Stewart laments loss of 'old-style respect'
20 September 2011
For a driver who had just won his first race of the season - and the Chase opener at that - Tony Stewart was remarkably downbeat when talking with the press after winning the rain-delayed Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on Monday.
The main target of his frustration was the lack of old-style 'racing etiquette' on track, which Stewart feels might be gone forever. Instead, as far as he could see, these days everyone was just out for themselves and to hell with the consequences.
"The way guys were racing today, you had to take chances. You had to put yourself in bad spots. Everybody was putting each other in bad spots during the day," he said. "It wasn't a lot of give and take there. There was a lot of times that it was obvious that guys were quicker than others earlier in the race, and instead of using the etiquette we've had forever ... I don't think you're going to see that etiquette anymore. I think it's just dying off."
Putting it down to how "the ante has I guess gone up", Stewart was sad to see the end of "a part of the sport that I liked, because I like the respect that guys gave each other.
"When you had Dale Earnhardt around you learned if you weren't doing the right thing - and Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace - they would teach you if you were doing something wrong at the wrong time," he continued. "You see what happens now: take somebody out, they get their car fixed, they come out and their sole goal is not to finish it out and get the points they can get, their sole purpose on coming back to the racetrack is to return your day. It's just the attitude of everybody on the racetrack is changed.
"I think guys don't care whether they make anybody mad on the racetrack or not," Stewart suggested. "They're just going to do what they want to do and they're only solely worried about themselves.
"There's a handful of guys that we still know will race us with respect and that's why those guys end up up front every week. It's our advantage that those guys are the only few guys that know how to do it," he added. "The funny thing is that guys that don't do it are the guys that don't have good days all the time. And they haven't figured out if you work with everybody that everybody else will work with you but you gotta do what everybody else is doing."
Stewart was vocal about this back at Infineon Raceway in June, where he took it upon himself to teach Brian Vickers some race manners in the old-fashioned way. He said then that he was done playing nice if no one else was going to, and he reiterated that after Chicagoland.
"We're going to start adopting that attitude. I mean, I'm tired of being a guy that gives a guy a break and then a guy doesn't do it in return or the guy puts you in a bad situation, and we were put in multiple bad situations by guys that I got a lot of respect for and that are friends of mine," he said at the press conference. "I'm just going to adapt to their style. I'm not going to fight 42 guys to try to convince them to do the right thing. They don't want to do the right thing, so we're just going to do it their way. It's a lot easier to not care about anybody but ourselves. That's what we'll do."
Along with drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth, Stewart pointed toward veteran racer Mark Martin as one of those who still embodied the best of the NASCAR ethos of the old days.
"Mark's been one of the guys that's been one of my mentors and somebody that's on my top five on my hero list," he said, as rumours persist that he's trying to get Martin on board as a part-time driver for Stewart/Haas alternating a seat with Danica Patrick's limited Cup season appearances. "He's somebody I've got a lot of respect for and a lot of admiration for. And I wish I could be more like him."
Stewart was also less than happy with how the race came down to fuel mileage. Although he played that game to perfection where others faltered and fell at the last hurdle, that doesn't mean he's a fan of that style of racing.
"At the end you hate to have to play the fuel mileage game. But that's just the way the caution came out. And we came in and got fuel and Darian [Grubb, crew chief] told me we had to save a lap's worth of fuel," he said. "We picked up the chequered flag at the flag stand and we didn't do any wild burnout or anything like that and [still] ran out before we ever got on pit road, so we were closer than I wanted to be. But we didn't have anything to lose."
Perhaps one underlying reason for Stewart's reflective mood - which saw him once again take a few shots at the media at the start of the press conference - was simply that he hadn't been feeling at all well this weekend.
"I've been battling a migraine for a day and a half," he admitted. "It started about an hour before we qualified on Saturday. We battle that a lot, there's a lot of weekends we have it. We've raced with them before, it's not fun ... You get out of the car afterwards and you feel like you want to get hit by a train; it would make you feel better. But it definitely seemed like once the weather came through last night about 11 o'clock it finally broke a little bit, and I finally got a good night's rest."
And presumably the best tonic of all will be waking on on Tuesday morning, seeing the Chase points standings, and realising: this could actually happen for Tony Stewart and the #14 car this year. Who'd ever have thought it?