Moderator: We’re going to start off with Tony Stewart. He drives the No. 14 Office Depot for Stewart-Haas Racing. If I’m not mistaken, you were one of the first drivers that got to lay their eyes on this new track back in October. Talk about the evolution since that time and now you’ve taken laps, et cetera. Talk about how this racetrack is shaping up for you.
Tony Stewart: It’s actually impressive what they’ve been able to do with it. The only spot that really has seemed to be really any significant bumps in it is just where they had a problem, I guess, when they were paving turns 3 and 4 and the paver slipped a little bit, and it lost some of the gauge of the asphalt thickness. But it looks like they ground the front side and backside of it, and it’s really — it seems a lot smoother than when we were here with the pace car riding around.
It’s almost identical feeling to what we had at Talladega. Obviously the transitions off of 2 and 4 are a little more abrupt than what we have at Talladega, but as far as the ride, you literally could hold a cup of coffee with the lid off full and not spill a drop riding around there.
Q: Australian newspapers reported that at the end of your trip down there that there was sort some of altercation or something. Can you give us some facts or shed some light on what happened?
Tony Stewart: There was an altercation at the racetrack. It was a dispute between myself and one of the owners of the facility. But as it also reported, we went down to the police station, we gave them a statement. They told us after the statement that we were free to go back to the hotel room and free to get on the plane the next day. But definitely wasn’t the way I wanted to end my trip.
We had a fun trip over there. Obviously there was a lot of flooding and raining while we were there, but at the same time we still — we had a good race trip over there and didn’t end that last night the way we wanted to by any means. But it’s not uncommon to see drivers and track owners have disputes over what’s going on, but this one went a little bit further than a normal dispute.
Q: It appears if this is going to be like Talladega but it’s Daytona, it calls into question drivers’ respect for each other and trust for each other. Can you talk a little bit about how that’s developed and what you’ll see on the racetrack in competition here?
Tony Stewart: The thing that we heard from the tire test is they did some — they did obviously draft testing because they need to run the speeds that we run here during the race pace. But it sounds like the difference between what we see at Talladega with the bump drafting and what we might see here is that with the way — the only turn that I heard them really talk about was turn 2 and how the transition falls off a little harder and is that if guys were pushing through that area that it had a tendency to push the lead car out further on the exit than they wanted to be and toward the wall, and if that lead car goes in the wall, most likely the guy that’s pushing him is going to follow him right in it.
It sounds like that might be the only difference. You may not be able to push all the way around the track, but I’m sure in the next definitely 24 hours we’re for sure going to find that out.
Q: If NASCAR does change the point system on a 1 to 43 based on race to race to race, would you like that system? Can you talk about how that might affect your efforts?
Tony Stewart: Honestly I’ve kind of been one of those guys it didn’t really bother me when they changed it the first time, and if they change it again, it really won’t matter to me. As long as we all start the year and we understand what the point structure is and how you get the points, then you race accordingly. But it’s still going to be on a situation where if you win races the points take care of itself, and as long as it’s not a deal where you ever get in a situation where running 30th pays more points than winning then it shouldn’t really change how you race, it’s just you know if it’s a 36-week deal that leads into a championship or a ten-week deal, you know how to prepare for it. So it’s just — and knowing what the system is so you know how to prepare for those events.
Q: Can you tell us what you told the police in Australia?
Tony Stewart: I can’t tell you that, but that’s why they take you there is to talk to you behind closed doors. But the police department was very cordial over there. They were very professional, and we did exactly what they asked us to do and went through that process, and they let us go.
Q: A lot of success here in July, not so much in February. Is that just a coincidence? Is there anything to that, and this will be your 13th try at it. Do you believe in lucky numbers or anything like that?
Tony Stewart: I do believe in lucky numbers, and I’ve never believed that 13 was one of them. We’re fighting an uphill battle on that.
I wish I could say that there was a difference. I mean, obviously we’ve won qualifying races here, we’ve won the Shootout here in February, so we have won February races, too, but just haven’t won them on the right day. You know, it’s kind of new for everybody.
I mean, this kind of reracks the whole system, and I think it makes it to where anybody can win the Daytona 500 now because handling has always been a huge issue here, and 43 cars didn’t always handle here. I think handling is going to be a lot easier to accomplish here with the new surface. But it’s definitely going to be a lot more in the crew’s hands as far as getting us out in track position, getting cars that are just fast to begin with, but then it’s a chess match of being in the right place at the right time and trying to make sure that you’re positioning yourself to be where you want to be on those last couple laps.
Q: Given how much fun you’ve had in Australia in the past, do you think you’ll go back?
Tony Stewart: Love to. Like I said, except for the last night we had an excellent trip again. I mean, that’s the most time that I’ve ever been able to spend at one time, and even though the weather wasn’t very nice it was still a good vacation. I woke up every day not to a ringing telephone, so it was nice to get away on a good vacation, and I still want to go back and still want to go back and race. I’m glad this will be over with soon hopefully.
Q: Do you anticipate that the matter is settled, or is there any concern you might have to go back to answer any further questions?
Tony Stewart: I’m not concerned about it. If there is and we have to go back, we’ll deal with it. But it’s nothing that we’re concerned with at this point. I mean, like I said, when they were done with us, they said we were able to go back to the hotel and were able get on our flight and come back. I made sure that they knew exactly where we were staying, when our flight was, what the flight number was and how to get a hold of us the whole time. We’ll deal with it if anything else comes about.
Q: Heading into your third season as a team owner now, can you talk a little bit maybe about how much smarter you are about different things and how you’re going to be doing things differently based on what you’ve experienced and what you’ve learned?
Tony Stewart: Who said I was smart to begin with? I don’t think anybody has ever accused me of being smart. But obviously it’s like anything in general; you know, it’s a constant learning process and a constant growing process. The hard thing is sitting down at the end of the year and evaluating things that you think you did right, trying to isolate the things that you think you needed to gain on. But even just trying to get caught up on the things that you missed, at the same time those things that you did right probably aren’t right now, so you have to constantly grow.
Race teams are in a constant state of change. You’re never content and happy with where they’re at. It’s just trying to figure out — everybody tries to figure out how they can get every department to be 1 percent better, and now it’s a situation where you wonder if that 1 percent is going to be good enough, so you try to figure out if you’ve learned more and gained more over the winter than the rest of the teams have.
Q: If I remember right in the past, you’ve sent stand-ins down here to run this January test in your cars. How much do you think you can learn as a driver from this week here?
Tony Stewart: Probably just the drafting practice side of it, especially with the fact of hearing that it may be a little tricky off of turn 2 with the pushing side of it. So I think that we definitely want to have an understanding of before we come back here. Obviously when we come back, we have one practice day before the Shootout, so you definitely want to have that information for that, and you’ll learn a ton more obviously in the Shootout than we will at the test here.
But the sport is so competitive that it’s not just about seeing how fast your car is now, it’s trying to figure out the strategies and techniques we have to use as drivers with the bump drafting and playing the chess game to figure out where you’ve got to be at the right time.
Q: You seem remarkably calm and at peace, and you look good and fit, and yet you had an altercation. What could have possibly led to such a dispute, and talk about your mood and how you’re feeling.
Tony Stewart: Well, I’m definitely not proud of what happened, and if I had to do it all over again, I would have dealt with it much different. But we had been over there for almost five weeks, and we had been dealing with the same problem with the racetrack, so it wasn’t something that was just one incident that led up to it. It was a combination of the whole trip. But there was such a dispute on how they were doing a couple different aspects of preparing the racetrack and what it was putting the drivers in the situations that we were put in.
You know, I’ve always been one to speak up for what I think is right, especially when it comes to the safety side of it, and I didn’t think it was — the conditions were safe to run on, and they felt differently.
I’m home, and I’m back doing things that are getting my mind off of it, obviously. Like I said, this isn’t something that I’ve blown off. I mean, I’ve lost a lot of sleep over it because I’m very embarrassed that I made it through a whole trip and the night before I come home I get in an altercation with somebody, and that really hasn’t happened for a while. I’m not at all the least bit proud of it. I’m ashamed about it, but at the same time it’s been nice to get back with the team and it’s nice to come down here and worry about driving the race car again. And it’s not that it’s making me forget about it, but it’s at least getting my mind off of it enough to relax.
And I had a good vacation. That’s the thing. It’s a very relaxing vacation. I felt like I alleviated a lot of stress over there, and like I said, we just had one bad night out of a 30-day trip. I think for the most part the trip was a success.
Q: Quite simply, does the point system need to be changed?
Tony Stewart: I didn’t think it needed change the first time. I think the fans kind of helped dictate what they want. I think we’re kind of in a unique sport where we don’t have a set scoring system, and the fans can kind of help — I think if the fans are aware of the options, I think the fans will tell us what they want. And I think as long as we all know what it is at the beginning, I don’t think the competitors really care. We just want to know what it is before we start the season so we know what we have to do, if the first race is going to mean as much as the last race.
I really don’t think it matters. I really don’t have a feeling one way or the other whether it needs to be changed. As long as it’s the same for everybody, it’s fair.
Q: You mentioned it was an issue of safety on the track. Did you refuse to get on because of the safety issue? I mean, what was the concern as far as the safety issue?
Tony Stewart: If it would have been just hot laps then we would have had that option. With the heat race, you get points for your heat race, so if we didn’t go out then we were really digging ourself a hole for the whole night. But the hard thing is it’s not like looking at a pavement track and knowing if it’s dry or if it’s wet. When you’re dealing with dirt tracks and how much moisture is in a racetrack — you know, there were cars on it previously before we were on it, but we were in a hot lap group that was four sets before our heat race went out, so it was hard for us to know exactly what the conditions were until we got out there. But it was pretty obvious we thought before we even went out there that it wasn’t going to be good.
It was disappointing because it was the best weather conditions they had had leading up to that race, and they found a way to kind of get themselves backed in a corner again.
Moderator: Thank you so much. We appreciate it. Good luck with this test and all the best for Speedweeks and the 53rd running of the Daytona 500.