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Tony Stewart on Loss of Jason Leffler, Safety at Local Short Track Facilities & More

TALK TO US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JASON LEFFLER:

“Yeah, I have known Jason for a long time obviously.  We grew up racing together and followed the same paths racing-wise.  So I mean he was a friend, he was a roommate, he was a teammate and I got to be around him a lot.  He loved nothing more than being behind the wheel of a race car. I was just shocked to hear what had happened and obviously it’s just a reminder of how dangerous our sport is, but we have had a lot of safety innovations over the last 15 years since I have been in Cup.  It’s just proof that we will never get to the stage where everybody is immune to getting hurt in a race car.  That is just the scenario that we are in and there isn’t anybody that gets behind the wheel that doesn’t understand that going into it, and Jason was that way as well.  He just loved doing what he was doing and it was just a rough week there and obviously Charlie is the one that we are all thinking about the most right now.  His girlfriend Juliana, it’s hard for both of those two and Amy and their family and just thinking about all those guys this weekend.”

 

HOW WAS PRACTICE OUT THERE FOR YOU?

“I think as the session went on, the track got more grip in it.  It was pretty slippery to begin with and you could tell it started getting some rubber in the track and it seemed here watching the times that I obviously had a problem and got loose, caught it, and just ran out of race track trying to get around the corner.  I got to watch the lap times a lot and it seemed the longer the session went, the better the track got.”

 

YOU AND JASON WERE CLOSE, WHAT STANDS OUT MOST ABOUT HIM?

“We got to hang out a lot away from the race track as well as at the track.  When he moved from California to Indiana to start racing USAC fulltime, he moved in with me and lived with us for a little under a year and I got to see a lot of things and he was just a lot of fun.  He was a racer and didn’t care what he raced, where he raced, when he raced, it was all he wanted to do was to drive a race car.  It was fun to have a roommate like that who had the same passion and desire that I had.”

 

YOU GUYS AS A TEAM HAVE REALLY BOUNCED BACK HERE THE LAST COUPLE WEEKS.  HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU IN MAKING THE CHASE?

“I feel like our whole organization is getting it going and I have been really encouraged the last couple weeks and if you take our last three weeks, we have made big gains.  Until I had the problem today we were third on the sheet at the time I crashed the car.  So I feel encouraged that we are gaining ground on it and starting to get back to form a little bit.  Regarding this weekend, I was real anxious to get on track to see where we were.  The last couple weeks we had the advantage of using two tests to get ready for Pocono and Dover so we didn’t do that for here so I wanted to see how we came out of the box here and I was pretty encouraged by what I have seen during the day there.   I feel like we are gaining on it and I don’t know if we are where we to be yet, but I feel like we have definitely made big gains in the last month so I am encouraged by that.”

 

YOU RACE IN ALL FORMS OF RACING, HOW CAREFUL ARE YOU?

“I am as careful as I am when I get in a car on a city street.  There will be more people that die in car crashes today than die in race cars today.  It’s just part of it and I am one of those that believe when it’s your time, it’s your time.  I don’t know the details of what happened up there but from what I have been told by people is that something broke on the race car.  Whether that is what happened or not, I do not know. The cars I drive, I know the equipment.  The sprint car that I drive is one of my own cars, and its prepared by our own guys.  We have a full containment seat and we do everything we can do with the race car to make it as safe as possible. Just like we would with any other race car we drive.  So it wasn’t the fact that it was a sprint car it was the fact that it was an accident and something went wrong and we lost Jason (Leffler) because of it.”

 

IF YOU COULD USE A SINGLE WORD TO DESCRIBE A LAP AROUND MICHIGAN INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY AND THEN ALSO COMPARE WHAT MICHIGAN IS LIKE IN RELATION TO OTHER TRACKS THAT COULD BE AS FAST AS THIS TRACK?

“It’s fast. It’s a two mile track that’s been freshly re-paved so it’s got a lot of grip and you carry a lot of corner speed. And when you carry corner speed, you make straightaway speed. It’s no different than anywhere else. Anytime they repave a race track it’s fast right off the bat. Now that I’ve seen from last year to the spring the color of the track has changed quite a bit. Normally in the fall the grip starts going away. It didn’t seem to be quite as line sensitive as it was last year which means it’s starting to age a little bit. It’s just a matter of getting some rubber on the track it seemed like today. As far as what other race tracks can be like, everyone is different there’s no two tracks the same. They’ve all got their quirks and characteristics about them that that make them unique.”

 

DO YOU HAVE TO DO ANY CONVINCING OF YOUR SPONSORS TO ALLOW YOU TO DO AS MUCH RACING AS YOU DO?

“No.”

 

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT MAYBE IMPROVEMENTS THAT YOU HAVE SEEN IN SHORT-TRACK RACING AS FAR AS THE TRACKS THEMSELVES OVER THE LAST FIVE OR 10 YEARS?

“Most of them have safety teams at each facility. I know that’s something in the promoter’s workshop down in Florida in the spring when all the promoter’s get together and track owners and operators get together that’s a high. That’s probably the one thing I’ve seen the most of is having adequate safety teams there and making sure they can respond to the problem pretty quick.”

 

THERE HAS KIND OF BEEN TWO OPINIONS ON SHORT-TRACKS THAT I’VE HEARD THIS MORNING.  DAVE BLANEY SAID HE WOULD RACE AT ANY SHORT-TRACK FOR THE MOST PART THE STANDARDS ARE PRETTY GOOD.  BRAD KESELOWSKI HAD ANOTHER OPINION HE SAID THAT THE STANDARDS NEEDED IMPROVING THAT THEY WERE DISMAL.  YOU ARE A TRACK OWNER WHAT IS YOUR TAKE? ARE THERE ANY PLACES YOU WOULDN’T GO TO RACE?

“I think things are the best they’ve ever been at this point. There’s facilities that need some work and there’s facilities that put a lot of effort into it. It’s like getting on a city street today.  Can it be safer? Sure. Do we have to go two lanes into oncoming traffic? No we don’t have to do that. There’s always things you can do better.  Am I scared to go to any race track or feel concerned of not feeling safe at a race track? No. I think for the majority just about everywhere you go does a pretty good job and do the best they can under the circumstances they have to work with. The safety standards weren’t what caused the problem. I’d be grateful if you guys would understand that what happened this week wasn’t because somebody didn’t’ do something right with the race track. It was an accident. Just like if you go out and there’s a car crash. It’s an accident. Short track promoters are doing everything they can do to operate and just stay afloat and to keep having tracks for drivers that are upcoming that want to be NASCAR drivers just to have the ability to go to and race and learn so they can come up to this level. It’s hard enough for these promoters and track owners to do what they’re doing so please try to cut them a little slack this week. Nobody as a track owner wants to go through what happened this week but it’s not due to a lack of effort on their part to try to make their facilities as safe as possible under the conditions they have.”

 

YOU’VE DONE SOME IMPROVEMENTS AT ELDORA FOR THE TRUCK RACE, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT THOSE IMPROVEMENTS WERE AND WHAT THE THOUGHT PROCESS WAS WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA RECOMMENDING YOU DIDN’T NEED SAFER BARRIERS THERE?

“They did recommend that we not use them. They did make recommendations and we made the changes accordingly. The way we looked at it was a huge honor to have the opportunity to have that group come to our race track and help us make improvements. It’s something that I’m sure if every short track across the country could have that opportunity it would make things better.  That’s why I say, given the circumstances I think tracks do a really good job with what they have. But we did. We made every change that they recommended. We made those adjustments. A lot of it was with inside walls and the angles of the openings. Those were addressed right away. Roger Slack can give you the full run down of everything that was recommended and what we did to address it.”

 

IS THERE SOMETHING THAT’S MORE COMPELLING ABOUT RACING THE SPRINT CARS THAT KEEPS DRAWING YOU BACK IN?   

“It’s just something different. I get to race with the best stock car drivers in the world every weekend here for three days a week. In the evenings I get to go do something that’s the polar opposite end of the spectrum and it’s a challenge because it’s the opposite end of the spectrum for us. They’re 910 horse power cars that weigh 1400 pounds. It’s probably the best power to weight ratio other than a motorcycle. You put a 25 square foot surface area wing on top of it and you get to run around race tracks really fast. It’s hard to explain without getting in it. I didn’t even understand it until I got in one the first time of what it’s really like. They’re a lot of fun. Just like there’s great race teams in NASCAR, there’s great sprint car teams and late model and modified teams all across the country and getting to go to different places and run with different groups and different drivers is something that’s fun. When you want to race that’s just what you want to do and that’ just a type of car that I’ve been very interested in.”

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Posted by on June 15, 2013. Filed under Breaking News,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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