, but it was easy to use. It was easy to follow. I got the same information off of watching the screens on NASCAR.com that I got in the pit box with our official time and scoring in the pits.
This year while I’ve been back in the car for the knockout qualifying sessions, it’s as simple as we use a smart fan view that the fans can rent at the racetrack. And after I come in after the first run and I keep track of where I’m at, whether I’m getting ready to get bumped down or I’m in a comfortable spot.
Again, it’s user friendly. So just because it’s technology involved, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Sprint does a great job of that. I think NASCAR.com does a great job of that. It’s really easy to follow the sport. I honestly can’t see any reason or inclination that they’re going to go backwards from that. I think it would be an injustice. It’s cool for the fans to have all that information and knowledge about what’s going on.
Q. The other thing is last year I remember when you were back here in Columbus you had said things weren’t going really well. You said you knew you guys were going to turn it around and you did. I wonder, does this year have any of that same feel as last year or obviously more physical problems and things, is it a lot different?
TONY STEWART: I think it’s a different feel this year just from the standpoint that our teammate, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch got off to strong starts getting wins early. I feel like as an organization we’ve grown probably kind of closed that gap between the first car and fourth car of the group each week, where at the beginning of the year all four cars were kind of all over the board. So I feel like we’re closing the gap there.
The hard part is the cars are so sensitive now that it’s kind of hard to tell. It’s hard to read. If you find something that works, it can be big and be big for weeks on end, but it’s just finding that. The competition is so close that you’re not looking for big chunks of speed, you’re looking for little things you can do week in and week out, and that is the thing that’s hard to predict and hard to get a feel on when is that going to happen and are you going to find that? So it’s literally still a week‑to‑week project of trying to learn the new set‑ups, the new rules package, and what you have to do to be competitive with it.
Q. Last year seemed like Eldora went about as well as it possibly could and I know there were a couple of tweaks. But after the postmortem did anything pop up remotely major like track prep or anything that you’re going to do differently this year?
TONY STEWART: In track prep we’re trying to do the same thing as last year. The challenge, and I read what some of the Motorsports writers who are dirt fans, what they wrote and they were complaining about the track being really hard and black slick and not a sticky racetrack like they would have liked to have seen. The problem is we can’t prep it that way.
We have the ability to do it, but the problem and challenge is with windshields in the trucks, you can’t have it sticky and muddy. If it’s throwing mud up on there, the drivers are eventually going to get to where they can’t see, because they don’t have the ability like all the other dirt series that run that have open windshields in the front where the driver can pull tear off. We don’t have that ability with Truck Series. We’re kind of stuck prepping it really hard, slick like that.
The good thing that they were able to do is the race was kind of just ‑‑ I’m not going to say it was one lane, but it was pretty tricky around the wall on the outside, and that is kind of the history of Eldora to be right up on the fence like that. The thing that Roger and Chad worked on this spring was they took about 12 to 14 inches of material, about the last eight foot by the wall kind of took some of that banking out of it and blended it into the middle of the racetrack to try to make it to where it hopefully will have a second or maybe even a third groove this year.
So unlike a pavement track that you can’t make any changes to it, but a dirt track like that, we have that opportunity to try to tune the racetrack and make it better and more competitive. So we did do that, and that was something that right after the event, after getting the first one done, we were able to look at that and say maybe we can tweak the racetrack and make a difference. So we’ll see if those changes work.
Q. The sprint ar follow‑up, with all the 360 shows around the country, I’m just wondering why you ended up at Tri City, and are you going to stick with 360s for a while or do you have some 410 races you want to do before the year’s out?
TONY STEWART: My next race is a 410 race, but there wasn’t really any rhyme or reason. It didn’t matter if it was a 360 race or a 410. The biggest thing was I didn’t feel comfortable trying my first time out to a World of Outlaw race, especially a World of Outlaw race in Pennsylvania. That’s almost suicidal to try to run with those guys your first race back when they’ve already run 30, 40‑plus races already this year.
So we were just trying to find something we were going to be able to run two nights in a row, and it just happened to be somewhere that was fairly close to home. It was I think a 7‑hour drive to get up there, but it was close. It was with a group we ran with before in the race series and we felt comfortable racing with those guys.
Q. Obviously a big week for you and fresh off of your sprint car win. I’m just curious what was the first thing that went through your mind when you crossed the finish line to win last weekend, and were you surprised to see how easily you adjusted back to sprint cars?
TONY STEWART: To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even know I had won the race. Reason being, the restart that went to the end of the race, I was actually third, and I was right behind the guy in second, and I never saw the leader go off the racetrack. I never saw the lap car push him off. So when I got into second I didn’t realize that was the pass for the lead and the win, so I was surprised.
I thought we were in second and that would definitely have been a solid run, and I would have been happy with that, but it was kind of weird. I came around to take the white flag, and the flagman dropped the white when I got there, and I thought that was odd. I thought maybe he just missed the leader. When I came around and take the checkered, he was still waving the white flag and pulled that back and dropped the checkered on us, and I thought surely we didn’t just win the race, and I saw it on the scoreboard after the race was over.
But it was a great feeling. It wasn’t so much the win as it was a great feeling to run the whole night. We tried our best to try to go in unannounced, and it didn’t take long for Speed Sport and everybody else to put it on social media that we were there. So they ended up having a TV crew that showed up and this and that, and that kind of took a little bit of the fun out of it, because we just wanted to relax and have fun. But we still found it fun that we got to do that, the track got good publicity out of it both nights, so it helped them, and we had fun doing it.
Q. During Speedweeks I think you said your leg was about 65% healed and you were still dealing with some pain. Where are you from the physical standpoint? Are you still dealing with some limitations or pain issues?
TONY STEWART: I still deal with pain every day, but that’s something that’s not even going to probably go away by the end of the year. The reality of it is there might be a point where it will never totally go away, but it doesn’t keep me from doing what I love to do.
Like I said, I don’t feel pain in the race car. I haven’t from Daytona on through even this past weekend. So I know that’s probably around 3% of my week that I spend in the race car, but as long as that 3% is comfortable and I can enjoy doing what I’m doing, I can deal with the pain the other 97% of the week.
Q. So like the 97%, is that just the everyday stuff of just kind of getting up and getting everything going type of thing. Just doing normal activities and still feel that little bit of a pinch?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, anybody that’s had broken bones, and Dustin can probably chime in and tell you as much as anybody, your body will tell you when it’s had enough and when it needs a break and when it needs a rest. It’s that way when you’re healthy too. If you’ve been on your feet all day, your body will tell you when it’s tired. Unfortunately, when you’ve had the amount of injuries like we’ve had, your body will still do the same thing. It will still tell you when you’re doing something it doesn’t like. It will tell you when it’s had enough.
So we try to do everything we can to be as comfortable as we can during the day. But like I said, the scenario could have been so much worse that I don’t feel bad about it. The pain that I have is just part of it. I know the scenario could have been a lot worse and the result could have been a lot worse, so I’m pretty comfortable dealing with the pain each day the way it is.
Q. Being one of the few that’s attempted the double, what did you think of Kurt Busch finishing sixth in his first Indy 500?
TONY STEWART: I was probably as excited as he was. I think he absolutely did everything right from the time that he took his rookie test to when they dropped the checkered flag. I don’t think you could have asked for it to have gone any better than what it did. I thought he did a spot‑on job.
It’s so hard to understand what ‑‑ even when you’re in the practice days there at the Speedway, it’s so hard to understand how the track is going to change during the race and how being out there with 33 cars, how that’s going to change the way the air moves around, the way the cars handle. I thought he did an awesome job.
Even the day that he had his crash, I mean, that is part of the learning process, unfortunately, and it’s part of learning about what aerodynamic cars do. It was not what you want to do. You don’t want to have a wreck like that, but at the same time, it made him understand what the consequences are to get the car a certain way. I just thought he did an awesome job. I don’t know that there is anybody else out there that can go and adapt to it the way he did that easily. There just aren’t that many people that can do that.
Q. Follow‑up question, how would you say that your open‑wheel training and your sprint car training have combined to make you a better Sprint Cup driver?
TONY STEWART: Well, I think it teaches you to adapt. Especially the last couple years in the Sprint Cup Series, the cars have changed, the rules packages have changed, the tires are constantly evolving, and I think having that background, having the ability to run dirt and pavement and run a different variety, it teaches you not to get stuck with a particular field of the race car.
I think that’s always been something that’s been an advantage for me is being able to constantly adapt to what’s going on, constantly adapt to changes. So hopefully that will keep working that way.
Q. What point in your stellar career did you envision being a dirt track owner? Did you think along the way that you’d have the success that you’re having with Eldora, with you and your organization with Eldora?
TONY STEWART: Honestly, it was never really on my radar. Owning the racetracks or the race teams was never part of the master plan. It was never on the radar. They were all just circumstances. Pretty much everything that I’ve done in my career has been an opportunity that’s come up at the right time. I got a call from Earl Baltes one day, and he said, “I need you to come see me. I’ve got something I want to talk to you about.”
It’s not driving 20 minutes across town to come see him. I’ve been driving the whole I’m I’ve been on the phone with you guys and I’m still probably an hour, hour and a half away from Eldora right now. So it’s a three‑hour drive to get there from where I was, so I knew it was something pretty substantial.
But the success of Eldora isn’t at all due to what I’ve done with it, it’s due to what Earl and Bernice Baltes had done for the first 50 years of the racetrack.
He was always a promoter that was able to take ‑‑ he was willing to take big risks and big gambles and promote big events. He didn’t promote races; he promoted big events. Basically, all we’ve had to do was follow that blueprint and that vision that Earl has always had, and that is something that’s been important to us from day one. We’ve tried to run the racetrack the way he would want to run it and he would want us to run it.
There are still times we have ideas and we still ask Earl about it and what he thinks about it. He’s still as big a part of Eldora as anybody. It’s one of those places that’s always been successful because of the way he ran it. I think a lot of promoters across the country, if they’d had the opportunity to be around him very much would realize that blueprint for success.
Q. Was that part of your strategy maybe to be able to give back to some of the fellow racers so they’d have a place to go like that?
TONY STEWART: Well, that place was always going to be there. They were always going to have that opportunity at the racetrack, but I don’t think it was really part of our plan or vision or anything. It was just an opportunity to carry on a tradition of a great speedway that had a great foundation, a great history and a great tradition there. I thought that was something that we could continue.
Q. I want to go back to the changes to the torque bar area of your sprint car. Did the ideas for those changes that come from trial and error on your sprint car team’s part or was that something that they took from another style of racing or series that they thought they were doing that would apply to your car?
TONY STEWART: It wasn’t anything that was currently implemented in Sprint car racing. It was more of a scenario of what had been implemented in NASCAR and IndyCar Racing with the tethers. We’d seen the success of what NASCAR was able to do with implementing with the hoods and the deck lids and the front spindles of the race cars and same thing happened in the IRL with suspension pieces, so it made it a pretty easy focal point.
Jimmy Carr, who was my crew chief the week that I got hurt, was already working on stuff when he got back to Indianapolis or the race at Watkins Glen happened he was already working on it. And Chris Paulsen from C&R that do the radiators and top off valves is a big open‑wheel fan, and Chris is the one that took that and ran with it and helped develop it.
So it was racers that care about racers that developed it and seemed one with it. This year the system that we’re running wasn’t necessarily implemented through the World of Outlaws. But they made it mandatory, the tethers being installed on the front axles of the cars and basically kind of took that a step further and said, all right, the World of Outlaws and the All‑Stars, and the Knoxville Speedway made that mandatory now, let’s take it a step further, and help make the drive line a little better and deal with that, and time to (Indiscernible) tethers on as well.
So I think it was an interesting idea that was implemented in other series, and we’re just trying to figure out how to get it incorporated to our cars to make our cars safer.
Q. As far as your Cup car, is there anything you feel needs to be looked at safety‑wise, or are you comfortable with the way it is?
TONY STEWART: Well, I don’t know that I’m smart enough to know what else they could do right now. But the one thing that I have peace of mind in knowing that NASCAR has a great R & D group that are constantly looking at it now. I guess when you have a group like that that’s working on it that you know you trust, it takes that worry off of you as a driver. I think they are doing a pretty good job. I think they haven’t rushed it which is what impressed me the most.
We haven’t had anything bad happen for a while, and it’s very easy to say this is good enough right now, and NASCAR’s never done that. They continue to push forward to see how they can make things better.
Every January when we go down for testing at Daytona, we always sit in a meeting that they kind of give us a overview of what they’ve been doing the past year. It never ceases to amaze you how much and how hard they keep working, even though they’ve made it a lot safer. They don’t just rest and say it’s good enough, and that makes you feel good as a driver that you have a group that’s constantly looking on how they can make it safer.
Q. On the sprint car stuff, is it a very expensive change? Is it something that every team and driver should be able to do or is it something ‑‑
TONY STEWART: Yes, it is. It’s very easy. It’s a very easy install. It’s relatively ‑‑ it is very inexpensive, actually, and it’s very lightweight. As I mentioned earlier, Sprint car teams are very anal about adding weight to their car, and this is something that doesn’t add a lot of weight at all. Every driver in that series is going to tell you everything is expensive, but if you’ve got a $10 head, wear a $10 helmet. So if you don’t care whether your legs get busted up like mine did, then don’t look at it. It’s not worth the time. But if you want something that can add a layer of protection, it’s well worth it no matter what the cost, but it is very inexpensive.
Q. You’re heading into Indianapolis, a home race for you where you’ve won twice. I’m sure your confidence is high going into Brickyard. What’s this race mean to you as far as your background and history having grown up around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
TONY STEWART: You always want to win it. Every driver has a home race. It’s their home race this year. Some of the tracks that you go to twice, and Indy is one we get to go to once and this is our trip to it. Like I said, if you said, well, you can only win one race a year, I’m still going to pick a Daytona 500. But if you can’t win Daytona one race a year, I want to win the Brickyard. Minus the fact the way the championship’s done this year.
But, yeah, it’s a big deal. It’s always big when you come home. It’s always big when you have friends and family that don’t get the opportunity to go see you race anywhere else, but can be there and be there in person to watch and experience it with. So you’re always going to run well.
Q. My managing editor spoke with you back at the Rumble at Fort Wayne in the winter. And you were just ready to embark on a new season with two new teammates. Now that you’ve watched your organization win three times this season, you’ve won in your return to Sprint car racing and show that you’re getting closer to victory lane in the Cup car, does that mean more to you this year considering where you were at this time last year and where you’ve come to?
TONY STEWART: You know, I think I’ll probably put the majority of what happened last year behind me. Especially when we got to Daytona. Like I said, I felt so good in the car that with the exception of this last weekend and being able to check the box off and getting back from Sprint car, for the most part, it’s been business as usual.
Every year is a different year. I feel like we’re gaining on it on the Cup program, and I feel like I said, we don’t need a big chunk of speed. There is just something that we’re missing that we haven’t found yet that I’m looking for that’s going to make the difference. We had a competitive race team. We had a great group of people that are dedicated to finding that, so I feel pretty comfortable with that and feel good with where we’re at right now.
Q. How much of a notebook can you carry to Indianapolis this weekend considering the win with Newman last year?
TONY STEWART: Not much, unfortunately. The rules package is totally different this year, so throwing the notes out the window for the most part. The biggest part of it is the ride height. Being able to lower the cars down is such a huge deal that I don’t know if much of it applies really this year. It’s different tires, different cars than what we ran last year, different rules package. So there are a lot of differences and a lot of changes.
Q. Before the season started we were down at the testing grounds, and there was a lot of testing for the new cars. One of the things we heard most from all of the drivers was that the cars didn’t have enough downforce because of their lightness. One of the drivers even said when he was growing up every car was made out of metal, I wish they’d start doing that again. Do you or your pit crew have any problems because of the downforce and the lightness of the cars?
TONY STEWART: Honestly, that doesn’t make any sense because it’s the polar opposite of that. The cars being lighter makes them more nimble and easier to drive, and the downforce package, we’ve got more downforce than we’ve ever had with these cars. So not sure who your driver was that was giving you information, but they probably just didn’t have the car balanced to where it felt good.
The cars are more planted on the racetrack than they’ve ever been downforce‑wise and the rules package making them wider, makes them easier. Downforce is downforce. We’ve got more downforce than we’ve ever had, and when you put it with a wider race car, it just makes it feel better. The heavier the car, the more it’s going to move around and slide around.
So not sure where you got your information, but not sure it’s very accurate unfortunately.
Q. I think it was because he spun out a couple of times in practice and that probably was his anger. Thanks, Tony.
TONY STEWART: Yes, sir.
Q. I forgot to ask this earlier. Did your decision to run a sprint car last weekend, was it because that’s when the off weekend was and that’s when all the stars aligned, or did you have in your mind a personal goal to get one of those races in coming up on a year since the accident?
TONY STEWART: Actually, there were two events before we actually ran last weekend that I tried to run that one got rained out, and the other one when I brought it up to the crew chief he actually had a previous engagement that he was committed to so we didn’t getting to just because of scheduling. But, obviously, this weekend it was easy to do because there were no conflicts with the Cup side at all. It just happened to work out that way.
Like I said, Dover week was actually going to be my first race, and it got rained out, and I had one in between that I tried to run but just didn’t work out.
The schedule has kind of been weird this year as far as where we’d normally go, and it seems like all the Sprint car races that kind of lined up and were easy to get to were a week off this year, I guess.
That was part of answering the question earlier about how many I’m going to run. It was more how easy is it going to be to get two, and what are the logistics for the team to get to and from. I don’t want them towing 10, 12, 14 hours to go to one race and have to turn around and go home. So try to tie in. If I could run multiple events or they could go to an event on the way to somewhere else and make it make sense to go there.
Q. So it wasn’t just a matter of I want to get one of these done so I could have it done within a year? We’re reading too much into that.
TONY STEWART: No. That actually is the polar opposite. I never set a timeframe on when I was going to get back. It literally was, I think when we go to the end of May on Memorial Day when we actually did the test, still didn’t have cars ready. I think some of that was the team wasn’t sure 100% if I was still wanting to run as much as I had mentioned or was going to be ready, so they just hadn’t built anything yet. So once we made it through the test in May and then they started finishing cars and going along with the process, it just happened with the timing and being able to get the first one in this weekend.
THE MODERATOR: Before we wrap up, you teamed up with Mobil 1 to launch the #inmyride sweepstakes where fans can share photos of what’s in their vehicles for a chance to go to champions week at the end of the year. First, how can fans enter and what are some of the things that you keep in your own ride?
TONY STEWART: Go to NASCAR.com/inmyride, and actually today, like I said, I’m driving to Eldora, and I stopped. There is actually a Jimmy John’s that’s right off interstate and I got a sandwich and a Coke and off I went. So that and suitcase and a backpack with my computer. So I can tell you that’s what’s in my ride as we speak.
It’s a pretty cool promotion. It’s on NASCAR.com/inmyride, and it’s going to be pretty cool. I don’t know if it’s going to be really cool. I have a feeling there are going to be some photos that are really disturbing seeing inside some of people’s rides, but mine’s fairly clean today. Normally, I look like I’ve been living out of my car for a month.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much for joining us, and good luck this week with both races.
TONY STEWART: Thank you, appreciate it.