NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Championship Contenders Conference
Topics: Sprint Cup
November 17, 2011
KERRY THARP: Ricky and Elliott, thank you very much. That concludes our Q&A for the Nationwide Series contenders.
It is it's now my pleasure to bring back both of our emcees for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series segment as we set up the exciting final on Sunday in the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with the Ford 400. Let's welcome back Shannon Spake and Krista Voda.
SHANNON SPAKE: The season started back in February with the Daytona 500. After 35 races at 22 different racetracks in 20 states coast-to-coast, we are down to two outstanding drivers in contention for the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
KRISTA VODA: If it wasn't for a little bad luck, this table would be a lot longer with more contenders. It has absolutely been one of the most thrilling Chases I've been a part of week in and week out.
SHANNON SPAKE: We can say the eighth edition of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup has been the best yet. Going into Sunday's finale we have a two-time champion in second place in the standings, only three points back. Welcome the 2002 and 2005 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Tony Stewart.
KRISTA VODA: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader has followed a blueprint for consistency throughout this stellar season. He had a victory at Las Vegas and 18 top-five finishes, 25 top 10s, both series-leading numbers. Remember that three-point spread we keep talking about, that can all be based on that victory in Las Vegas which, of course, gave him three bonus points going into the Chase. Please welcome Carl Edwards.
SHANNON SPAKE: Now the fun begins. Congratulations for being the two who made it to this point and supplying one of the best championship Chases yet.
Tony, you won the title twice. Only eight drivers have won it three or more times. What would it mean to be in elite company? I would imagine this year would be special knowing you're the one writing the checks.
TONY STEWART: It's definitely an awesome opportunity for us. Still very appreciative that Gene Haas for even giving us this opportunity to not only drive for him but be a co-owner with him. At the same time it's a pretty cool opportunity this weekend to be the other side of the bookend of Jimmie's dynasty, to be the only guy that could win a NEXTEL Cup championship, a Sprint Cup championship, and a Winston Cup championship, being the first time since Allen Kulwicki as an owner/driver. That would be probably be the best part of it.
SHANNON SPAKE: You said at one point, We don't deserve to be in the Chase. If you could have imagined being in this chair with one race to go, what would you have said?
TONY STEWART: I wouldn't have thought that way 10 weeks ago. We had good racecars. We had the performance. We just weren't getting the results at the end of the day. Some of them were self-inflicted; some of them were circumstances that got us there. We just didn't have at that time the consistency that you need to run for a championship like this.
So we got off to a great start at Chicago and backed it up at Loudon, then we had our stumbling block, first one of the year in the Chase, with Dover obviously. But coming back and rebounding from the day we had at Martinsville to win that race, then to have the day we had at Texas leading the most laps and winning the race over Carl, those are the things that got us back in this position.
It's an awesome position to be in. Three points really isn't a deficit at this point. We go out and win the race, it doesn't matter what they do on their side, we still control our own destiny.
We have absolutely got nothing to lose and everything to gain. That makes us a dangerous combination for the weekend.
KRISTA VODA: Carl we have heard Tony confident in Victory Lane during this Chase. You said last week you knew there was some potential for some nerves going into this weekend's race. Where are those now?
CARL EDWARDS: I don't really have any nerves. We've been running well, earned our spot at the top of the standings. I'm excited to have this opportunity to go out and win this championship. We couldn't feel better about the racetrack. We feel really good about the race.
It's pretty fun. I'm enjoying it. I'm just looking forward to going out there and racing the car.
KRISTA VODA: Have you practiced anything besides the back flip if you win this championship?
CARL EDWARDS: That's about all I've got. I've showed you guys all I've got. I don't know. I just can't imagine that feeling. I've stood there in Victory Lane two out of the last three years and watched Jimmie celebrate and imagined what it would be like to be the champion. That would be spectacular.
KRISTA VODA: We'll now bring Kerry Tharp back up here to start the question and answer segment.
KERRY THARP: We'll start with questions for Tony or Carl.
Q. Tony, you were the last driver to win the championship before Jimmie Johnson's streak. You could be the next driver to win the championship after Jimmie Johnson. Talk about how unique it is you could bookend both of those.
TONY STEWART: You have to win the first one to win the second one to have that opportunity, I guess.
You wouldn't think you'd take a lot of pride in being the bookends of a dynasty. But it is a pretty cool position to be in, to know that there's two guys in the last six years that have won championships, and we're one of them. It would be nice to be the guy that gets on the other side of that obviously.
I rode home with Jimmie on the plane last weekend. Obviously it's a disappointment to be eliminated from the Chase. It's like I told him, I think that for him going to Vegas, to the banquet, they have to really hold their heads up high and be very, very proud.
It's been an honor to watch him do what he's done, but they need to be proud of what they've done the last five years. It's probably something that will never happen again in the history of our sport. It's very difficult to win a championship, let alone back-to-back and five in a row like that.
The competition keeps getting tougher and tougher every year. With this Chase format, you can't make mistakes and have it pay off. To do what they've done has been extremely impressive.
Q. Your battle here has been trademark, you guys haven't really clashed at all, been respectful towards each other. If it came down to the last lap and the only way around the other guy was to do a bump-n-run, would you dare do that, would you race each other clean?
TONY STEWART: I'd wreck my mom to win a championship. I'll wreck your mom to win a championship (smiling).
I respect him as a driver, but this isn't about friendships this weekend. This is a war. This is a battle. This is for a national championship. It's no holds barred this weekend. I didn't come this far to be one step away from it and let it slip away, so we're going to go for it.
CARL EDWARDS: Did you say something (smiling)?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, you can come visit my trophy in the room at Vegas when you come out there (smiling).
CARL EDWARDS: He's got the talking part figured out. Problem is, you haven't led the points yet this year, have you?
TONY STEWART: They say there's talkers and doers. I've done this twice.
CARL EDWARDS: That's the funny thing. I've listened to you talk a lot today. You've talked a lot about your past successes. That is very respectable. And truly, all joking aside, that will make it more fun if we're able to beat you. It will make me more proud.
But this is going to be a good competition, you guys. Don't think for a second that either one of us are going to let anything slide. We're going to go out here, we're going to race hard, and we're going for this championship.
I don't think you could find two harder racers than us up here and we both know that about each other.
Q. Tony, in 2002 and 2005, you had big leads going into the finale. How different a feeling is it and are you possibly more relaxed knowing you're just three points behind and can just go out and race?
TONY STEWART: It's been odd. The only part this week that's concerned me and that I've been worried about is the fact that I haven't been nervous about it. In 2002, 2005, we had big leads, but still you were nervous about it because you knew it could get away. I guess the fact we didn't think we would even be in the Chase to begin with, it's taken a lot of that pressure off.
We're not trying to overcome a big deficit. We're right there right behind him. For us, like I said, we can finish 43rd this weekend and not be any worse off than we are right now so we don't have anything to lose. We can throw everything we got at it. If we make a mistake doing it, it doesn't cost anything. There's no penalty for us screwing up.
With that does, it takes every ounce of pressure away. We have everything to gain, nothing to lose. Like I said, it's a dangerous combination to put us in that kind of mode because we've been hot lately, we've been running good, we're feeling good, the team is feeling good about everything. You couldn't ask for a better scenario.
We've been in that situation, and when that pressure comes on race day, it's a little different feeling. Your race always goes a little bit different than what you planned. For us not having that pressure, I think it leads us to have a day like we've been having every week the last three or four weeks.
Q. Carl, NASCAR's new points system has truly generated some big-time excitement here at Homestead. You guys are working the championship a little differently, Carl with consistency, Tony with wins. Carl, you said you felt like the system made you focus on not having a bad race more so than winning. Do you still feel that way?
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah. I mean, obviously we're leading the points. We haven't won one. Tony has won four of these in the Chase. There's different approaches you can take to it.
To be clear, we've not gone out and said, Hey, we're not going to try to win this race, we're going to cruise along. We've done our very best. For us, that's one of the things I've most proud of. We've performed very well even on the days when things didn't stack up in our favor. We had some pretty big hills we had to climb.
I feel whatever points system you've got, over time you're going to have close battles, you're going to have some that aren't so close. I think all of us are fortunate that it's close this year, it's exciting. It's fun to be a part of something like this.
TONY STEWART: The thing that I've been asked a lot about this week and even last week is, they're like, How can their points system be good if the guy that's won four races is behind a guy that hasn't won any races?
The points system is good. It's easy to look at that and say that it's not good because of that fact. But what you got to understand is that, unlike other sports where it's two teams against each other, it's 43 teams, it's a 10-race Chase. You accumulate points for 10 races.
The fact we've won four races doesn't mean we should be ahead of Carl. We did not do our job in some of the other races. That got us behind. Because of the new system, having the bonus points for winning, we were able to catch up and gain those points back.
I think it's proven to be a pretty good system so far. You have two guys within three points of each other going into the last race. I don't know how you can say it's bad.
Q. Carl, how important would it be for you to win the championship and be able to bring that trophy back home to all the folks that have helped you get to this point in time, Kenny Schrader, all your friends in Columbia?
CARL EDWARDS: I'm grateful to all of them every day I get to get in these racecars. So many people took a chance on me. Everybody has a story like that. All of us got here with a lot of help from a lot of different people. It would mean a lot to me. It would be huge.
I'm wise enough to know that my performance on the racetrack doesn't define me as a man. It's how I am as a person and the way I am to my family, my friends. When I put that helmet on, go out, do the best I can, the people that are behind me are going to be proud no matter the outcome. It would be really nice to bring that trophy home to Columbia, Missouri. That would be huge.
Q. You guys have put on a pretty remarkable show, particularly over the last couple races. What have you learned about each other through this process and how much respect have you gained for each other throughout the process of competing in this Chase?
TONY STEWART: I don't think the Chase has changed my level of respect for him. I've always respected him as a driver and a person. So the fact that you're racing around him doesn't change that because that's what you do every week.
I don't know that we've really learned anything about each other than the fact that we both know we have to be on our game. We've forced each other to take what would be a good day and you have to make it great to succeed.
We had Texas where we ran 1-2, the last week where we ran second and third. We're keeping each other honest, in my opinion. It's fun to have a championship race like that. You're not worried about saying, Well, is this guy going to be able to recover? We're forcing each other to both have good days.
CARL EDWARDS: I can echo that. It's pretty neat to go out there and push each other to raise our level of performance. It's been pretty interesting how it's worked out. We've both been very fast the last couple of races, being able to race one another, race for the wins. That's as good as it gets.
I think Tony said it best after Texas. He said, This is what it's about. It feels like a battle at your Saturday night dirt track. These are the kind of points battles that I grew up watching. It's kind of neat to be a part of it.
Q. Carl, Tony said here a few times he has nothing to lose. Are you buying that? The trophy is right behind him.
CARL EDWARDS: I'm not really buying it. I mean, he does have two trophies already at home. That's a huge accomplishment. But I believe that Tony as an owner and as a competitor, I mean, if you're asking me to believe that he doesn't go to bed thinking, Man, I want to win this thing as bad as anyone, I don't believe that.
I think for me it would be maybe a bigger accomplishment just because I do not have a championship in the Sprint Cup Series. But I think we're both competitors, we both have that same desire to win, that same amount of pressure that comes with that, just to go out and perform.
Bad thing for both of us, the good thing for both of us at the same time, is we both seem to be able to go perform under that pressure.
I truly believe this could come down to who wins this race is going to win this championship.
Q. He said that he thinks having won a championship is an advantage. He won't say what that advantage is. He said he'd say after the championship is over. What do you think that advantage is?
CARL EDWARDS: You're asking me what I think?
Q. He won't tell us - not now anyway. Will you tell us, Tony?
TONY STEWART: (Shaking head.)
Q. What do you think the advantage of having won championships is going into this race?
CARL EDWARDS: I don't know any part of that trophy that makes a car faster this Sunday. To me it's about going out and performing this Sunday. We'll just see what happens.
When this thing is over, it's like Tony said outside when we were talking with Darrell Waltrip, whoever wins, the other guy is going to be the first one to go up and shake his hand and say, Good job. That doesn't mean we're happy about it. But we're going to see what happens on Sunday.
I feel good about it. We've run so well here. Bob is calm and cool. My crew is doing well. I feel like I've got good people behind me keeping me focused. We'll go race.
Q. Carl, last year Denny came in here and he had Harvick on one side and Jimmie on the other. He was so nervous the whole stage was shaking. Kevin and Jimmie just pounced on that and needled him. Tony has been trying to do that to a degree to you for a few weeks. You've been able to tune it out, say that you have no nerves. How are you able to shut it all out and not be nervous about this opportunity in front of you?
CARL EDWARDS: There's a couple reasons that I'm not nervous about this, and they're personal reasons, they're reasons that maybe someday I'll talk to you more about in-depth.
I'm truly just excited about this. And it is interesting to me. I've learned a lot about Tony, the way he competes by what he's said. I've paid attention to what he says. I pay attention to the way he looks when he gets out of the racecar, the body language he uses, things like that. I've learned a lot.
I don't think he's going to be any weaker of a competitor because of the things I've seen. I think he's as good as they get and I'm going to have to go out there and do the best I can to be good enough to beat him.
I'm not afraid to admit right here in front of the world and everybody, I'm going to be proud because of how good of a racecar driver he is and the champion that he is, I'm going to be more proud to be able to beat him if that's what happens.
Q. Tony, a week earlier you had said that you had Carl on the ropes. Do you still feel that way? How evenly matched are these teams and two of you as drivers?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I feel that way. Like I said, whether Ron Jeremy down here believes us or not, we don't have anything to lose. I mean, we literally don't. There's nothing that we can lose this weekend no matter what happens on the racetrack. We just don't have anything to lose.
So I think when you got a guy that has something to lose, has a little to lose, then you got to worry about that a little bit. But when you're a guy that has nowhere to go but up, you're in that same situation and you race the way you always do. I think that makes you potent.
Q. Tony, everybody says there are no team orders out there. We all expect heavily there are. You have a lot of Ford drivers that are out there. You have Ryan, the Hendrick drivers. Any discussions the last week or so to let you guys have positions, let you have a win, anything like that? Do you want it to come down to that?
TONY STEWART: I don't want it to come down to that. I feel like we can beat him heads up. We've raced for this position heads up and I think that's the way it should end. It shouldn't be about team orders.
We saw a hint of it last week. The 16 car picked a pit right in front of us. We never had an issue with it. But you know that that can happen.
Like we say, we're racing for a national championship, so we are prepared that if something develops along that line, we have a countermeasure for the same thing.
But, no, nobody's planning that way. You want to win this thing straight up. You want to win it because you did a better job than he did, not because somebody else got involved in the equation. That will take away from it.
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, I feel the same way about it. We want to win because we deserve to win this thing. That's that.
Q. Carl, in '08 you won nine races, finished second to Jimmie. Felt like the next year you were going to pick up where you left off. Can you talk about the interim between then and now just to get in position to win one of these and does it make you not want to lose this chance because you've been on the cusp of it before?
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, I think both of us realize we just watched five years go by since anyone else has won a championship. I talked to you guys a little bit about that in Phoenix. 2005, it slipped through my fingers. I thought, No big deal, we'll just do it next year. Then I realize, Man, it's a lot tougher than that. 2008, I think I held on a little too tightly, maybe was a little too aggressive. But I felt like 2009 was going to be our year again.
To be here three years later, I think I've realized that even driving the Ford for Jack Roush, having the best team I can have behind me, it's still an opportunity that only comes up every once in a while and you have to make the most of it.
Q. Carl, you just mentioned you believe this could come down to whoever wins the race wins the championship. NASCAR hasn't had a champion win its finale in 13 years. In both cases, if you win Sunday you win the title. With all the talk about winning lately, what would it mean to you personally and to NASCAR if that happens?
CARL EDWARDS: To me it would be the coolest thing in the world if we drove into turn three side-by-side, battled through the corner, one of us won by a bumper. It would just be better if I won. It would be good if it came down to that.
To me I could not be personally more proud of winning a championship that way. That's something you dream about. Like I said, I think it could come down to that. I think that's just neat as can be.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I agree. It takes all the question of adding points, worrying about tiebreakers, this and that out of the equation when the fans can watch the guy that wins the race win the championship at the same time.
This is probably the best chance of having a championship decided with a win that you've ever had.
Q. Carl, you have a lot of obligations this week with your Ford obligations, you have the Nationwide. How does that play into what you've got with the job at hand on Sunday?
CARL EDWARDS: I don't have a lot of obligations this week because of this situation. Ford, they've been an unbelievable partner to work with. They understand what I need to do is go do what I've been doing for the whole Chase. My sponsors, Aflac, Fastenal, Mike Beam, my crew chief on the Nationwide side, everyone understands that the Cup race is our number one focus. We just go do things like we've been doing them. I don't have anything extra on my schedule this weekend.
Q. Tony, have you talked to Foyt in the last couple weeks? If so, what did he say? Did he have any observations about the smack talk going on, whether it works or not? Also have you talked to Darrell Waltrip, the all-time master of smack talk, on whether he thinks it will work for you or not?
TONY STEWART: Foyt has how many championships and wins? How many has Waltrip got? I think they work.
No, I've not talked to Foyt. He'll call me after we win on Sunday. We did speak to Darrell earlier. We both had a pretty good interview with him. It was fun.
It's like Carl says, it's like Kid Rock said: It's not cocky if you back it up. I think we've been backing it up the last three weeks. It's what our intention is.
Q. Carl, can you talk about how you added stability to your life since you ran for the last championship. You have a family now, that good base behind you. How does that help you stay focused, knowing particularly that your crew chief is going to be back next year? You have all kinds of stability surrounding you going for the championship.
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, I feel like we started this season at Phoenix last year, when things started clicking, going well. We were able to knock off the two wins at the end of last season. I believe that's the result of a lot of what you just talked about. I'm very fortunate. Things are going real well, not just professionally but personally. I've got the most supportive group I've ever had in my life around me.
When I go to bed at night, I don't worry about sponsors, I don't worry about women, I don't worry about money, I don't worry about anything but going as fast as I can go. I just go out there and race.
For me, I've done it the other way, too. This works a lot better for me personally (laughter). It's been good. It is nice to know next year, Bob and I, we talked about it a little bit, no matter what, he's my crew chief next year and we're going to pick this up where we left off. Win, lose or draw, I think we're going to be tough to beat for a few years to come.
KERRY THARP: That concludes the formal Q&A with our two championship contenders in the Sprint Cup Series.
Let's bring back Shannon Spake and Krista Voda.
SHANNON SPAKE: After 10,000 laps and 13,000 plus miles it all ends in Victory Lane Sunday night. We thank you for your attendance.
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