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NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Daytona 500

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Daytona 500

NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Daytona 500

Tony Stewart
Scott Wimmer
February 15, 2004


THE MODERATOR: We're now joined in the infield media center by second place finisher Tony Stewart. Tony, great run today. Tell us about that late lap pass.

TONY STEWART: It's hard. I mean, Dale junior has been the class of the field all week. I'll be honest, I was happy to see him get by Kurt Busch. Kurt was making me real loose, even though he was trying to help me. For some reason, everybody all day tried to separate Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and I. Our plan was to get together and run together. That's what we did. We knew if we could get together, people were going to have a hard time with us all day. That was true the whole race. But late in the race there when it came time, when I saw him start moving around with 30 laps, 40 got by, I knew it was coming. I just didn't know where. It's really hard to drive a car that's just a little bit on the loose side and be moving up and down the racetrack at the same time. But, you know, there wasn't going to be any stopping him. It was just a matter of time. When he decided he was ready to go, he went. I'm not ashamed at all. I mean, I'm just flat tickled to death. Normally I wouldn't be this excited about second. But, you know, to come where we've come from since the Bud Shootout last weekend, this Home Depot team has done just a good job. We got up to second in the 125s, we felt like we did that because of how our car drove. Since the 125s, Mark Cronquist and all the guys at Joe Gibbs Racing in the engine department, those guys were busting their tails to find extra speed, extra power for us. Sure enough, everything came our way. We had a couple things we wanted to try yesterday in happy hour, but John Andretti tried to wreck us for the second straight day in a row, tore our car up. It shows how dedicated this Home Depot team is. They did such a good job, replaced suspension pieces, rear-end houses. That always makes a driver before the race knowing they're changing that many things on it, you don't know if everything is going to be exactly the same as it was. Zippy and all the guys, we didn't make any changes. Two or three 10ths of air was all I asked for the whole day. It was just a matter of keeping Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and I together. When we were together, nobody could do anything with us.

THE MODERATOR: Did you feel like maybe you could get by the last 10 or 15 laps?

TONY STEWART: I tried everything I knew to do. There weren't enough cars behind us for me to get a good enough run. Our car still didn't spool up good. His car would really take off when he wanted to drop back and get a run on somebody. He could do that. If I tried to drop back, I couldn't do that. I had to work hard to keep my momentum up. When we could get in front and do what we needed to do, it was a little easier. But we were fine behind him, too. We were just going to run a constant speed. But to try to pass him where I had to back away from him to try to get a run up on him, it took the car too long to spool back up on him and I couldn't do it.

THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.

Q. The packs kind of broke up late in the race. What kind of style of racing was out there today?

TONY STEWART: I enjoyed it. I had to drive my car even when we were in a single-file line. Drivers had to drive their cars and adjust. You know, I was adjusting to how I was entering the corner, I was adjusting, you know, where -- there's so many -- this track is kind of a wavy track in the corners. It's not real harsh bumps like you have at Dover. Being able to time when you get to the bottom of some of those waves, knowing when to tug on the wheel to make it do something the car didn't want to do. It was nice for us as drivers. We actually got to race each other today. And I hope everybody doesn't sit there and put a negative spin because we're not running three-wide. None of us want to run three-wide. You know, you guys, I wish you guys could all be in these meetings when we sit behind closed doors and talk about it. None of these drivers like running three-wide. It's not what these cars were built to do. Today we got to race. We got to race each other. We got to wear each others out, we got to make guys tight, loose. We got to make the difference today as drivers, not as motor programs and aero programs. That's not what made the difference today. The teams that made their cars drive well and could find the speed, the drivers that could save their tires, not abuse their equipment too early, those were the guys that had good days today. I think NASCAR and especially Goodyear, I never expected Goodyear to have a tire that was going to be this good this soon. I know they got some criticism from some of the other drivers, but they're the drivers that like running three-wide, which there's a small majority of them that think that's a cool thing to do. That's because they don't want to have to work on their cars to make them drive good, they like it when it automatically happens that way.

Q. You were tickled to finish second?

TONY STEWART: Put whatever world you want there. "Tickled" is fine for me.

Q. That's because you're happy for Junior?

TONY STEWART: Both. I'm happy about the day we had. Considering what this kid went through losing his father here at the Daytona 500, and knowing how good he's been here and just something's happened, it's nice to see him get his victory here, too. I think his father's really proud today. You know, I'd love to have won the race, trust me. I did everything I could to still win the race. If I could have held him off, had him finish second, I would have done in it a heartbeat. But there was no holding that kid back today. Today was his day.

Q. We think of Michael Waltrip as his wing man.

TONY STEWART: You saw the 125, so (laughter). I think that question's already been answered.

Q. Was there any doubt in your mind, when Wimmer took the lead late in the race, that you and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., were going to get out front?

TONY STEWART: I'll be honest. When we caught him, I thought we'd go right by. The timing didn't work out. Where we caught him, we caught him at the wrong spot of the track. We caught him right in the middle of the corner. If you went to the outside, it just made the track longer. We just caught him at the wrong spot and had to follow him for a couple laps. But I knew Junior could give me a good enough push to run on him. We got a good enough run on him. He blocked us down, then moved back up, and thought we were coming back the other direction evidently. We got underneath him and held him off.

Q. You never thought he could hold you off?

TONY STEWART: He wasn't with two tires. Handling was going to be a bigger issue. Even at the end, you guys saw how he dropped back at the end. That was the good thing. Wasn't going to let guys go out there and steal this race on track position and fuel mileage.

Q. Really looked like a race out there today. What made the difference? Was it the tires? Wing adjustments?

TONY STEWART: I honestly think it was the tires is what made the difference. You know, guys had to drive their cars. I mean, you couldn't -- you know, when you can just hold it wide open around here all day long, you're going to go for any hole you can find. That's what promotes three-wide racing because guys are going to go whenever they can go when they get a good tug off the air. You know, no matter how good a tug you got, if you got to the corner and couldn't make your car turn, it didn't matter how fast you were going at the end of the straightaway. Even I struggled a couple times with Kurt Busch behind me leading the race in clean air, was having to lift just a couple times because evenings making me loose. You know, it put the driver back into it. We may not have had 20 guys go across the line within 5/10ths of a second of each other, but who cares. Guys got to race today. That's what this whole race it all about. I mean, if I were Dale Earnhardt, Jr., I'd be extremely proud because he didn't win this because he got lucky and got in the right line at the right time. He out-drove us and beat us. I mean, plain and simple. That's why I'm proud of my second place finish. That's why I'm sure he's going to be tickled to death to get his first Daytona 500 win.

Q. Do you see a day when you can beat Dale Earnhardt, Jr., at a track like this? Down the road do you pick another partner to work with?

TONY STEWART: I'll start with the second part first. We've been a good combination for three years. I think he's won Talladega three times, I run second three times doing what we've done. You can't do any of this restrictor plate racing without a partner. If it were two cars out there, which it was at the end, nothing I could do, because I couldn't get a push. But that's good. I mean, it was all right to be that way. But, you know, is he beatable? Everybody is beatable on the right day. You know, he's not invincible, he's not Superman. But they've got a really good package. They've got something that's working for them. It's a matter of time before these other teams find it, too. When they do, you'll see him getting beat. There's something that DEI has found so far that the rest of the field hasn't found. That's the team making the difference again.

Q. About the DEI dominance, what do you think about that?

TONY STEWART: You answered the question. If we knew, we'd be fixing it right now. Whatever it is, it's substantial. But, I mean, they're not doing anything illegal. They're just finding something that nobody else has found yet. It's no different than any other sport. I mean, you look at Formula 1, there's teams that do that. You look at the IRL, there's teams that find something. It works for them for a while. It's just a matter of the other teams finding it. Whatever they've found, nobody else has been able to find it yet. I guarantee you, they're not going to tell us what they're doing, for sure (laughter).

Q. Was there a point towards the eastbound of the race where you thought you didn't have a chance anymore?

TONY STEWART: Well, I mean, I've been like this whole race team has been all week: you never say never. As long as I had Kurt Busch and Scott behind me here, I mean, we always had a chance somehow. I mean, whether I could pull it off or not was the different story. You know, I guess you guys probably saw me for six or eight laps, I kept trying stuff, kept trying to find things to do to get a run on him. I couldn't really get the run on him. Then once we started losing Scott and Kurt behind me, at that point there's nothing you can do anyway, because you don't have that partner. That's still the disappointing part to restrictor plate racing. You still have to have somebody behind you to get something done.

Q. Is your relationship with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., respect, friendship? How would you describe it?

TONY STEWART: Both. You know, I think we admire each other for the fact that, I mean, we're both fierce competitors, but we like to have fun. We're a lot alike in a lot of ways. Our backgrounds are totally different from each other, obviously. But, I mean, we enjoy a lot of the same things. I think we both respect each other for what we do and what we've been able to accomplish in our careers. You know, we do, we just have a good friendship. You know, it's been a good situation. I mean, when I started in this series, when he started in this series, there weren't a lot of guys our own age. There weren't a ton of guys to do a lot of stuff with. Obviously, we don't get a chance to do a lot of things together. There's projects like running his Busch car last year, that was fun to do with him. It's just a good friendship. We get together at these restrictor plate tracks. This started three years ago here at Daytona during the 500 week. Seems like every time we went on the track, we were around each other. A lot of our theories on how to run restrictor plate races are very similar. When you run with each other as much as we did, we kind of got a respect and a trust with each other. I mean, he knows that when I'm behind him, you know, if he goes somewhere, whether it's right or wrong, I'm going to go with him. The same with me. I knew when he was behind me in the mid-stages of the race, I knew he wasn't going to try to go around, we were going to work together and drive away from guys. So, you know, we both knew at the end, though, and we both knew going into this race, we knew if it came down to him and I at the end, you know, it's the Daytona 500, we both got to try to win the race. But during the race, you know, I think you guys saw as much as everybody did, everybody did everything they could do to separate us during the race because they know we're a pretty potent combination together.

Q. Did you learn something about Dale Earnhardt, Jr., you didn't know when you teamed up with him earlier this month for the Rolex 24?

TONY STEWART: Not really. Like I say, we've been doing this for three years with each other. We had a lot of fun at the Rolex together. It was kind of cool because he really didn't have a lot of road racing experience. I don't really have a lot of road racing experience. I didn't have any rain experience. We almost ran identical times in the dry and the rain. It was kind of fun for both of us to go out there. Neither one of us complained about the handling of the car. We have just got in it and drove. We just sat down in it and rode it around. We both had fun with it.

Q. You mentioned your teamwork with him at Talladega. Is that kind of if you can't beat him, you want to join him?

TONY STEWART: When you know he's the class of the field, wouldn't you rather follow the guy that's going to go to the front with or without you? I think it's been a good situation for him, too. You don't know whether who to trust and who not to trust out there. A guy that's your partner for eight laps might all of a sudden decide he wants to lead or he wants to pick up two spots or whatever. The nice thing is, you know, whether it's been the Bud Shootout here a couple years ago when I won, he ran second, I knew we were in good shape because he was behind us. He needed air at the end. Even though we were going for the win. He knew we weren't going to do anything stupid to jeopardize anything. When he's the class of the field, and we haven't been a slouch either, we led the most laps today, I think, so if we didn't have a decent car, we wouldn't have been able to do what we did. To be able to team up like that, do what we've done the last three years I think is pretty neat.

THE MODERATOR: Congratulations. We're now joined by third-place finisher, Scott Wimmer, driver. No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge. They made an asterisk next to your name as a Raybestos rookie. Sure didn't look like it today.

SCOTT WIMMER: No, really excited about how we ran today. Everybody on the Caterpillar team did a great job. We haven't been that strong down here. We've been struggling all speed week. Didn't qualify well. Didn't have a real good twin. Guys really worked hard to make the car better. They definitely did that. We drafted real well with other cars. We ran up front. Real proud of the guys. They had great pit stops all day. Really enabled us to get away in that front little breakaway. Everybody else was kind of stuck in the pits or got tangled up a little bit. We were able to get away.

THE MODERATOR: When you took the lead on that last pit stop, did you think there was any chance you would be able to stay out ahead or did you know the freight train was coming behind you?

SCOTT WIMMER: I thought so at first. It was a great call Frankie made to take two tires. We needed a little bit of track position, almost lost a draft there right before that pit stop. But I got out in front, I was just looking for somebody to draft off of. I thought if we could have had two or three cars we could have hooked up, with Junior and Tony never would have caught us. But that didn't happen. Looked in my mirror one time, and I didn't know what to do. I knew if I blocked them, they would have snagged me right out of the way. Ultimately, that's what Tony did. It was tough. I felt we had a good chance to win it there, but once they got by, the car was too loose, couldn't really hang on to it.


Q. Tuning the two tires made your car loose at the end?

SCOTT WIMMER: Yeah, I think it did. Goodyear brought a new tire here, which is a great tire, but it falls off and it really puts a lot back into the driver's hands. I know a couple times, yeah, I got real loose out there and some other guys were real loose, some were real tight. But, you know, any time we came down to Daytona, we weren't lifting before. Today we were lifting quite a bit. You know, it was a lot like Darlington. We were running up against the wall. Guys were down on the bottom, couldn't really get the pass done. It was just real exciting for a driver just to have that much control of the race car again. You know, it's obvious that the two cars that won are great race car drivers. I think they feel the same way, that they, you know, they had the best setup and controlled it the best.

Q. What would it have meant to have won today, given what you've been through?

SCOTT WIMMER: I mean, it would have been a dream come true. You know, 1999, I was racing out at the little short track here down at New Smyrna, pounding it every night down there, just trying to make a name for myself. Now I'm running a 500. I remember sitting in the stands watching the Twins, dreaming of the day I could run this race. Finally got the chance. And it's a big momentum boost for me. I've been through a lot lately. Kind of been down on myself. I'm lucky I've got great people behind me. Bill Davis Racing, Caterpillar, NASCAR, everybody that's helped me through my problem. Still got a long road ahead, but we're going to get it fixed up. Hopefully make it so nobody else makes the same mistake I did.

Q. What did you really need, the last laps to win this thing?

SCOTT WIMMER: You know, really four tires would have helped. You know, Frankie made a great call to get us out in front and see if can he could hold them off. They were too strong when they were teamed up together, Tony and Junior. You know, really could have used a drafting partner. I didn't have a lot of drafting help all day. I was one of those drivers that would fall in behind somebody, let them pull me all the way up to the front. You know, it was tough because it seemed like every time I get down on the bottom, everybody would go to the top. Whenever I get to the top, everybody would go to the bottom. You know, really if we would have had a drafting partner, when I had my teammate Dave Blaney, my partner, he pushed me right up to the front. Unfortunately, lost him in some of the pit stop stuff. You know, hopefully we can get him a sponsor, he can be my teammate all year long.

Q. At what point did you start to feel like this car was a lot better than it had been all week? When did you start to really feel comfortable?

SCOTT WIMMER: It really wasn't till about halfway. At the beginning of the race, I wasn't real comfortable in the car. I don't know if it might have been just a little bit of my lack of experience here at Daytona, especially in the Nextel Cup Series. I haven't raced against a lot of those guys. I raced with them in the Busch Series a little bit. But they make a lot more aggressive moves and do a lot of things with your car that I've never felt before. You know, having Junior behind me, I learned so much on how he passes somebody, how he sets somebody up to pass him. You know, I think a lot of it was me. The guys always build great speedway cars for down here, but, you know, about halfway I started getting real comfortable, we started making some changes, I really could feel them, kind of settled in and just stayed up front and tried to stay out of trouble as best we could.

Q. Have you read a lot of the press from the last couple weeks? How do you feel you've been portrayed?

SCOTT WIMMER: Yeah, I mean, I read a little bit of it. It's hurtful. I mean, I don't think a lot of you people know me, a lot of the press knows me. Some of the press has just been great, and actually helping me out. You know, it's just -- just seems like everybody has to put a negative side in it. I understand what I did was wrong. I'm the one that has to deal with it. I'm the one that has to go through it. But, you know, really ultimately I'm going to try to help other people, not make the same mistake as me. You know, I think I could be a role model to people in a way of, you know, a lesson learned. People keep saying that I'm not going to learn my lesson. You sit at home for a couple days wondering if you're going to be able to drive a race car again when that's all you know how to do, and that's a tough lesson. I'm going through a lot more. But we'll make it through. I've got a strong team behind me, a strong sponsor. I'll make those people that say those things about me like me someday.

Q. Were you concerned that you might lose your ride? Do you have a driver's license right now?

SCOTT WIMMER: Yes, I definitely was. You know, I'm very apologetic for what I did. I realize it's not right. It was something I just made a major mistake in my life. Embarrassed a lot of people. You know, my race team, my family, my sponsor, everybody. It's something that it went through my head, there's no way Caterpillar is going to let me race this race car. We went through it and Caterpillar was willing to give me a second chance, and Bill Davis was. It's something that means a lot to me. They know when I make mistakes, I don't do them again, I don't make second mistakes. In 28 years, I really haven't made a lot of mistakes. I made one mistake, one major mistake. My mom says I made a lot, but I made one major one. I'm ultimately the one that has to deal with it. I'm going to deal with it the right way. I'm going to help people, make sure it doesn't happen to my friends, family, coworkers; hopefully one of my fans sitting up in the stand, they don't have the same problem. No, I don't have a driver's license. My wife has been driving me around the whole week (laughter).

Q. How difficult is it as a rookie, how do you know how aggressive to be with veterans like Stewart and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.,?

SCOTT WIMMER: It's really hard. You know, you really just watch a lot of races on TV, watch a lot of tape. Those guys are just so good at these places with the experience they have. You know, they knew how to set me up, they knew pretty much what I was going to do, knew I only had two tires, they had four. You know, it's hard. I went out there the first end draft and I was afraid to go three-wide, I didn't want to run into the back of anybody or do anything stupid. You know, really you need to be real aggressive at these racetracks. At the beginning of the race, I wasn't. I ended up hanging around the back. Luckily I had a great teammate push me to the front, started getting more aggressive and we were able to stay up there. It's something that I learned an awful lot today. I'm going to take that and hopefully run good at Talladega and when we come back here for the 400.

THE MODERATOR: Scott, congratulations on a great run, your first Daytona 500.

SCOTT WIMMER: Thank you, guys.

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