Tony Stewart has given some memorable interviews over the course of his NASCAR career, but Sunday's post-race group session with reporters after finishing 24th at Talladega has to be his most bizarre ever.
For more than four minutes, Stewart put on an acting performance that would make Tom Hanks jealous. With a completely straight face, Stewart offered comment after comment about how great the racing was – even though he really didn't think so.
"The racing was awesome," Stewart said. "It's fun to be able to race and have to watch the (overheating) gauges at the same time. It just adds that much more. Being able to make yourself run on the apron and everything to try to get clean air, it makes it fun."
Hmm. Kind of a weird thing to say, right? But Stewart is the kind of guy who likes a challenge, so maybe he was being serious. There was no indication he wasn't.
"I'm just sorry we couldn't crash more cars today," he added. "We didn't fill the quota for Talladega and NASCAR."
OK, now clearly he didn't mean that. There's no way in hell Stewart thinks more cars should crash, and so his earlier quote was also a joke.
But here's the thing: Stewart did nothing – nothing! – to reveal he was kidding.
When a reporter asked about what NASCAR should do to alleviate the overheating concerns, Stewart took the opposite approach and said in apparent sincerity they should "close (the grille opening) down" and run the engines until they blow up "to make it more exciting for fans."
"Honestly, if we haven't crashed at least 50 percent of the field by the end of the race, we need to extend the race until we crash at least 50 percent of the cars," he said. "It's not fair to these fans to see any more wrecks than that, any more torn-up cars. I mean, we still had over half the cars running at the end, and it shouldn't be that way."
What. The. Hell? Yes, it was obvious Stewart didn't mean what he was saying if you listened to his words. But by his body language, tone of voice and facial expression, he appeared to be completely sincere.
"That's what the fans want," he insisted. "They want to see that excitement. I feel bad that as drivers, we couldn't do a better job of crashing enough cars for them today."
One reporter finally admitted he was confused and told Stewart it was hard to tell if he was upset with the racing or happy with it.
"I'm upset that we didn't crash more cars," he said convincingly. "That's what we're here for. I feel bad if I don't spend at least $150,000 in torn-up race cars going back to the shop. We've definitely got to do a better job at that."
OK, OK. So he didn't like the racing. But seriously, Tony: Why do you think the fans just want to see wrecks?
"I don't know if that's what they're looking for, but I feel like that's the show we deserve to give them," he said. "That's what's made Talladega, Talladega."
Another reporter then asked Stewart if he "had fun out there," to which the driver immediately nodded and responded "absolutely."
"I had a blast," he said. "It would have been a lot more fun if I could have gotten caught up in one more wreck. If I would have done that, it would have been perfect."
Again, this can't be emphasized enough: There were no cracks in the facade, even though Stewart was lying straight out of his ass. It was a remarkable, Oscar-worthy performance – and one that just kept going and going.
Another reporter pressed on, asking Stewart if he preferred the pack racing over the tandem racing.
"I think we ought to make it a Figure Eight (race)," he said. "I mean, if we could make it a Figure Eight, it would be perfect. It would absolutely be perfect here. It'd be better than what we've got."
At this point, I'll admit it: I could hardly contain myself. I was covering up my mouth giving every effort possible not to laugh in his face.
But Stewart wasn't done yet.
"Or we could stop at halfway, take a break, then turn around and go backward," he said. "Then, with 10 to go, we could split the field and half of them could go in the regular direction and half could go backward."
With that – and not a wink, smile or hint of sarcasm – Stewart saw there were no more questions, nodded to indicate the interview was over and walked away.