Here is the post-race transcript following Tony Stewart’s win in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:
KERRY THARP: Tony Stewart goes to Victory Lane here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This is Tony’s 45th NASCAR Sprint Cup win, his first win here at Las Vegas. I believe, Tony, you’ve won six of the last 13 Sprint Cup races. I’m not real good in math but that’s almost 50%. You checked off a track that you hadn’t won at. It’s got to be a big win here for you.
TONY STEWART: It is. Just an awesome day. We felt like after Happy Hour yesterday we had a really good, solid, fairly balanced racecar. That’s probably the best I felt leaving Happy Hour in a long time.
The hard part was just looking at the time sheet, seeing how many guys, we were all right together speed-wise. You knew it was going to be a tough day to get an advantage. It didn’t take long in the day to see who the three guys were. I felt like we were the third guy in the group. But definitely Matt Kenseth and Jimmie were guys we were going to have to battle to the end with.
Just nerve-wracking end of the day for sure. Obviously, from the driver’s side, not knowing what the pit strategy is going to be. That’s the hard part for Steve. That’s where he makes his big money, making those clutch calls like that. We pulled out, two tires, a couple guys behind us on two, it was pretty nerve-wracking knowing we were going to have to get going.
Every time the caution came out, you knew that was another heat cycle on the tires. Our car was so, so strong today on restarts. We could get to the start/finish line and get to turn one so good today, that was a big key in holding these guys off. Seemed like we were a little bit weaker than the guys behind us for the first three laps. Then the next three laps, we would break even. After six or seven laps, we would start pulling away.
It was a matter of getting a good restart, hitting our marks for a couple laps, going on.
Every time the caution came out, you cringed knowing you were giving them another opportunity to take a shot. Seemed like everybody got their turn at it. Just different person on each restart that we had to hold off. Steve Addington did an awesome job. Our guys did an awesome job in the pits all day, kept us with good track position. We had an awesome Mobil 1 Office Depot Chevy and great Hendrick horsepower.
After a rough weekend last weekend, they definitely rebounded this week.
KERRY THARP: We’ll continue with questions.
Q. Tony, a week ago there were people already questioning your decision on Darian. Seven days later you win. Do you feel this takes a lot of the pressure off Steve? Are you glad to put some of those naysayers behind you?
TONY STEWART: You guys know I never worry about what everybody else says anyway. I’d like to think over 32 years of racing we’ve made some pretty decent decisions over that period of time.
It still was a tough decision, like we talked about a million times now. It was a tough decision to leave with Darian. From day one we told Steve that we had an awesome scenario at the end of the year, winning the championship. I guess it’s easy for us to not feel that pressure from our side. You understand why the pressure — that Steve puts the pressure on himself in that scenario. We told him from day one we’re going to go have fun, race hard, take what it gives us.
Today was more a day for me personally of winning at a track I haven’t won at. For Steve, it’s getting that first points win for us. I think it was a pretty cool two weeks.
I was really happy for Darian last week to get that win. I know it was a tough scenario for us to part ways at the end of the year. It was neat to see him and Denny get a win last week. It’s neat to see me and Steve get a win this week. Hopefully it will calm everybody down and get back to the task at hand. I’m glad both teams have come out strong like this.
Q. Is this an indication of your mile-and-a-half program going forward? Can you feel good about the other tracks coming up this package? And how different is this from what those guys were running on these types of tracks last year?
TONY STEWART: The thing that everybody has to remember, too, we did have different tires this week than what we had last year. The package changed. It’s like Steve said, even though we started very similar to where we were last year here, there was a lot of work to go through to figure out the different right side compound, the different left side tire altogether.
It wasn’t a layup weekend, throw the notes from 12 months ago and say, All right, this is the magic here. It still took going through the steps and process to try to figure out exactly what it took to keep the left side and right side tires happy and figuring out what it liked different from last year’s tires. Don’t underestimate the amount of work he had to do this weekend to get us to where we were today.
Q. Tony, you said you cringed every time the yellow came out. You had these great restarts. Take us through what stands out in your mind about any or all of them.
TONY STEWART: It just seemed like every time the caution was out, we started building the lead back up and started pulling away. The trend we were getting every time the caution came out, we’re starting to get to where we can relax, run our rhythm, not have guys pressure us on entry, back my corner up and do what I wanted to do.
When the caution comes out like, that it seemed like for the first three laps, those guys were able to put a little pressure on us, were probably quicker than us for the first three laps. We could get that initial jump from the restart point into turn one, get that first clean lap in. It seemed like during the course of the next two and a half laps, those guys were street strong. It seemed like for the next three laps, we would break even with them.
It seemed like if we could get six or eight laps under our belt, we could start building that margin out again. As soon as you started pulling away, the caution would come out again. You hate having to reset it like that, knowing for the first three laps you had to be spot on and not let them take advantage of a restart like that.
You sit there and go, How many times are we going to risk losing this race because of a restart, something is going to get taken away from us because of this. It’s very nerve-wracking. That was the great thing about our racecar, is it would go from there to turn one, it was just awesome. I think we were hands down the strongest car on restarts of getting to turn one from the restart point.
Q. Other than the short tracks and road courses, will clean air be the factor except at short tracks and road courses?
TONY STEWART: As time goes on, the sport evolves, technology gets closer and closer, the rules get closer and closer, that’s a variable that’s free, is air. If you can get out front and get in clean air, it’s always going to be an advantage. It’s been that way in Formula One, IndyCar, sports car racing.
We run with the World of Outlaws. It’s big in the World of Outlaws. It’s not just here. It’s everywhere you find that. Because the technology has got so close, the cars have got so close, it’s little differences like that that make a huge difference on the racetrack.
Do I think it’s going to be that way everywhere? Absolutely not. The pace was so fast today, it never really slowed down a lot like we thought it would. The pace was very, very fast.
The tracks that the tires fall off more, it’s not near as critical ’cause it seems like you move around more. The more that the track gets wider, the guys can offset themselves, the less the air becomes a factor.
Q. Tony, the calendar is March 11th. This is the third race of the year and you’re in Victory Lane. Is this a personal hurdle you cleared? I’m always remembering you winning in the summer is more of your thing.
TONY STEWART: Not so much the time of year we’re winning at. This has always been a race, especially when you get so close, we’ve been lucky and fortunate to win as so many of the racetracks we run on the schedule.
The spring has historically not been our strong suit. You’re 100% right on that. They’re not going to move this Vegas race to the middle of the summer so we can win one. We had to figure out how to be good in the spring at some point.
It’s not so much when it is, I guess, as where it is. That’s a huge personal accomplishment for me. I take a lot of pride in being good in different types of cars, at least being competitive in different types of cars, being competitive at different racetracks. This is one we’ve been close a couple times and it got away.
To finally check this off the list. That’s what makes today so special, not so much the time of year we’re getting it, just the fact we finally got this one.
It’s hard when you go to a track one time a year and you lose it like we did last year. We had to wait 365 days to come back and have a shot at it again. I wouldn’t have probably been in such a bad mood on the airplane last year if I would have known one year we would be sitting here like this.
Q. Before you walked in, Gene said you’re about the most relaxed he’s seen you since you started the team. Would you say you found a good balance between driving and owning since you started the team?
TONY STEWART: Gene makes it easy. That’s why it’s so easy to do what we do, I feel like. We have a great partner. He’s been so easy to work with from day one. He’s never sat me down and say, We have to finish here, here or here, we have to win this many races. He’s like, what can we do to make our program better? That’s what I appreciate from his leadership side.
He obviously is a successful businessman and he knows how to work with people and he knows how to be successful on the business side. He’s really helped me understand how to run the business side of it.
The racing thing is kind of my niche a little bit more than it was his. I think we’re a good team together. It’s having a partner like this that gives you the confidence, pats you on the shoulder, says, Have fun, good luck, let’s go out and do the best we can.
He doesn’t put that pressure on you. So there’s not that huge weight on your shoulders. I think it makes it a lot easier to go out and do what we do each week because we have a partner that makes it easy.
Q. On the restart where you went three-wide to go from third to first, that’s really what I wanted to find out. It was interesting to people watching.
TONY STEWART: It was nice to be on the inside. We had a lot of real estate down there. We almost got too good a restart because I got such a good run on Brad. Knowing we can’t pull out of line till we cross the start/finish line, I almost got to him too quick. If we would have got there a foot earlier, I was going to have to check up and we probably wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to get underneath him like that.
We all took off at the same time and I had enough of a gap to let myself get that run on him. As soon as we got that line, it’s got a really nice transition from the racetrack to the apron. You can use it. Gave us the room to go underneath him there.
It didn’t have that nice, wide arcing entry into one that I wanted to have. The big thing was, that was when Matt and Jimmie had taken four tires and we had taken two. We knew if we could clear those guys, it would give us a little bit of a buffer and have some lap cars that would keep them occupied. We didn’t know we were going to have three or four restarts after that. It was key to get out front right away and try and build a gap.
Q. Tony, Jimmie came in here and said they really want to see the mapping sequence. Biffle said he’s never seen a car take off like that on restarts. Do you see the irony in the fact in one week after you had an EFI problem, everybody wants to see it?
TONY STEWART: I’ll let them pop breakers if that’s what they want to do. They have to shut the car off one time after the breaker pops. It was just irony. It was just bad luck last week.
It wasn’t that we were just tromping the throttle. I was pedaling it to get to the start/finish line. The new tire that they brought, it was easy to get a lot of buildup on the tires on the cautions.
That’s why you saw everybody, you were seeing guys working hard to keep the tires cleaned off. We found a sequence to do that that helped out a lot and I could do it consistently. I knew when it was time to go, that I could go when I needed to, knew exactly what to expect. I think that was a pretty big factor in it.
But I can promise you, our teammates with Hendrick will know what’s going on. If the roles were reversed, they would make sure we had that information. We will make sure they have that information.
Q. Of all the drivers that you compete against that lurk in second place in the closing laps of a race, is Jimmie Johnson one of the guys you may be concerned the most about because he’s traditionally won a lot of races from that position?
TONY STEWART: It was funny because they were like, Were you sitting there worried about the five-time champion? Are you kidding me, he’s sitting there, There’s a three-time champion I have to pass.
You know guys like Jimmie, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, guys like that aren’t going to make mistakes at the end. There’s a reason they win a lot of races. That’s because when it comes to the bottom of the ninth, they need to make that big move, they know how to do that.
That’s what made today a little more special. It wasn’t handed to us. Not only did we have to fight off a challenge once, we had to do it about four or five times in the last 30 laps.
It makes you feel like you’ve earned your deal. Every one of those guys took a shot at us at some point on a restart. That’s why I’m really proud of the effort we had today. It wasn’t just one time we had to hold somebody off, it was four or five times we had to hold all those guys off at some point.
You know guys like Jimmie aren’t going to make a mistake like that. He came down and shook my hand like he always does. He’s a class act. He’s either the first one to send you a text message or comes down to Victory Lane to tell you you did a good job. It was good to see him marvel at all the restarts, that’s not the right word to use, but he was giving me praise about my restarts.
Q. NASCAR is actually talking about trying to release the data from the top five finishers. They haven’t decided yet. Do you think that’s good or bad, not just for today, but in general?
TONY STEWART: Well, I think they’ve got their guidelines of what parameters we’re supposed to stay in. I don’t know that they need to give all the information away all the time. There’s still the part of having the creativity and guys doing their homework. I feel like from the Hendrick side, those guys have done a great job.
It’s not a big drama for us because we don’t do our own engine program. From the Hendrick side, those guys should be proud of what they’ve done. They’ve worked hard last year to get this ready. I don’t think it’s fair you give all that information to everybody else because you did a good job.
I think as long as it stays in the parameters of NASCAR says we’re allowed to work in, there should be that creativity. You don’t just give hard work away. So I don’t think it’s right to do that.
KERRY THARP: Tony and Gene, congratulations. We’ll see you at Bristol.
TONY STEWART: Thank you.