Q: This is a little bit of a provincial question in that this is big news...
TONY STEWART: You have to use small words. I have no idea what kind of question that means.
Q: It means back in your home state this is really big news, you winning another championship when you were coming up, everybody wanted to be the next A.J. Foyt and now guys in that state want to be the next Tony Stewart.
TONY STEWART: They should set their standards much higher than that.
Q: Talk about bringing this title back to your home state.
TONY STEWART: I'm proud of where I came from. I mean, you know, my career path made a pretty drastic turn and I don't know how many people actually know. I had a chance to drive for A.J. when the IRL started, and I had been working on a deal with Harry to join the Busch Series at the time and was really close to having that done, and my intention was to do that, and then all of a sudden the opportunity came to drive for A.J. and the IRL and the IRL only had five races.
So I had every intention of doing both. I was used to running Silver Crown car, midgets, all in the same night and I couldn't see why I couldn't run five IndyCar races and the schedule – A.J. kind of put the kibosh to that, he wanted me to be an IndyCar driver or NASCAR driver, and that was a pretty hard decision to make; to tell your hero that you are going to turn down an opportunity to drive his race car to go do something else.
But I had worked with the Rainier family long enough, I didn't want to let them down and I didn't necessarily want to turn down that opportunity – didn't have to worry about what was going to happen. From where I grew up, and my heritage – demanding moments and I take a lot of pride in the fact that we are going to be bringing a trophy back home.
Q: What's it going to be like?
TONY STEWART: I already know that Bob at the Dairy Queen has already been giving away ice cream tonight and he will tell me to the penny exactly how much he lost doing it, literally to the cent, he will tell me how much money it cost him. (laughter).
I live in a town with 35,000 people and I've still got the same friends that I had growing up. You know, when I go home, people let me just be me. They see me in a restaurant, they will come by and say hi. I've been back home long enough now, I think the news wore off, and I'm just another person. It's a sense of pride that when the people in your community come up and say they are proud of you and you did a good job, that means a lot. I'm excited about the day I get to go home now.
Q: Was there ever a moment where in your head there was just a slight bit of doubt or nervousness or whatever it might be that kind of creeped into your head during this whole run leading up to it?
TONY STEWART: There should have been a moment like that. And I can't – that's been the one thing that's probably been the one variable in the equation that I have not been able to understand and get my hands around, is that there just never was that moment of feeling despair and like, can we really do this.
We were in the perfect scenario of coming into this weekend with no possible shot of losing anything. There was nothing to lose and there was everything to gain. And that takes so much pressure off when you know that if anything happens, that you are not going to be any worse than second and considering the fact that ten weeks ago, we were saying that we were wasting a spot in the Chase to begin with, second wasn't so bad, if that's what happened.
But at the same time, I mean, you don't have to dangle the carrot in front of us to get our spurs jingling to get excited about what we can get and what we can reach. It's a dangerous combination when you give a guy a shot at something and he can't lose anything. That's a potent situation to be in for our organization and our team and myself. I honestly can't say that there was that moment that I felt that way. I guess it was just the perfect scenario. I wanted to leave Phoenix with the point lead and I thought that would really be the best opportunity to rattle his [Edwards'] confidence.
But in hindsight, we came here, and there was never a moment where I was wound up – I was up at 2:30 in the morning this morning, couldn't sleep, and I was watching every stupid movie you could think of on TV because I was having fun. And it just – and I couldn't explain it. I don't understand it. But that's where we were at with it. It just felt natural. There was something that felt right with it, and then never had that moment where I felt like we couldn't do this or that something could go wrong. If it did, it did. But we had more to gain than we had to lose.
Q: Darian Grubb said he's felt like the cars have been good most of the season and he mentioned the Atlanta race where you came from like 20th to third, and talking about all of the great changes they made and they told you afterwards there were no changes made at all.
TONY STEWART: You didn't change anything?
DARIAN GRUBB: Not at Atlanta.
TONY STEWART: You liar.
Q: Was this turnaround more about you recapturing something you had lost, a confidence more so than the cars and that?
TONY STEWART: I mean, I don't know. I've been deceived here by my crew chief. I had no idea that that's what was going on in Atlanta.
So maybe it sparked something then, I don't know, but I never felt like anything really changed from that standpoint. I just, you know, I had a lot of fun this year. I mean, Darian and Gene have let me go off racing any night I wanted to race and I got to run 30 nights this year away from NASCAR and had a blast doing it. I think that was as much as it scares Eddie Jarvis and our management worrying about me getting hurt and how many people it can affect, Darian can tell you, when I would come back, it energized me. It was like hitting a reset button. It was fun. I had fun racing again this year. I think it transferred to what we were doing with the Cup car, too. We would have fun Saturday night and Sunday, even if it wasn't right or didn't work out, I still had fun doing what I was doing again, and I think that made a big difference.
So, I don't know if I really thought about it a bunch, but maybe it did.
Q: You've talked before about the history of NASCAR and tonight you've made that history. What do you want the history books to say about you and your season as you look forward for that?
TONY STEWART: They can write whatever they want. The biggest thing to me is we got the trophy and I think the biggest thing is it's not about what they write about me. It's what they write about us. I mean, I really appreciate the opportunity that Gene and Joe Custer have given us, and I appreciate what Darian has done from day one. He played more than a crew chief role.
And there were a lot of really good people that have had to work outside of the box of what their job description was to get us here. I think that's what makes great teams great is people don't just sit there and look at their job as a 9 to 5 job or whatever their hours are and they show up and leave whenever that hour gets there. I know there's been times when he has had to come in and stay late and there's people that have made that sacrifice. To the best of our knowledge, I don't think anybody has complained about it. We just have a bunch of racers and I probably take the most pride in that. We have people that come from so many different racing backgrounds, and their attitude at the shop is just a bunch of racers who love racing and winning races and I'm really proud of that.
Q: Now that you've achieved it, what do you feel like it means to your organizations?
TONY STEWART: Very proud. Donny [Schatz] won the last sprint car race of the season last night, an USAC race at Tucson and Levi [Jones] won the last race of the year with our Chevy car and to be able to come here tonight and do this, we have – Levi won the Silver Crown championship, Sprint Car Championship. We ran second with Donny Schatz and third with Steve in World of Outlaws. I don't know where Ryan officially ended up tonight points-wise – tenth. So two cars in the Top-10 in the Sprint Cup Series, I'm pretty proud of that. Probably as close to being a father as I'm going to get for a while, and I'm pretty proud of all my kids, even though one is 50 years old and still winning races.
I'm proud of our people. I feel like I've said it from day one, I've been a part of this organization, I learned a lot from Joe Gibbs and how he was able to assemble the right people to do the right jobs. I feel like I've learned a very valuable lesson from him, and I think that I've been able to take that approach with every entity that we have and we have been successful and I'm proud of Chevy being on board and STP and Armor All and all of the people that have believed in the programs I've wanted to build and helped us make them successful.
Q: Why would you leave Joe Gibbs Racing when you did? You were comfortable there, you could win there, you didn't have to have any real responsibilities...
TONY STEWART: Joe would tell you different. He would tell you I had all kind of responsibilities.
Q: What kind of pressure do you take with you? Do you wonder, "Am I ever going to win again?" You're leaving a really comfortable, nice place.
TONY STEWART: I think the variable that was the little bit of the push over the top that I needed, it came from Rick Hendrick, and Rick had had a relationship with Gene and the two teams working together in the past. When Rick called me and said, hey, this may be an opportunity for you, and where I was at in my life and my career, you know, I guess I've never been scared to step outside my comfort zone with opportunities. We own three racetracks now, we have our World of Outlaws teams, our USAC teams. I didn't have a background in any of that. I don't have a background in business.
But you know, it just seemed like everything, every challenge that we took, we were able to somewhat kind some sort of success with it, and Rick talked to me on the phone one night and he goes, I'm not going to let this fail. That's words that I have never forgot. And there's been times when I've had to call and say, hey, I don't know what to do, I'm kind of stuck. But I need your input. I just need somebody to tell me if what I'm thinking is right, wrong or indifferent. And he's been really strong in that role with me. So you've got to have people you believe in. You've got to have people you trust, and it's just another chapter in my life that it's like, this is a great opportunity for what's going on now and what can happen down the road one day. There's a day that I'm not going to be driving but I don't want to leave the sport. It's a great opportunity for me to drive till Gene fires me from the driver's seat and I get to sit on the pit box with him. I like that opportunity. It was an opportunity to have a fresh start, a fresh beginning and a new challenge, and I love new challenges for some reason.
Q: In that same vein, did you ever regret the decision to become a co-owner and what do you feel this championship can do for your organization as a whole?
TONY STEWART: I would be lying if I said there were a lot of nights I laid my head on a pillow and said, "Have you lost your mind?" It was a lot easier being a driver. And there was a lot of responsibility that came with being a driver in a big organization, but you know, there's a lot of worries. It's still a business. This is a big industry and it's my goal from day one has been to be able to look Gene Haas in the eyes and shake his hand and say, hey, it didn't cost you a dime this year to go race, I want you to just come to the track and have fun and enjoy what you've built. Our economy has been rough the last three years and it's been a challenge to do that.
But I'm proud with the new partners that we have had come on board. We are in the best financial situation our company has been in and there's still an inventory of races to be sold in our company. Hopefully an effort like we have had in the Chase and the championship like this can be a push that some of these companies need to maybe come on board. So this is big for our company as an organization. It's a hard time with the economy and definitely a championship like this is huge.
Q: As far as you're being compared to the greatest drivers ever, like your heroes, can you share with us what you feel you have, physical and mental abilities, that you can share with the greatest people that ever got behind the wheel?
TONY STEWART: I have a hard time putting it in perspective what it means with these guys and the greats of these sports and the legends of this sport. You feel like you're comparing apples to oranges because you're comparing different eras in our sport. It's hard to put that in perspective I think.
But you know, I feel like I'm a part of a time in NASCAR when the competition's better than it's ever been. And to be in a format that's very tight, very competitive, and you can't have anything go wrong to win five races out of a 10-race Chase, and to win closest battle in NASCAR history, you know, no matter what the record books say at the end of the day and the greats that are a part of it, it's a huge honor just to be in those record books with those guys, and you never feel like you're – I don't care how many races you win, how many championships you win, you never feel like you measure up to the greats of the sport. That's what makes trying so much fun.