Tony Stewart said he needed to win last Sunday’s Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway if he wanted to win his third Sprint Cup Series championship.
He did that and won NASCAR’s tiebreaker with Carl Edwards. He talked about his season after the race, and what it means to win as a driver/car owner. Here are excerpts of that interview:
Q: You said when the Chase for the Championship started you didn’t belong there. How do you feel about that now?
A: 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 (crew chief) Darian’s (Grubb) 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 or do what they have done, which is exactly what they did.
Q: How did you turn things around?
A: 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.
Q: You took some big chances in the race, going three-wide and four-wide at times to make passes. Your mentor, A.J. Foyt, said it was the best he’s ever seen you drive. Do you agree?
A: 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 frontstretch like that and to have the confidence that when you get to turn one, that you can make the corner still, I mean, that’s a good-handling race car 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.
Q: Foyt called you after you won. What were your emotions?
A: To hear him say that that was the best race he’s ever seen me run brings a tear to your eye.
Q: Is this kind of effort what it took to finally beat Jimmie Johnson’s run of five straight championships?
A: 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 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.