Tony Stewart became a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion in spectacular fashion on Sunday, winning his way to the title with a come-from-behind victory in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He described his feelings to the media afterward.
Q: Tony, a lot of adjectives describe what you did over the Chase. One I keep hearing is "clutch." Just talk about a clutch performance by you over the last 10 races.
TONY STEWART: I would have lost every bet in the world if people would have said, "Hey, when you got in the Chase, that we were going to win a race or we were going to win five races and win this thing." I would have bet against us. And I learned a big lesson with our organization and, you know, how strong a program we have and people-wise. I mean, everybody has good cars and good equipment, but you know – I'm sure Darian [Grubb, crew chief]'s mentioned it – it's the people you have that make the difference.
When I said at Chicago that we didn't belong in this Chase and taking a space that somebody else that was doing a better job could have done, there were two things that could have happened with our group of guys. They could have hung our head and said, "Our guy doesn't believe in us." But they fought like the Bad News Bears. We were the team that nobody really thought had a shot at the beginning, and you know, the longer this went, we battled adversity at Dover and Texas and we just kept fighting, this whole group up here.
I mean, Darian has done an unbelievable job in this Chase. Just to go and be in the situations we've been in, and tonight, for example, to go in and have to fix a damaged racecar twice, go to the back and come back to the front, and then to make the call that he made at the end there, my – I need to take a nap right now, my nerves are absolutely shot! Because when he said, "Save fuel, but run this pace," I'm like, "I'm running hard to run this pace...
"I go into fuel conservation mode, and it's really, really hard to watch guys just come barreling past you and to stay disciplined enough to just stick to the plan. You know, I didn't question what the plan was or why the plan was. I just stuck to what he told me, and you know, the lap that he called us in, he called us in going into Turn 1, and when I came off Turn 2, the fuel pressure dropped, the motor laid down a little bit but was still running. When I got to turn 3, I shut it off, coasted around to Turn 4, kicked the switch, kicked the clutch. Drove down pit road. We did the spot and he's like, "Keep it revving, keep it running," and I'm staring at a fuel pressure gauge that's not building. It's sitting at two pounds.
And we dropped the jack, leave, get 50 feet from the last time line and it dies. I mean, it's dead. It's out. And I'm like, "We just lost this thing," and we roll about a hundred feet and it takes off and the needle goes up and we are fourth at that point, and Carl [Edwards] has to come back in, and it's like, "Wow, that is the call of the race, the call of the Chase." It gave me the opportunity to do what I love doing best, letting it all hang out and putting it all on the line with the restart.
And that was the one, probably hairy moment of anything that I did all day where I felt like, "Ooh, maybe I just lost this, and got loose underneath the 18 and the 2, and it was a three-wide drag race down there, and the way this thing drove all day, I knew I could bury it down in the corner. I just didn't know if I was going to make the front and stick out the back, and we drive back out with the lead; and at that point you just sit there and go, this is all you can ask for is where we are at right now and whatever happens, it happens.
The funny part was listening to Darian actually get nervous at that point. The hard part is done at that point. We are where we need to be. He's like, "OK, I'm not going giving you lap times anymore, I'm giving you intervals."
The way he said that, it made me laugh, and that relaxed me more than anything the last 30 laps. He's just reading intervals off every lap, and we are just running hard enough to – it wasn't like we were saving much. But we saved just enough that if we had a green-and-white checkered, we would have saved our tires enough to do a good job at the end. But getting in lap traffic, he was able to gain a little bit and we were able to fight through some of those guys and pull back out.
[I was] never more excited to see a white flag waving. You at least take the white and know that if the caution comes out, it's over, and you only have to make it one more lap. I would love to know what my lap time was the last lap. I don't think we gave up much. It just was an awesome ending.
And to get both of these guys [Grubb and co-owner Gene Haas] their first championship, it is an unbelievable feeling. From the ownership side, it's more gratifying knowing that the investment that Gene's made in this sport and Darian's history in this sport and to be a part of getting them their first championship, that on the ownership side for me is the greatest – and if you didn't think this was one of the most exciting Chases to watch from a fan standpoint, you've got to go to a doctor immediately and get checked out. So I don't even know what else to say about it.
Q: You were making three- and four-wide passes tonight that we all were kind of left with our mouths open and then A.J. said that, "I think Tony drove the best race of his life." Was this the best race of your life? And is it fair to say that you've been driving this way for four, five, six weeks?
TONY STEWART: I think so. But as much as I would love to beat my chest and say that I've been just doing something supernatural, I mean, I've had cars that have given me that confidence to do that.
And you know, to go four wide on the front stretch like that and to have the confidence that when you get to Turn 1, that you can make the corner still, I mean, that's a good-handling racecar that gives you that. I've had confidence in these things and you look at the first half of our year and how many things that happened, and lots of things that never happened at the end of the day, we would battle to a respectable finish out of it.
But we are disappointed because we knew there was more there. It's really frustrating. But in the Chase here, it just seemed like finally we got through that bad luck streak, and everything worked like it's supposed to. No curveballs, no change-ups. Just business as usual.
Q: Was this the best race of your life?
TONY STEWART: Man, I feel like I passed half the state of Florida! 118 cars is a lot of cars to pass in one race. I don't care what series you're in or where you're at. To do it under the circumstances and the pressure that we had today, I'm very, very proud of that, and man, I've been racing 31 years, I can't even remember some of the races I've won. But I would have to say that under the circumstances, I've got to believe that this is definitely one of the greatest races of my life.
Q: You drove today like you were not going to lose this race; you were going to either win this thing or you were leaving it all on the track.
TONY STEWART: I think the last five years, the entire NASCAR Nation thought they might never have a shot at another championship again. I think the one thing that I was constantly reminded by in the media is we were the last guys to win one before Jimmie [Johnson] started that string. You look at Jeff [Gordon] and guys that have been successful in this series and had not won, and we had won a more recent one than those guys have; you can't discard it and say that you can't win it.
It's just, what do you have to do to get back on top. You know, I don't think anybody ever has that feeling. The day that you just say, I can't do it any more, you might as well just announce your retirement and find some young kid that will do it.
Q: You just noted that this is one much your best performances of your career. Your hero A.J. Foyt said it was the best. What does it mean that someone you admire to that level considers this performance that stellar?
TONY STEWART: For those of you who don't know, when we were doing one of the ESPN interviews, they had a surprise phone call for us on the line, and it was A.J. Foyt. And to hear him say that that was the best race he's ever seen me run, brings a tear to your eye. I mean, not many people can have their lifelong hero say that and hear you say that.
It's just very, very flattering. The one thing out of the conversation I was surprised, even when I drove Silver Crown cars for him and George Snider, I would still win the race and he would tell me everything I did wrong during the race. For once he didn't tell me I did anything wrong. I'm like, I don't know how I'm going to top this now. My life is complete. If I get hit on a golf cart now, I'm good to go because A.J. said I did everything perfect for once.
It was an honor. That was probably one of the coolest phone calls I've ever had in my life, obviously. You know, to go into a day like today when you know what's at stake – it's the head-to-head battle, obviously one guy versus another; but with 40 other variables out there, and have him leading the first half of the race and dominating it like he did; if he stayed second or third, we still had to win the race, so to have a battle like that, you just sit here you and shake your head and sit here and figure, it was one of the coolest championship battles, but what do I have to do to beat that guy? I felt like I had to throw everything I had in my arsenal out.
And when we were coming around with the flag sticking out of the car, he walked up and he said you're going to have fun with this for the rest of your life. You couldn't ask for a better guy. And he goes, "I hope a year from now, we are in the same battle again just like this." And that – everybody respects Carl [Edwards] for the person he is, and you know, there's been a lot of things that have happened that make you go, "Is there sincerity involved in what he says?" But there were no cameras there when he said that. He just came and talked to me driver to driver, and that means a lot and it shows who he is as a person, I think.
I know there's times he hasn't done everything perfect and he's taken it upon himself to settle scores, but I think deep down, at moments like that and at Texas when he came out there and we had that conversation, it shows who he really is as a person – and he'll win a championship. He'll be up here in our position again, maybe be the guy on the losing end but when he gets it, hope he has to beat us to do it again. I appreciated that championship battle. It was a David versus Goliath battle to the end.
To have the week that we had, and to come here and finish the season running first and second, I just – I don't know how it gets better than that. No matter what the outcome was, there would have been no shame in finishing second to him tonight in the championship. But to have that battle come down to me, that's epic.