Chicagoland: Stewart-Haas Racing press conference, part 3

Continued from part 2 Q: Is this team still going to remain a two-car team for next year? TONY STEWART: "Yes." Q: Obviously you've got the Champions Provisional you can fall back on. How critical is it to get that 66 car in the top-35,...

Continued from part 2

Q: Is this team still going to remain a two-car team for next year?

TONY STEWART: "Yes."

Q: Obviously you've got the Champions Provisional you can fall back on. How critical is it to get that 66 car in the top-35, and secondly we hear some names on who might be in that second car. The current driver of the 66, Scott Riggs, is not one of those. What kind of position is he in, trying to help you get into the top-35? Or is that just the way business is done in this sport?

TONY STEWART: "Scott hasn't been ruled out by any means. I think Scott's done a great job this year of stepping up to the plate on a lot of occasions. It's a big list of drivers that we're working on obviously. It's important to get one of the two cars, or especially the 66 car who is the closest right now, of getting him back inside the top-35 in points.

"You know, it's important but at the same time I feel like the level of this race team is going to go up next year and hopefully that won't be a factor when it comes time to qualifying each week. If we can get through the first five weeks, I think that part will take care of itself. But it is a valid concern at this point obviously.

"But that's where, like Joe said, there's people been calling already because of this announcement today and hopefully the people that we'll be adding soon will be able to ensure that we get the 66 car back in the top-35 in points and it won't be an issue.

"We obviously have 18 races left to accomplish that goal. And that's a very big variable in the equation right now of things to do before the end of the season."

Q: Tony, you talked about the appeal of becoming another Richard Childress or Richard Petty, somebody who has driven in the sport. You are a businessman now but started as a racer. You are bucking a recent trend of a lot of private equity firms and deep pocketed businesses from outside the sport buying into it. A lot of the guys you mentioned like Childress and Penske and Petty are getting late in their career without obvious successors. Is it good for NASCAR to have somebody like yourself who is racer buying into team ownership and maintaining a tie to the way things have always been with the racers making the calls?

TONY STEWART: "I think you have to ask NASCAR that to understand it from their side. But I don't see where it's negative. I don't know where having a driver that's won races and won championships in the series at the end of his driving career staying a part of this series as a car owner. I'm not sure where I see the negative in that. So I don't see NASCAR saying that. I feel like it's positive. I really don't see where there's a negative in that part of it.

"Obviously, there's a lot of changes on the business side of it in the last couple years. But I don't see where having somebody that's had a 10-year past in NASCAR changing roles necessarily in the sport is bad versus having people that have never been part of it coming in the and buying equity in teams that don't know anything about the sport. I don't see where this part of the equation is bad."

Q: Tony, does this make you reevaluate any of your ownerships in your tracks and specifically Macon Speedway?

TONY STEWART: "As far as?"

Q: Would you keep those tracks? Are you still going to stay involved in all of those?

TONY STEWART: "Absolutely. None of the business ventures I'm currently involved in are going to change because of this. We've got a pretty good staff. Obviously the people that we have with all three of the race tracks and both sets of our race teams have been in place for awhile.

"And those people are going to continue to be in place and we're going continue to work forward and do everything we can to make those teams and those race tracks as competitive as possible and as good of an experience as possible as far as the race track side.

"So none of that is going to change. This is just another big candle that we'll be burning each week."

Q: Joe, you mentioned the partnership and the alliance that you have with Hendrick Motorsports. We know it's one of the closest alliances there probably is in the garage area. Is this something that you had to get Rick Hendrick to sign off on? Did he play a role in this?

Also, you have the open book policy with Hendrick, but it has to be frustrating knowing that you have been as far behind as you have been with that kind of an open book policy over there with Hendrick Motorsports.

JOE CUSTER: "It's a challenge. You are absolutely right. First of all we have a great relationship with Hendrick Motorsports. But there are boundaries and there's a lot to it. It brings in Haas Automations machine tool piece where they're marketing machine tools through the use of the manufacturing of the motors at Hendrick. So there's a lot of business stuff that goes on.

"But there's no ownership between the two companies.  Rick Hendrick
doesn't make our decisions.  We don't have any influence over his
financial decisions.  We're separate operating organizations.

"Although that being said, we are a customer and a technology partner on the chassis side of it. We purchase chassis from him. We get support for that. And it has been a frustration that our performance isn't at the same level of Hendrick Motorsports over the years.

"But as Tony's mentioned we feel that we've - if you go down the check list of motors, chassis, facilities, wind tunnel time, seven post rigs, all of the things that people use in our sport as excuses sometimes for the non-performance - we get to check most of those boxes.

"But the people thing is a constant challenge in our sport. And again, we feel that we've got good people. But drivers are absolutely critical. And with this new chassis that we're working with, the COT piece, it's even more. The driver is a huge factor. And that's really what drove this decision is performance. We want to win. And we feel Tony Stewart wants to win as bad as we do.

"And we think we can learn a lot from him and we're going to listen to him."

Q: Tony, you're obviously adding to a plate that's already pretty loaded. At what point is it enough? Would you consider maybe IndyCar Series ownership at some point down the road?

TONY STEWART: "No, I've been down that road. You know, I guess I've learned in this sport, never say never because eight years ago I said I've never been be an owner in NASCAR and here I am today announcing I am an owner in NASCAR now.

"You never know.  Obviously you look at organizations like Chip Ganassi
Racing and Penske Racing who were involved in multi-series.  Is it out
of the question?  No.  It's never out of the question.

"I think as time goes by, I guess the way we look at it, we've now added three race tracks and four race teams and now a Sprint Cup team, but not all in one year. This is all something that's grown over time. And, you know, as time's gone on, we've evaluated where we're at and do we have too much on our plate, do we not have too much, do we want more our plate?

"I think as time goes on you constantly evaluate that and evaluate where you are and the status of your companies and that's how you decide whether you've grown as much as you want to grow or whether you want to continue with that growth. And this is something that, obviously if we didn't feel like that we were going to be capable of continuing with this growth we wouldn't have taken on this project. So, we'll see down the road what we decide to do next.

"I mean, we might buy a little league baseball team, an eight-year-old team or something. We may do that next."

Q: Tony and Joe, is it fair to say from what I'm hearing that you're basically given 50 percent of the team for your name and your talent to take it to another level? And, secondly, how much did General Motors (GM) play in role in getting back with them?

TONY STEWART: "Obviously, GM made a huge push when Joe Gibbs Racing made the announcement that they were going to be switching to Toyota. Obviously the comments that GM made were very strong about wanting to get me back. But, you know, the people at Toyota have been great this year. I've really developed some good friendships with the people on that side. But I've had a lot of relationships in the past with General Motors too, and those relationships haven't gone away. So, obviously that was a variable that we had to consider.

"The ownership side, yes, that was part of the deal. That's the only part of the deal that we'll talk about. But, having that opportunity and being given 50 percent of an operation to come in and not only drive but be part of it was something that was a huge variable to us. Basically led to our decision and where we are today.

Q: Tony, have you or are you going to seek advice from other drivers who have tried to be driver/owner and if so, what has anybody said to you?

TONY STEWART: "We can't tell all the secrets, but, yes, I've had conversations with Robby Gordon. Robby really, is to the best of my knowledge, the last owner/driver in the series right now. And, basically at the end of the day, and the moral to the story is, he said 'You are going to enjoy this.' So this is a challenge I'm looking forward to. And, if in talking to Robby he would have said 'This is going to be a total disaster and you are going to regret it the rest of your life,' I would have thought different about it. But that was far from what he said."

Q: Is it Stewart Haas Racing from today moving forward or does that start next year?

JOE CUSTER: "The entity exists right now, but it will race-under that banner next year. Haas CNC Racing will continue to operate as it does with the teams that it does until the end of the year."

Q: Do you anticipate that the relationship with Hendrick will continue long term, or is your long term vision for the team getting to a point where you're building and developing your own equipment and technology?

TONY STEWART: "Obviously when Haas CNC Racing started, having that ability to tap into the Hendrick resources, I feel like, has given this team an opportunity to close a huge gap. You don't get to where the Hendrick operation is overnight and having the resources available to us and having these resources available long term are very, very key at this point. I see the relationship being a very valuable relationship not only now, but long term also."

Q: Tony, can you talk about ending the longest driver-crew chief relationship and how much emotion was involved in that for you?

TONY STEWART: "I think that's probably been the single hardest part about this. It's like we've mentioned many times when the topic of Zippy and I come up it's kind of like a marriage. He's been there both professionally and like a big brother on the personal side. And that relationship is very important to me, not only now but down the road.

"But that has been the single hardest part about this is having to think about for the last ten years I've had Greg's leadership and have had the security blanket and the peace of mind of knowing that Zippy's in charge of this. He knows me better than 99 percent of the girlfriends I've ever had in my life, I think.

"So having to make a change like that is something that, well. . . I'm not going to call it a divorce because it's really not like that. I mean, our relationship is still as good as it's ever been. We were laughing yesterday. Obviously, yesterday was a bittersweet moment for both him and myself to have to sit down in the room with our guys and our team and let them know that this combination that we've had that has won over 30 races and two championships was going to finally separate and part ways.

"But the important thing to me is not only with Zippy, but the entire organization, we're parting on great terms. We want to part as champions at the end of the season and the friendships, not only with Zippy but the team guys, the rest of the organization and the entire Gibbs family, is something that throughout this has been very, very important to us."

Q: Any idea who your crew chief will be next year or are you going to be the first driver/owner/crew chief? (Laughter.)

TONY STEWART: "Oh God. If you're trying to put me in the hospital today, that will do it. You couldn't pay me enough to be a crew chief. I honestly feel like no matter whether you are a car owner or crew member or driver or crew chief, I feel like they have the toughest job and the toughest responsibilities during the week and obviously from the time that they show up at the race track to the time they leave.

"But I don't have an answer for you as far as what we're we going to have for a crew chief yet. Obviously the announcement today will hopefully spark some interest and guys that we don't know are available or might be available or might have interest or not have interest. Hopefully we'll know more about that in the next couple weeks after this announcement's come out. And all the crew chiefs in the garage area and potential crew chiefs in the garage area learn about this operation and what's transpired today."

MIKE ARNING: Ladies and gentlemen thank you very much for your time. We certainly appreciate it.

-credit: tsc

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Robby Gordon , Scott Riggs , Richard Petty , Chip Ganassi
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing , Team Penske , Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing