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NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Gatorade Duel

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Gatorade Duel 1

NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Gatorade Duel

Tony Stewart
February 15, 2007


THE MODERATOR: We're joined by our race winner of the first duel today, and that's Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet. For Joe Gibbs racing, this is their 100th professional victory as a race team organization, and Tony Stewart has been responsible for 35 of those wins. This is his second Gatorade duel victory. Talk about winning this duel and talk about your thoughts as you prepare for the Daytona 500.
TONY STEWART: I mean, obviously it's an awesome day, and I'd be crazy not to say I'm real excited for Sunday obviously. I mean, it's -- I don't know how you could have a better start to the season than what we've had and a better ending to the year than what we had. We're sitting here today with five, six wins since December 29th.
I don't know how I could be any happier than this. You know, felt like at the start of the race we tried to be patient. Dale, Jr., and I were together and Denny was with us, just never seemed like Denny and the 48 car could get going very good at the start. Finally enough cars went around us on the outside, it was just time to try something, and I hated to put Denny in the middle like that and go without him, but it was just something that had to be done.
We moved down, Junior went with us, of course, and off we go toward the front.
Guys had great pit stops, just everything went right today. I mean, we just -- we had a textbook day today, really.

Q. Tony, the week that you've had here and as good as this car has been, when it goes this well, do you think that -- do you feel like this is it, that it can't be be any better than this? Is this going to be your 500?
TONY STEWART: I hope so. It's like I told the guys on the stage here getting ready to take pictures, I hope we've got one more in us. There's a lot that can happen today. Only half the field ran today. The other half is getting ready to go out right now. It's hard to say what's going to happen.
I feel like this is the best opportunity that we've had so far to win the 500. This is definitely the most momentum we've had going into a 500.
You know, I'm excited, the team is excited. The hard thing is we've got to wait until Sunday now. I mean, the next two days we're -- the one thing that I want to stress is that we're not going to just lay down the next two days and say, hey, our car is good enough, and we're going to continue to go out there each session and try to see what we can learn and see what we can do to gain speed and go faster. Every one of those guys today that were behind us are going to do the same thing.
So if we get lazy right now, then we're vulnerable. We're just going to go out there and keep going through the next two days like normal and hope that when Sunday comes around, we're still good enough.

Q. Tony, it took a while for you to get into Victory Lane in the Pepsi 400. You've been able to do that two years in a row now. This is your third win in a row here in a Cup car. Just talk a little bit about how you've kind of kicked the door in with victories here.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, just not the right ones yet. Any time you get in Victory Lane here, it's special, though, but I would -- we joked around Saturday night, and I said I'd trade all 10 of them in, even today with 11, I'd trade all of them in for Sunday if I could do that. That shows how important this weekend is to us obviously, and we're hopeful that everything that we did today we can duplicate on Sunday.

Q. The headlines this week -- last week you got yourself -- last year you got yourself involved in a controversy that you really did not want to and had to spend the week dealing with that. You haven't had a lot of attention on you because of all the other stuff going on. I imagine that suits you fine?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I'm excited about that, pretty happy. I've never been so happy for not doing anything in my life (laughter).

Q. Tony, your gut feeling for Sunday, is it too early to have one, or do you start to get the buildup of any nerves at all like this is yours?
TONY STEWART: No, there's not one ounce of me that feels like it's mine. Like I say, there's 500 miles, and I've been hands-down the best car going at Indy 500s and a blown motor or something happens. Unless we're in the lead with one to go, I can't tell you even that with ten to go if we're leading that it's ours. It's definitely too early to tell.
We've got two more days of practice, and like I said, there's -- just because what we run today doesn't mean that it's going to be good enough for Sunday. I'm happy with the way the week is going obviously, and I'm going to sleep really good tonight. I feel like we're in a good position.
But there's not one ounce of me that feels like it's a done deal yet by any means. We've got a lot of work to do and we have to be smart. Am I nervous? Not the least bit. When we're in situations like this, this is when I get comfortable and start really fine-tuning and nitpicking in both how the setup is and how I am inside the car.
It's just a good position to be in. I mean, like I said, we're not laying down, we're not stopping our work, but right now we're exactly where we want to be.

Q. What's your take on the cheating, and do you feel it's been handled properly, the way it should be handled?
TONY STEWART: I'll be honest, I have no opinion of it. Like Poole said, I don't mind not being in a story like that, especially when I'm not involved in it. That's why we've got NASCAR as a sanctioning body.

Q. Talk about just the good feelings and the success so far this week. What do you feel is different this year as opposed to other years? Why do you feel like you're having this success now, and can you get a sense of either the team, you, or what's making this week seemingly so special?
TONY STEWART: Just things come together. It's not that we've not been in this situation before because we've won qualifiers and won Shootouts in the past. It just seems like this is one of those weeks that it seems like everything seems to be coming together and everything has been really good so far.
Now, is there going to be a hurdle in the road in the next two days before the race or is there going to be a hurdle during the race, we don't know. So far everything seems to be going really smooth. With the exception of the first day of qualifying practice, I mean, we had a problem with the caution on the racetrack, then we had a problem with the fuel pump, and we thought, man, is this going to get any worse and is this the way the two weeks are going to go. We rebounded from that and haven't had a bad day since. Hopefully that's the end of the bad luck.

Q. Tony, we talked with Michael a lot about the emotional roller coaster he's been on this week. You experienced that at the Brickyard and maybe even here a little bit. Is that just part of racing, that you have to be able to deal with it?
TONY STEWART: Oh, definitely. I'm sure he's had probably the -- I bet he feels like he's been here a month where I feel like I've been here about three days. I'm sure it's been a real long week for him, and I'm sure even when Sunday is over, it's not totally going to be over for him.
But he's a great person. I mean, he's been great for NASCAR and he's not going to go away. Nobody wants him to go away by any means. He'll rebound from all this. I mean, it's a huge bump in the road obviously. He's got good people around him and he's got a lot of friends in this garage area, and I'm sure when it's all said and done, everything will be fine.

Q. Has the way -- have these tires kind of changed the way that you drive the racetrack? Some other guys were saying that they actually are maybe contemplating hitting the brakes going into the corner, which I think is different than normal; is that right?
TONY STEWART: I hope they all do. I'd love for them to do that. I'll keep trucking if I can.
It's been a little different week. It's not been the normal week here at Daytona by any means from a driving standpoint. It's just been a little bit odd because of the harder tire, and the day after we sat here and talked about it after Saturday night, Sunday one of the Goodyear engineers told me the reason they did that is because guys were wearing out tires in the 400 last year. Well, that makes sense because it's July, it's hot, and we're all sliding around, and when you're sliding a tire across a racetrack you're going to wear it out.
I'm not sure why they brought it for February, and I said, "Could you have gone it a little bit harder but not this hard; I think maybe you went overboard." He said, "Well, maybe we did." It's definitely changed things. It's not a typical February by any means as far as how we get in big packs two wide and we run there forever and ever. We just don't see it staying that way for long.

Q. Tony, with everything that's happened this week already early and all the possible story lines for this year, not just you individually but the whole Series, do you see this as being a very interesting year overall?
TONY STEWART: Oh, yeah, that's pretty obvious. That's the most obvious statement of the year. It's going to be one of those years with the Car of Tomorrow, the new points systems, the way Daytona has gone with controversy here. It's already started controversial. It'll be that way all year, I'm sure.

Q. Dale, Jr., was asked about how difficult it will be to beat the 20, and he mentioned the 38. I'm wondering if you've had a chance to race Gilliland. Is he mature enough? Is he a guy you worry about?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, any time he's that fast, you know, he's come a long way in a short amount of time. He's a sharp kid, he's smart and he's with a good organization and a fast race car. That's all the key ingredients to being good here. There's tricks of the trade here and there's ways of winning races and losing races, and like you say, 500 miles here is a long day. I mean, it feels like you're here forever. We'll see what happens on Sunday, but he's definitely fast.

Q. Tony, just to follow up on some comments you were making with Michael and the tough week he's had, would it surprise you to know that he woke up thinking this morning that he might not want to race, that he felt like he didn't want to do it? And does it concern you to know that there's a guy possibly in this race who didn't have his head in the game?
TONY STEWART: No, it doesn't worry me. When it came time and he made the decision to get in the car today, he got in it and did his job like he always does. No, I'm not worrying about anybody making it sound like he's one step away from the psych ward. That's not what we're dealing with. We're dealing with a guy who was embarrassed with what was happening with his new venture. I don't think anybody in this room can understand the amount of pressure he's going through as a driver and a team owner and all of that. Nobody knows what he was feeling other than him this morning.
Like I said, this is a stressful week. I mean, this is our biggest week of the year. It's not unimaginable for him to have those thoughts, I guess.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks a lot, Tony. Good luck this weekend.

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