JOLIET, Ill. Tony Stewart's controversial season continued last Sunday at the Chicagoland Speedway. His pit crew scrapped with that of Kasey Kahne following an accident between the two drivers early in the race. Stewart went on to win the Tropicana 400 for his first victory of the 2004 season.
Stewart talked about the race's aftermath and the soap opera-like drama that continues to swirl around him and his team.
Question: How did you feel about the fans booing you in Victory Lane, perhaps in reaction to your run-in with Kahne?
Stewart: You hear them. I could see it when it happened. It's hard for them to see in the grandstands when there's a concrete wall there to see if a guy checks up. All they're going to do is assume they know what happened. I don't know what happened. I was closer to it than they were and I still don't know what happened. They're going to form their opinion off what they see and at that point of the race that's what they saw.
Question: What will it take for the critics to get to know the real Tony?
Stewart: I've kind of given up, to be honest. I think the thing I've learned from this sport in the last couple of years is they like a good guy and they like a bad guy and my past has stuck with me. I mean, nobody will let my past go away. Until the deal at Sonoma, I hadn't had any incidents for two years. We kind of blended into the woodwork with everybody else. But the stuff I did in 2000 still gets printed. I guess the way I look at it, I quit reading the papers and quit watching TV because none of what anybody says matters to me anymore. It's one-sided; it's their side. The only thing that matters to me is I'm going home tonight. My friends are going to be there, and as long as my friends and family and girlfriend and our dogs and our monkey is happy as long as everybody is happy with that, I mean the people I deal with they're the ones I care about. If they're down on me, then I've got something I need to worry about. But I think that's part of what caused a lot of my frustration up to this year, just trying to please everybody. You can't please everybody. Somebody's always going to dislike you or get an opinion from you from one incident that they see. As stressful as our lives are in this sport, it's made it a lot easier for me just to not worry about what everybody said. The main thing is we won a race. We worked hard. Our team worked hard all weekend. That's all I'm worried about.
Question: Do you think if that situation happened to any other car there would be as much controversy?
Stewart: Nope, only when we're involved. And it's understandable. We've been the hot topic of discussion all year, but I'm pretty much a black-and-white guy. If I make a mistake, I tell you guys I make a mistake. A lot of times I'm not proud of it and proud of what I do, but whatever happened (at Chicagoland), I didn't do it. I was there, I was right behind him and all of a sudden, his car slowed down. For whatever reason, I don't know. I can't control all 43 cars out there. I can only control mine.
Question: Were you aware of the scuffle at the end of the race?
Stewart: Not at all. I knew it was an unfortunate deal that happened. Listening to you guys I realize it was a much bigger deal than I thought it was after talking to (my crew chief). Only Kasey and I know what happened. I haven't talked to Kasey. Kasey is really the only one that truly knows what happened. None of us will know until we talk to him.
Question: Do you think Tommy Baldwin, Kahne's crew chief, being penalized is the right move by NASCAR?
Stewart: I got penalized for going and trying to talk to a guy after a race. I wasn't upset until after the guy provoked me down there. If I should get penalized for it, then he should get penalized for it. I'm just happy we won a race today. That wasn't the winning factor in the race. Passing Jeremy Mayfield for the win was much more important than you guys talking about a fight down here.
Question: Should you be suspended for the incident with Kahne?
Stewart: Not at all, because I didn't do anything wrong. If I did something wrong, I can understand worrying about it. I'll be shocked if anything happens because I didn't do anything wrong. It was just a racing incident. He could have crashed us just as easy as it did him. It did surprise me because I didn't expect him to check up. That's not a spot you want to have a tangle with somebody.
Question: How would you describe your relationship with Kahne?
Stewart: He said some pretty harsh things at Talladega. He came and apologized to me. It isn't a problem. If he ever needs anything, he can still come to me on it. We went together and did a charity event in Wisconsin for the Tony Stewart Foundation. I don't feel like there is a rift there. He's one of the last guys I'd want to get in an incident with. I think the kid is doing a great job this year. I sat at Ray Evernham's trailer for an hour with him about Kasey Kahne. If I didn't like Kasey, I wouldn't be the one convincing Ray he's the guy he needed to hire, let alone get in a scuffle with him. I respect Kasey.
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