Q: You sounded so calm on the radio, reassuring your team, kind of a leader on the team, but who was reassuring you? Did you have some doubts at any point? Did you think, maybe this is just not meant to be?
TONY STEWART: I think this summer has kind of been character-building to a certain degree. The good thing is, I think the guys, when you're in the role that I am, I feel like that there's some added pressure there from my standpoint, even being in the car. Darian is the guy that they feed off in the pits obviously, because they are the – Darian is the guy that they read. But I think we have been a really good team from that aspect of – that was – when we hung the lug nut today, I thought – I thought that was one of the key moments in the race where, you know, you could lose your composure, and I think Darian's calling of the audible of saying, "We are going to make this a two-tire stop now," that was huge. We didn't give up any more track position. We had a car that was fast. And that was big, and I pulled into the stop and had no idea what's happened and that's probably the first time in the Chase I raised my voice: "What the heck just happened?" And Darian's demeanor from when we started in 2009, is he's been calm and you know, he told me it hung the lug nut but the way he says it, in a way, that was just, all right, it is what it is. It's nothing to get excited about. You know, when we had the restart that we had, it's like, hey, you know, you looked at how the first 109 laps went before the rain delay came, it's like, so we hung the lug nut and we are back to 12 now.
I think the way our season went and the way the first 100 laps of the race went, it was easy to put into perspective, it wasn't as good of a drama as we thought. Carl made a pit stop, but that wasn't when they paid the points and dropped the flag. There was a lot of racing to go.
And it goes back to nobody has ever quit on this team and you know, like I said, I think the season has been character-building and when something like that's happened it's easy to feel like you're backing yourself in a corner but the way our day was and to battle back from the back twice in those first hundred laps, I thought gave us that confidence that it wasn't the end of the world and that we could recover from it.
Q: You had to make a tough decision, you said, when you parted ways with Bobby Hutchins...
TONY STEWART: I wasn't responsible for that. I was responsible for getting Darian and Bobby and Tony Gibson. They were the guys that really said, this is what we need people-wise and personnel wise.
So you know, Gene gave me the faith and the trust to go get the people that I felt like that we needed to get, and a lot of that was Rick Hendrick, too. Rick was the one who said, "Hey, this guy is the guy that I think is going to be a good fit for you"
You know, that's the push in the right direction that you need from somebody like that to give you that confidence. But Bobby and Darian and Tony together, I think all three were very instrumental in orchestrating what personnel we needed to take what resources Gene had already established to make it all work and make it all come together.
Q: You've obviously heaped praise on Darian and deservedly so. But he's under the impression that he's out of a job for next season. Can you at all shed some light on his status? I know it's kind of awkward with him sitting right there.
TONY STEWART: I know what his status is for the rest of the night – I'm going to get him drunk. (Laughter).
Tomorrow if we can just pick our heads up off the floor without throwing up, I'm going to be extremely happy, but I'll worry about that tomorrow.
Q: Is there a chance that he could return or can you say anything?
TONY STEWART: There's a lot of things in the off-season and decisions that have to be made. Obviously, we wanted to get through this championship battle first, and we'll sit down as a group, obviously, this week and figure out the direction of our program.
But, you know, the good thing right now is that we are sitting up here right now as champions and I don't think any of us are really too concerned other than having fun tonight and enjoying the accomplishment we have had over the last 10 weeks.
Q: Given that, does that put a different perspective on this championship run that despite that uncertainty and I would assume that created more duress?
TONY STEWART: I think the way this whole Chase has worked out for us, for us to battle through a number of variables to get where we are is remarkable. But it shows the strength of the people that we have and you know it definitely – it definitely makes you go, how did we do this, how did we overcome a lot of variables to get where we are. But at the same time, it makes it very gratifying because you are able to take a less than perfect scenario and have success with it. So, I think we are all up here going to take a lot of pride in that.
Q: Can you talk about your approach and determination and the way it played out, especially in the last two or three weeks.
TONY STEWART: Boy did I look like a genius after doing this! You know, it's one thing for me to have confidence as a driver, but you have to have confidence in your guys and your equipment and the guys making the calls.
I honestly think the turning point for us was Martinsville. We had struggled at Martinsville the three races before this fall, and to battle, to stay on the lead lap, and once we stayed on the lead lap there, to battle back to the lead and to win the race with the drama that we have won the race, I have yet to have anybody tell me who has passed for the lead on the outside to win the race at Martinsville.
To leave there doing something remarkable, I feel that was the turning point in the Chase for us. And we backed it up a week later by winning Texas and not only winning Texas but by beating the guy that we are racing the points for, leading the most laps and really making a statement. You get that confidence that everything is going right and that – it's so much easier when things are going well. Everybody relaxes. Everybody is calm. You're not trying to mentally figure out what the missing piece of the puzzle is.
Martinsville was kind of that step that we may not have had a perfect car that day and we may not have had a perfect race, but we fought through it and came out on top, and to battle like that at Texas all day. At that point, you sit there and you go, we have got as good a shot, if not better, than anybody else out there, and it doesn't matter who is still left. We are a contender now. And that's the kind of confidence you want going into the last two weeks.
Q: This race had an epic feel to it from the beginning, Carl said it was an unbelievable movie the way it unfolded. Did you have any feeling or sense of that in the seat of the car as the night was going on?
TONY STEWART: Gene says I've got to watch the rerun.
Q: It's on at 1:00 am.
TONY STEWART: I'll be up. May not be able to focus on the screen, but I'll be up.
But, yeah, it did. I don't know that it necessarily had that feel, but you know, the storyline was pretty amazing. You've got a guy that goes out and is leading the points standings, qualifies on the pole and is dominating the first part of the race. The guy that's the underdog and the guy that's three points behind is having to jump hurdles and jump through hoops to salvage their day. And then we come and battle back – when we had that red flag at lap 109, I'm sitting out there, I'm just laughing with the crew guys. They're going, "Where are you coming from?" I'm like, "Where else am I going to go? I don't have anything else to do. If I crash this thing on the way to the front, so be it."
And it wasn't that I was throwing caution to the wind. We were trying to be calculated and methodical about what we were doing. But the storylines are total opposites. You have the guy that's got the perfect race going, he's leading laps and when he's not leading, he's second or third, and he is right where he wants to be and he's in the position he wants to be in all day long at that point and you have the other guy that's like, man, can we get there from here. You feel like you have the big fish on the hook and you're running out of line and wondering if you're going to run out soon.
When you sit there and when we took the lead the first time, I think it had to make him go, how did they – you know in the red flag he's sitting there going "What's going on with them? They have come back from the back twice and are fifth now?" You know he's thinking that.
And I'm sitting there with Jack Roush, and I walk by Jack and I say, "Tell your boy to get you will on the wheel because I'm on my way and I'm coming." I've screwed with everybody all week, why am I going to stop now? Jack looks at me like I've got three heads all of a sudden and I don't know it's because he couldn't see me or what was going on, he kind of looked at me. I went about my business and got back in the car, laughing about it. We still have nothing to lose and just keep slinging it at him. When we wind up taking the lead, he has to be sitting there going, how did they do that, they got tore up twice, how did they get there.