THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We’re joined today by Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet for Stewart‑Haas Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and owner of Eldora Speedway. Tony, thank you for joining us.
TONY STEWART: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: You have a busy week ahead starting withWednesday’s Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora. A few interesting notes, fans are coming from 45 different states and as far as Canada, Australia, Great Britain and Sweden to attend the second annual Mudsummer Classic. Talk about the popularity of the event and what it’s like for you to see it all coming together and watching from the owner’s seat?
TONY STEWART: It’s about as close to being a proud father as I can imagine being. It’s just a lot of work, and it’s not been a lot of work from my standpoint. It’s been a lot of work for Roger Slack and Larry Boos and Chad Schmitmeyer, and everybody at Eldora. Anybody that thinks that putting on a single NASCAR event is easy, let’s just open the gates. People think you start working I think a week ahead of time to get ready for stuff like this, and it’s been a very large, eye‑opening experience for me to see what the Eddie Gossages and people in Bruton Smith’s group, and everybody at ISC and SMI and everything has to do to put on an event each week. It takes months and months of work, and so many details.
It’s really cool. This is the fun part of it now is getting down to the last couple of days and the biggest thing I worry about is this weather right now more than anything.
Dirt tracks don’t dry out as fast as pavement tracks do, but the rest of it is something that after going through it last year, I’m really excited and ticket sales are great. We’ve got less than a thousand reserve seats left. Still do have and will have walk up ticket sales for lawn seating, so a lot of good seats available, and looking forward to a great event.
THE MODERATOR: Looking ahead to this weekend, you have two wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s your home track and a place you’re always really strong. With that said, this weekend lines up as a good opportunity to get your first win of 2014 and lock up a spot in the Chase. Talk about your thoughts going into this weekend.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I hope you’re right. I hope it would be the perfect place ‑‑ if you can’t win the Daytona 500, this is the perfect second to get your first win for the year. So we were one of the teams that did the Goodyear test a couple weeks ago, and we felt like our car was pretty quick. So I was pretty excited about that. It’s just a matter of going back and trying to keep that speed in the car.
Q. Congratulations on your big return to sprint car racing this past weekend. How good did it feel?
TONY STEWART: It felt great. I mean, it wasn’t a World of Outlaw race or a big paying race by any means, but there were some good cars there that we had to race to win, and we got a little bit of luck. Actually we were probably going to run second, but a guy late in the race got pushed off the track by a lap car, so we got a little bit of luck there. But it just felt good to get in one, period, and just run again.
This weekend the Outlaw series was in Pennsylvania, so that’s probably the toughest place in the country to try to go back. It’s probably the toughest race to go to, period. Pennsylvania’s tough weekly shows, let alone with the World of Outlaw there, so I didn’t feel like that was probably the best place to try to go back for the first time. But it was neat to get back in the car finally in a scenario that was low‑pressure, and just got to kind of go in and race for a couple nights and really enjoyed it. It felt really good.
Q. Just a quick follow‑up, do you plan to do much more of it this year?
TONY STEWART: I’ve got some more on my schedule. Not as many as I was originally wanting to run, but I think I’ve kind of worked with Zippy and sat down with our management and just trying to pick some places that we knew might not be quite as high risk as others because of speed and everything. So we tried to pick some tracks that we thought might be a little slower. And there are some races on there that I really have my heart set on running, but I’ve tried to be smart about where we’re going. As I said before, we’ve done a lot of things safety‑wise in the cars that I feel very comfortable with too. I’m just trying to be smart with the amount of races I’m going to run the rest of the year.
Q. What safety things have you changed in the sprint car that you have now compared to the one you ran last August?
TONY STEWART: It’s the same car, but basically it’s got a clamp around the center of the torque tube, which is the part that actually hit me in the leg. There are two tethers that go 90 degree off the side of the frame rails and those two tethers will keep the torque tube from going left and right. There are two more tethers that go back at a 45‑degree angle that go back to the center section of the rear end, and it will keep it from pulling the torque tube from one side or the other. It’s a pretty good system. It’s not something that’s heavy to install in the car. Sprint car guys are very, very weight conscious because you have 1200‑pound cars, so you can imagine the percentage per pound that you’re putting back in the car, versus a Cup car that’s three times the weight.
This is a system that the tethers are rated for 14,000 pounds of force each. So it should be hopefully adequate to take care of a scenario, but for sure it’s much, much better than anything we’ve seen in the past with that.
Q. Kind of switching types of cars, I was curious if what you went through last year, has that changed at all your attitude about being 19th in points and without a win?
TONY STEWART: It’s a new year. It’s a new car, a new rules package. I felt good in the car. There is nothing that’s not felt good from day one. Even when we were at Daytona we felt comfortable in the race car, and there wasn’t anything that was a distraction. So mindset‑wise, there is nothing that is different other than we just need to ‑‑ as much as the emphasis is on wins and not points racing, we’re kind of in a position where we’re close to being in that part of it as well where we could get in on points, but a win would solve that. It’s kind of a double‑edged sword right now. Do you get yourself in a position where you go for the win and risk if you run second losing that opportunity? Or do you sit there and say, well, I need to have a solid point day because we have the opportunity on the other side of the coin.
We still have two shots at getting in the Chase, obviously, one being a win and the other being getting in there because of the point position.
Q. If you could just kind of talk about, the way the season has gone, getting this win this season, granted not in the same kind of car, but just kind of the good juju that gives you, headed into if you could talk about this has to be such a huge week for you between Eldora, and we know how you love Indianapolis?
TONY STEWART: Well, everybody loves good juju, Holly, so, yeah. It was honestly a good way ‑‑ it was more than just a good way to start the week. It was a confidence boost for me. Maybe kind of answering what Bob was asking a second ago as well. But dealing with when you haven’t won, and you haven’t been necessarily a contender to be in the top two or three each week and having those opportunities to win races this year, you start questioning what is it in the equation that you’re missing. It’s easy as a driver. We’re all finicky when it comes to running bad and you sit there and start questioning if you’re doing something wrong or if you’re not adapting to the car, like I said, with the new rules package and everything, you start questioning what is it. Is it something that you’re doing or not doing as a driver? To be able to go out and win on Friday night and ran third on Saturday night, and to have two good runs like that in a car that I haven’t been in for almost a full year now, that was a huge confidence boost and made me feel like, hey, maybe we’ll just meet and find something else.
So it’s nice to hopefully eliminate a variable from that side of it, and feel like it’s not necessarily what you’re doing behind the wheel or whether I’m holding us back.
So it just shows us that we’ve got to keep working and tweaking and Chad and I keep learning each other better and better each week. I really like Chad Johnston. I think the world of him. I think he’s probably been the best match personality‑wise of any of the crew chiefs I’ve had since Zippy.
So I’ve had four really good crew chiefs now, but I think Chad and I really are kind of on the same page, so I’m excited about that side of it. We’ve just got to find that one piece of the puzzle that gets us the rest of the way there. It is a long week also. As we speak I’m actually driving through downtown Rushville on my way to Eldora right now. So it’s kind of cool to be back in my stomping grounds and getting ready for a busy week at Eldora. It’s almost like two weeks in one for me. Eldora’s enough to cause you enough stress to last you for the rest of the year, and then going to the Brickyard, that’s a big race for me as well. It’s a lot in one week, but it’s like I mentioned earlier, you have people like Roger Slack and Larry Boos, Chad Schmitmeyer at Eldora and Mike Arning from the PR side, and all these guys that are in place doing the heavy lifting, as Mike would say, they’re getting the things done. My job is to show up and worry and get in their way.
So I’m a couple hours from there now, and I’ll get there and be a pain in their butt when I get there. I’ll act normal, I’m sure.
Q. My first question is about sprint car racing. Can you explain what it is about it that you love? Does part of you ever wish that you could only do that form of racing?
TONY STEWART: No, I like doing what I’m doing. I get the best of both worlds. I get to race with the best stock car drivers in the world every week, and I getting to and run dirt tracks in either the off nights or sometimes during a Cup weekend I get to go sneak off for anything.
But it’s two totally different forms of racing. I never was a driver brought up running one type of car and one type of surface. I always ran dirt and pavement. I like that. I like the challenge. I like the dirt tracks because they change all the time. Pavement tracks, when I got in the Cup series, the pavement racing I had done before that, tracks really didn’t change a lot. In the Cup series, the groove moves around and it gets wider and you might run the bottom for a little while and the top, and that’s a lot like dirt racing too. I like that challenge of trying to figure out as a driver what to do to make yourself better.
I just like it. I’ve always liked dirt racing. I’ve always liked racing Sprint cars, and it’s just what I enjoy doing. Everybody has hobbies. Everybody has stuff they like to do when they have downtime, and that’s just what it is for me. That’s what I like to do when I have extra time.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing it. I feel like there are a lot of other things I could be doing that are a lot more dangerous and a lot bigger waste of time with my time off do than doing that.
Q. Do you still view Indianapolis the same way you did five, ten, 20 years ago? How do you like your chances?
TONY STEWART: I do look at it as the same. When you grow up 45 minutes from Indy there is nothing ‑‑ that is sacred ground to me. It always has been, always will be. I don’t care how many times you win there, it’s never enough. It’s nice to have won two races already there. That gives you confidence of knowing what you have to do to win. It’s just a matter of doing it.
I think when we did the Goodyear test a couple weeks ago, we actually were really good compared to the guys that tested around us. Who knows when we get back here this weekend what we’re going to have, but we had a really good car before we blew the tire and crashed it, so hopefully this new car that we’re bringing that replaced the one we crashed will be as good as the last one.
Q. Wanted to ask you about Norm Benning. You bought his truck from last year’s race, and I wanted to find out what made you want to buy Norm’s truck and how does that rank in your collection?
TONY STEWART: It was important to me just because of the history of the event. I don’t know that everybody remembers who won the race as much as everybody remembers Norm Benning’s last couple laps just to get in the race in the last‑chance race. So I thought that just kind of summed up what the inaugural event is all about and how that was a defining moment of what bringing the NASCAR trucks back to Eldora and bringing them back to dirt, what it was really about. I thought being able to purchase Norm’s truck and help him out, help him get a newer truck and for us to have that bit of history, I thought that was pretty important.
I think for our racetrack that was really huge. We’ve been able to purchase a couple other cars that have won at Eldora, and this one ranks very high. I just think that one moment was really what summed up the entire event and what it was really all about and what it meant to everybody.
Q. As far as coming from your open‑wheel background, how did you initially perceive the fact that cars were going to race at the Brickyard?
TONY STEWART: Honestly, I was one of them that absolutely thought it was a crime initially. I’m a purist. I’m old school. It’s always been sacred ground to me. I remember when they did the tire test there and everybody ‑‑ there was so much excitement after that, and that really didn’t even get me to switch sides. I was actually in Illinois the day that the Brickyard ran, and when I got back and saw the replay of the race it was very evident that this was something that wasn’t breaking religion so to speak or sacrilegious for it to be there. It really showed why NASCAR belonged there.
But I was one of them that didn’t like it at first until I actually got back and saw the replay of the race and saw how much excitement it brought. It was the month of May historically, and all of a sudden it was the month of May and August now, and you had the same historic racetrack and now you had two events instead of one.
Q. Did winning change your mind or just the first time you drove a stock car there, was winning more the mind change for you than actually racing there yourself?
TONY STEWART: No, my mind changed after I saw the first one. I was racing the same day, but when I got back that day and watched the replay, it changed my mind then. There were other people that I knew that were dead against it that went just to see what it was going to be like, and they came back and felt the same way. Their opinions had changed other than ‑‑ like I say, when you’re used to seeing one thing around there, it would be like taking IndyCars to Daytona. It’s like the first time they’d go down there it just wouldn’t seem right, wouldn’t feel right, wouldn’t look right. But if it was a good event down there, they’d get used to it.
But it’s just one of those things that when you’re growing up around open‑wheel cars and around stock cars a lot, the thought of it wasn’t the best at first, but like I said, it really just seeing the way everybody around Indianapolis felt about it, especially the racing community, there are so many race teams around there. The racers are the ones that really didn’t like it. They were more of the purists. But I think everybody changed their mind and their opinion after they saw that first one.