Tony, you have a pretty busy month of July with New Hampshire, Eldora and Indianapolis Motor Speedway all on deck. How do you approach this month, especially with the Chase approaching in less than two months?
TONY STEWART: You know, honestly it’s just kind of business as usual. It is a very hectic schedule. I’ve got 11 Sprint Cup races in the next two weeks so I’ve got a lot of stuff going on on top of what we’re doing with the Sprint Cup Series and the Truck Series at Eldora. A lot going on for sure, but we’ve got a lot of great people.
As far as the Truck Series, Roger Slack and Larry Boos and everybody at Eldora has done a great job. They’re getting ready for this weekend, then shift their focus after Saturday night finishing getting ready for the truck race. That gives us a weekend off to get the track prepared. Everything is according to schedule so far over there.
From my side, I’m used to bouncing around a lot. So Loudon is a good track for us. We’re looking forward to it obviously. If we can have a good race there this weekend, that will be a lot of momentum to carry for two weeks to come to Indianapolis for the Brickyard.
Q. Tony, you mentioned New Hampshire. I think you tested there a couple weeks ago. What is your anticipation level for this racetrack?
TONY STEWART: I’m excited about it. It didn’t seem like it drove any different than it had with the other car. Just a matter of going through the same process that we did with the other cars, just trying to get balanced. Still seems like the handling characteristics are the same. You fight loose entry and exit and tight in the center. It’s figuring out how to keep that balance.
Track was fast. So I’m looking forward to it, for sure.
Q. When you look at Loudon, then Indy, Watkins a few weeks after that, how do you feel tracks line up for you in terms of trying to get into the Chase?
TONY STEWART: You know, it’s hard to say. I mean, we’ve had such an up-and-down season so far that hopefully if we can go well at Loudon, we got to do the tire test for Goodyear at Indy, I’m looking forward to coming back to the Brickyard and hopefully taking what we learned at the test there and utilizing it.
Watkins Glen, I mean, I’m nervous about Watkins Glen now. We were so bad at Sonoma that we’re definitely going to have to go to work and find a lot to get our car better.
But they’re all tracks that historically we’ve been good at. It’s just this year we’ve fought trying to keep the car balanced, doing the things we need to do to be fast every week.
Q. Tony, two years ago you were second and first at New Hampshire, then last year Denny did the exact same thing. It seems like it’s the kind of place where if somebody hits on something, you can carry it over for both races. Why is that a place where that happens? Is it because the racers are so close together?
TONY STEWART: Well, I think it’s kind of like Pocono, too. Pocono, it’s so close together is why it normally works.
I think if you find something at Loudon, it seems like if you find something that works, it seems to work for a while. A lot of times we say just because it worked the first race, it won’t work the second race. Loudon seems to be a track that if you find something, it will stay with you if you don’t get too far off of it.
I think it’s just the way the track is. The track doesn’t seem to change a lot from year to year like some of the other tracks do. I think with that the setups stay relatively close.
Q. Does that mean that Denny will be as much of a threat there as he was last year or is it too hard to say?
TONY STEWART: Well, I think it’s too hard to tell, especially comparing last year to this year because you have a whole different variable with the new car.
The good thing is, when you do get a race where you have a car that drives really well there, you know what that feel is, you know what you’re looking for. That is what will help him this weekend. Just like Ryan and I when we go there, we know what our car needs to feel like to be good in the race.
I don’t know if it’s a guarantee that Denny is going to be good this time around, but I would venture to say he’s probably going to do pretty well.
Q. Tony, at this point of the season, is it more important for you to get a victory or is it more important for Ryan to get a victory, seeing how him winning might put him in the Chase, too?
TONY STEWART: I mean, I would like to see Ryan get a victory. If I had a choice, I would rather see Ryan get a victory right now, try to get two of the three cars in the Chase.
If we can stay 10th in the points, we don’t need the bonus spot. Getting Ryan that win, if we could stay where we’re at in the standings, I would more so want Ryan to win a race right now.
Q. Tony, I don’t think anyone has a heavier agenda than what you have. What about your busy schedule gives you the biggest kicks?
TONY STEWART: I guess the fact that I’m getting to race a lot. That’s why my schedule is busy.
But, you know, the stuff that I’m doing is stuff that I really enjoy. I love running my dirt races. I love what I do with the Cup Series. It doesn’t take long between a full-time Cup schedule and the side races to fill your calendar up. It’s a lot easier when you’re single and you don’t have kids to be able to go out and just go race whenever you want. It makes it a lot easier.
Q. A bit off topic. About safety on the track, safety on the highway. Do you have a comment for fans and the general public about driving safely on the highways and streets?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, the first thing, put your phone down. That’s the biggest thing. I drove 45 minutes from home up to the Speedway here at Indianapolis today. The biggest problem when it comes to people being a nuisance in traffic is the fact they sit out in the left-hand lane, they’re texting, not paying attention to the fact there’s other people on the road.
You got to share the road. You have to work with the people around you. It seems like as time goes on, more and more, there’s a lot less courtesy on the highways, interstates, streets altogether. People don’t care. It shows in the driving. It shows in how traffic flows.
The people that we’re working with each other on the interstate, that part seemed to flow better than the ones where people were in the left-hand lane on their phones, didn’t care about people trying to get by them going on their way.
To me, it’s unsafe when people are having to make daring moves on the interstate to get by people that are holding up traffic.
Q. Tony, what is it about the summertime that seems to appeal to you most, typically and historically that’s when you really raise your game and start piling up wins?
TONY STEWART: I would say probably the last 13 or 14 years, people have been asking me that same question. I never have had a good answer.
I honestly don’t know. The only thing I can think of is just the tracks get hot and get slick. Seems like when the tracks get slick, that plays into your driving style a little bit.
I really don’t have any scientific explanation or anything of why. Like you say, history shows, the stats show, this is the time of year when we get running better.
Q. You’re coming up on tracks where you have historically done well. You mentioned that you’re concerned about Watkins because of the performance at Sonoma. What is it that gives you the greatest trepidation about going to that track right now?
TONY STEWART: I can’t even spell ‘trepidation’ (laughter).
The biggest thing is we seemed to be so far off at Sonoma, so underestimated how we thought our car was going to be for the race. You know, I just feel like we’ve got a lot of work to do.
There were guys that we were around and saw during the race that their cars had a lot of grip, were fast, had speed. We just struggled for grip the whole time we were there. That’s something that’s kind of uncharacteristic for us.
You always struggle for grip at Sonoma, but it seems like in the race it would always kind of fall into our hands. It went the other way this year. As the race went on, it just got worse and worse for us.
I think it’s getting the handling where we need to be is the biggest thing I’m worried about right now.
Q. I know you’re at Indianapolis. Looking forward to the Brickyard. Your impressions about when NASCAR did go there to Indianapolis, as a purist of open-wheel, too, was there any kind of conflict on your part? Were you excited to see NASCAR arrive at Indianapolis?
TONY STEWART: The first time they came, I’ll be honest, I was 100% against it. When you grow up in the state of Indiana, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the Holy Grail to you. You know, I didn’t want to see anything different come to it. To me, it was the Indy 500 and that’s all it was supposed to be.
But, you know, after watching the first race, the second year, I was kind of on the fence, and by the third year I was a fan of it. Luckily my career path, I mean, it’s allowed me to come race here every year.
Now with Formula One coming in, Moto GP, the GRAND-AM Series, Nationwide cars running here, I think the mindset has changed that it’s too historic of a speedway to run one race a year on it. To be able to bring so many great different series and divisions here, it’s pretty neat that a lot of people get the honor to race here at Indy now.
Q. When you finally got to kiss the bricks there, how meaningful was it for you?
TONY STEWART: It was everything to me. My whole life, since I was a kid, that’s what I wanted to do. Not that I had some fascination with kissing bricks as a child. But my fascination to do it here was pretty obsessive.
Q. A couple years ago when you went to Watkins Glen and did the car swap with Lewis Hamilton, you came out of there being a big proponent of NASCAR adding the boot. Could you explain why you like that portion of the track so much, and if you think that idea still has any momentum at all?
TONY STEWART: I haven’t heard any more as far as whether it’s gained any momentum on that. But there was no doubt in my mind there are three distinct braking zones there and passing opportunities that would be available because of that.
I think the brake technology has come a long way to where I don’t think you’d have to worry about brake heat, losing brakes. So it just was a neat section of the track. It had great elevation change in it, some really neat corners. It’s already been a great event there, but I think it would be neat to be able to add that section to it.
It was a lot of fun in both the Cup car and the Formula One car. I just thought it would be a neat addition. Whether anything ever happens out of it or not, there may be logistical reasons of why they may not or can’t do it, but it was neat to be able to at least during the seat swap run the Formula One car and the stockcar down there.
Q. Tony, as a car owner, how do you feel about NASCAR’s decision not to hand down any penalties concerning the roof flaps at Daytona?
TONY STEWART: I really didn’t get too involved in knowing what the scenario was with that. To me it wasn’t a performance issue. As far as what NASCAR’s decision was one way or the other, as long as it wasn’t a performance issue, there was a reason they took them off the cars. It really doesn’t matter to me.
I feel comfortable in NASCAR knowing what decisions are the correct decisions to make. There was obviously a reason they took the parts. But I think they also at the same time know what’s excessive, what is reasonable.
It’s always been a part of the sport, having to collect parts that weren’t necessarily supposed to be on cars. So just because something is confiscated doesn’t mean that it’s automatically the scenario where they have to be punished by a fine.
Q. Tony, you’ve got a couple of wins at the Brickyard. Because you have raced Indy and NASCAR at that track, do you feel comfortable when your wheels are on the Indy surface or is it just another track to pick up a victory?
TONY STEWART: No, it’s definitely not just another victory to us. It’s a big deal to us to win here. I’m not sure I understood what you said about the wheels being on there.
This is an event that I definitely circle on the schedule, emotionally have a lot invested in it. To us it’s definitely not just another stop that’s on the calendar and on the schedule. You don’t just pull in and say, We’re going to go in and try to win the race, then pull out of here. When you’re here, you’re amped up because you’re at Indianapolis.
Q. I thought racing both types of cars, when the wheels do get on the track, when you’re out there racing, is there a comfort level that’s higher because of racing both those types of cars at that track?
TONY STEWART: I think for sure the IndyCars, you were running faster speeds, but you had a lot more downforce in the car, too. The first thing you did was get enough downforce on it to where you could run wide open around there. From that point, you tried to blend downforce and drag off the car and get to where you could stay wide open around the track.
From that standpoint it was a little bit easier to that degree in IndyCar. The stockcar, you have to lift, you have to use the brakes at the end of the frontstretch and backstretch. That adds another element of difficulty for it. It’s a 3400-pound car. It’s a little more difficult I feel like in a stockcar. It was a lot of fun running around here in the 230 mile-an-hour range in an IndyCar that you could run wide open.
Q. Tony, I remember asking you last year why so many guys that come from dirt translate so well coming to the Cup Series. You talked about a controlled slide. Do you think that’s still the case with this car, the changes in the grip and rear-end?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I mean, balance is still balance. Cars are tight, loose or have four-wheel drift. No matter whether it’s an old car or new car, it has one of those three characteristics. The hotter the tracks get, eventually the cars are going to lose grip. I think it plays into the hands of guys that are used to cars sliding around a lot more.
Q. Were you surprised how much your dirt experience helped you when you moved into the Cup Series?
TONY STEWART: It was a lot different than when I started. I mean, the tires, in my opinion, it was a lot more technical to drive. You had a lot of grip. But the problem was you could wear that grip out very easily and you had to manage your tires.
Now Goodyear has this going green initiative, and a lot of times it’s harder to get the grip. It just seems like you don’t have to plan how hard to run your stint. I mean, you can’t really wear the tires out. From that standpoint, it’s changed quite a bit of how you drive these cars, how the racing has been.
Q. Eldora, you got to run a truck in the past. What was that like comparatively, and what do the drivers face when they show up in a couple weeks to race at Eldora in a different type of format?
TONY STEWART: I think a lot of those guys, it’s going to be the first time they’ve raced on dirt, too. I think it’s going to be a big challenge for the teams and drivers. Obviously never ran the trucks on dirt.
When we went and did the test there, we actually battled a little bit of weather ourselves. The track conditions were very, very sticky.
But I think when the track slicks off there, it will slow the pace down a little bit, make it a little more comfortable for some of those guys. Even though it sounds like slicker would be more trouble, I think when the pace slows down due to a slick track like that, they’ll run more like pavement, they’ll run straighter through the corners and not sideways as much.
But I think they’ll enjoy it. It’s a neat facility. Like I say, it’s well-lit, it’s a wide racetrack, it gives you a lot of options of where you can go and what you can do. I think it gives those guys an opportunity. The practice day on Tuesday should help a lot of those teams be able to get acclimated before they come back to the track on Wednesday.