Tony Stewart came seemingly out of nowhere at the end of Sunday's FedEx 400 at Dover to hunt down Juan Pablo Montoya and clinch his first win of a formerly lacklustre 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

After the celebrations in victory lane, Stewart faced the press in the media centre at Dover International Speedway and said he was actually happy to be there for once. Although it didn't take long for that sensation to fade for the famously forthright driver/owner...

Q:
Tony, it's very good to see you here in the media centre. Talk a little bit about that win out there today and how you're feeling right now.

Tony Stewart:
God, as much as I hate to say it, it's good to be back in the media centre!

This is a weekend that to me helps define what our program is about and what our organization's about. To go from where we were on Friday to having a bad day to yesterday gaining on it but not having speed and then today, continuing to make changes and start with the car that we had, makes me proud of the two guys that are sitting beside me.

I wasn't the result of what happened today as much as the reason that we are all three sitting here is because of the two guys beside me. You know, yesterday when we finished happy hour, I'll be 100 per cent perfectly honest, and I might get backhanded by both of them sitting here, but I was preparing for a very long day today. I wasn't prepared to be sitting here. I knew that they stayed late and were working, but I honestly didn't think we could get there from where we ended up happy hour yesterday.

But I'm proud to be sitting here saying that I was very wrong and happy that I was wrong. So this is - these are the days that - you know, this means more to me going from where we were Friday to where we are today than having a weekend where we show up and we are quickest in practice, sit on the pole and everything goes right all weekend. It's much harder to do it the way that we just had to do it over the last 48 hours.

So that's what makes me really proud of these two guise and what they have done, because this was no lay-up. This was not a little bit of tweak here, a little bit of tweak there. This was going and really sitting down and saying, okay, we may have to abort everything that we are doing to try to come up with a new package.

To have that ability and the confidence for these guys to do what they did overnight, I mean, that speaks volumes to me as an owner and a driver both to know that we have guys that have the confidence to do this.

And we have got a great - the thing is, it shouldn't be just the three of us here. There should be about 200 people sitting behind us here that are all responsible for this right now, and another group of guys that sit at a shop about ten miles away that have been a big part of that at Hendrick Motorsports.

But our guys have never given up. There's been a lot of dejected guys all year, and disappointed guys all year, but that's why we want them working at Stewart-Haas Racing, too, because the way we have been running, we want them to be disappointed and dejected, but nobody is walking around with their heads down. They are all trying to find a solution and that's what makes days like today so special is when you have guys that just do not quit and they refuse to give up.

All day, I kept listening to Steve on the radio and knew that our lap times were good. We just never really got the track position to do anything. I was just happy - I was going to be happy if we got in the Top-10 to be honest, and we got up to eighth there.

And then Steve had the - I'll be honest, Steve had the balls to make a call that gave us the opportunity to run for the win. That's confidence and that's something that you can't teach. It's just something you have to have, and Steve has it. You know, I was behind him 100 per cent on it and I thought it was a good call, and that gave us the opportunity to do what we did. So without that call, we are not sitting here.

Q:
Typically when a team is struggling, we always ask them what's wrong, and the response is, if we knew what was wrong, we would fix it.

Tony Stewart:
You got that s*** straight. (Laughter).

Q:
You obviously can look at your results after a race, and you know where your team is deficient. Has there been any one area, or has there been just a general, we are not good enough in several areas.

Tony Stewart:
You've got to guide that question to this man next to me.

I mean, I'll be honest. I'm not the smartest guy in the world. You guys have known that over the last 15 years. I've proven that time and time again. I'm just smart enough to know to hire good people.

I honestly don't know. And the hard thing in this business and especially when you're struggling, it's hard - the further off-base you are, the harder it is to sit there and pinpoint a problem. It can be numerous problems, and it can be one problem. But the hard part is when you're far enough off base, it's hard to break it down and diagnose those problems.

It literally is a process, at least in my opinion, my view, it's a process of elimination. You eliminate a variable at a time until you finally narrow it down to a group of possibilities of what the problem is, and that's something that this group has done and been doing and we are still in the process of doing.

But you know, you can have that mind-set of that's what has to happen but you have to have people that have the mind-set to also execute that, and that's what we've got. We've got people that are very dedicated to making sure that no matter how bad it gets that they keep their heads focused in the same direction.

What Zippy has done in the last month, especially, is being able to get these guys to rally around each other. You know, we are all looking for a direction of what it's going to take to get this thing fully back on track consistently.

But the hard thing is, when you have got - the more people you've got involved, the more teams you've got involved, the easier it is to have one going in one direction, one going in the other direction, and the third going in the total opposite direction of those two.

It takes somebody like Zippy to try to get these guys to at least put their minds together. And it's okay to be working different directions, but to have all three teams understand why we are going the directions we are going to try to figure it out. That's something we have really been focusing on in the last month.

I think last week was a step in the right direction, and a bigger step than I possibly could have imagined. This week is a step in the right direction. Matt and Ryan had an awesome day on Friday, qualified well and that gives us hope. Today gives us hope.

So you know, this is not an organization that's turned around in two weeks. We still have a lot of work to do to get it turned around. But the last two weeks, we've made progress, and last week was a big step to - and this week is another step. It gives Ryan and Danica and I confidence as a driver. It gives the three crew chiefs confidence that we are making progress and we are making forward progress at this point.

I think as an organization, we have a lot to be proud of right now.

Q:
I understand what you're saying about kind of just taking incremental steps and making progress, but, with the wild card system, in some ways your season has completely turned around now because now you're right in the Chase as it was today, halfway there. So how much of that Chase focus will play into things now, because obviously you want to keep building in the right direction, but then you have this other goal now which is a very realistic goal. Where does the wild card factor into things?

Tony Stewart:
Very valid question. I'll be honest. I mean, I've done this enough and been in the Chase enough that being in the Chase is not a novelty for me. I don't care about being in the Chase unless I have an opportunity to win the championship.

To me, it's bigger - it's a bigger deal to me to get our program turned around to where if we have the opportunity to get in the Chase that we have - our goal is not just to make the Chase. Our goal is to be championship contenders.

So I would rather miss the Chase and the effort to be in the process of building our program to where we have an opportunity to not just be in the Chase, but have an opportunity to win the Chase. Just making the Chase, that's not good enough. That will not change our focus. It won't change our direction with one win today. It's like we talk about in our meetings.

We have to get up - everybody has to get on board the ship and one guy has to steer the ship and we all have to go that direction. This will not change the direction of where we're aiming the ship right now. We want to get three cars competitive and get three cars running well again.

So we realize that this could put the #14 team in contention and make the Chase. That's not good enough. I want to get this whole program turned around to where all three drivers have a feeling and an opportunity to go to the racetrack every week and feeling like they have an opportunity to go out and have a good result at the end of the day.

Q:
A lot of people have spoken about your statistics and the slower start this year. I'm just curious for you, how deep have you had to dig and how much of a cheerleader have you had to be and how important is it for you to get this win and to be able to show the team and be able to go into the shop and be able to say, you know, we are moving on, we are progressing?

Tony Stewart:
It's been a lot harder than you think. I mean, the thing about being in the role we are in as an owner and driver is when you have a good day like today, I'm ecstatic about our win, but at the same time, I go back to the bus and I'm like, okay, what happened with Ryan's day; what happened in Danica's day.

So when everything goes good, you still average out with what all three teams do. And when it goes bad, you feel that assumption of responsibility for what all three teams have had.

So as much as this is a great win and a great victory for us, and great momentum builder for our organization, I will go back and instead of just focusing on the fact that we won, it's going to be, what happened in Ryan's day, what happened in Danica's day.

And it does make you have to - you have to play cheerleader. I like looking at cheerleaders; I think they are hot. I'm not much of one, but that's my role. I can't sit there and go down on a shop floor and tell these guys what to do to make changes to the car to make it better.

My job is as a car owner to go down there and keep the morale of the guys good. I would say Zippy has done a much better job of that than I've had. I've struggled with it. It's been very hard, when you've had the start to the season we've had, you start questioning, you start doubting, you start looking for answers that you don't have the knowledge to diagnose. That makes you feel very helpless at times. And having a good support system has probably been the biggest thing.

I think as much as I've got to be a cheerleader for everybody else, the guys on the shop floor, the guys that don't even come to the track at the shop; they have been the cheerleaders to keep us motivated and pumped up. It's a group. It's a group effort; it's not just one person leading the charge. Everybody's rallied around each other and kept their mind-sets positive.

Zippy and Steve and Borland and Tony Gibson and Ryan and Danica going down and seeing the guys, that's what keeps everything motivated. We all have the role of keeping each other energized and pumped up, but the guys that don't even get a shot to come to the racetrack on the weekends have done as much of that as anybody. So.

I think it's truly been a team and an organization that has rallied around each other, and they just - there's 200-plus people that just refuse to quit. They just won't stop. There's nobody that says what we got's good enough and what we're doing is good enough.

Everybody is frustrated and everybody's agitated. But it's for good reasons. They are not just happy just having a job and collecting a paycheck. They want the same thing we want and that's to be sitting here in the media center at the end of the day talking to you guys about what are we doing to make it better.

Q:
Juan made it clear that he knew that you had him. He knew his tyres were going. He could see that your momentum was going to get him. When you made the move to the outside, was it that obvious to you, too, that the race had changed?

Tony Stewart:
Not necessarily. You know, because even when you get somebody like Juan that's in that situation where his tyres might be gone, you've got a world champion that is behind the wheel, and that's - you know, we have talked about this Gen-6 car and how hard it is to make a difference. You still take guys like Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon and guys like Juan Montoya, they take cars that have worn out tyres and still figure out how to get that extra little bit they need out of it.

You know, we got running the same line Juan was and that was letting the car kind of go up in the middle of the racetrack a little bit. And I started moving around and moved down, all the way to the bottom, through the center of the corner, and picked up speed, and he is very keen on paying attention. He didn't get where he is by not paying attention to situations like that, and he saw that right away after two corners and moved and adjusted his line and picked up speed, as well.

It literally was a mind-set of trying to figure out on a lap whether it was worth risking losing second and finishing third to Jeff if I moved around to try to find a spot to win the race, and to me, that was worth the risk.

So you know, that's what NASCAR wants in this series. That's the scenario we chose. I wasn't going to - it was worth the risk of either winning the race or falling back to third because we picked the wrong line but tried.

The last thing Steve said after when we got ready to go to green, he said, "Use it up." Which I'm sitting there as a car owner going: I've got to pay for this. You can use it up all you want, but I've got to pay for this at the end of the day. (Laughter). But I knew what he meant.

It's fun. Juan very easily could have made it very difficult and very complicated to race him. And I've always liked Juan. I've always respected Juan. And I think he's come a long way in this series about the mind-set of this, but it's fun.

There's a list that we have of people that when you sit there and you look at those people, there's people that you enjoy racing and that you hope you have that battle with and that you know they will treat you with respect and they know that you will pay the favor back and treat them with respect when it comes to racing for a win. And, you know, to have Jeff and Juan in that scenario, that's two guys that are on that list of guys that I respect and would want to be in that scenario with.

Q:
Does this win help calm anybody in your group who thought that there might be changes, and is it any validation of what you believe Steve can do?

Tony Stewart:
It doesn't calm me down because it ticks me off that I've got to sit here and go through this crap because of you guys.

I mean, if you're going to put something in there that there's going to - possibility of somebody moving around, you might want to talk to the guys that write the checks, the guys that work there, and find out the facts before you guys go throwing darts on the dartboard.

I'll be honest, it pissed me off because it was a big distraction to my team, my organization. It kept us from doing our job, because people are hearing humors and reading what you guys write, and was totally inaccurate and unprofessional in my opinion.

If you're going to write that, you'd better have some facts behind it, because there wasn't anybody in our camp that said anything. So if you heard it from somebody else, that's not good enough. If that's your sources, you'd better - you'd better do a better job, because it was a big distraction.

And when I finally got wind of it was three weeks after it first came out, and I was ticked. I don't need that crap. I've got enough stuff to worry about, keeping three cars competitive and trying to get them in that state and having to deal with a bunch of bull crap that's inaccurate and speculation; to me at this level is unacceptable.

Our organization doesn't need. It didn't deserve it. They worked hard enough. And to have to sit there and have people question what's going on and us have to take that much extra time to try to defuse what you guys planted, was a bunch of crap. And, don't do it.

Q:
Today was probably the closest he's ever been to winning for the first time on an oval. Wondering if you felt any sympathy for him, it's been getting close but nothing.

Tony Stewart:
Absolutely. Both of us are hungry for a win. You know, and the thing is, Juan, I spoke to him earlier in the week, and we are parked right next to each other no most home lot. For someone like him, he's an Indy 500 champion; he's a world champion. There's no doubt he knows how to drive. There's no doubt he knows how to win races.

At this level, it truly is about the people that you're with. It's like he mentioned the other day, he went through the lowest of low times last year with Ganassi and those guys have made huge, huge steps in their program this year.

Now they are reaping the rewards of it, both him and Jamie. It's good to see, because Juan is a championship-calibre driver. Where he was running in the field last year is not indicative of his skill and talent as a driver, and it was good to see him in a position to win the race.

You know, like I said, he could have made it a lot worse on us and he ran with respect. When you're hungry for a win, it's easy to say, hey, I did what I had to do. He ran us with the utmost of respect, and I think he deserves a lot of credit and recognition for that.

Q:
I wanted to ask about the final restart, you had a front row seat with Juan and Jimmie. Jimmie after the race said Juan led them up very slow and at least one other driver also said the restart was very slow. Wanted to see from your vantage point if you thought it was a normal restart, and was there anything weird there that threw you off, and were you surprised that Jimmie ended up with a penalty off that?

Tony Stewart:
Juan was leading the race; correct? So he's in charge of the restart pace.

You know, guys can talk about what the pace is. The zone that we have to restart in is not very conducive to being leader-friendly. Most of the time, the guy that's second has a huge advantage, and most of the time will lay back and roll the start and play to his advantage.

I feel bad for Jimmie, because Jimmie ran good all day. He didn't deserve to be in a situation at the end, but at the same time, he knows what the rules are, and he knows that the leader has to cross the start/finish line first. He knows that. It's not to me to say whether it's right or wrong.

You guys saw the scenario the same as we did, but everybody knows the rules. We know what the procedure is. And Juan is smart enough to not let the second place guy take advantage of the restart, and that's what he did.

I feel bad for Jimmie because I don't think that's what he deserved. You know, you work hard all day to put yourself in a position to try to win the race at the end. You don't want it coming down to a decision that NASCAR has to make. But there can be some adjustments made to the restart zone.

My opinion, if you lengthen that restart zone and give the leader more flexibility of where they pick the restart up at, it takes away that opportunity for the second-place guy to take advantage of the restarts.

Jimmie is not a guy that messes with the system and takes advantage of systems, anyway. That's why it's kind of a - that's why it's so bad to see him get penalized in this situation because he's somebody that plays fair by the rules, and doesn't abuse things like that.

There's a lot of other drivers that will play games and do things, but you know, if I'm Juan and I'm leading the race, I'm going to restart the race the way I want to, and he has that ability as the - when the pace car pulled away, did he not slowd own, pull the pace down. They want you to keep a constant pace, and as far as I'm concerned, I didn't feel like he slowed that pace down to an absurd rate.

I feel like he has a zone to work with in there and the flexibility as the leader to kind of adjust that to what he think s is going to be best for him, but I didn't feel like it was out of the order or worse than what we have seen at other places. It just didn't work out, and like I say, Jimmie is not a guy that takes advantage of those situations, anyway.

So when you see somebody get a penalty like that late in the race, it's a bad deal, because him and his whole team didn't deserve to have that result at the end of the day because of a restart like that.

Transcript courtesy NASCAR. FastScripts by ASAP Sports.

Comments

Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment