NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Ford 400
Topics: NASCAR, Sprint Cup
November 20, 2011
KERRY THARP: Gene Haas has joined us, along with Tony Stewart, he owns this race team, and they are the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions, and Gene, congratulations on this championship. How do you feel?
GENE HAAS: It's an awesome day. It's really hard to get to this point and kind of leaves you speechless.
Q. This is a team that was struggling to be in the top 35 just a few years ago, and enter Tony and his people, and now you've got a Sprint Cup Series championship. Can you talk a little about that transition and what it's meant to you?
GENE HAAS: Well, you know, I've been doing it for ten years, Sprint Cup Series.
It's hard. I think when you enter it, you have these expectations that you can run with the big dogs and that's a lot harder to do than you think.
But like any organization, you really do have to pay your dues. You have to spend your time‑‑ talked to an awful lot of people when we first started. You know, he was very thoughtful about what he told me. His words were, I don't know why you want to get in this sport, but if you want to be in this sport, I tell you what, I'm going to help you lose as little money as possible. That was his words of wisdom. So he partnered up with us and we went forward from there.
In racing, things don't always work. There's changes. When we first started out, it wasn't a great time to enter the sport because it was kind of somewhat in the height of its popularity, drivers were at a premium, most people in the garage don't put a lot of faith in a new team, so you have to spend your time just earning their respect.
And even that doesn't cut it. So many teams fail. People spend huge amounts of money to try to get to this point. And we just kept plugging away. I think we weren't doing that well as you pointed out. We had two cars‑‑ it's tough when you're in that bottom 35 range.
So you just make changes. And you know, thanks to Chevrolet, and Tony was ready to go beyond being a driver, and so that's how it was all born.
Q. What did you think when your people said, we have this idea, we want Tony Stewart to own half and go from there.
GENE HAAS: You know, Tony Stewart is a superstar, we knew that. And I had, basically as we said, back at our shop, I had the jackstands and Tony Stewart was the driver of the car and he could do that. Unfortunately you need a wheel man. You could have the best equipment in the world but without a good wheel man, you really don't have a whole lot.
Just seemed like an opportunity. I thought Tony was a little crazy for doing it, but Tony is a little bit smarter than you think sometimes. He obviously saw some potential in what we did. He has a lot of great relationships. Like we had a lot of great relationships with Hendrick, so we had good equipment. Tony had good people. And like everything else, I mean, you know, today proves all of that right.
KERRY THARP: We are joined by championship crew chief Darian Grubb. Darian, just a terrific run you guys had in the Chase, winning five of ten race, and I don't think there's been a better performance under clutch circumstances than it was by the 14 team here tonight. Your thoughts about winning the championship.
DARIAN GRUBB: Five out of ten, that's pretty damn impressive, don't you think.
KERRY THARP: That's .500, my friend.
DARIAN GRUBB: It was just fun, honestly. We had our ups and downs with Dover and Kansas and some of the others. But the team rallying around when we had bad days and never giving up, and then Tony never giving up either. And just what he's done arriving a race car has been just extremely impressive to me. He's been the one to go three‑ and four‑wide and everyone else is just scared and lifts. I think he went out and earned this championship.
Q. How does a guy who wins a championship pull five races out of ten‑‑ just everything you accomplished, find himself without a job at the end of the year? The whole thing is just baffling.
DARIAN GRUBB: It is to me, honestly. I'm not sure what's going to happen. But I was told early in the Chase before Charlotte that next year I was not going to be here. We just kept fighting and doing everything we had to do every week. It did not change anything, what the outcome was going to be. We fought as if we were going to fight to win this championship, and we did it, and now we'll just see in this coming week how things change.
Q. So again, have you had any conversations with anyone else since you were given that news, and obviously, so the door is still open to remain with the Stewart‑Haas organization?
DARIAN GRUBB: As far as the latter part, I'm not sure. I had a lot of conversations with a lot of people, telling them, please give me the courtesy of waiting until tonight to see what we could accomplish.
And now that we have done that, I guess we'll start talking, but we'll do a little celebrating first.
Q. Along that same line, do you have a mind‑set, are you going to wait until after Thanksgiving? Are you going to start talking tomorrow? And what are your personal feelings? Do you want to stay within the organization?
DARIAN GRUBB: Originally I always wanted to stay within the organization. That's the reason I came here was to help build something special. I think we have done that. We made the Chase all three years and had a shot at winning the championship all three years, and now this year, being able to pull it off, we accomplished our goals and that's what we wanted to do.
As far as time line, I'll let you know later. We are just going to plan to celebrate, talk, see what happens from there.
Q. You said that Tony has been the one to go three and four wide while other people are scared and they lift. He really drove that way all night it seemed tonight, and maybe the last five, six weeks, he's been like that. Did he turn it up to a level? Had you seen him drive this way before?
DARIAN GRUBB: He did it before the Chase even started, if you look back to Atlanta. I think he was talking about how good we made the car there, and he drove from 20th to third, and we didn't tell him until after the race, we didn't make a single change to the car the last three stops, just four tires and go. He went out there and did that, drove from 20 to third and I think that's one of those true moments that we realized that we can do it.
The cars are good, everyone behind him at Stewart‑Haas Racing is incredible. We had really strong people behind us and we all go out there and put all of the things we have worked on all year, all three years, that's in our arsenal, Matt, all of those guys they have built speed in these cars; and the Hendrick chassis and engine has been really good, but what we do to it after we get it is even better. So we are really looking forward to thanking everybody, celebrating and enjoying it.
Q. What did you feel was the key for your organization to come back after the performances at Dover and Kansas? And then, also, can you talk about what‑‑ do you know exactly what happened to cause the damage at the start of the race to the grill?
DARIAN GRUBB: Yeah, as far as the damage at the start of the race, we are not really sure. I know the 22 lost transmission and driveshafts. So evidently some piece of that, he was in front of there, went in and just went through the grill and luckily did not get the radiator. There was no debris or anything in the duct work, but Jeff and the guys did a really good job putting it back together.
And the next restart, Tony hit the double zero just because of how aggressive he was being, the double zero checked up and ripped the left side of the nose open. So he had to come in the next stop there and fix that after he got back into the top 20 again.
So just keeping fighting with all of those small things, it was just a true team effort all night to be able to fight our way back up through there ‑‑ inaudible ‑‑ seeing him every day on the racetrack, that's what I get to deal with on the radio, too. That's the true Tony everybody knows and loves and we all know he can go out there and be a champion and he did that for the third time tonight.
Q. There were times this season where Tony was obviously frustrated with the way he ran, with the way the car ran, and then these last couple of week, he was just dynamite and I think Jenna said during the race, how come he doesn't drive like this all the time.
DARIAN GRUBB: Everybody has that in them at some point. I was frustrated many times this year, as well. You have to dig down deep and fight. If you are going to do this 38 weeks a year, you'd better be able to take the lows and highs and not get too upset, and just keep a nice even keel and just keep fighting against what you are fighting against. Luckily this week we got to where we were just fighting against the 99 and beat all 42 competitors to the win and guaranteed that championship.
Q. You said at New Hampshire after you had won two out of two there, that the moment back in August at Michigan where Tony said, it doesn't matter whether we make the Chase or not, lit a fire and people re‑doubled their efforts. Looking back on that now with the way y'all have performed, might that sort of slap at the team, might that have been the key moment that detonated all of this? And how would you describe your emotions at the time? Mad at him?
DARIAN GRUBB: Honestly I'm not sure. About half the team took that as disappointment and half of them took it as just being mad. Because we do fight hard every week. We try to build winning race cars. It's a tough competition out there now and you are not going to have a winning car every week and it's very frustrating to all of us.
After the middle of the season, we just kept having things stack up against us and we didn't have those good weeks. It got the best of all of us. We all had just sour attitudes and that was probably the time whether we just‑‑ we didn't really dig in any harder but it just turned the attitude around. So there's no reason for us to have this sour attitude and let's just keep doing what we know we can do and get fast race cars on the racetrack under Tony and get better and that's what we did.
Q. Do you think that one little media moment was the trigger moment?
DARIAN GRUBB: Could be. There's multiple ones that's happened behind closed doors, too, at the shop. I can't say there's any one moment but that's about the time frame where everybody just started turning things around if you look at what the 39 team did and the 14 team as well. We are just a strong organization and everyone enjoys what they do for a living and that's why we are here.
Q. I apologize for the elementary question here, but does winning the championship, do you think that might make them change your mind and allow you to say and if they offered you a chance to stay, would it take it?
DARIAN GRUBB: It all depends. We'll just have to do those talks this week and see what happens. Obviously this is what I came in to do as a goal, and now I've done that with this team. It's not anything that I did specifically. It's not anything that Tony did. It's not anything that Gene did. It's the whole group as a whole. We went out and earned this championship. Now we'll just see what comes out of that.
Q. Obviously your team knows the situation, Tony knows the situation; how did you hold it all together for the past ten races, and make it work, especially the past five after they notified you? Did you have to meet with the team or Tony? What was the relationship like?
DARIAN GRUBB: Definitely it was a little tough and strained but it honestly probably made the guys rally around a little more just because we all felt like we were a team to beat, and we wanted to prove that.
So we just did it. Everybody went out there and kept doing their jobs, kept their head up and didn't crack anybody down. We may have even gotten closer as a team after that. We had a couple of excursions where we went out as a team and did some activities and had a lot of fun and really enjoyed it.
Q. How would you describe working with, what it's like to work with Tony?
GENE HAAS: Tony has taken on a hat of being an owner, and unfortunately there's a lot of responsibilities that come with that as far as personnel changes and personnel problems, human resources and paying paychecks and all that stuff. So, you know, Tony takes that to heart and I think it can upset the way he races.
So, you know, myself and Joe and all of the management at Stewart‑Haas Racing, what we really tried to do in the last year or so was just isolate him from that; make sure that Tony just concentrated on the driving part. Tony works really hard at driving. He also works really hard at working with sponsors. I mean, I've never seen a guy that spends every single day, either driving the car, or going to sponsors, or dealing with his other businesses.
Now, you know, like I say, like Joe and Brett, we all really tried to isolate Tony from that stuff and let Tony drive the car, we think that's what he does and that's what he does best. But he's also pretty good to work with, sometimes.
KERRY THARP: Okay. Tony Stewart has joined us. Tony is now the three‑time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. And Tony, a lot of adjectives describe what you did over the Chase. One I keep hearing is "clutch." Just talk about a clutch performance by you over the last ten races.
TONY STEWART: I would have lost every bet in the world if people would have said, hey, when you got in the Chase, that we were going to win a race or we were going to win five races and win this thing; I would have bet against us. And I learned a big lesson with our organization and, you know, how strong a program we have and people‑wise. I mean, everybody has good cars and good equipment, but you know, I'm sure Darian's mentioned it, it's the people you have that make the difference.
When I said at Chicago that we didn't belong in this Chase and taking a space that somebody else that was doing a better job could have done, there were two things that could have happened with our group of guys. They could have hung our head and said, our guy doesn't believe in us or they do have done, which is exactly what they did, and that's never give up, and they dug their heels in. They fought like the Bad News Bears. We were the team that nobody really thought had a shot at the beginning, and you know, the longer this went, we battled adversity at Dover and Texas and we just kept fighting, this whole group up here. I mean, Darian has done an unbelievable job in this Chase. Just to go and be in the situations we've been in, and tonight, for example, to, a, go in and have to fix a damaged race car twice, go to the back and come back to the front, and then to make the call that he made at the end there, my‑‑ I need to take a nap right now. (Laughter) My nerves are absolutely shot. Because when he said save fuel, but run his pace, I'm like, I'm running hard to run his pace.
So he pits about two laps later, and I'm like, we can't‑‑ we are having the discussion, I can't run that pace and save fuel. So it's like, you've got to tell me which one is more important right now.
I'm definitely one that can't hear in one here out the other and I'm he said something and I'm like, all right, got to go. And then he pits and I go into fuel conservation mode, and it's really, really hard to watch guys just come barreling past you and to stay disciplined enough to just stick to the plan.
You know, I didn't question what the plan was or why the plan was. I just stuck to what he told me, and you know, the lap that he called us in, he called us in going into turn one, and when I came off turn two, the fuel pressure dropped, the motor laid down a little bit but was still running. When I got to turn three, I shut it off, coasted around to turn four, kicked the switch, kicked the clutch. Drove down pit road. We did the spot and he's like keep it revving, keep it running; and I'm staring at a fuel pressure gauge that's not building. It's sitting at two pounds.
And we dropped the jack, leave, get 50 foot from the last time line and it dies. I mean, it's dead. It's out. And I'm like, we just lost this thing, and we roll about a hundred feed and it takes off and the needle goes up and we are fourth at that point, and Carl has to come back in, and it's like, wow, that is the call of the race, the call of the Chase, and it gave me the opportunity to do what I love doing best, letting it all hang out and putting it all on the line with the restart.
And that was the one, probably hairy moment of anything that I did all day where I felt like, oohh, maybe I just lost this, and got loose underneath the 18 and the 2, and it was a three‑wide drag race down the three, and the way this thing drove all day, it was really good side‑bite. I knew I could bury it down in the corner. I just didn't know if I was going to make the front and stick out the back, and we drive back out with the lead; and at that point you just sit there and go, this is all you can ask for is where we are at right now and whatever happens, it happens.
The funny part was listening to Darian actually get nervous at that point. The hard part is done at that point. We are where we need to be. He's like, "Okay, I'm not going giving you lap times any more, I'm giving you intervals."
You could tell the way he said that, it made me laugh in the car, and that relaxed me more than anything the last 30 laps. He's just reading intervals off every lap, and we are just running hard enough to‑‑ it wasn't like we were saving much. But we saved just enough that if we had a green‑and‑white checkered, we would have saved our tires enough to do a good job at the end. But getting in lap traffic, he was able to gain a little bit and we were able to fight through some of those guys and pull back out.
So just you never are more excited to see a white flag waving in your life. You at least take the white and know that if the caution comes out, it's over, and you only have to make it one more lap. I would love to know what my lap time was the last lap. I don't think we gave up much. It just was an awesome ending.
And to get both of these guys beside me their first championship, it is an unbelievable feeling. From the ownership side, it's more gratifying knowing that the investment that Gene's made in this sport and Darian's history in this sport and to be a part of getting them their first championship, that on the ownership side for me is the greatest‑‑ and if you didn't think this was one of the most exciting Chases to watch from a fan standpoint, you've got to go to a doctor immediately and get checked out. So I don't even know what else to say about it.
Q. You were making three‑ and four‑wide passes tonight that we all were kind of left with our mouths open and then A.J. said that, "I think Tony drove the best race of his life." Was this the best race of your life? And is it fair to say that you've been driving this way for four, five, six weeks?
TONY STEWART: I think so. But as much as I would love to beat my chest and say that I've been just doing something supernatural, I mean, I've had cars that have given me that confidence to do that.
And you know, to go four‑wide on the front stretch like that and to have the confidence that when you get to turn one, that you can make the corner still, I mean, that's a good‑handling race car that gives you that. I mean, I've got‑‑ I've had confidence in these things and you look at the first half of our year and how many things that happened, and lots of things that never happened at the end of the day, we would battle to a respectable finish out of it.
But we are disappointed because we knew there was more there. It's really frustrating. But in the Chase here, it just seemed like finally we got through that bad luck string, and everything worked like it's supposed to. No curveballs, no change ups. Just business as usual. Today was the first time I thought, oh, man, when he said, we have got to come in, it's like, oh, I didn't question it. I didn't know what was going on, because I never even felt the impact.
Normally you feel something if you hit something with the nose of the car and to hit it with the wire mesh like that, that screen, it just kills that. How it didn't go through the radiator, I have no idea.
But, you know, to have something like that actually go our way for once, it was nice to finally get that bad luck streak out of the way and get to where we could work on just doing what we do best.
Q. Was this the best race of your life?
TONY STEWART: Man, I feel like I passed half the State of Florida (Laughter). 118 cars is a lot of cars to pass in one race. I don't care what series you're in or where you're at. To do it under the circumstances and the pressure that we had today, I'm very, very proud of that, and man, I've been racing 31 years, I can't even remember some of the races I've won. But I would have to say that under the circumstances, I've got to believe that this is definitely one of the greatest races of my life.
Q. You drove today like you were not going to lose this race; you were going to either‑‑ you were either going to win this thing or you were leaving it all on‑‑
TONY STEWART: I think the last five years, the entire NASCAR nation thought they might never have a shot at another championship again.
I think the one thing that I was constantly reminded by in the media is we were the last guys to win one before Jimmie started that string. You look at Jeff and guys that have been successful in this series and had not won, and we had won a more recent one than those guys have; you can't discard it and say that you can't win it.
It's just, what do you have to do to get back on top. You know, I don't think anybody ever has that feeling. The day that you just say, I can't do it any more, you might as well just announce your retirement and find some young kid that will do it.
Q. I know you just noted‑‑ congratulations, gentlemen, all of you, by the way. I know you just noted that this is one much your best performances of your career. Your hero said it was the best. What does it mean that someone you admire to that level considers this performance that stellar?
TONY STEWART: For those of you who don't know, when we were doing one of the ESPN interviews, they had a surprise phone call for us on the line, and it was A.J. Foyt. And to hear him say that that was the best race he's ever seen me run, brings a tear to your eye. I mean, not many people can have their lifelong hero say that and hear you say that.
It's just very, very flattering. The one thing out of the conversation I was surprised, even when I drove Silver Crown cards for him and George Schneider, I would still win the race and he would tell me everything I did wrong during the race. For once he didn't tell me I did anything wrong. I'm like, I don't know how I'm going to top this now. My life is complete. If I get hit on a golf cart now, I'm good to go because A.J. said I did everything perfect for once.
It was an honor. That was probably one of the coolest phone calls I've ever had in my life obviously. You know, to go into a day like today when you know what's at stake and it's not just‑‑ you know, it's the head‑to‑head battle, obviously one guy versus another; but with 40 other variables out there, and have him leading the first half of the race and dominating it like he did; if he stayed second or third, we still had to win the race, so to have a battle like that, you just sit here you and shake your head and sit here and figure, it was one of the coolest championship battles, but what do I have to do to beat that guy? I felt like I had to throw everything I had in my arsenal out.
And when we were coming around with the flag sticking out of the car, he walked up and he said you're going to have fun with this for the rest of your life. You couldn't ask for a better guy. And he goes, "I hope a year from now, we are in the same battle again just like this." And that‑‑ everybody respects Carl for the person that he is, and you know, there's been a lot of things that have happened that make you go, is there sincerity involved in what he says. But there's no cameras there when he said that. He just came and talked to me driver to driver, and that means a lot and it shows who he is as a person I think.
I know there's times he hasn't done everything perfect and he's taken it upon himself to settle scores, but I think deep down, at moments like that and at Texas when he came out there and we had that conversation, it shows who he really is as a person, and he'll win a championship. He'll be up here in our position again, maybe be the guy on the losing end butwhen he gets it, hope he has to beat us to do it again. I appreciated that championship battle. It was a David versus Goliath battle to the end.
To have the week that we had, and the sparring that we had at Media Day, and to come here and finish the season running first and second, I just‑‑ I don't know how it gets better than that. No matter what the outcome was, there would have been no shame in finishing second to him tonight in the championship. But to have that battle come down to me, that's epic.
Q. You sounded so calm on the radio, reassuring your team, kind of a leader on the team, but who was reassuring you? Did you have some doubts at any point? Did you think, maybe this is just not meant to be?
TONY STEWART: I think this summer has kind of been character‑building to a certain degree. The good thing is, I think the guys, when you're in the role that I am, I feel like that there's some added pressure there from my standpoint, even being in the car. Darian is the guy that they feed off in the pits obviously, because they are the‑‑ Darian is the guy that they read. But I think we have been a really good team from that aspect of‑‑ that was‑‑ when we hung the lug nut today, I thought‑‑ I thought that was one of the key moments in the race where, you know, you could lose your composure, and I think Darian's calling of the audible of saying, we are going to make this a two‑tire stop now, that was huge. We didn't give up any more track position. We had a car that was fast. And that was big, and I pulled into the stop and had no idea what's happened and that's probably the first time in the Chase I raised my voice, what the heck just happened. And Darian's demeanor from when we started in 2009, is he's been calm and you know, he told me it hung the lug nut but the way he says it, in a way, that, just, all right, it is what it is. It's nothing to get excited about. You know, when we had the restart that we had, it's like, hey, you know, you looked at how the first 109 laps went before the rain delay came, it's like, so we hung the lug nut and we are back to 12 now.
I think the way our season went and the way the first 100 laps of the race went, it was easy to put into perspective, it wasn't as good of a drama as we thought. Carl made a pit stop, but that wasn't when they paid the points and dropped the flag. There was a lot of racing to go.
And it goes back to nobody has ever quit on this team and you know, like I said, I think the season has been character‑building and when something like that's happened it's easy to feel like you're backing yourself in a corner but the way our day was and to battle back from the back twice in those first hundred laps, I thought gave us that confidence that it wasn't the end of the world and that we could recover from it.
Q. You had to make a tough decision, you said, when you parted ways with Bobby Hutchins‑‑
TONY STEWART: I wasn't responsible for that. I was responsible for getting Darian and Bobby and Tony Gibson. They were the guys that really said, this is what we need people‑wise and personnel wise.
So you know, Gene gave me the faith and the trust to go get the people that I felt like that we needed to get, and a lot of that was Rick Hendrick, too. Rick was the one that said, hey, this guy is the guy that I think is going to be a good fit for you.
You know, that's the push in the right direction that you need from somebody like that to give you that confidence. But Bobby and Darian and Tony together, I think all three were very instrumental in orchestrating what personnel we needed to take what resources Gene had already established to make it all work and make it all come together.
Q. You've obviously heaped praise on Darian and deservedly so. But before you came in here, he had mentioned that it's under his impression that he's out of a job for next season. Can you at all shed some light on his status? I know it's kind of awkward with him sitting right there.
TONY STEWART: I know what his status is for the rest of the night, and I'm going to get him drunk. (Laughter).
Tomorrow if we can just pick our heads up off the floor without throwing up, I'm going to be extremely happy, but I'll worry about that tomorrow.
Q. Is there a chance that he could return or can you say anything?
TONY STEWART: There's a lot of things in the off‑season and decisions that have to be made. Obviously we wanted to get through this championship battle first, and we'll sit down as a group, obviously, this week and figure out the direction of our program.
But, you know, the good thing right now is that we are sitting up here right now as champions and I don't think any of us are really too concerned other than having fun tonight and enjoying the accomplishment we have had over the last ten weeks.
Q. Given that, does that put a different perspective on this championship run that despite that uncertainty and I would assume that created more duress, Darian talked about how maybe it was a little bit of a tension builder at times, can you talk about how you were able to overcome that and still do everything and win the championship despite all that?
TONY STEWART: I think the way this whole Chase has worked out for us, for us to battle through a number of variables to get where we are is remarkable. But it shows the strength of the people that we have and you know it definitely‑‑ it definitely makes you go, how did we do this, how did we overcome a lot of variables to get where we are. But at the same time, it makes it very gratifying because you are able to take a less than perfect scenario and have success with it.
So, I think we are all up here going to take a lot of pride in that.
Q. You kind of spoke about this a little bit, but people that know you well have said, I've never seen him more determined. And we have seen you through various championships, but this one felt different, almost like Babe Ruth, pointing what you were going to do, and you did. Can you talk about your approach and determination and the way it played out, especially in the last two or three weeks.
TONY STEWART: Boy did I look like a genius after doing this. (Laughter).
You know, it's like I said, I mean, it's one thing for me to have confidence as a driver, but you have to have confidence in your guys and your equipment and the guys making the calls.
You know, I honestly think the turning point for us was Martinsville. We had struggled at Martinsville the three races before this fall, and to battle, to stay on the lead lap, and once we stayed on the lead lap there, to battle back to the lead and to win the race with the drama that we have won the race, I have yet to have anybody tell me who has passed for the lead on the outside to win the race at Martinsville.
To leave there doing something remarkable, I feel that was the turning point in the Chase for us. And we backed it up a week later by winning Texas and not only winning Texas but by beating the guy that we are racing the points for, leading the most laps and really making a statement that, hey, do not count‑‑ don't make the mistake of counting us out of this.
And you know, I just think that was a huge turning point for us, and you get that confidence that everything is going right and that‑‑ it's so much easier when things are going well. Everybody relaxes. Everybody is calm. You're not trying to mentally figure out what the missing piece of the puzzle is.
You know, I think Martinsville was kind of that step that we may not have had a perfect car that day and we may not have had a perfect race, but we fought through it and came out on top, and to battle like that at Texas all day, it just‑‑ at that point, you sit there and you go, we have got as good a shot, if not better, than anybody else out there, and it doesn't matter who is still left. We are a contender now. And that's the kind of confidence you want going into the last two weeks.
Q. This race had an epic feel to it from the beginning, Carl said it was an unbelievable movie the way it unfolded. Did you have any feeling or sense of that in the seat of the car as the night was going on?
TONY STEWART: Gene says I've got to watch the rerun.
KERRY THARP: It's on at 1:00 am.
TONY STEWART: I'll be up. (Laughter) may not be able to focus on the screen, but I'll be up.
It did. I don't know that it necessarily had that feel, but you know, the story line was pretty amazing. You've got a guy that goes out and is leading the points standings, qualifies on the pole and is dominating the first part of the race.
The guy that's the underdog and the guy that's three points behind is having to jump hurdles and jump through hoops to salvage their day. And then we come and battle back‑‑ when we had that red flag at lap 109, I'm sitting out there, I'm just laughing with the crew guys. There's crew guys going, what are you doing, what's going on here.
And they are going, where are you coming from? I'm like, where else am I going to go? I don't have anything else to do. If I crash this thing on the way to the front, so be it. And it wasn't that I was throwing caution to the wind. We were trying to be calculated and methodical about what we were doing. But the story lines are total opposites. You have the guy that's got the perfect race going, he's leading laps and when he's not leading, he's second or third, and he is right where he wants to be and he's in the position he wants to be in all day long at that point and you have the other guy that's like, man, can we get there from here. You feel like you have the big fish on the hook and you're running out of line and wondering if you're going to run out soon.
When you sit there and when we took the lead the first time, I think it had to make him go, how did they‑‑ you know in the red flag he's sitting there going what's going on with them. Well, they have come back from the back twice and are fifth now? You know he's thinking that.
And I'm sitting there with Jack Roush, and I walk by Jack and I say, "Tell your boy to get you will on the wheel because I'm on my way and I'm coming." I've screwed with everybody all week, why am I going to stop now? Jack looks at me like I've got three heads all of a sudden and I don't know it's because he couldn't see me or what was going on, he kind of looked at me‑‑ (Laughter) I'm joking, come on. Doug is sitting there laughing because he know what is I'm doing, and Jack looks at me funny, went about my business and got back in the car, laughing about it. We still have nothing to lose and just keep slinging it at him. When we wind up taking the lead, he has to be sitting there going, how did they do that, they got tore up twice, how did they get there.
So, yeah, storyline was pretty cool I thought, up to that point.
Q. This is a little bit of a provincial question in that this is big news‑‑
TONY STEWART: You have to use small words. I have no idea what kind of question that means.
Q. It means back in your home state this is really big news, you winning another championship when you were coming up, everybody wanted to be the next A.J. Foyt and now guys in that state want to be the next Tony Stewart‑‑
TONY STEWART: They should set their standards much higher than that.
Q. Talk about bringing this title back to your home state.
TONY STEWART: I'm proud of where I came from. I mean, you know, my career path made a pretty drastic turn and I don't know how many people actually know. I had a chance to drive for A.J. when the IRL started, and I had been working on a deal with Harry to join the Busch Series at the time and was really close to having that done, and my intention was to do that, and then all of a sudden the opportunity came to drive for A.J. and the IRL and the IRL only had five races.
So I had every intention of doing both. I was used to running Silver Crown car, midgets, all in the same night and I couldn't see why I couldn't run five IndyCar races and the schedule‑‑ A.J. kind of put the kibosh to that, he wanted me to be an IndyCar driver or NASCAR driver, and that was a pretty hard decision to make; to tell your hero that you are going to turn down an opportunity to drive his race car to go do something else.
But I had worked with the Rainier family long enough, I didn't want to let them down and I didn't necessarily want to turn down that opportunity‑‑ didn't have to worry about what was going to happen. From where I grew up, and my heritage‑‑ demanding moments and I take a lot of pride in the fact that we are going to be bringing a trophy back home.
Q. What's it going to be like?
TONY STEWART: I already know that Bob at the Dairy Queen has already been giving away ice cream tonight and he will tell me to the penny exactly how much he lost doing it, literally to the cent, he will tell me how much money it cost him. (Laughter).
I live in a town with 35,000 people and I've still got the same friends that I had growing up. You know, when I go home, people let me just be me. They see me in a restaurant, they will come by and say hi. I've been back home long enough now, I think the news wore off, and I'm just another person. It's a sense of pride that when the people in your community come up and say they are proud of you and you did a good job, that means a lot. I'm excited about the day I get to go home now.
Q. You obviously had a lot of fun poking Carl and whatnot this week but‑‑
TONY STEWART: I don't poke Carl. I made that real clear. I like women. (Laughter) I won't be poking Carl. I pick on Carl a lot.
Q. Try to rephrase the question.
TONY STEWART: I just really, really want to make sure nobody gets the wrong idea about this.
Q. It will be an interesting transcript. But anyway. Regardless, was there ever a moment where in your head there was just a slight bit of doubt or nervousness or whatever it might be that kind of creeped into your head during this whole run leading up to it?
TONY STEWART: Oddly enough, I mean, there should have been a moment like that. And I can't‑‑ that's been the one thing that's probably been the one variable in the equation that I have not been able to understand and get my hands around, is that there just never was that moment of feeling despair and like, can we really do this.
We were in the perfect scenario of coming into this weekend with no possible shot of losing anything contrary to what my favorite guy mentioned on Media Day there, we honestly just did not‑‑ we physically could not lose anything. There was nothing to lose. And there was everything to gain. And with that, there is absolute‑‑ it takes so much pressure off when you know that if anything happens, that you are not going to be any worse than second and considering the fact that ten weeks ago, we were saying that we were wasting a spot in the Chase to begin with, second wasn't so bad, if that's what happened.
But at the same time, I mean, you don't have to dangle the caret in front of us to get our spurs jingling to get excited about what we can get and what we can reach.
I meant what I said in Media Day, that it's a dangerous combination when you give a guy a shot at something and he can't lose anything. That's a potent situation to be in for our organization and our team and myself. I honestly can't say that there was that moment that I felt that way. I guess it was just the perfect scenario; I really wanted to leave Phoenix. Honestly, I wanted to leave Phoenix with the point lead and I thought that would really be the best opportunity to rattle his confidence.
But in hindsight, we came here, and there was never a moment where I was wound up‑‑ I was up at 2:30 in the morning this morning, couldn't sleep, and I was watching every stupid movie you could think of on TV because I was having fun. And it just‑‑ and I couldn't explain it. I don't understand it. But that's where we were at with it. It just felt natural. There was something that felt right with it, and then never had that moment where I felt like we couldn't do this or that something could go wrong. If it did, it did. But we had more to gain than we had to lose.
I can't shut up tonight, either. I'm ready to get out of here. Somebody stop me. (Laughter).
Q. Darian was talking earlier, and he's been telling us for a while, he's felt like the cars have been good most of the season and he mentioned the Atlanta race where you came from like 20th to third, and talking about all of the great changes they made and they told you afterwards there were no changes made at all‑‑
TONY STEWART: You didn't change anything?
DARIAN GRUBB: Not at Atlanta.
TONY STEWART: You liar.
Q. Was this turnaround more about you recapturing something you had lost, a confidence more so than the cars and that?
TONY STEWART: I mean, I don't know. I've been deceived here by my crew chief. I had no idea that that's what was going on in Atlanta.
I don't know. I've been doing this a long time. I've never felt like I really lost anything. When we won that Out law race earlier this year, I know it has nothing to do‑‑ inaudible‑‑ cars and win races, and I'm not just stuck doing it here and not just able to win here and nowhere else.
So maybe it sparked something then, I don't know, but I never felt like anything really changed from that standpoint. I just, you know, I had a lot of fun this year. I mean, Darian and Gene have let me go off racing any night I wanted to race and I got to run 30 nights this year away from NASCAR and had a blast doing it. I think that was as much as it scares Eddie Jarvis and our management worrying about me getting hurt and how many people it can affect, Darian can tell you, when I would come back, it energized me. It was like hitting a reset button. It was fun. I had fun racing again this year. I think it transferred to what we were doing with the Cup car, too. We would have fun Saturday night and Sunday, even if it wasn't right or didn't work out, I still had fun doing what I was doing again, and I think that made a big difference.
So, I don't know if I really thought about it a bunch, but maybe it did.
Q. You've talked before about the history of NASCAR and tonight you've made that history. What do you want the history books to say about you and your season as you look forward for that?
TONY STEWART: They can write whatever they want. The biggest thing to me is we got the trophy and I think the biggest thing is it's not about what they write about me. It's what they write about us. I mean, I really appreciate the opportunity that Gene and Joe Custer have given us, and I appreciate what Darian has done from day one. He played more than a crew chief role.
And there were a lot of really good people that have had to work outside of the box of what their job description was to get us here. I think that's what makes great teams great is people don't just sit there and look at their job as a 9 to 5 job or whatever their hours are and they show up and leave whenever that hour gets there. I know there's been times when he has had to come in and stay late and there's people that have made that sacrifice. To the best of our knowledge, I don't think anybody has complained about it. We just have a bunch of racers and I probably take the most pride in that. We have people that come from so many different racing backgrounds, and their attitude at the shop is just a bunch of racers who love racing and winning races and I'm really proud of that.
Q. The other day we talked about book ending, now that you've achieved it, what do you feel like it means to your organizations?
TONY STEWART: Very proud. Donny won the last sprint car race of the season last night, an USAC race at Tucson and Levy won the last race of the year with our Chevy car and to be able to come here tonight and do this, we have‑‑ Levy won the Silver Crown championship, Sprint Car Championship. We ran second with Donny Schatz and third with Steve in World of Outlaws. I don't know where Ryan officially ended up tonight points‑wise‑‑ tenth. So two cars in the Top‑10 in the Sprint Cup Series, I'm pretty proud of that. Probably as close to being a father as I'm going to get for a while, and I'm pretty proud of all my kids, even though one is 50 years old and still winning races.
I'm proud of our people. I feel like I've said it from day one, I've been a part of this organization, I learned a lot from Joe Gibbs and how he was able to assemble the right people to do the right jobs. I feel like I've learned a very valuable lesson from him, and I think that I've been able to take that approach with every entity that we have and we have been successful and I'm proud of Chevy being on board and STP and Armor All and all of the people that have believed in the programs I've wanted to build and helped us make them successful.
Q. Why would you leave Joe Gibbs Racing when you did? You were comfortable there, you could win there, you didn't have to have any real responsibilities and take all this John‑‑
TONY STEWART: Joe would tell you different. He would tell you I had all kind of responsibilities.
Q. What kind of pressure do you take with you? Do you wonder, am I ever going to win again? You're leaving a really comfortable, nice place.
TONY STEWART: I think the variable that was the little bit of the push over the top that I needed, it came from Rick Hendrick, and Rick had had a relationship with Gene and the two teams working together in the past. When Rick called me and said, hey, this may be an opportunity for you, and where I was at in my life and my career, you know, I guess I've never been scared to step outside my comfort zone with opportunities. We own three racetracks now, we have our world out law teams, our USAC teams. I didn't have a background in any of that. I don't have a background in business.
But you know, it just seemed like everything, every challenge that we took, we were able to somewhat kind some sort of success with it, and Rick talked to me on the phone one night and he goes, I'm not going to let this fail. That's words that I have never forgot. And there's been times when I've had to call and say, hey, I don't know what to do, I'm kind of stuck. But I need your input. I just need somebody to tell me if what I'm thinking is right, wrong or indifferent. And he's been really strong in that role with me. So you've got to have people you believe in. You've got to have people you trust, and it's just another chapter in my life that it's like, this is a great opportunity for what's going on now and what can happen down the road one day. There's a day that I'm not going to be driving but I don't want to leave the sport. It's a great opportunity for me to drive till Gene fires me from the driver's seat and I get to sit on the pit box with him. I like that opportunity. It was an opportunity to have a fresh start, a fresh beginning and a new challenge, and I love new challenges for some reason.
Q. In that same vein, did you ever regret the decision to become a co‑owner and what do you feel this championship can do for your organization as a whole?
TONY STEWART: I would be lying if I said there were a lot of nights I laid my head on a pillow and said, have you lost your mind. It was a lot easier being a driver. And there was a lot of responsibility that came with being a driver in a big organization, but you know, there's a lot of worries. It's still a business. This is a big industry and it's my goal from day one has been to be able to look Gene Haas in the eyes and shake his hand and say, hey, it didn't cost you a dime this year to go race, I want you to just come to the track and have fun and enjoy what you've built. Our economy has been rough the last three years and it's been a challenge to do that.
But I'm proud with the new partners that we have had come on board. We are in the best financial situation our company has been in and there's still an inventory of races to be sold in our company. Hopefully an effort like we have had in the Chase and the championship like this can be a push that some of these companies need to maybe come on board. So this is big for our company as an organization. It's a hard time with the economy and definitely a championship like this is huge.
Q. As far as you're being compared to the greatest drivers ever, like your heroes, can you share with us what you feel you have, physical and mental abilities, that you can share with the greatest people that ever got behind the wheel?
TONY STEWART: All you have to do is look at me and ‑‑ inaudible ‑‑ looking how I compare to A.J. Foyt and following that same path‑‑ don't sit there in a Jim and don't eat the right foods every day and can still go out and do what they do, take some pride in that today. (Laughter) I'm going to take a lot of pride in a lot of stuff.
But, you know, I'm nothing‑‑
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I represent you guys‑‑ not you, Jenna. And some of you more than others obviously. (Laughter).
I have a hard time putting it in perspective what it means with these guys and the greats of these sports and the legends of this sport. You feel like you're comparing apples to oranges because you're comparing different eras in our sport. It's hard to put that in perspective I think.
But you know, I feel like I'm a part of a time in NASCAR when the competition's better than it's ever been. It's more competitive than it's ever been. And to be in a format that's very tight, very competitive, and you can't have anything go wrong to win five races out of a ten‑race Chase, and to win closest battle in NASCAR history, you know, no matter what the record books say at the end of the day and the greats that are a part of it, it's a huge honor just to be in those record books with those guys, and you never feel like you're‑‑ I don't care how many races you win, how many championships you win, you never feel like you measure up to the greats of the sport. That's what makes trying so much fun.
KERRY THARP: Tony, you certainly put on one outstanding performance the past ten weeks. You're the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. Much deserved. Congratulations on truly a terrific performance here tonight that I think not only the folks in this room, but millions across the world are going to look back and say that this was one of the greats in all of sports. Congratulations.
And I do have one final question for you.
TONY STEWART: Boy do I feel like I should really be nervous, I felt like I've skirted around‑‑ I've played dodgeball for an hour up here and thought I was going to make it out of here okay.
KERRY THARP: By winning this race tonight, Tony is going to take home a Contender boat that is built right here in Homestead Florida and it's right out in victory lane, 400 horsepower worth a lot of money. Do you have any idea what you're going to name your boat?
TONY STEWART: I just hope I don't get so screwed up tonight that I find the keys on accident and try riding it around on the lake on the backstretch. (Laughter) Maybe we'll call it, "Hope We Don't Screw Up."
Thank you, guys, appreciate it.
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