NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Daytona 500
Topics: Daytona 500
February 19, 2005
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 33 Mr. Clean Auto Dry Chevrolet for Pro Series Car Wash Kevin Harvick Incorporated. Tony's first NASCAR Busch Series win. He had three previous second place finishes. He is the ninth driver to win in all three of NASCAR's premier series, the Truck, the Busch and the Cup. Tony, the last few laps, you had a heck of a charge on the outside and to take the lead. Take us through those last couple laps, how you got back out front after what you went through earlier.
TONY STEWART: I wish I could take you guys through the last couple laps because the only thing I remember about it at this point is we got a run, I was behind Kasey Kahne on the outside. We were three-wide. We got through there. I got a hole to get down to the bottom. The bottom was the place to be all day. I mean, guys kept trying to make runs on the outside, but nobody could really, really make it stick out there. I knew I needed to get back down. I got back down on line. I was fourth or fifth there. Got a run on the backstretch. I have no idea who was behind me. They never touched me. But that thing was shot out of a cannon all of a sudden on the backstretch. Followed the middle of the hole there, went to the outside, got by Kevin, had enough momentum to get down to Junior and was in the right spot to aero-wise pull his car back, pull mine forward, then break away from him and clear him. I wish I could give you more details than that because I'm going to have to watch the tape myself just to see exactly what happened there. But we got a great run. The guys on the pit stop, I mean, that was the whole key to us even having a shot to do what we did today. You know, we had a good car all day and I made a mistake, left the bottom open for Carl Edwards and came down across his nose, put myself in the grass, then tore up the right front sliding back up the racetrack. When we came in for the stop about six or seven laps later there, after the caution, or during the caution, those guys did an awesome job. I don't know what position we were in. I think we were 8th or 10th when we came in, we came back out 17th. To fix the damage on the right front, get the fender pulled back out, get four tires on it and get a can of gas in there, get us out in 17th like that, that was an awesome job by those guys. If it wasn't for that stop, we probably wouldn't have had a chance to get back up where we did at the end of the day.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions from the media center.
Q. Did you get an extra set of tires after going through the grass?
TONY STEWART: No, we didn't. We had another set of tires that we had already had on that they had reglued. He had told me after the last stop, he said, We can go all the way, we've got one set of tires left. So that was the set that we ended up having to put on. The other set was what he called an emergency set, if we had a flat, had a flat during that run that we had to change a tire for. It was a set that we had already ran. No, we were on the same amount of tires everybody else had.
Q. What was the most impressive thing today, saving that car through the grass, the charge of momentum at the end, or getting first Busch win?
TONY STEWART: D, all of the above. I mean, just the whole day, we didn't have the fastest car. I mean, I think the 11 car was the fastest car. When you can take somebody that doesn't even know where he needs to be on the racetrack and he can still drive away from everybody, that's a dominant car. We just figured, hey, if we can stay with him till the end, maybe we can get him on a restart or something like that. We had a good enough car to stay up in the top two or three spots, led a lot of laps. That's what got us in the position we were in. We weren't the fastest car. Couldn't stay out front like the 11 car could and keep people from getting a run at us. They were always getting a run at us. We just kept fighting them off all day. But it just was one of those days that everything -- I mean, you had the drama, you had the recovery, you had the comeback. I mean, it was just -- I couldn't script it any more exciting for a movie for tomorrow, if I had to make a movie out of it.
Q. What were you thinking when you were in the grass heading towards turn one?
TONY STEWART: I can't pay the fines for what I was thinking when I went through the grass. Hunter, you want to come answer this question? I know he's in here. He was in here somewhere. There was a lot of stuff going through my mind when I got in the grass. First one was probably, How am I going to tell my mom this on the phone when I'm in the emergency room, telling her what happened? You know, to be honest, I got the car straight, I got in the grass. I thought, Well, as long as I'm straight, I'm not in too bad of shape here. It all happened real fast. The whole morale of the story is just about the -- just before I got to the pavement, started turning the wheel, knew that at least once I got to concrete, it was going to have some grip, but it wasn't going to be a pretty reentrance back into the racetrack up there. It turned out a lot better than I was thinking it was going to. I thought for sure that I was probably going to go up and somehow hit the wall, but I didn't know how hard when I got there.
Q. When you get on the pavement, is that harder than just plowing through the grass?
TONY STEWART: I think it's probably harder just to keep control in the grass because it's no grip in the grass whatsoever. So once I was at least straight, it made me feel better that I was going straight. The hard part is the angle that you're going to go back up on the racetrack. That's the question of, Are you going to get turned and slowed down before you whack the fence? It was kind of two phases to that deal. But I'm not going to say, hey, yeah, I planned it. This is what was going to happen, this and that. It was just a reaction thing. That's probably one of the good things about driving dirt cars for as long as I have because it didn't bother me when I got down there. Once I got it straight, I was just trying to figure out how I was going to get it turned and get it started up on the track without heading straight up the fence.
Q. Did you damage anything on the car other than the sheet metal when you went through the grass? What was going through your mind in the last restart, that you were determined to win this race?
TONY STEWART: I'll be honest, I didn't know if I could win the race or not. I thought if we could get back in the Top 10, that's a pretty good save. As sensitive as these cars are at superspeedways, I'll be surprised if the toe is not off or something is bent on the back end of that car. There's got to be something that is damaged a little bit, I would have to think. I thought if we could get a Top 10 out of it, it would be great. When we lined up, I didn't know what we could do. When I slid up the racetrack, it hurt the tires so bad that I couldn't even run wide open by myself any more and stay down on the bottom. That's the impressive part. The right front fender, the side skirts were about half ripped off of it and ground off of it. I didn't even see the right side of the car. Most of the damage that's on the car right now was done by all the other guys after the race was over coming up and congratulating me. That was probably one of the coolest parts of it. But they did a great job. I honestly believe that was the key to us winning the race, you know, with the circumstances the way they were, is those guys getting that fender fixed.
Q. Can you compare the two attitudes between today's and tomorrow's race?
TONY STEWART: I don't think everybody is going to go into it with the same attitude, thinking that we're going to go out there to have fun. I want to have fun tomorrow, but I want to have fun winning this race tomorrow. You know, it's our biggest race of the year coming up tomorrow obviously. It's hard to say you're going to go out there and have fun. I mean, everybody's going to be doing everything they can to win the Daytona 500, plain and simple. That's what everybody has been thinking of once we all left Homestead. If it's two to go and I'm leading, I don't think anybody can get by me, I might start having some fun, but I bet it won't even be fun till it's over, still. We'll just have to wait and see.
Q. Carl Edwards said it might have been his fault. Is that the way you saw it?
TONY STEWART: It was not his fault, period. You know, he got a run. He went to the outside. I moved up. He went down. I went down. When I went down, he was already there. So it was not his fault. I mean, he came -- that's the neat thing about Carl, I really got a lot of respect for that kid. He ran all the way down to the end of pit lane where they were checking the spoilers to meet me down there. First thing he did was congratulate me, then the second thing he did was start apologizing. I told him, I said, You don't have anything to apologize for. That's the product of restrictor plate racing. That's the position we are put in as drivers. If it was anywhere else, that probably would have been looked at differently. But he didn't do anything wrong. I don't feel like I did anything wrong. We were both going for the same piece of real estate. He was trying to pass; I was trying to defend my spot. Unfortunately, that's just a product of restrictor plate racing. Just for the record, 100%, beyond a shadow of a doubt, he did nothing wrong.
Q. Earnhardt did that same thing I believe in 2001 in the IROC race. Do you remember that? Do you recall that?
TONY STEWART: I thought it was pretty cool when I saw him do it. I'll be honest, I mean, when I saw that, I said, There's not too many people I know that can do that and get away with it. I mean, I didn't really -- that was kind of one of those isolated instances where you thought you probably wouldn't see that happen again for a long time.
Q. What was going through your mind when they took a little while to announce who was the winner?
TONY STEWART: I'll tell you, the most nerve-wracking part is I knew I took the white. In the driver's meeting, they said, Once you take the white flag, that's it, that's the race. I came through the tri-oval, took the white flag. No more than I got through the tri-oval, I saw the lights come on. I thought, We've got this. It was clear, he never pulled the white flag back, never threw the yellow light on while he was waving the white flag. We were through the start/finish line before the yellow light came on, yellow flag came out. I was expecting to see the checkers out a little earlier. We were hoping they were going to be out a little earlier. I was a nervous wreck coming down the short shoot. All I saw was the yellow. When I saw him pull that checkered flag out, it was the biggest sigh of relief. You would have thought we won the Daytona 500 with that.
Q. Can you put this win in perspective in terms of all your other victories in the other series you competed in?
TONY STEWART: You know, the first time you win in any series, it's always something that you'll always remember. But like we were saying a minute ago, I mean, the way the sequence of events happened today, this is going to be one that I'm sure my friends and I am going to remember. We're going to talk about it and we're going to remember it for a very, very, very long time.
THE MODERATOR: Tony, thanks for coming in. Congratulations on your win.
TONY STEWART: Thanks.
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