Chevy Racing–NASCAR–Richmond–Tony Stewart

SEPTEMBER 15, 2016

TONY STEWART, NO. 14 RUSH TRUCK CENTERS/MOBIL 1 CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Chase Media Day and discussed making the Chase in his final year as a full-time Sprint Cup competitor, his conversation with Ryan Newman after Richmond and many other topics. Full Transcript:

So you made a famous prediction back in the day when you did not include yourself in 2011.

“Go back to 2011 notes, and that’s where I’m standing, man. I’m very superstitious.”

So you’re not picking yourself?

“No, not at all. I’m wasting a spot here (laughter).”

Anything you can draw on from that experience?

“Really it’s different because this is the first time I’ve ran in the bracket format, you know, with the elimination rounds and everything. I don’t know how you take anything away from when you said that you didn’t deserve to be in it, then you go win the first two races. So obviously I don’t know what I’m talking about.

“I’m just ready to go this weekend. We’ll take it a week at a time.”

NASCAR said it would make sure you and Newman had talked. So have you talked or do you expect to go meet with him on Friday?

“Well, we’ll see. I mean, tomorrow’s Friday, so we got less than 24 hours. But I would say it will probably just happen at the trailer.

“You know, a lot of this, they’re trying to make sure they don’t have a scenario like what they had last year with Joey and Matt. So I think it gets a little bit blown out of proportion for each individual incident. But they’re just making sure they don’t get themselves in that kind of scenario again.”

Do you think you’ll be watched a little bit more after the last two weeks by NASCAR for retaliating against somebody?

“It doesn’t matter if they do or don’t. It’s time for the Chase now. I mean, it’s a whole different mindset and a whole different approach each week. You know, we got to go out and worry about what we have to do to win a championship, not worry about the other stuff.”

You always say how unfortunate it is for the drivers because no other athlete gets a microphone. You had time to cool off and think about your remarks. He did not, shot off the cuff.

“I mean, I haven’t heard anything from him. You know, it’s like I said, it would be easy to take it personal. But, I mean, that was the deciding factor in his season, whether he was going to make the Chase or not.

“We’ve been friends a long time. We were teammates. I respect him a lot. It’s a high-pressure moment. I mean, I’ve been in those, too. I’ve said things. Whether he meant to say it or not, whether he believes it or not still, that’s up to him. But that moment is a hard moment for any of us. It’s tough in that scenario.

“So, you know, I can’t blame him.”

You’ve been doing this long enough to know this would be a storyline throughout these 10 weeks. How distracting or irritating is it?

“I hope you guys are creative enough to get by this and actually pay attention to what’s going to happen the next 10 weeks. I mean, if you think that’s going to be a storyline for 10 weeks, then you’re going to miss a lot because you’re going to be wasting your time on something that’s not even relevant.

“I mean, this Chase is going to be pretty intense in itself. I mean, you got 16 great drivers in here. You got three-week segments where you keep knocking four guys off. So it’s going to be pretty crazy these last 10 weeks.

You said you never ran in the bracket format before. Kevin Harvick has had a lot of success here. Have you spoken to him?

“You got to remember I’ve been there as a car owner, seen it firsthand. I think we’ve seen what Kevin has done in each of these phases.

“Yeah, I mean, I think the last two years we got to see firsthand how this format works. I think after each race, I mean, I was able to go back and analyze what his day was like and how each phase of, you know, his road to get to Homestead these last two years has played out. So I think we pretty much got a good understanding of what we have to do.”

Harvick has a mindset where you have to raise your game. You think you don’t have to do anything different. Which one is right and why?

“I think if you’re as competitive as Harvick has been the last two years or three years now, I think that’s what they like to do. They’re fast enough to set that standard of what it’s going to take.

“For us, I take a different approach. I do like I do at Talladega. I want to be there at the end. I’m not worried about leading laps and all that.

“The first segment, you got almost half of the field is in this. You’re not going to win the championship in this first segment, but you can sure take yourself out of an opportunity to win it.

“It’s, don’t make mistakes. Don’t make mistakes. Be solid.

“But to Kevin’s point, you have to be on your game right now. You have to be fast right now to win this championship. So, you know, if you go out and you have a solid weekend at Chicago, have a good race where you’re up front, that sets a lot of the tone and momentum for the rest of the Chase.”

If somebody hits you three times, they’re not going to get hit back?

“Probably not. You got to remember, even in this first phase, there’s half of the field that’s not even a factor in what the 16 of us are trying to do. So, I mean, you got to sit there and race a little different.

“I mean, when you’re locked into the Chase and you’re where you need to be in points, couldn’t get knocked down, it’s a little easier to let the other stuff be a distraction.

“But right now, I mean, we have to do the same thing that we’ve done every year that we’ve been racing for a championship, and that’s get focused on what we have to do to win it.

“There’s times that guys are going to lean on you, and you’re going to have to look the other way. It’s what you have to do to win this thing.”

How much would it mean to you, this being your final year, to win the championship, kind of go out like Peyton Manning did?

“Yeah, exactly. Exactly the same way it felt for him.”

Would there be a lot of emotion?

“What do you think? Don’t ask that question. You already know the answer to it. You can just write it. Write it the way you would feel because I’m pretty sure that all of us will have the same answer. I mean, how would it not feel good?”

How would you celebrate?

“I don’t know yet. I have some ideas, though.”

Are fireworks going to be involved?

“Normally fire in some capacity is involved in any celebratory deal that happens with us (laughter).”

Chase Elliott said he was grateful to be able to race with you your last year. You’ve seen him grow up. You’ve seen a lot of these guys grow up. How would you assess his rookie year? What do you think of the young man?

“You know the fun part is I think there’s a big portion of him that’s extremely disappointed that he hasn’t won a race up to this point. But I think the competition level keeps going up, and it makes it harder and harder to win as a rookie.

“I think he’s had an awesome year. I mean, he’s done a great job. He’s went to a lot of places for the first time and been spectacular in his first attempts there. So he’s definitely going to be a marquee guy. I mean, he’s already a marquee guy and is in his rookie season.

“As time goes on, some of us that are getting up there in age and are retiring, he’s going to be the guy that’s going to carry the flag and carry the torch for NASCAR.”

Question regarding if other guys can’t win, they would like to see Tony go out on top:
“I don’t know. I think we’re all greedy right now and want to win it ourselves.

“I mean, I don’t know. I guess you got to ask the other guys that question, not me. I don’t know what they’re thinking. It’s been fun to race with these guys this last year. It’s meant more than I thought it would. I mean, I was ready at the end of the year last year to retire. Coming back, we really did it for our fans. We wanted our fans to see us run the last year.

“But it’s been fun to race with these guys one last year. These last 10 weeks aren’t going to be any different from that. You’re not going to sit there and reflect during the race what it’s been like for 18 years.

“You’re going to be focused on the Chase now.

“Yeah, but I definitely have appreciated running with these guys, especially the rookies that came in this year. It’s a good rookie crop. It’s fun to race with these guys and say I got to chance to run with them before I retired.”

Is it kind of surreal for you? Chase remembered you when he was Keelan’s age.

“I remember Chase. For the first three years I knew Chase, I didn’t even know he could talk because for the first three years I knew him, he never said one word to me. But he would be at the car every week. Bill would bring him to the car every week because he wanted to come down and see us.

“I got him to smile maybe four or five times in the three years. But he wanted to come down here. You knew he was engaged. You knew he wanted to be there. You could see it in his eyes. But he never spoke. He never said one word for the first three years. When he got a little older, he started talking finally.

“I didn’t know if he was going to be mute or what. I didn’t know if he could talk.”

About how old was he?

“I don’t know. Oh, God, he had to be four maybe, five years old, somewhere in that range.”

He said you were the driver he pulled for.

“Yeah, it was fun. That’s what was cool about him. I mean, you never dream at that spot, at that time, that these guys are going to grow up and they’re going to follow in their father’s footsteps. I’d say Chase has got an extremely good chance of being every bit as good if not better than his father, and his father was great.

“So, you know, it’s cool to say that I got to know these guys. I mean, John Hunter Nemechek, I was his very first sponsor when he was racing go-karts. You know, stuff like that. When you see these kids that are growing up now, you don’t realize how old you are until you realize how old they are now. Start doing the math. You’re like, Hmm, it’s changed a lot.”