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Stewart Hashes Over His Run-In Down Under

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 20 2011

Tony Stewart talked about Daytona and his troubles with Australian officials on Thursday. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCA

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Daytona Beach, Fla. – The NASCAR racing boys got back to work on Thursday, in the garage, on the race track and in the media center at Daytona International Speedway.

The morning was devoted to single-car runs, while the early part of the afternoon session saw drivers running in two-car packs, bumper-to-bumper, almost all the way around the track.

During the noon break, several drivers stopped by the media center to field questions. A remarkably calm and polite Tony Stewart opened the interviews, fielding numerous questions about his run-in with an Australian short track promoter and the local authorities there.

Stewart, verifying what has been reported elsewhere, said the dispute was over track conditions. And he seemed to truly regret the entire episode.

“Well, I’m definitely not proud of what happened, and if I had to do it all over again, I would have dealt with it much different,” he said. “But we had been over there for almost five weeks, and we had been dealing with the same problem with the race track, so it wasn’t something that was just one incident that led up to it. It was a combination of the whole trip. But there was such a dispute on how they were doing a couple different aspects of preparing the race track and what it was putting the drivers in the situations that we were put in.”

He said that as he gets back into his Sprint Cup routine, he’s trying to put the incident behind him and he said he expects no more dealing with authorities Down Under.

“I’m home, and I’m back doing things that are getting my mind off of it, obviously,” he said. “This isn’t something that I’ve blown off. I mean, I’ve lost a lot of sleep over it because I’m very embarrassed that I made it through a whole trip and the night before I come home I get in an altercation with somebody, and that really hasn’t happened for a while.

“I’m not at all the least bit proud of it. I’m ashamed about it, but at the same time it’s been nice to get back with the team and it’s nice to come down here and worry about driving the race car again.”

He said that overall it was a good trip.

“I felt like I alleviated a lot of stress over there, and like I said, we just had one bad night out of a 30-day trip,” he said.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. seemed to be somewhat under the influence of lowered expectations, especially

The expectation level has dipped for Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images)

given the way his recent seasons have unraveled in midyear despite the optimism that typically comes from the start of a new season.

“I’m sure a lot of people expect nothing more than we did last year,” he said “And last year we were kind of out of the radar, which was kind of fun.”

He said sailing under the radar brings fewer off-track assignments, which can be a positive thing.

He said he’s not exactly sure why he and his Lance McGrew-led team didn’t produce the results they both expected.

“I really enjoyed Lance, and I think we’re still great friends today, and I think he has a lot of talent,” he said. “But it just didn’t work for whatever reason.”

He did indicate that he has high hopes for this year.

“I feel good about the position I’m in now, and I feel pretty confident about it, and I’m looking forward to going into the season and working hard for it,” he said, adding that running well on the track makes the rest of his life easier to deal with.

“When you’re running good you can put up with about anything,” he said.

And he made it clear that he’s not planning on being a mid-pack driver for the rest of his career.

Clint Bowyer found plenty of speed on Thursday. (File photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

“I want to be in racing for a very long time, and I know that I can drive good enough to run well,” he said. “I’ll stick around until I get it right. It’s just eventually going to have to happen.”

Clint Bowyer set the pace in the morning session, turning a best lap of 184.219 miles per hour, heading a pack of Chevrolets at the top of the speed charts. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin were second and third respectively. Earnhardt was 11th, while five-time and defending champion Jimmie Johnson was a disappointing 26th.

Johnson said he suspected an issue with the car’s driveline but didn’t seem too worried.

“Our teammates are doing great,” he said. “We were on the bottom of the board for a while so I’m not sure we’ve got everything sorted out on the 48 car just yet.

“To have our teammates as fast as they are, we’ll just go home and get all the adjusting things around and get it right. I think it kind of comes down to drive line, some different angles and drive shafts and rolling resistance and issues like that where the speed is, so we’ll just have to do a bit of work there.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 20 2011
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