Our series of NASCAR driver interviews continues this week with Tony Stewart, the defending Sprint Cup Series champion. Stewart is seventh in the Chase standings with six races remaining this season.
SBN: What percent of your career races in all forms of motorsports can you remember?
TS: Oh God. Well, the fact that I've forgotten some alters the answer to that.
SBN: Good point.
TS: I'm going to say probably 50 percent.
SBN: That's actually more than I expected, since you do so many random races all over the place.
TS: That's why I remember a lot of them, though – it's not just the same thing every time. When you're doing something every week, it's kind of routine.
SBN: What was the first win you got in any form of motorsports?
TS: First win? A go-kart race in 1979 at Westport, Ind. in the Four-Cycle Rookie Class.
SBN: Can you remember the race, or is that just a fact you know?
TS: Yeah, I remember. I was somewhat confused because the week before, I ran second and I got a trophy that was about 18 inches tall – and then I won the race and got a trophy for first that was 12 inches tall. And I was like, "Is that supposed to be this way?"
As an 8-year-old kid, you're like, "Why is my second-place trophy taller than my first-place trophy?" It was just that particular set of trophies.
SBN: Who is a clean driver you really enjoy racing with in NASCAR?
TS: Believe it or not, contrary to what happened earlier in the year, Matt Kenseth has always been that guy.
TS: Over the course of 14 years, he's probably the one guy we've had the least amount of problems with, in all reality. When something happens with Matt and I, it becomes a pretty big deal, obviously. But Matt is really that guy you just don't have a lot of problems with, and he always races you with respect.
SBN: On the opposite side of that, is there anyone you find races you particularly hard or makes it more difficult on you than others?
TS: Yeah, there is.
SBN: (Waits for answer)
TS: (Laughs) There is, but if I talk about it, it might make that worse, unfortunately. But yes, there are a couple guys in that category, and let's just say they're "habitual offenders."
Is that fair enough?
SBN: Yeah, I understand. What's your personal code of conduct on the track?
TS: For most part, the rule of thumb is pretty much you're going to race guys hard the last quarter of the race and for sure the last run of the day. You're still going to give and take until that last pit stop. Talladega, obviously, you might run 180 laps and then only race really hard the last eight. (Editor's note: This interview was conducted before the Talladega race.)
SBN: Do you keep a mental list of people you owe for on-track payback?
TS: Well, I don't know that you look at it as payback, but you're less tolerant of some guys holding you up versus other guys. There are guys you give the benefit of the doubt if they hold you up a little bit longer than normal, and you have that list of guys you kind of know are going to be a problem when you get there. The window of being patient with them is a lot shorter.
SBN: OK, so let's say I was a driver and I screwed you over on the track. How long would it take me to get back in your good graces and off the list?
TS: Depends on if it was the first time it happened with you or if you're somebody every week I have a problem with. You know, the way I look at it, it's all off how they're racing you at the time. If a guy does us wrong the week before and he does something the next week where he makes an effort to make it right, then I pretty much will let that go. You don't forget about it, but just seeing that the guy makes an effort the next week means a lot.
SBN: If you could turn back time and team up with someone from the past, who would you like to be your teammate?
TS: Can I only pick one, or can I be a multi-car team?
SBN: You're a team owner, so go for a multi-car team.
TS: OK. I would pick Dale Sr., Tim Richmond and A.J. Foyt – not necessarily in that order. I'd pick A.J., Dale Sr. and Tim Richmond (in order).
SBN: Are you picking them because of the information they could provide or because they'd be fun to be around or what?
TS: I think it would be fun to be a teammate with Tim Richmond. It would be fun to be A.J. and Dale Sr.'s teammate outside the cars, too, but when you've got a lot of respect for what those guys did inside the car, it would be fun to have those guys as teammates because of that.
SBN: When is the last time you got nervous about anything?
TS: Uh, two seconds before we started these 12 questions. (Keeps a straight face, then laughs and smacks interviewer on the shoulder).
SBN: That's good, that's good. So you guys meet a lot of fans, and sometimes they can ask awkward or uncomfortable questions. Do you have any recent stories along those lines?
TS: It's normally when the women come up and they ask, "Boxers or briefs?" It makes you a little bit uncomfortable, because you're normally sitting there with your sponsor.
SBN: So do you answer it, or do you just deflect the question?
TS: Sometimes we joke around, sometimes we tell them one thing when it's the opposite. We normally will find some clever answer that doesn't really answer their question but satisfies them.
SBN: If you had to choose one of these jobs after your racing career is over, would you rather be a NASCAR broadcaster or a high-ranking NASCAR official like Robin Pemberton or John Darby?
TS: I would rather be a high-ranking official.
SBN: Really? That's surprising. Why is that?
TS: Well, I just think the opportunity to be somebody like a Robin Pemberton or John Darby, you get to make an impact. It's more than just broadcasting what you see, it's being a part of helping it grow. Being a car owner and working with those people in a lot of different positions in different series, that's something I really respect.
SBN: What's a question you get asked a lot that you're tired of answering?
TS: "Are you going to win this weekend?" It's like, "If I knew that, I'd be a bookie in Las Vegas. If I knew that, I'd know whether I even needed to go this weekend."
SBN: I've been asking each driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Aric Almirola, and he wanted to know this: For any professional athlete, the sport eventually becomes less fun and more of a job. Do you feel like racing is a job for you, and at what point did it become that way?
TS: I think at the point where you decide it's what you're doing for a living and that's how you're making your living, it is your job. It doesn't mean it takes the fun out of your job. We're pretty fortunate, but our job can be pretty stressful at times, just like anyone else's job. But at the end of the day, I like what I do versus the alternatives of other jobs I could have. I like my job. I like the role that I'm in.
SBN: And can you help me with a question for the next person?
TS: I could probably use your guidance on this, but the one off the top of my head is I always like hearing them answer, "If you couldn't be a driver right now, what would you do? What would your next choice be if you couldn't drive?"
SBN: That works, thanks.
Coming next week: Jeff Burton answers Stewart's question and 11 more.