YOU ARE OUR POINTS LEADER WITH FOUR WINS SO FAR THIS SEASON. COMING INTO BRISTOL, WE’VE GOT THREE RACES BEFORE WE RESET THE FIELD FOR THE 2013 CHASE. YOU’VE ALREADY CLINCHED A SPOT IN THE FIELD AND WOULD LIKE TO GET SOME ORE BONUS POINTS. TALK ABOUT COMING HERE TO BRISTOL AND YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THIS WEEKEND:
“I’m excited to be in Bristol. This night race was always one of my favorites to watch, growing up. I’m looking forward to a packed house and some great short track racing. We’ve been a Top 5 car here over the years and hopefully we can take that next step and move into that Top 3. In my opinion, running in the Top 3 you’ve got a great shot at a win. We’d like to win another race here. We’ve done it once in our career and hopefully we can do it again.”
THE ENGINE ISSUES YOU HAD LAST WEEKEND (AT MICHIGAN), HAVE YOU DISCOVERED WHAT THE PROBLEM WAS AND TAKEN CARE OF THAT? DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS GOING FORWARD?
“There is always concern and we tested at Richmond and the guys were still asking me questions from the engine shop about what I felt and the order and how things went on and failed. They didn’t have any clear direction then. And I’m not sure they’ve had a lot of time to work on everything with all four cars going to Richmond and . But, we definitely had one; our engine failed and the others didn’t. In the past, that stuff usually boils down to a part failure. And I’m assuming it was something in that department. Hopefully we can find out what batch it came from and which part it was. You know, when things fail at a rapid rate like they do, it’s hard to find the source of the issue. Hopefully we can narrow that down and get new parts and pieces in place so it doesn’t happen to our car or anybody else’s.”
OBVIOUSLY TONY STEWART HAS HAD SUCCESS IN A LOT OF FORMS OF MOTORSPORTS, INCLUDING HERE (NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES). DURING HIS CAREER, HE’S ALSO HAD HIS SHARE OF RUN-INS WITH MEDIA AND FELLOW COMPETITORS AND EVEN NASCAR. YET, THROUGH ALL THAT, HE STILL SEEMS TO BE HELD AT A VERY HIGH LEVEL OF RESPECT AMONG HIS PEERS. THAT IS A DELICATE BALANCE. WHY IS THAT?
“I think it’s because of his honesty. At times his frustration with his honest approach, you might hear some real colorful things and have an issue on the front side. It might lead to something, an altercation on the track; getting out of cars and having a scrappy session with someone after (laughs). But once the dust settles, his honesty once again weighs out. He’s not one to walk from a problem or run from a problem. He’ll continue to talk to whoever it is and whatever it’s about and work through those things. So, that’s kind of where I put it. He’s just honest at all times. Sometimes he probably wishes he had a filter on it, especially on the front side, to save some of the back-end issues. But, at the end of the day, that’s what I respect about him is he’s just an honest guy.”
MARK MARTIN AND GREG ZIPADELLI WERE JUST TALKING ABOUT TONY STEWART AND WHAT HE’S IS GOING TO GO THROUGH MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY ON HIS WAY BACK. WHAT’S THE TOUGHEST INJURY THAT YOU’VE EVER HAD TO GET OVER? HAVE YOU EVER HAD SOMETHING WHERE YOU REALLY GOT BUSTED AND IT TOOK A WHILE TO GET BACK?
“Yeah, I’ve been fortunate in my four-wheel career to have just some minor injuries and issues. But, my first championship I won when I was racing dirt bikes. With a few races left in the season, it was my birthday of all things, I fell in the first turn and bent the handlebars. And as I rode a couple more laps, I just mentally forgot about my handlebars being bent and where they had the front tire pointing. I came over a double-jump section of the race track and just put my hands straight like I expected and the wheel was cocked. I tumbled and got tangled-up with the bike and I broke my tib and fib on my left leg and pulled the knee apart. And when I was done tumbling, my foot was up here. And I’ll never forget looking at the bottom of my motorcycle boot laying on the ground and like, wow, this is really serious.
“I went to the hospital and had reconstructive knee surgery and they got everything put back together and had me in a cast. And we figured out that if I started the race and rode one lap the next couple of events, that I would tie with this other kid in points, and I would have more race wins and would win the championship. So, my dad, with his fabrication skills, designed a little thing off the side of the bike. He borrowed some adult-sized leathers and boots and all that, and got my foot propped up and rode one lap and tied the kid in points and won the tie-breaker due to the wins, and went and got my first championship trophy on stage on crutches. I was in a cast for quite a while. That was a six or eight-month process to get through, but I was so young; and really, nothing stuck around, mentally. It didn’t bother me in any way, shape, or form. So I was pretty lucky with the age. Not only did it kill the injury for my knee, but also mentally, it just didn’t have an effect on me.”
HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN THAT HAPPENED?
“It was on my eighth birthday.”
SO YOU HIT THE GROUND AND IMMEDIATELY KNEW YOUR FOOT WASN’T WHERE IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE?
“Yep. I was staring at the bottom of my motorcycle boot. And I knew that was bad (laughter). And then there was somebody trying to help me off the track and my dad was running over; he saw me fall. And when he saw my leg and somebody trying to move me, that person still today probably regrets touching me because my dad stuffed him. He came running up and planted the person that was trying to help. It was a reaction. He could hear me scream and saw my leg in an awkward position and was just being a protective dad.”
COULD YOU TALK ABOUT THE POSSIBLE CHANGES COMING AT STEWART-HAAS RACING AS FAR AS PERHAPS GOING TO A FOURTH TEAM NEXT SEASON AND HOW THAT WOULD BENEFIT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS?
“I hear the rumors but I’m not sure what it happening or what will happen from personnel changes to adding cars. There’s still a lot to learn about Tony’s (Stewart) health and what’s going to happen with the No. 14 car. But, we have a great relationship with Stewart-Haas Racing and I know with (Kevin) Harvick coming on board, Kevin and I have talked already and we work well together now, but I think that can improve and be better in the future. And the more smart pulling in the same direction, the better both companies are going to be. Stewart-Haas has shown their ability to win races and championships; and I think for the good of all of us, the more smart people, the more dedicated-focused people on both teams, the better all of us are going to be.”