NASCAR Media Conference
TRACEY JUDD: Our guests today are Tony Stewart and Sterling Marlin. Tony is awaiting us right now. Sterling will be joining us in just a few minutes. The driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet, Tony Stewart is the 2002 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion and is currently sixth in the chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, 204 points behind leader Kurt Busch. Tony has two wins this season at Chicago and at Watkins Glen, bringing his career total to 19 in the series. He has nine Top 10 and 16 Top 10 finishes this season -- excuse me, nine Top 5 and 16 Top 10 finishes this season, including Top 10 finishes in his last three races. He has one win at Martinsville, that was in the fall of 2000. All told, Tony has three Top 5s and six Top 10 finishes at that track in 11 career races. He was 14th in the spring race after starting 30th and finished third in this event one year ago. Tony, again, thanks for your patience. We appreciate you being with us today.
TONY STEWART: No problem.
TRACEY JUDD: You've had some good results in these last five tracks that are in the chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, of course, including Martinsville. You have at least one win in each of the remaining tracks except Arlington and there, there are two Top 5s and six Top 10s on your resume. Do these remaining tracks play to your strengths?
TONY STEWART: We'd like to think so. I mean, obviously it's tracks that we like. So, you know, that definitely doesn't hurt your chances when it's tracks that you enjoy going to and that you've done well with in the past. So, obviously, it gives us something to look forward to the next five weeks .
TRACEY JUDD: Let's open it up to questions from the media.
Q. A lot of our fans around here - they just recently had your Home Depot touring car up here - they want to know what makes you -- how you feel like a hero to some of these people? A lot of the people around here really love your racing and everything, because we're a real dirt track area. How does the popularity of being a hero, how do you deal with that?
TONY STEWART: It's hard for me at times. I mean, it's obviously part of the job that's hard. Today I'm in Indianapolis. I'm sitting here in tennis shoes, blue jeans and a T-shirt like I've always done my whole life. But I guess the thing that you realize is, you know, you're not the same person. You know, you really may be the same person that you were before, but the way other people see you isn't the same as the way you see yourself. That part is always interesting to try to get used to. But the one thing that's always the same, though, is it's very flattering. Any time you do an appearance or go to the racetrack and see how excited not only adults are, but really to see how excited kids are to see you there. That's what really adds to the value of what we do for a living, what we do as race car drivers, seeing how excited people are to see us when we get there.
Q. I know you've had three big Top 10 finishes here so far in the NEXTEL Cup, even though you started off a little shaky at the beginning of the year. How do you feel with these last few races going into it? How confident are you that you can maybe pull something out and come on and finish in the Top 3 and even in the Top 2?
TONY STEWART: Well, I mean, we're going to have to do better than we've done here in the last couple weeks. But our team's working hard. I think our guys are closer now than we've ever been. We all sat down together and had a meeting last weekend and, you, know, just really feel like we're pulling together as a team right now. We didn't really have a very good night at Charlotte, which was a little bit disheartening to all of us. But the good thing is that the track's coming up that we like and we just have to do the best we can and just take what it gives us at this point. It's hard to say what's going to happen. But I feel like we have as good a shot as running well these last five races as anybody else, where that's going to put us in the points, who knows.
Q. You are a very avid dirt track fan. Here in West Virginia, we have a lot of dirt tracks. I was wondering if you ever plan to come back here and maybe race one of your late models or Sprints at one of our tracks?
TONY STEWART: You never know. You know, this year we kind of cut back on some of the side stuff that we're running. Like today I'm going to be at IRT, testing in the closed test session that we're running today. But I'm excited. I mean, that's the fun thing about what I do, is I haven't forgot where I came from, you know, like you said, I really enjoy running dirt tracks. So, you know, the state of West Virginia is one I haven't been to yet, which is definitely on my list of places to go. I've kind of adapted Kenny Schrader's philosophy of charting everywhere that I've done and that's one state I haven't been to yet in a dirt car yet. It's on my list of things to do for sure in the next couple years.
Q. After five races in the chase, what is your opinion of the format for you Top 10 guys in terms of pressure, demands on your time, et cetera, and how it's gone?
TONY STEWART: To be honest, I have no opinion of it.
Q. Your boy Danny the other night kind of danced around the question pretty well. You've diversified yourself. Would you consider owning a racetrack, in general, and Eldora Speedway, specifically?
TONY STEWART: I mean, I'd definitely be interested it. Obviously, Dave Blaney owns a track, Kenny Schrader owns a track. I've talked to those guys. I think if I do, I'll want it to be a facility that I'm very passionate about. You know, I think coming from my background, where I'm at in my career right now, being a team owner, having been a driver, being an avid dirt track fan, Eldora would be one for sure we'd be interested in. You know, whatever we do, I think it's something that if I'm going to do it, I want to make sure I do it a hundred percent, make sure that we're taking care of the race fans first and the competitors that are racing there. You know, I just want to make sure I can do my job first and foremost for Home Depot and Joe Gibbs Racing. To do anything outside of that, I want to make sure I have all my ducks in a row to make sure I do it properly.
Q. I'm wondering if you feel that the -- a hard question to ask. Should more points be awarded for winning a race? I'm thinking of Jimmie winning in Charlotte, moving up one spot.
TONY STEWART: To be honest, I don't know. I mean, you guys got to keep in mind, we're race car drivers. We're not the sanctioning body. It's not our job to worry about what it should be. I mean, that's for you guys in the media and the sanctioning body to discuss. My job as a race car driver is to try to win races. But at the end of the day, whatever the format is, we as drivers don't have any control over it. So it's our job just to go out and try to win races, just do the best we can. That's a question that you got to ask NASCAR, not the drivers.
TRACEY JUDD: Tony, can you do a little discussion for us on your team's preparations for Martinsville this weekend. The track, according to some drivers, has tested pretty fast. What are your thoughts on it.
TONY STEWART: We were one of the teams that went there. I'm excited about it. I think they did an awesome job. Every year Martinsville keeps making improvements to the facility. It needed something, in the first place. But they've really taken the initiative on themselves. They've been proactive instead of reactive, I guess I should say. They've done a really nice job. The track's really smooth. They've made it what we're calling driver friendly, the curve's a little easier to run on. If you bump into it, it's not nearly as dramatic as it was before. So it's definitely faster. I mean, in race trim, we were running speeds that were very close to the track record in race trim. So definitely going to be a fast race. How hard or easy it's going to be to pass, that's still going to be determined this weekend. But for sure they've done a really nice job with the facility. We've prepared by testing there, making sure that we knew what we were up against when we got there, considering the fact that it has changed some. Feel like we've done a real good job of getting ready for this week.
TRACEY JUDD: You have to keep on eye on other drivers in the chase as far as your standing obviously in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Top 10. Who are some drivers in position 11 through 43 who you feel will have a say in these last five races? Who is strong at this late stage of the season that you and the 20 team particularly have to watch out for in these last five?
TONY STEWART: I'm not really sure that we have to watch out for anybody other than just, you know, watching out for guys that might change the outcome of a race by getting in an accident with us. You know, you still have to race everybody, just like you always have. You know, the format's a weird format. In a typical playoff situation, you've got guys like us in the Top 10, you race each other. But in our situation, we have to race the other 33 guys that we're running with each week, not only just the Top 10. So you really have to do the same things that you've always had to do. You just go out and try to win the races and hope you get enough points to put you where you need to be at the end of the season.
Q. Jason Lefler as being a part of your team, adding another team like that to your team, obviously you've been known for putting your arm around guys, helping them up the line. I know you like doing that. How does it help you and how can you help him?
TONY STEWART: Hopefully a lot. Jason lived with me for a while when he moved back from California to race in USAC here in Indiana. I know Jason real well. We're good friends. Having a second guy to ask questions to and compare notes with is something we feel like is going to be an asset to our program next year. I'm really looking forward to having him back. He was with Joe Gibbs Racing for a year in the Busch Series. I think the time that he's had not only with Joe Gibbs Racing but outside of that in the last couple years, the experience that he's gained, I think he's really ready for this opportunity. I feel like he's going to be a very valuable asset to us.
Q. Do you like having a young guy then that you can bring along?
TONY STEWART: Absolutely. I mean, the thing that's always fun, it's always nice to have a veteran that's been around a long time, and it's always nice to have a young guy that's in and is fresh and brings new ideas because the older person in the equation or the veteran in the equation always brings the knowledge with them into the equation, but the young guy pushes that older person. So having a young guy like Jason's level going to push Bobby and myself. I really think it's going to help our program this year.
TRACEY JUDD: Tony, your championship run two years ago, what you went through throughout, of course, the latter stages of that as the pressure built a little bit, how is that going to assist you at this stage in the chase, these last five races, guys who have been there, Jeff Gordon, yourself, Matt Kenseth, versus the other guys who are locked in this with you but haven't been through this particular pressure of getting to this point before? How is that going to benefit you in this case?
TONY STEWART: Well, I think in our situation, where we're at in the points right now, being sixth, being 200 points out of the lead, I don't think it really has much effect on us, you know, like we have a lot of pressure, because we have nothing to lose at this point. As far as I'm concerned, there's no difference between 6th and 10th right now in my mind. I'm worried about going forward, not going backwards. But to be honest, I think everybody that's in this Top 10 has been in this position before in the past. I think they've all been through a similar situation like this, obviously not at the Cup level, but at the same time they've all had a chance in the battle. So I think everybody's got an idea of how to deal with it all.
Q. With you and Dale, Jr., you guys are very good friends, I know that you have lent your plane to him several times. What makes it where you and him have become such good friends?
TONY STEWART: I think we just -- I think it took a while for us to realize that our personalities are real similar. I mean, we very much value our friends, our close friends, that we hang out with. And, you know, it's the simple things in life that we enjoy. It's not going and having a hundred-foot yacht, you know, having big fancy this, big fancy that. We have our properties that we enjoy. He's got a lot of land in North Carolina. I've got a lot of land in Indiana. You know, we just enjoy hanging out with our friends. And I think we realized more and more as time went on that our personalities were very similar, we enjoyed a lot of the same things. You know, we both have the same passion and desire to win, but we're similar in age and just have similar things that we like. We both like playing video games. We just realized that there was a lot that we had in common and enjoyed each other's company. So it's made it a lot of fun. Obviously, Dale, Jr. is the most popular driver in NASCAR right now and we get to do some pretty neat stuff together. But he's a great friend. I mean, he went and joined Kyle Petty and myself at our Tony Stewart benefit concert a couple weeks ago and donated his evening to come do that with us. He's just a good friend. I mean, he doesn't just borrow things from us, he also does things to help out with our charities and stuff, and we greatly appreciate him as a friend.
Q. How did you feel when the entire fiasco started with Junior? How was that bothering you both of you?
TONY STEWART: Well, him and I haven't talked about it together. Where it bothers me, you know, I don't think something that is said after a race should dictate how a championship is decided. I think once the cars go through tech on race day and what happens between tech and the checkered flag, I think that's where points should be taken away. If you want to fine him for saying something, I don't think anybody would complain, and I don't think Dale would complain about that. I think we all understand our responsibilities as drivers. But, you know, I think NASCAR went overboard on their decision to take points away. I think that's wrong. I think if you asked anybody, I think pretty much everybody agrees that was the wrong decision. But, you know, the one thing we do give NASCAR credit for in this situation is they were consistent. That's something that sometimes with sanctioning bodies, that's hard to find. We at least give them credit for being consistent in that case. But I think it's something that needs to be looked at. I don't think it's very fair to decide a championship that should be decided on the racetrack by something that's said off the racetrack.
TRACEY JUDD: Tony, can you discuss your thoughts briefly, at Charlotte obviously Mark Martin discussed his plans as next year being his last year full-time in the Cup. Rusty has made that announce. Terry Labonte has also talked about that. Can you discuss your thoughts on the drivers that have made these announcements recently and their contributions, the future path that will be laid by the younger drivers coming into the series?
TONY STEWART: Well, I mean, obviously, you know, growing up watching NASCAR races, you know, you always saw Labonte and Rusty and Mark Martin. I grew up in Columbus, Indiana, which is headquarters for Cummins and Company. Cummins was a co-sponsor for Mark Martin's car. I grew up watching Mark Martin. Everybody in Columbus, Indiana, even though I still live there part-time, that's where I was born and raised, there are still a lot of people in town, Mark Martin and myself. We hate to see Mark go. We hate to see Rusty and Terry go. The nice thing is being a driver, being in the situation those guys are as a driver, I'm excited for those guys. I know how hectic our schedule is, I know how much time we have to spend with our family and friends. I'm excited for those three guys. If Mark wants to spend more time with his son, helping him in his racing car, Rusty is ready to move on, Terry is ready to move on, I think it's (inaudible) that they're at stages in their life where they had a great racing career. I think we should all celebrate that and at the same time feel happy for them they can go out and do other things in life they haven't had an opportunity to do because of the hectic schedule they've had for the last 20-some-odd years now. I'm pretty excited for them. I'm happy they're in that position.
TRACEY JUDD: Tony, again, we appreciate your patience today. I know it's been a bit crazy here on the phones. Thanks for sticking with us and hanging in there and taking a few questions today. Sterling Marlin has joined us, so we'll let you go and get on to what you've got going on at Indy, also getting ready for Martinsville. Best of luck to you and the 20 team this weekend and the rest of the way throughout the season.
TONY STEWART: I really appreciate it. Tell Sterling hi for us, too.
TRACEY JUDD: Good enough. Sterling Marlin has joined us, the driver of the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge. Sterling is currently 21st in the points standings, battling four other drivers for a spot in the Top 20. Only 43 points separate 18th place Rusty Wallace from 22nd place Greg Biffle. A ten time winner in the NASCAR premiere series and twice a winner of the Daytona 500, Sterling comes off a 12th place finish at Charlotte last Saturday night, and is in the midst of a nine-season run where he's finished 15th or better in seven of his last eight races, including a sixth place finish at Bristol. Sterling has three Top 5 and 12 Top 10 finishes in his Cup career at Martinsville, including two runner-ups. He has five Top 10s in his last seven races at Martinsville. He finished 43rd in this race last season due to an engine issue, but did rebound to finish ninth in the spring race back in April getting him ready to go here this weekend. Sterling, thanks for being with us today.
STERLING MARLIN: Glad to be on.
TRACEY JUDD: You had a nice finish Saturday night at Charlotte, and you've been running really well in this last quarter of the season overall, save for that bit of bad luck at Talladega. Can you talk with your team's recent resurgence?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, just working on the cars, trying to get them to drive better. Had a pretty good car Saturday night. We was real good at times then so-so at times. Kind of got caught in two wrecks, got skinned up a bit in the second, tore the right side off the car, kind of hurt it toward the end. But we'll just keep plugging along, try to get us a win before the year's out.
TRACEY JUDD: Questions for Sterling Marlin.
Q. All of a sudden this year the floodgates have opened up, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Terry Labonte are issuing their exit strategies from the sport. Have you given any thought to your career longevity?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, you know, it's something that you still really enjoy doing, you enjoy racing. You know, I think the day comes when you're not competitive, you wake up, say, "I don't want to go to the racetrack today, want to hang out here at the house," it's time to quit. But I still enjoy seeing everybody, seeing the fans and racing every weekend. You look at Harry, he run till he was about 52, was still winning races. I seen him this summer, he still looks like he's 52. Still stayed in good shape. I think as long as you still do the job and still want to do it, just hang in there.
Q. Just a couple yours ago, you and Lee was championship contenders, all of a sudden it's like you're out in the woods and can't find your way out. Can you go into a little bit what happened with Lee and how good last weekend was to get back with Glover?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, I mean, me and Tony has been friends a long time. Back on the same page a lot. Me and Lee's been good friends since he was brought on board as crew chief. 2001, did 2002, couldn't do anything wrong. I don't know what happened. Lot of bad luck. Look back 2003, we could have won a couple races. Didn't. This year we had a good shot to win Michigan, and didn't. Had a good shot to win Talladega on fuel mileage, got wrecked at the eastbound. I don't know. It's just something that you think during the week, how are we going to get better? You just work as hard as you can and try to work through it.
Q. The same as with Tony in the background being an asset to your team, do you feel like Lee is going to continue to be an asset to your team with the Ganassi organization?
STERLING MARLIN: Yeah. Lee will stay at the shop, oversee, get things organized, get things done at the shop. Like I said, no big deal for Glove to step back to crew chief role, let Steve Boyer who has been on board since 2001 with us, he's the engineer, and we've kind of done it at Charlotte. Everybody has kind of put their heads together, come up with a pretty good plan. I think you'll see some pretty good things towards the end of the year here.
Q. I want to talk to you about what happened with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He lost his appeal on the fine and the penalty was the points.
STERLING MARLIN: Always lose (laughter).
Q. What are your thoughts on how that played out? Do you think it's fair that a driver should lose points for a thing that happened off the track?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, I mean, it's kind of a deal that, you know, NASCAR set the standard, and I guess Ron Sauter, Hornaday. I didn't know they had done it. I guess their deal was (inaudible), get knocked out of a race. I think Dale, Jr., he was happy to have won the race, they said something about his daddy. Dale, Sr. was the best. I think he said it out of -- didn't really realize he said it. It's going to be a shame if it comes down to the end of the year and he loses the points. A deal of 22 points. Man, that would be terrible. So I think it's kind of overboard myself. You know, then again, you shouldn't say it on TV, but I don't think he really meant to say it. He said it, got to pay the penalty for it.
Q. Putting it in perspective, is that the worst thing that you can hear or see at a racetrack? Is NASCAR so overexposed right now that the littlest mistakes are being magnified?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, I think, you know, like I said, 10 years ago, it probably would have slid by. Five years ago. Like I said, the media exposure is there. I've watched a bunch of football games, been on the sidelines of football games. I've heard a whole lot worse coming through on the TV with a professional team. You don't know who said it, but then again you've heard it.
Q. Talking about how the rest of the chase plays out with you being one of the guys not in the chase, there was some discussion earlier today about that. It seems like the guys have pretty much settled down. Nobody is really pushing it, trying to cause any trouble for the chasers. Headed into Martinsville, how do you look at it?
STERLING MARLIN: All I'm concerned about, go to Martinsville, try to win a race. We had a really good test in Martinsville. The track was just super. I don't care what them chase guys do, we're there for us, just concerned about the 40 team, getting us a win.
Q. Do you even notice they're around you at all?
STERLING MARLIN: I don't even notice it. You raced them all year. Really about the only ones you know that's in the chase is the Top 3 or 4. I know Jeremy got in. We don't pay much attention to it. We just try to do our own deal and make it happen
Q. What about the new surface at Martinsville?
STERLING MARLIN: Oh, it's great. I mean, they've done the whole track. The track's got a whole lot of grip. They've done a super job on it.
Q. What kind of race do you think we'll see there this weekend?
STERLING MARLIN: I don't know. I hope it's not a single-file deal. But, you know, the tires, new pavement, concrete when we was on it, they was wearing it a little bit. But the late model stocks run on it and they had a good outside groove worked on in. So hopefully it will be like the old Martinsville, you pass on the outside or the inside.
Q. You say you don't pay attention to what's going on with the chase drivers, but how can you describe the complexion of the race in the last 10? Often people say, "I can't race any harder than I've been racing." Is there some sort of difference between the guys racing for the chase and the guys that aren't? Do you feel there might be perhaps apprehension, especially when you see situations like what occurred last week with Mark Martin?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, what happened with Mark Martin last week? Got in a wreck, I guess. Yeah, I mean, it's a deal that, you know, Mark was in it. That would be my choice to win it, would be Mark. He's going to retire. He's been so close so many times. But we just race -- I'm racing like I raced all year. I don't pay attention to the chase guys. Mark, he's always cut me a break when I'm racing him; I've cut him a break; we've never had any problem. I guess the big wreck on the first lap the other night could have took three of them out. As it gets on down towards the end, a lot of things can happen. We just got to do our own deal with the 40 team and try to get back in the top 18 and try to win us a race.
TRACEY JUDD: These five final tracks, all of these you excel pretty well at, but especially at Darlington. Are you and the 40 team pinpointing that track maybe as one where you can play a specific role in these last five? You just talked about you're going to race hard everywhere you go, but Darlington is a special track to you.
STERLING MARLIN: It always has been, Darlington. I really enjoy racing there. We're going to test the Monday after Atlanta, test there, test two different cars. That's our last test for the year. Yeah, it would have been neat to have been fortunate enough to win a couple spring races, but it would be nice to win the fall race. It's the next to the last race, and hopefully we can get us a win there.
Q. You might not want to talk about it, the chase for the championship, the way they have it set up. Being as you're a driver that's not in the Top 10, how does it affect you? How do you feel about it? Are you more towards this points system now? Are you against? You're eight points away from being in the Top 20. What do you like about this whole system itself?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, I kind of didn't think it was broke. If it was me, I wouldn't have messed with it. But I guess NASCAR was looking to add some excitement, kind of jazz it up a little bit, and it did. You know, when you get back home, people's kind of talking about it. It will be kind of good if we would have made it in the Top 10, but we didn't. I guess you hear more from the guys that didn't get in. It's a shame, a guy sitting 12th in the points, had a really good race, 10 races to go, could have wound up sixth, fifth or sixth, got knocked out, car just wasn't there. As I say, I like it like it was. It wasn't broke. They had some real good points races over the years.
TRACEY JUDD: We started off the call with your first question talking about Mark and Rusty and Terry. I wonder if you could expound on that a little bit pertaining to them specifically. You've raced them basically your whole career. The talk that came out of them at this point, they're going to make '05 for two of them the last full-time run and Terry is going to split it up. What are your thoughts on these guys as competitors as well as friends throughout the time you've raced them in this series?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, they've been good competitors over the year and, you know, great friends. All of them won championships, brought a lot of excitement to the sport. They kind of come up in an era where you had to come up the hard way, work on your cars yourself, drive them down the highway, pay the tire bill. All of them have. I think they've seen NASCAR really take a big jump in growth. I think they're glad to be a part of it, I am too. (Inaudible) the way you had to do it. You know, it's just a lot different now the way guys are coming in and racing.
TRACEY JUDD: You've gotten back into the NASCAR Busch Series a couple of times this year, once back at California a few weeks back, then at Charlotte again last week. Do you have any future plans to run any more in the Busch Series? Give me your thoughts on the race this year between two young drivers, Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Busch?
STERLING MARLIN: Me and him has been friends a long time. Casey was driving his car. It was the deal that Casey was going to drive Chip's car, Jamie was going to ride Rusty's car. I was talking two months ago, "If you ever need any help on the Busch car just holler at me." It wasn't a week later he was calling, "How about driving my car in California and Charlotte?" James always has good stuff. I was glad to jump in and do it for him. Mark Martin and Kyle, it's going to be a deal that they're going to be tough drivers down the road. Wouldn't surprise me five years down the road they'll be battling for the truck championship.
TRACEY JUDD: Your thoughts on your Volunteers this year? Came out ninth in the first BCS poll, two young quarterbacks fighting each other for starting sometime, things look good for Tennessee. What are your predictions for them?
STERLING MARLIN: I hope they win by 20, win on out. Looking at the schedule, no easy games. Notre Dame, Alabama this weekend. Alabama is waiting for them. Same deal at last year. Unfortunately, I can't watch it because I got a prior deal. I'm going to be checking the radio, I guess, to see what's going on.
TRACEY JUDD: Sterling, we do appreciate you taking the time today to join us. Good luck to you and the 40 team Sunday at Martinsville and the rest of the way this season.
STERLING MARLIN: Thanks.
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