Q And A: Tony Stewart Talks About Being Back Behind The Wheel
Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart on Friday took laps in a Sprint Cup car for the first time since suffering severe injuries in a sprint car race last year in Iowa.
After taking those laps at Daytona International Speedway in practice for Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited, Stewart discussed, among other things, how he felt in the car.
The full transcript follows:
HOW DID IT FEEL?
“It felt good. The great thing is there is zero percentage of pain in the car. That was nice. We will see what it feels like at 9 o’clock tonight, but so far so good. That is better than I was hoping for, honestly. I thought we would have some kind of ache, pain of some kind that would bother us. It was like putting on an old pair of shoes again.”
AT WHAT POINT WERE YOU SMILING?
“When we hit the end of pit road leaving. That is way too long to wait to get back in a race car that is for sure.”
IS IT A RELIEF OR ARE YOU JUST OVERJOYED?
“Well a little of both. I think once we got the relief of knowing we weren’t hurting anywhere then it was just joy of being back out there again. It didn’t feel like I had been gone seven months when we started running. It was today though, every five minutes I was looking at the clock from 3 o’clock on going ‘is it 4:30 yet’ because I wanted to get dressed at 4:30 and come in. That is a long time to be staring at the clock for an hour and a half. That is small compared to the seven months.”
YOU GOT IN THE CAR ABOUT 18 MINUTES EARLY, WHICH SEEMS EARLY FOR YOU…
“I told them don’t get too excited that is not going to be a habit. So I’m logging curtsey minutes so if that way I’m late for practice I got that credit.”
AFTER YOU GET YOUR HELMET ON WHAT IS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND? WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?
“Just waiting. I didn’t want to wait anymore to be honest. The biggest thing was going in there, as soon as I got in the car, I’ve sat in that car three times now. I still had to move the mirror when I got in there one more time. We just wanted to give ourselves a couple of minutes so we weren’t thrashing at the last second if there was something we needed to move. Sure enough I had to move my mirror.”
WAS THE WALK TO THE CAR ANY DIFFERENT? WERE YOU ANXIOUS; WERE YOU EXCITED, JUST NORMAL TYPICAL?
“I just put one foot in front of the other like I do every time I got to the car.”
ARE THERE ANY TEAMMATES YOU MISS? (Asked by Ryan Newman)
“I miss Ryan (Newman) and the good thing was that was who I had behind me for the first part of the practice. So it’s nice to have somebody you trust behind you like that. He took care of me a couple out there that we got kind of in a bind just the normal practice deal, but it was nice having him back there.”
HOW LONG BEFORE YOU FOCUSED ON WHAT WAS GOING ON IN THE CAR AND NOT WORRIED ABOUT THE OTHER STUFF?
“I already am. I already was. As soon as we came in from that first run there we were already talking about how it was sucking up, how it felt when we were leading. Already trying to go over details of what we can do to make it better for tomorrow already. Like I said once we got in the car and once I didn’t feel the pain right off the bat it was right back to business as usual.”
DID YOU HAVE ANY THERAPY TODAY OR ANY SPECIAL STRETCHES OR ANYTHING? OR IS IT JUST LIKE A NORMAL PRACTICE DAY?
“Knowing you are my back-up guy (referring to an inside joke with reporter Bob Pockrass) I didn’t do anything extra. I felt like my back-up guy is on par and ready to go. No, I didn’t do anything today.”
DID YOU MISS PIT IN?
“Well we were supposed to get a tire sheet so I just missed getting my tire sheet spot. But that was the first time we had gotten on the brakes hard with new pads so the second time it stopped a lot better.”
HOW WAS THE PRACTICE IN GENERAL?
“It was pretty sane. It was the same as it always is here. I mean everybody is just trying to figure out what their cars are doing and where they can get runs and where they can’t. If there car is stronger on the top than bottom, how it pulls up to the cars behind it, so pretty much just the same as always.”
HOW ABOUT GETTING IN AND OUT OF THE CAR?
“Piece of cake. I didn’t fall. I think that was what everybody was waiting for. If there was ever a time to not screw up it is getting in the car this time. About 400 cameras there so I didn’t want to be the guy that fell out of the car and got on the cover of the paper for that.”
WILL YOU WANT TO DO MORE LAPS THAN NORMAL SORT OF AN ENDURANCE TO SEE HOW GOOD THE LEG IS?
“No, we didn’t really get as many laps as we wanted to in the first session. We are going to run the second session anyway. So we will get plenty of laps in tonight.”
WHAT IS YOUR LEVEL OF CONFIDENCE OF DRIVING OVER 500 MILES?
“I don’t think Bob (Pockrass) is going to be able to have his first Cup start this week. I’m pretty confident we are going to be fine.”
WAS IT A GOOD FEELING TO SEE ALL THOSE CAMERAS AND EVERYBODY THERE? LIKE YOU GETTING BACK INTO A CAR IS A BIG DEAL?
“Yeah, and honestly last night I started getting a bunch of text messages. I got them from media members, from our dirt track guys, friends of mind from the West Coast. Everybody started texting saying how excited they were for today. Today in the big picture was just another practice day, but obviously it was a little bigger than normal for us.”
WHEN YOU GET INTO A BIND ON THE TRACK AND YOU HAVE THAT MOMENT THAT WILL LIKELY COME IS THERE GOING TO BE APART OF YOU THAT IS GOING TO WORRY MORE THAN YOU DID BEFORE?
“No, I mean Denny (Hamlin) pushed me down the frontstretch and I got a little wiggly and it just, like I said, it was crazy how it just felt like it was yesterday that we were doing the same thing. For somebody who hadn’t been in a car it sure doesn’t feel like I haven’t been in a car. It feels like I was in it a week ago already. I was pleasantly surprised for that.”
HOW ABOUT CHAD JOHNSTON AND BEING UP THERE AND HEAD OF THE NEW SCENARIO?
“It’s kind of cool because I can actually hear him on the radio. (Steve) Addington was always hard to hear. Steve has just got a very calm voice. Chad’s got a calm voice, but the volume is a little louder so I don’t have to jack the volume on the radio up so loud to hear him. It’s the first time I’ve heard him on a radio. It’s going to be different when we got to Phoenix in a couple of weeks, but for here it just sounds normal and natural already.”
WHAT IS PRIORITY ONE NOW?
“Wait for the next session and just do the same things that we always do. Just go through the steps of trying to figure out how to make the car better. I think we will probably do single car stuff the rest of the day just to make sure that we are making changes that we know what the effect of it is versus trying to be in packs. If the pack is five cars deep you are not going to learn as much as if it’s 10 cars deep. It’s hard to get accurate information so we are just going to do single car stuff the rest of the day and get ready for tomorrow.”
HOW MUCH DOES IT CONFIRM GETTING IN A CAR THAT YOU JUST LOVE RACING TO PIECES?
“If I didn’t think Greg Zipadelli would absolutely kill me tonight I would probably want to go race at Volusia tonight. It felt that good. I don’t think Zippy would be the only guy. I think the entire organization here would probably duct tape me to the flag pole on the frontstretch so I couldn’t leave.”
EVENTUALLY YOU ARE GOING TO DO THAT?
“Yeah, I’ve said that all along. I haven’t waivered from that.”
ARE YOU RELIEVED THAT GETTING BACK INTO A CAR IS NOT A BIG DEAL AT ALL?
“Yeah, I thought it was going to be… I’m glad it wasn’t any bigger deal than that. That is the good part of it. I didn’t think it would just blend in like it did. It just kind of felt like any other day at the office. Once we got off pit road and got going and actually got in the pack there you forgot about all the other stuff and you went back to work. Just got back in the swing of things.”
HOW MUCH OF A RELIEF IS THAT?
“Especially not having any pain afterwards and not having any pain driving that is a big weight off our shoulders. It’s the only thing we couldn’t answer to you guys was what is it going to feel like after being in a car. Like I said unless after adrenaline wears off tonight at 9 o’clock I start getting sore it feels really good, much better than I thought it was going to be.”No Comment