NASCAR Winston Cup Preview
Topics: Winston Cup
January 18, 2003
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
Q. Tony, it's tough winning Winston Cup Championships. Tough defending them. It's not been done many times. What kind of mindframe does Tony Stewart have coming into the 2003 season; how you will defend your title?
TONY STEWART: They said the same thing in '94 when I won my first USAC Championship. They said it's even harder next year to defend it. In '95, I only won three championships. The way I look at it we just got to go out and do the same things we did last year. We need to stay out of trouble. If we can do that, I feel we will have a better start to the year. I honestly can't imagine our season being any worse than it was last year. People say how can you say that considering you won the Winston Cup championship. We started off 43rd in points. I don't want to leave Daytona with 43rd in points this year. I don't want to have to battle all the adversity that we had to go through last year, all of the headaches and hassles. And I think we are a lot better prepared with just about anything that comes our way this year, we are prepared for. We don't have to answer the question of can we win a championship and can we overcome the adversity issue, I think we have answered those questions to everybody. I told the guys, you know, it's my goal to win the Winston Cup Championship two years in a row? Absolutely. Number one goal is to have fun this year. I have had more fun leading up to the season over the winter than I've had in a long time. Probably best prepared to go out and start racing again. This is the first good year I feel ready and prepared to go back racing.
Q. You come to an event like, this is the time and place to deal with this, is that all you have ever been trying to say in all of the controversy that's been around, there is a time and place?
TONY STEWART: Yes, I tried to say that a long time ago and you guys all crushed me on it. It turned the fans against me. Maybe I didn't say it in the perfect way that everybody understood. I'm sure that was a lot of it. But what people don't understand is that we have a very time consuming job that we do. I challenge everyone of you guys, go spend one solid week, seven straight days at a Winston Cup shop and leave on Thursday and go follow the crews around and you do that for one week and then follow a driver around for one solid week and then come write your stories. But I challenge every one of you to do that. Take two weeks out of your schedule. If publications or whatever are having problems with expenses for a week, I will help out a little bit if that's what it takes. If you could follow what a crew guy does for seven days straight and what a driver does seven straight days, I think you guys would understand more and the fans would as well. You guys are our direct link to the race fans and if you guys don't understand how do we expect the race fans to understand. Don't sit here and tell me that you guys exactly know what goes on in the garage area and what it takes to be a Winston Cup driver or crew. None of you. I was a Busch car national driver and I thought I had all of the answers before I got here and thought I was prepared. Boy did I find out that I was wrong. Four years learning I'm still learning and still trying to adjust to it. I think it's something that NASCAR looked at really hard. I think they've tried to find a common ground for the drivers and crews and race fans. They have done a good job. It may not be perfect from the start but the good thing about NASCAR, they will make sure when it's all said and done, it's in the best interest of everybody involved. We do not want the fans not allowed in the garage area. We want them to be able to be close to the cars and teams, drivers and crews, check, come and see what we do in our work place. Let's do the autograph somewhere else. Every one of us do 40 autographs. We do what we can do. There is no way we can sign autographs for everybody that wants one. We do the best we can. We will continue to do that. Just let us do our jobs during the three days we are at the racetracks, working hard to put on a good show for you guys.
Q. Given your love for Indy car racing, how interesting is it going to be to have a Mears, Fittipaldi and a Foyt running Winston Cup?
TONY STEWART: You guys are much better in the media than I am. I would never have thought about that fact. It's three great racecar drivers coming into the series. I didn't really think about it that much. All three of those guys are capable of doing a good job in our series and they have earned their way there. It will be fun to watch their progress this year.
Q. Tony, it's been said when you win a Winston Cup Championship in many respects your life changes in some ways. How has your life changed as you are heading into this new season?
TONY STEWART: Some people are smiling. and I am smiling because it hasn't changed so far; which has been fun. Everybody said this is going to change and this is what I have to do; that's what I'm going to have to do. I haven't had to do anything differently than what I've done in the last four years of Winston Cup Racing. I am sure there will be some things that I will have to do. I looked at my schedule for the Daytona speed week period. It's the same exact schedule I had last year. The cool thing is it is business as usual for me. Probably the only thing different when I went home back to Indiana, got to go to Columbus and spend time with my friends. It was neat. We kind of have an unspoken rule that we will talk Winston Cup Racing for the first 30 minutes to an hour; then we don't talk about Winston Cup the whole rest of the time I'm there. They totally wore out that first 30 minutes to an hour. They were so excited. They picked up the local paper that they had saved the week after we won the championship to see what the local paper had done. It really brought it back home to me. It's the simple things that mean the most to me. It always has and it probably always will. Picking up the local newspaper seeing how much the town had supported me, seeing ads that local businesses bought saying congratulations, Tony, we knew you could do it. We are behind you all the way. Other than that, nothing has changed. But to be able to go home and have the town really behind me like that really meant a lot to me.
Q. When you get to run Turkey Night and Chilly Bowl; is that when you are most at ease?
TONY STEWART: I'm surprised you didn't get the first question because you always do. Congratulate you on your first question. (To David Poole, Charlotte Observer) To me going to the Chilly Bowl and running Turkey Night we were in Vegas Saturday after Turkey Night I get to hang around with a bunch of guys that they don't talk Winston Cup Racing. They talk about Sprint Car Midget Racing and they let me be a Sprint Car Midget driver for the weekend. They don't care what I'm doing in Winston Cup. I mean, they follow it -- every one of them congratulated me on what we did. Most of them said, hey, we are glad to see you back. Glad to see you can still make it. We had fun doing stuff that we done years before I became a Winston Cup driver. We went out and had fun when the races were over. We raced again the next day. It was fun they put me like them. They don't put me on a pedestal. I'm just one of the racers. That's what I'll enjoy, just being one of the guys when I can go to and events like that.
Q. Tony, some people say that with the success of Winston Cup Racing it's made the drivers less likely to speak out. Once in a while you speak out. Last year Bruton Smith suggested a free-speech season .
TONY STEWART: Do I get a reserved spot in it?
Q. Would you like to see the gloves off a little? Drivers are human. You have feelings about things. Would you like to be able to speak your mind more often and not worry about consequences when, you know, you say what you feel?
TONY STEWART: Well, I can be honest with this answer. What scares me is you guys. It always has. And it's not all of you. There are some people out there to me that hold grudges. Some of them that have chips on their shoulders; some of them that have something to prove when they write their articles. I met a lot of reporters. One thing I always said, I will never ask anybody to lie for me or cover up anything I do. If I did something stupid, say I did it. But you don't have to write that I did something stupid for the next eight months. It happens one time and it is over with until I do the next stupid one. Once you write about it one time, be done with it. That's the one thing that disappointed me about what you say or what you do because nobody will ever leave it alone. I have already answered questions this year about battling the adversity last year; what are we going to do this year? I will probably do two or three stupid things this year just like I've done all three years I have been in Winston Cup Racing. I am a human being just like everybody else. We all make mistakes. The problem is a lot of the media won't let it go and let it go on. And that's the thing that keeps people from being able to speak their minds and be open about their thoughts. We are so scared of the consequences that the media crucifies us with on it. We know you guys are doing your jobs, and that sells paper. You have to make your mind up. If you want us to speak our minds, fine. But be fair with us about it. If you are going to crucify us, well, listen, we have to do what we have to do as drivers to protect our race teams and sponsors to where we get by and we give you the same -- I got my set of cookie cutters sitting on my shelf; I can pull them out at any time. I mean, if I feel I have to do that, that's what we do. You guys are the ones that actually give us the feel on what we are able to do and not do. If we are getting crucified for every little topic that's out there in the garage area, then it makes us all pull back. All of us drivers do that. I am probably the one guy that's probably not as scared of you guys as most but even I'm getting paranoid now. I didn't think that would happen. You guys control that; not us. If you are fair about what you write each week it leads us as drivers to feel a little more open and not be so reserved about what we say. We will give you fair comments if they are reported that way.
Q. Tony, last year you came back from a disaster at Daytona from the beginning, obviously starting so terrible and coming back, but now that you have got this momentum from last year you're going to come in, are you putting any special focus on the Daytona 500 this year, or are you concerned about it this year, you would not want to get yourself in a hole...
TONY STEWART: Well, I don't want to start the year that way. If it happens that way, I'm not going to be concerned about it. We have proven to everybody that you can leave Daytona 43rd in points and still come back and win. I'm going to follow Ward around the next few weeks because whatever Ward did before the Daytona 500 worked last year. Whatever he does I am pretty much going to do unless he sits down with a deer skin for three straight days and doesn't leave. I can't sit in one place that long. You have to put in perspective what's the goal for the year? If your goal is to win the Daytona 500; you put all of your emphasis on the Daytona 500. If your goal is to win the Winston Cup Championship you have to treat the Daytona 500 the same as you do the Brickyard 400 or any other race on the schedule. There is not much I can do to prepare for the Daytona 500. It's more the team. We all go to Daytona for three days testing and Bobby and I were taking on the third day about how we were falling asleep on pit lane until the guy right in front of you fires the car up. We are treating it as another Daytona 500. Do I want to win it? Absolutely. Now that we won a Winston Cup Championship, I would love to win a Daytona 500. If we don't win, it we go to Rockingham, Vegas, Atlanta, we take it one week at a time and just do the best you can.
Q. You said in your opening comments you would like to win the race and lead the points but given the fact you did overcome that, does that make the Championship even more special that you dealt with all of that adversity when it was all said and done you were on top of the heap?
TONY STEWART: I think I probably appreciate it the most because I feel like we did it under the worst circumstances. We did it the hardest way you can imagine. All of the stupid stuff I did off the track coupled up with six DNF's. Who would have ever thought you can win a Winston Cup Championship with six DNFs? The year Bobby won, not only did he not have any DNFs, I think he only missed -- complete a perfect season by seven or nine laps is all he missed completing every lap in the season. To think we could have done it with six DNFs, that made us feel pretty proud about what we did. I think if we can have a season that's half that bad on and off the track it will make for a fun season this coming year.
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