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Race-primed Stewart ready to defend after busy offseason

February 16, 2012, Dave Rodman,

Reigning champion kept pedal to the metal during offseason to keep sharp

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Tony Stewart ended Jimmie Johnson's five-year string of Cup Series championships in 2011. Johnson said he took a month off to reflect on that event, and how his "complacency" might've been partly to blame.

Stewart spent the offseason looking for places to race.

"I looked for every race that I could run through the offseason. ... I'm just much happier when I can be racing."


"My deal is a little different than all these other guys," said Stewart, who spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights this week burning around Volusia Speedway Park west of Daytona Beach at more than 140 mph on a half-mile dirt track in one of his own sprint cars.

"A lot of [his competitors] are married. Most of them are married and have families and children. I have a dog and two cats so they don't care if I go race seven days a week -- as long as they get fed they are happy. That is just my deal -- where my lifestyle is a little different.

"I looked for every race that I could run through the offseason. That is what I wanted to do. It sounds like you would wear yourself out doing it but that is my workout plan. I don't go to the gym. I go to the race track and race. I'm just much happier when I can be racing."

Stewart won a few races during the winter, so it was no surprise he was looking pretty cheerful at NASCAR's Media Day on Thursday outside Daytona International Speedway. He said his championship and other wins had him feeling pretty loose.

"What is odd about it is that we haven't stopped," Stewart said. "We really haven't taken a break through the winter. I've been content. We've been staying busy racing and we have had a lot of stuff going on at the shop, but it's all been stuff that we have been looking forward to.

"I think [winning the championship] helps. Obviously, when you can go back to your shop at the end of the year and everyone is excited and still pumped up from the result at the end of the year it makes the offseason go by that much quicker and that much easier. I think there is a lot to that."

The biggest thing for Stewart -- and possibly a reason for his competitors to worry a little, is that Stewart-Haas Racing's championship buzz still hasn't worn off.

"I mean, in all honesty we have still been riding that high," Stewart said. "But we really didn't sit there and say, 'hey, we are celebrating a championship.' That lasted through the banquet, then it was right back to work, immediately back on the job of trying to figure out how to do the same thing this year."

* 2012 Media Day: Stewart optimistic amid changes to team

Stewart didn't miss the chance to praise his organization's new additions, his own crew chief, Steve Addington, and competition director, and his former crew chief for two championships at Joe Gibbs Racing, Greg Zipadelli.

"It was easy to do that having Zippy [Zipadelli] and Steve Addington come on board, guys that weren't really with us when we won the championship at the end of the year," Stewart said. "Their focus was on what we were going to do this year so it kind of got the whole mindset of the shop to not get lazy and think about what we accomplished last year and get working on what we can do to try to repeat this year."

Stewart's anxious to get on track Friday for Budweiser Shootout practice, Daytona 500 qualifying practice Saturday, the Shootout on Saturday night and then Sunday's Daytona 500 qualifying to begin to see where his team stands in 2012.

"I don't think we know [where we are] until we start," Stewart said. "The hard thing is you have to improve through the winter and all the teams will improve.

"It's just a matter of if we get 5 percent better and someone else gets 7 percent better -- is that enough to put them ahead of us? I don't think you really know until you get two or three races into the year, exactly, to see what the results are from the winter and the hard work."