Thursday, Dec 09

Team Chevy Racing Drivers Q&A


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 re-racks 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.


Q.  The buzz at the beginning of this week was points, change in the points.  You're the five time champion.  The last time we had the buzz about points there was a guy that won the race and it wasn't that exciting of a season.  Do you think maybe this could be pointed at you somehow?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  No, I mean, I guess if we don't have an idea what it's really going to look like, there's a lot of speculation at this point, but in theory if it is 43 points for the winner on down to 1 for the last place car, in concept, in theory, it's still very similar to what we have now.  So I think the premise, the concept is still very similar.  Take a while to get used to it.

I think it's more of an attempt to make our points system easier to understand.  I don't think that it would be a huge change from the thought that I've put into it so far.  I don't see it being a big thing.  I know people expect me to react and think, oh, they've got to leave it alone, don't change it.  I don't care what races are in the Chase, the format to win the championship; I could care less because I feel confident that my team will be able to win championships under any set of circumstances.  We'll wait until the announcement when and if it comes and kind of take it from there.

I don't believe it's a huge strategy to engage the fans more from an attendance standpoint for a viewership standpoint.  I mean, you always hope for that.  I think in my opinion there are other areas to focus on for that.  This would give us something to talk about and hopefully simplify the system and make it easier to follow.

Q.  Jimmie, Denny Hamlin talked about the track being so smooth that there was almost nothing that you can do to the cars to really make a difference and that they're likely to be bigger packs, drafting packs and so on because it will bring everybody together.  If there's not that much you can work on and not much you can change, what will you guys be doing here for three days?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, I mean, we kind of speak to that point, we didn't participate in the Goodyear tire test for that reason alone.  We felt like three days here would be enough time on track to sort out what we had.

The rules are such where there are very few areas to work in.  We have a lot of freedom at the front of the car to work on it, but with the bumps gone there's very little driver comfort issues or drivability issues and you're basically trying to get the car as low as you can to the track and don't let the splitter drag.  After a handful of runs of doing that, you're kind of out of moves.  We can't mess with the back of the car.  We don't have body changes that we can make to the templates and the way they are with the cars.  So it really shortens up the list of things to try.

Our teammates are doing great.  We were on the bottom of the board for a while so I'm not sure we've got everything sorted out on the 48 car just yet.  To have our teammates as fast as they are, we'll just go home and get all the adjusting things around and get it right.  I think it kind of comes down to drive line, some different angles and drive shafts and rolling resistance and issues like that where the speed is, so we'll just have to do a bit of work there.

Q.  Denny Hamlin was in here and said he didn't think about racing during the whole off season and he promised us that, and Carl Edwards and Martin Truex, Jr., talked about how crazy the racing is going to be here.  Can you sort of talk to both of those entities?  Did you think about racing during the off season, and how crazy will racing be here?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, it was in my mind at times.  There was no doubt that once things slowed down for me, which was around Christmastime, from I'd say Christmas to maybe January 3rd or 4th, I did a very good job of not being connected and got away and spent time with the family.

But we had a lot of changes going on with pit crew stuff, the changes with the crew chiefs and drivers moving around.  There's been plenty going on.

January has been extremely busy.  I've missed being in the car.  I think all drivers would say wanting to go to the track and drive the car and compete, you can do that year round.  It's the other stuff that makes it a long year.

I'm excited to be in the car here, although it's not all that challenging, but I was here for the Rolex test and had a great time in that car and will be back next weekend for that race, and really excited for that race.  Enjoy running that event.

And then the 500 I believe is going to be everything everyone would hope for.  The track will have plenty of grip, multiple lanes.  In my opinion, yeah, I believe some guys will probably ride and try to play it smart.  But for the Daytona 500, at least in my mind, and I think most drivers look at it the same way; you're willing to make a lot of risky moves and willing to wreck your car.  Points don't seem to be a premium yet.  We're going to see a very, very action packed Daytona 500.

Q.  Just want to know how the first stages of your relationship with having Dale Jr. in your shop has worked?  Have you got him running ten miles a day with you, your karma rub off or anything?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Fortunately all the teammates, all the drivers and crew chiefs, over the years the way Rick has had a vision for Hendrick Motorsports and the way we all communicate.  I can't say it's been much different from that standpoint.  I mean, we still    when we weren't in the same shot there's just a lot of communication taking place.  In the shop I guess the biggest thing we've been working on is just the driver's compartment trying to make sure with both cars being built in that same shop that we can use the same dash, seats, things like that, and with us, we both seem to like a similar seat angle and placement, which will then allow us to have the dashboards in the same spot, and it's going to simplify the shop, and we're just kind of working through the final stages of that now.

With Jeff being shorter and the seat angle he had, our cars were pretty different, and right now we're trying to make it kind of a common cockpit through the shop and working through that.

Q.  You said that the 1 through 43 thing would maybe be a way to make the system simpler, but does the system need simplification?  Carl was in here earlier and said he doesn't know how many points he has when he's running 12th but aren't you all cognizant of the fact that when you make a pass it's going to be worth three points, four points or five points, depending on where you are?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, I can't say I knew where that cutoff was in the past, especially from four to three.  I knew first to second and that kind of thing.  But in the car I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the points values, you just know that there's more points in front of you type thing.  Maybe other guys think a lot more in depth about the exact numbers, but you just go forward and pass those guys and be ahead of them.

I know that we were trying to    potentially    this is my opinion.  I haven't had anyone at NASCAR tell me this, but it seems like we're trying to make this just a little bit easier to understand.  At the same time we have a complicated system.  We don't have two teams on the track.  There's 43 obviously.

So there's a point there where now we've got to reeducate our fan base and any new fans coming in.  Are we going to confuse everyone even more and shoot ourselves in the foot a little bit?  I don't know.  Time will tell.  But one thing that's obvious to me is that NASCAR is continuing to try to make it better, and they're looking anywhere and everywhere they can, and I think we have a very refined product in the garage area from a competition standpoint, and last year's championship battle spoke to that.

Some more tweaks here and there, I'm willing to try it, but I think there are some other issues that would help with attendance and viewership that kind of leave the garage area and what happens on the track.  You look at length of races, frequency of races.  In my opinion I think a lot of our fans are just overexposed from race lengths and then so many events.

Q.  This 500 will mark the 10th year of Dale Earnhardt's passing.  As a five time champion yourself, can you talk about that legacy, what he's left, and what it means to you as a champion and him being a seven time champion?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  From my standpoint, I never was able to race against him.  My standpoint is watching him on television and being a fan of the sport.  My brother picked Senior as his driver when we were young as kids, and I certainly couldn't align with my brother in his thoughts.  It was my job to beat him up and often as possible.  So I had my driver, my brother had Senior, and I remember a lot of times, my guy was getting waxed by Senior year after year.

I didn't know him as a competitor.  I met him a few times in passing.  That's one thing that I really wish I could have experienced was the intimidation factor that he had on and off the track and being around him and watching him work through the garage area and to help advance the series and to work with NASCAR, his interaction with the fans, and you just hear some stories    I hear so many stories today about him but I never had a chance to see him firsthand.  I have a great deal of respect for who and what he was and what he did for our sport, and I regret that I didn't have a chance to know him.




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