Michigan II: Stewart - Friday media visit

TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT/OLD SPICE IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Michigan International Speedway and discussed handling being an owner, what his best track is in the Chase, the start and park teams and more. BIG DAY ...

TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT/OLD SPICE IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Michigan International Speedway and discussed handling being an owner, what his best track is in the Chase, the start and park teams and more.

BIG DAY OBVIOUSLY MONDAY AT WATKINS GLEN BUT NOW WE'RE AT MICHIGAN. "Last week was obviously an awesome weekend for us. Since then I've been to the Knoxville Nationals then here. We're excited for this weekend. We feel like we had a pretty decent race practice. When we switched to qualifying trim we weren't quite where we wanted to be but we feel like I'm sure when we go back I've got a couple of ideas of what we can do to be better when we do make our qualifying run."

DALE JR. WAS TALKING EARLIER TODAY THAT HE REALLY WISHES NASCAR WOULD DO A LITTLE MORE WITH THE CAR, IS THERE MUCH MORE THAT CAN BE DONE OR SHOULD BE DONE WITH THE CAR? "I wish I was smart enough to know what to do. I think that's something that the engineers would know better than me. I'm not smart enough honestly to know what could be done. I feel like Watkins Glen was fun last weekend. I feel like you couldn't race around cars. I think every week it's getting better and better but the competition is getting tighter and tighter. More teams are figuring it out and it makes it hard if you're not 100 percent on the money it's making it harder and harder but that's just the evolution of racing. It's that way in all forms of it. The competition and the amount of teams that are getting to that top level are getting greater in numbers and it makes it that much more important to be on your game every week."

WHAT ABOUT THE COST OF MAKE CHANGES? "I think when NASCAR does if and when they make changes they factor that into it and try to figure out a way to make it to where it's not going to be so detrimental to the teams from that standpoint and make it to wherever you're not going to try to do something to help one area that's going to hurt somewhere else in the equation."

NOW BEING AN OWNER PEOPLE DON'T REALIZE THE STRESS, THE DIFFERENT PROBLEMS, HOW ARE YOU HANDLING IT? "I've been sleeping better than I've slept in years actually and the reason for that is Bobby Hutchens. Having Bobby Hutchens and Darian Grubb and Tony Gibson and Ryan Newman and the people that we've got at Stewart-Haas, it gives me that flexibility to make sure that I get my time, my rest. It's having the right people in the right positions. When you have that you don't have to babysit. You don't have to sit over top of them and watch everything they're doing because you know they're doing a good job. You know they're doing it the way you would want it done. That itself gives you the peace of mind and know when you lay down at the end of the day that you can rest."

CAN YOU TALK FROM WHAT YOU'VE LEARNED IN A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME WHAT IS IT ABOUT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS AS A WHOLE THAT MAKES THEM SUCCESSFUL YEAR AFTER YEAR? "I'm not going to say that I've seen them do a bunch of things different than what I've seen at Gibbs. Obviously Gibbs is the only thing I have to compare to. They're dedication is the same. It's like a Formula One team over there. The amount of R&D they do is just unbelievable and that's what it takes. When you're running a series where everybody kind of has the same package that's the only way to get yourself in that position, is working hard and having a bunch a drivers in their stable like that that's just more information that they gather every week. I think that's always been a big key to Hendrick's success is that they've had not only one or two driver but three or four drivers at a time that can give them really good feedback and information that help them complete the picture every week."

THESE CARS NOW SEEM SO MUCH SAFER THAN THEY HAVE BEEN IN THE PAST, IS THERE A GREATER COMFORT LEVEL FOR DRIVERS WITH THE WAY THE CARS ARE DESIGNED SAFETY WISE THAT ALLOW YOU TO TAKE MORE CHANCES ON THE RACE TRACK THAN YOU USED TO IN THE PAST? "I don't believe so. You still have to get that car to the end of the race. The wreck that Hornish had, that ended three days for those three guys. If anybody is thinking that way, they're thinking that way foolishly. Obviously just because you know you're going to be safer in that car doesn't mean it's still going to get you to the end. The car itself has a point where it can only go so far before its structure keeps you from finishing a race. I don't think guys race that way or think that way while they're racing. I think they still like we were talking about the competition level being tighter than it's ever been, I think that forces guys into doing things they wouldn't normally have done in the past. I don't think it's from the standpoint that they know they're safer and they're going to take more chances because of that."

IS THERE A GREATER COMFORT LEVEL? "I definitely think so. I feel safer in the car than I did 10 years ago for sure. The carbon seat that I'm in now, none of that was even available 10 years ago. That's one area that obviously we're all very thankful. The sponsors are thankful, the fans are thankful because they don't want to see their drivers that they pull for every week getting hurt."

IS THERE SOMETHING ABOUT A SMALLER TEAM THAT ACTUALLY MAKES IT EASIER WHEN THERE ARE ISSUES OR PROBLEMS THAT YOU MAYBE WOULDN'T HAVE HAD AT A BIGGER TEAM? "Yeah, I think there is in our situation because we're not trying to build our own chassis, we're not trying to build our own engines. Just physically the amount of people that we have is much, much less. It's fractional compared to what it was at Gibbs or what it is at Hendrick's. If you have a problem a lot of times it ends of being a smaller problem than it is in a bigger company. By the time you figure out you've got a problem it's a lot larger than it would have been with a smaller group of people. So it's easier to kind of get these guys one on one off to the side and make sure that everybody is on the same page before you get yourself in any type of drama like that."

WOULD PHOENIX BE YOUR BEST TRACK IN THE CHASE AND IF NOT WHAT IS? 'What's the 10 races in the Chase? Remind me of all of them. I would say Phoenix is one of them for sure. I mean I know we've got Talladega, Homestead. New Hampshire we were good. Martinsville we were good. I'm not sure I've thought about it. Still you've got to be good at all 10 of them and that's why we're focusing on whatever track we are at that week. Phoenix is one obviously we ran really good at in the spring. I feel like Martinsville we were decent and we can be better than what we were this last time. I feel like there's a lot of races in the Chase that we can be good."

PEOPLE ARE SAYING THE CHASE IS GOING TO BE SHAPING UP TO A YOU VERSES JIMMIE (JOHNSON) BATTLE OR AT LEAST PEOPLE ARE SAYING ITS GOING TO BE A HENDRICK OR STEWART_HAAS DRIVER, DO YOU FEEL THAT WAY AND DO YOU FEEL LIKE THER'S REALLY ANYBODY OUTSIDE YOUR ORGANZIATIONS LIKE A KASEY KAHNE OR DENNY HAMLIN THAT CAN COME U P AND COMPETE WITH YOU GUYS? "It's hard to not sit here and say that Jeff (Gordon) and Jimmie (Johnson) and Mark (Martin) aren't the favorites at this point, at least in my opinion. I feel like we're right there but Jimmie's history speaks for itself and so does Jeff's. Mark's performance this year has been phenomenal so it's hard to not consider those three guys in the favorites. You look at somebody like Denny (Hamlin), he's a guy that can come in there and put 10 weeks together. I don't think you can count anybody out from Roush. When it comes time for the Chase it seems like they always have their game picked up and they aren't going to just lay there and watch somebody else take it away. That's the hardest thing about it you never know who's going to be the factor. We've seen it to where after the first week, guys fates are determined because of something of misfortune. It's not so much how strong they were but how much the variables that they can't control can contribute."

WHAT WAS THE FIRST CAR YOU EVER HAD WHEN YOU WERE 16 YEARS OLD? IF YOU COULD NOT RACE AT ALL, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING? "I wouldn't be foot racing because I'm too lazy for that. Probably be sitting and watching a lot of softball and base ball games in town. That seemed to be the only other thing I did in Columbus other than racing. The first car I had I wasn't even 16, I was 17. My parents wouldn't let me have my license when I was 16 which was probably a very smart decision on their part. I paid $350 for a 1979 Plymouth Volare was the first car that I had. It was used as a mail route car in the country. That was my very first car. I think Dustin Long owns it now and drives it every day (laughter)."

BESIDES GETTING MORE SLEEP AT NIGHT WHAT ELSE DO YOU CONTRIBUTE TO THE SUCCESS YOU'RE HAVING AND IN GENERAL A LOT OF PEOPLE HERE ARE HAVING A HARD TIME AFFORDING TO COME OUT AND THEY'RE DOING IT ANYWAY, WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY TO THOSE FANS THAT ARE STILL COMING? "It's not only here. It's every week. The whole nation has been affected by the economy so it's not only just being here in Michigan and the people that come out its everywhere we go. It's just like Monday in Watkins Glen, you know there was a lot of those people that were probably scheduled to work on Monday and chose to stay and watch the NASCAR race. That's impressive. It shows you what this sport means to a lot of people and that's why they keep coming every week. We're appreciative of those people.

"It's honestly just good people. That' the biggest factor to our success. It doesn't matter whether you're in the entertainment industry with T.V. or what company you have if you're liked. It's about being surrounded by good people and having the right people in the right position to do the right things. When you do that and you feel like you've got that in place that gives you the peace of mind that you're not stressed out at the end of the day. I'm happy. I'm proud and feel like we've got a group of good people. I feel like we've got those key people in the right places and with that instead of being nervous at the end of the day I'm proud at the end of the day and that lets me be able to shut everything down at the end of the day and do what I want to do."

ON THE START AND PARK TEAMS. "It's a tough situation because you wish that every week you had 43 healthy teams that worried about going out and racing. Unfortunately with the economy the way it is its hard enough to just get a full field. The unfortunate part is the start and park guys are the guys that can't afford to buy all the tires to run the full race and can't afford to rebuild an engine after two weeks. So if they can start and park and make it five races on that engine it's a necessary evil for a lot of those people just to stay afloat. I guess the way I look at it it's not the most advantageous position for us to be in as a series but I would rather see at least the 43 cars start the race than only have 34 or 36 teams that are healthy and can afford to race and have these empty spots at the end of the day before we get started. You kind of have to understand what they're doing. They're still trying to make a living and right now it's hard enough just to do that for a lot of people. It's really hard to hold it against them."

ARE YOU GOING TO GO TO KNOXVILLE ON SATURDAY AND CAN YOU TALK ABOUT MARIO ANDRETTI MAKING HIS FIRST VISIT TO THE RACE TRACK? "I haven't decided. My plan was to try to go Saturday. We're going to see how we deal with this weekend here. Today has been pretty good so far and if I can make through practice without crashing I might go tomorrow night again.

"Having Mario there was awesome. The celebration of his Indy 500 win 40 years ago and to have STP on the car. We got the gold wheels on the car and the day glow red. It's pretty cool to be able to bridge that gap between Indy Car racing and winged sprint car racing at Knoxville. We did a really neat Q&A session with Mario upstairs at the Hall of Fame museum. We had a lot of people laughing and he had some awesome stories to tell. Probably the coolest part of the day was when we got to go in a pickup truck and I got to sit in the back and Donny Schatz took Mario for a ride. We had the guy from STP with us and the guy from Sprint Car Midget magazine. Then they switched places and Mario got in the car. Donny was kind of just trying to be nice and careful and smooth and kind of show Mario where we ran. Mario gets in there and clicked the seat belt and threw it in drive and floored it right away and was sliding around in a pick-up truck. I'm sitting there in the right rear going I don't know if I want to be the first guy to hit the fence here not driving. It was fun. It was neat to see Mario take the time out of his schedule to come do that. You could see in his eyes that he was genuinely excited about it and proud of the car. That was a place he never ran, Knoxville and he ran a ton of dirts that most people didn't realize. That was one of the tracks that he never got to go around. So it was neat to at least ride in the truck with him while he got to go around there for the first time."

WITH THE SUCCESS THAT YOU'VE GOT THIS YEAR BEING A TEAM OWNER AND BRINGING ON RYAN NEWMAN, ANY CHANCE OF ADDING A THRID VEHICLE FOR NEXT YEAR? "It's something we would like to do but I think we're getting into the part of the season that we're not really far enough along to with any leads to say that it will happen. I doubt seriously it will happen for next year. That doesn't mean we're not looking at it. It doesn't mean we're not entertaining the idea. We just don't have any opportunities right now that are even remotely solid enough to build anything for next year. We're kind of getting to the time frame where it's getting a little late to try to do that."

TWO-THIRDS OF THE WAY THROUGH THE SEAOSN COULD YOU LOOK AT WHAT THE CHALLENGE WOULD HAVE BEEN TO CREATE A NEW TEAM IF IT WAS DONE FROM SCRATCH? "I never would have considered it in the first place. That's why this was the right opportunity for us. It was an existing deal. The headaches to try to build it from square one would have been impossible for me. I wouldn't have been able to take on that challenge. That's why I tell people from the start that Michael Waltrip and Robby Gordon, those guys that have started their own deal from scratch that's what makes them more impressive than what we've done and how we've done it. The model was already there for me it was just inserting people where they had to do it all from scratch."

DUE TO THE ECONOMY ARE YOU MORE IMPRESSED WITH GUYS LIKE TOMMY BALDWIN? "It's kind of the same situation we were talking about with the start and park side. It's all they can do to get here. You think about that. These are guys that have raced and been successful in different aspects of this sport and taking everything they've made in this sport and invested it back in. They very easily could have just walked away and retired but these are guys that are that committed to this series and this sport to want to be a part of it and want to try to make a name for themselves as car owners too. You've got to give those guys a pat on the back for taking that chance and being that committed to this."

YOU'VE WON A CHAMPIONSHIP BY NOT WINNING A RACE IN 2005, DO YOU THINK THAT'S POSSIBLE TO DO THIS YEAR AND CARL EDWARDS HASN'T WON A RACE DO YOU THINK THAT TEAM RUNNING CONSISTENTLY ENOUGH TO BE A SERIOUS THREAT? "I don't know how you can ever count him out. You don't know what they're doing. They may be trying things to get ready for the Chase. You never know what's going on in that situation. As good as they were running last year I don't think you can ever count them out.

"I doubt it's very likely that will happen. It's obviously possible. As long as things are mathematically possible it's possible. But is it likely, not very likely I don't think a guy's going to win the Chase and not win a race."

WITH THE SPEED AT ATLANTA AND AS WELL AS YOU'VE RUN THERE HOW ARE DOUBLE-FILE RESTARTS GOING TO CHANGE THE ACTION AT A FAST TRACK LIKE ATLANTA? "I don't think it will be that huge of an issue. I don't remember did we have that when we ran there? We didn't have it? The good thing is Atlanta is so wide and there's so many grooves there especially when you have new tires guys spread out a lot to move around. I don't think it will be an issue at all. I think it will be just fine. I think that's one of the tracks it will be easier to have a double-file restart."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Michael Waltrip , Robby Gordon , Donny Schatz