NASCAR Media Conference
September 17, 2009
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's very special video teleconference. We're here at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square in New York City. NASCAR is hosting Chase Media Day, it's in advance of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup which starts Sunday at New Hampshire.
We have four of the 12 drivers that have qualified for the Chase, top seeded Mark Martin, second seed Tony Stewart, eighth seed Brian Vickers, ninth seed Carl Edwards all with us today.
Guys, we're going to start off with a quick question for each of you, then we'll go to the media.
Mark, you're up first. You've made the Chase. Now what do you have to do to win the championship?
MARK MARTIN: We got to go out and score every point that we can, take advantage of every opportunity that we have, and really minimize the problems. I think your championship effort is really defined by the bad days, not so much the good days. I think everybody in the Chase are going to run well, really strong. We'll have to keep an eye on recovering if we have any problems on the racetrack.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks, Mark.
Tony, you're next. Tell us what you have to do to win this thing.
TONY STEWART: I think we got to do what got us to this point, that's like Mark said, you got to get more points than everybody else. You have to outrun the other 11 guys. Consistency is what got us to the points lead before the Chase started. That's what it's going to take to win a championship.
I think Jimmie Johnson has laid the blueprint out of what it takes to win a championship over the last three years. You have to run up front and be consistent doing it. You can't cruise and just expect to get top 10s and do that consistently and win. You got to be in the top five pretty regular to have a shot at it.
HERB BRANHAM: Brian Vickers.
BRIAN VICKERS: I think the same thing these guys said, I'll have to reiterate it. You have to push, you have to run hard. Jimmie has obviously been the gold standard the past three years with close to an average of fifth to win the championship. I don't necessarily believe it's going to take that to win that this year. I think the competition is stronger. I don't think Hendrick has the dominance it has the past couple years. Maybe it's going to be a little more than that.
Like Tony said, you're not going to be able to cruise to a bunch of top 10s or 10th-place finishes and be able to win the championship. You're still going to have to push, but you can't make mistakes.
You know, reiterating what Mark said, I think a championship is defined by your bad races, not your good ones.
HERB BRANHAM: Carl, you can wrap-up these openers, can you do it?
CARL EDWARDS: These guys have covered it. For myself and my Aflac team to win this championship, we have to really step up our performance, to take advantage of the Chase format, which I'm really enjoying. I closed 400 something points on Tony, which is a huge thanks for Brian France for coming up with this. We just have to go out here and perform over these last 10 races.
HERB BRANHAM: We'll go to the media now for questions.
Q. Brian, having made the Chase for the first time, looking at what Tony accomplished this year by leading the points for so long, and Mark accomplished by winning the most races up to this point, how do you feel like your accomplishment of making the Chase for the first time compares to what those guys have been able to do?
BRIAN VICKERS: That's a great question. I think it's all relative. Obviously it would have been nice to lead the points the entire year, it would have been nice to have the most wins. For us, for such a young, new team, two and a half years ago we didn't even have a car in the race shop, now we sat on six poles this year, won a race, are in the Chase. By all rights I think that's a very successful year already for a team without the depth and the experience that our competitors do.
I think we're all very excited about it at Red Bull and Toyota, a new manufacturer as well. Moving forward, obviously we'd like to win the championship. That's our ultimate goal. But for where we're at as a program, you'd be hard-pressed no matter what happens moving forward to not consider this I think a successful year.
Q. Is the order of the next 10 tracks important? Would you rather see one track over another to start out with or do you look at it one race at a time?
TONY STEWART: I think you got to look at it one race at a time. It's a situation where they all count for the same amount of points. But for us, Louden is a track that we enjoy. Obviously that being the first one, it's a great place for us to start. The importance is on all 10 weeks. You can't put more emphasis on one track versus the other. You got to be spot on for 10 straight weeks now.
Q. Mark Martin, if you would win the championship, would this fulfill all of your NASCAR aspirations or are there still other things you'd like to accomplish?
MARK MARTIN: Well, that's a heck of a question. First of all, I would refuse to think about 'what ifs'. I'm going to stay focused on racing this team, getting the most out of my car and my team and myself, and scoring all the points that we can. That's what it takes to win, more than all the rest.
Would it be the crown jewel of my career? Of course, it would. But I also really believe that the trophy doesn't make the man. It's their actions, what you do that really defines who you are. You know, at the end of 10 races, if I do everything that I can to score every point I can, to get the most out of myself, my car and my race team, then it will be a success no matter what.
Q. Mark, you're certainly known for being physically fit. But there's two parts to your job out there on the track. You definitely have to be mentally fit. What does mental toughness and fitness mean to you?
MARK MARTIN: It's been tested. I said in February before we got started that I was, you know, mentally the toughest I'd ever been. That was certainly tested through the summer when we were in, we were out, we were in, we were out, we'd win a race, then we'd go finish 43rd. So, you know, I had to reflect on that some of those Sunday nights when I went home after a bad day.
But it is really important. Everyone says you can't beat yourself. And everyone has different ways that they deal with successes and disappointments. I have my own way. You know, that works for me. I feel really good about where I am right now because I don't feel desperate. I feel lucky to have this tremendous opportunity to drive, an incredible team with incredible sponsors, an awesome crew chief and a great car and great teammates. And to have a chance to race for this thing is a tremendous opportunity for me.
Q. Tony, you've been doing this a long time. Can you explain to the people that just because the Chase has started, you still have to learn new things that will continue to help you out not only for the Chase but also for next year. Really it comes down to consistently learning new things about the car and the tracks, doesn't it?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this is a sport that technology is -- is technology driven. Things constantly are evolving and changing weekly. So what you did three or four weeks ago doesn't necessarily mean that's what's going to work this week. Somebody's always working to try to make things better. You're constantly trying to find what's the new latest, greatest thing.
Not only for the rest of the season, but like you said, people are already working on things for next year. But still there's that task at hand of trying to win a championship right now. You know, that's why it's so critical in this sport that you can't rest on what you've been doing. You have to constantly keep pushing to make every aspect of your program better each week.
Q. To all the guys. Brian, you used to be a teammate of Jimmie Johnson. Mark, Tony and Carl, you competed against Jimmie for championships. Can you talk about in historical perspective what he's accomplished with his three championships, what he's looking to accomplish chasing down a fourth.
CARL EDWARDS: We're just trying to stop him.
What he did last season was unreal. I think Brian pointed out his average finish over the last couple seasons in the Chase is fifth. That's pretty spectacular. I think oftentimes it appears that his accomplishments get overlooked or overshadowed by something. I don't know what it is. But I think we're going to look back and point to Jimmie Johnson and say no matter what the season he's had a spectacular roll.
MARK MARTIN: I feel the same way. Jimmie is probably underrated for what he does and his commitment. If someone does get a fifth-place average finish for these 10 races, they will win. Like Brian, I can't see that happening with where the competition is right now this year.
I know one thing for sure, that's phenomenal when you factor in all the variables you can't control, flat tires, accidents, all kinds of other situations with pit stops and everything else. That's phenomenal.
BRIAN VICKERS: One thing I've always seen in Jimmie, I echo what these guys have said, I do think he's very underrated. The problem with that, there's so many talented drivers with unique personalities in our sport. Our sport is full of very stiff competition, very talented drivers, that all have their personalities, that the media love to grab ahold of. I think that's sometimes why what he's accomplished is overlooked.
He's very good behind the wheel. He can drive a car loose, tight, fast, make whatever work. But he's very consistent, he's very calm. I think that's one thing that's led him to these championships. He has good cars. Chad does a good job. He has really fast cars.
He never seems to get rattled. His cage is never rattled. Rarely does he make mistakes. No matter how bad things get, they always seem to be there at the end of the race. Obviously, it's won him a lot of championships. We forget he's won three in a row. That's incredible. He's going for his fourth. He's in position to go for his fourth. I hope that he doesn't get that fourth because I'm sure these guys feel the same way. If he was to accomplish that this year and win four in a row, that's truly unprecedented. I don't think people realize sometimes how big of a feat that is in the competitiveness of the sport we have.
TONY STEWART: The odds of winning one championship are a certain number. To win two in a row, that number increases. To win three in a row, it increases by leaps and bounds again. It is a huge feat in this era of NASCAR racing to have that kind of dominance and win three championships in a row, especially under a format like this where, you know, there's less room for error now than ever when it comes to winning a championship. So it's pretty remarkable what they've been able to do.
Q. Tony and Carl, how confident are you that you can run as well in the Chase as you did in the regular season? Carl, how confident are you that you can improve on your regular season in the Chase and have the kind of Chase perhaps you had in 2008?
TONY STEWART: I feel we've been pretty consistent throughout the year. Obviously the last three or four weeks have been a little bit off. I think part of that is the situation once we got locked in, we got a little complacent and almost lazy to a certain degree because we didn't really have the pressure of having to make the Chase. The good thing is we're back in a pressure situation. I think that's something that this team's thrived on this year from day one.
So I feel like we're in good shape on being able to be consistent hopefully for these next 10 weeks.
CARL EDWARDS: For our team to have the type of Chase we had last season where we were battling till Homestead, we've got to just, you know, keep gaining ground like we have. Our pit crew, my Aflac guys have worked really hard two, three times a day practicing pit stops. That's been huge. And our cars, we've been working really hard behind the scenes, the engineers, all the testing, the minimal testing we've been able to do, but all the data, looking at all that, trying to put it together into something we can use for these last 10 races. Just have to apply everything we have to try to win this thing.
Q. Carl, you and your team's game plan for the Chase identifying your strong tracks and weak tracks, how you can balance things out, call upon your experience from previous Chases to improve on those performances and bring up your level of consistency to get you into your first title?
CARL EDWARDS: I feel like last year's experience in the Chase was really valuable to me, being able to stay within reach of Jimmie until the last part, until the final race, the last lap. I think that experience and going through those emotions, you know, battling through some adversity, through a few bad races that we had, I think that's good. I think it helped me.
I hope our team is performing well up on the racetrack, our cars are fast enough, that we can apply all that stuff and make some use out of it. At the very least, I think you have to go back to what Mark said earlier, you know, I define my successes on my effort that I put out, personally how I perform, and how our guys perform. If that yields a championship, that's great. If it doesn't, we still got to keep our heads up.
I'm going into this thing thinking we can win it. I know we haven't performed to that level lately, but we're going to throw everything we've got at it.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to all of our drivers who joined us for this event. Best of luck starting this week in New Hampshire. Thanks to all the media who participated. As always, at NASCAR, we truly appreciate your coverage.
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