TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT/MOBIL 1 CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Atlanta Motor Speedway and discussed racing in Atlanta, what it takes to be successful in Richmond, his team’s search for a competition director and much more.
ON THIS WEEKEND’S RACE. “The good thing is we are on the same tire that we won on here last year so as much as I would like to say we can put the same set up on and have the same result unfortunately technology changes between when we won here last year and now so what we had won’t be good enough we’ll have to try to make it better. It’s at least somewhat comforting knowing we have a package that worked last year and we have an idea of what we need to compete with.”
We’ve got nine days basically to accomplish a goal that’s a year-long goal.
IS THIS KIND OF A LAST DITCH RACE FOR YOU CONSIDERING THE SEASON YOU’VE BEEN HAVING? “I don’t think so. We’re still 21 points to the good of where we need to be so we are in the spot we need to be in we just need to maintain it. So, obviously if we had a win this weekend we wouldn’t have to worry about it next week so it would be a luxury to win the race this week but it’s not a necessity. It could work against us too. It may not work out after Richmond but at least going into this weekend we are where we need to be. Everybody keeps saying last ditch and we have to make something happen, we don’t have to make anything happen we’re in the spot we’re supposed to be in and need to be in to be in the Chase so we just have to not have a disaster happen. We just need two solid weeks.”
HAS YOUR USUAL SUMMER SLICK TRACK COME AND GONE OR DO YOU CONSIDER THIS RACE ON THIS TRACK A HOT-SLICK RACE TRACK? “Yeah, I think we’re still in it. Obviously we haven’t had that big run that we typically have this time of the year but at the same time we’re not out of it yet by any means. We’re still in the hot part of the summer so we’re still in that time of year but we haven’t shown the strength that we typically do in the summer months.”
YOU SEEM PRETTY CALM, HOW WOULD YOU ASSESS THE OVER ALL PROGRAM? “I can’t say that I’m ecstatic where we’re at. I think we have a lot of room to be better than where we are but as a competitor Jimmie Johnson can probably tell you after each of the last five years there was room for improvement too to make their program better so you’re always looking as a competitor to make your program and your system better than what it is. Definitely not happy with where we are at but I don’t think anybody really is, I think everybody feels like there are things they can do better and some of those organizations are questioning what they have to do to get better than what they are. We’re one of those teams right now.”
HOW HARD IS IT TO FIGURE OUT WHAT IT IS? “It just shows how sensitive I think these cars are. The window of getting them right is very, very small verses what we’ve had in the past but that’s what makes it also fun. That’s what makes when you have a good day and you do get it in that window that’s what makes it gratifying knowing you were able to accomplish that goal. It’s the hard part of trying to figure out what you’re missing when you’re off. That’s the frustrating part is when you go week in and week out and you can’t figure out what that missing piece of the equation is. You see guys that have not been good in the past but all of the sudden are good, they’ve found something so its proof that it’s there it’s just our job to go out and find it and capitalize on it.”
AND HOW GOOD ARE YOU AND DARIAN TO BE ABLE TO HANGE THROUGH THAT TOGETHER? “We tested at Phoenix Monday and Tuesday and Darian took all of out to the Bon Durant and we had a great time with each other. We were still joking and carrying on like we always do. It’s stressful. We’ve got nine days basically to accomplish a goal that’s a year-long goal. So the next nine days will be stressful and tense but the good thing is I think of Darian as a brother and I think it’s just like anything else when you get in situations like this. This is when we’ve got to grab on to each other and work harder with each other.”
ARE YOU ABLE TO REFLECT ON THE FACT THAT YOU ARE JUST NINE DAYS AWAY FROM MAYBE HAVING BOTH YOUR TEAM IN THE CHASE? “I would like to but I’m still wanting to accomplish that goal and we’re not locking in until they say we’re locked in so you don’t think about that as much as you would like to. Hopefully we accomplish that goal at Richmond and we’ll have the time to reflect on it then. You know I’m proud of what our organization has done in three years. We had five of six opportunities to be in the Chase, we accomplished that goal and its pretty certain that Ryan, unless he just has major disasters the next two weeks in a row that he’ll be in it again. You know I still think it’s a pretty big accomplishment for our organization to be doing what we’re doing and be in the situation we’re in but being as competitive as we are we’re not satisfied with one car being in there, we want both of them being in.”
DO YOU THINK WHAT YOU AND RYAN HAVE IS CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A CHAMPIONSHIP OUT OF STEWART-HAAS RACING? “I think Ryan has been more consistent and definitely would have a better opportunity than what we have with the No. 14 car right now. The great thing about this sport is it’s a week to week situation. You don’t know that we might find something this week that may all of a sudden fix everything and that’s the hard part about it. Ryan has definitely been consistent. I know they have been very cautious the last five or six weeks making sure they are protecting themselves. You know they feel very confident they can have a good championship run. There’s always a lot of variables that aren’t in your control.”
WHAT MAKES RICHMOND FUN AND CHALLENGING? “It’s the only ¾-mile track that we have and there’s just something about it’s always been a driver’s track I feel like. You always have the ability to move around. We go to a lot of tracks where you can do that but it’s just short enough to have that short-track feel to it but not so short that you’re just stacked on top of each other all day and don’t have somewhere to go. You can always move around and find a spot that makes your car better. It’s just very challenging from the brake side, its challenging from the grip side. I just know as a driver I always enjoyed going to Richmond, it’s a fun track.”
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE SUCCESSFUL THERE? “You know I think as much as you’re racing everybody else you have to race the racetrack. It just seems like a place where if you can get the balance right it makes it an extremely fun day. It’s hard for anybody to get their car with the two ends being different like they are it seems like you’re always fighting something but that’s what always makes the racing good too. You never get really anybody who gets their car perfect. Event the guy that gets the lead still isn’t happy with his car. So it’s really trying to find that balance and trying to figure out how to balance both ends of the track together.”
THE WHITE HOUSE INVITED 12 DRIVERS TO VISIT PRESIDENT OBAMA AND YOU’RE ONE OF THE FIVE THAT SAID YOU HAVE OTHER THINGS TO DO, WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON ALL OF THAT? “We had an obligation that we have to fulfill. I’ve enjoyed every trip that I’ve been invited and very honored to be invited every time we’ve had that opportunity and I’m very sorry I’m going to miss the chance to go again because there’s a lot of people in this nation that would love to have that opportunity to spend time with the President and just have a couple of minutes of his time. I’m very regretful that I’m not going to be able to make it but it’s a tough schedule that we have and if I could have rescheduled and got the scheduling to work out I would have been there in a heartbeat because I’ve not missed one yet.”
CAN YOU SEE HAVING TO TAKE SO MUCH AN ACTIVE PART IN THE BUSINESS END OF THIS THING, DOES THAT DISTRACT FROM YOUR FOCUS? “No, it really doesn’t. That’s why when we did this having 12 years at Joe Gibbs Racing really was a big help in getting us ready to take on an ownership role and driving role at the same time. I learned from Joe a long time ago that you hire the right people to do the right jobs and put the right people in the right positions and you can focus on other things. There’s still parts of it that I have to focus on and have to take care of but I feel like we have a really good staff around us that takes that weight off my shoulders so I can focus.”
GETTING READY FOR THE DANICA PART OF IT, DO YOU HAVE TO SPEND SOME PERSONAL TIME ON THAT PART OF IT? “Absolutely. This has been talked about for months before it was announced obviously so the preparation has already started and there’s been a lot of meetings saying are we capable of doing this, what changes do we have to make, that ball was already in motion so it’s not an added distraction.”
EVERYBODY IS TALKING ABOUT MARK MARTIN SHOULD BE A WALK-IN TO THAT REPLACEMENT JOB, HAVE YOU HAD CONVERSATIONS WITH MARK? “I would love to have him. The biggest thing is us getting the financial backing to run the remainder of those races. I would love nothing more than Mark in all the races that Danica doesn’t run next year. I’ve been a Mark Martin fan for a long time and trust me I would love nothing more than to have Mark in one of our cars.”
SO IF YOU CAN GET SPONSORSHIP HE IS PRETTY CLOSE TO YOUR GUY THEN? “He would be a leading candidate right now for sure.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THIS RACE TRACK, WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO TO BE SUCCESSFUL HERE? “I used to think it was being able to get through the bumps here and I think we’ve seen in the last couple of years that you don’t have to be able to run right on the bottom of the race track. This track is one where tire management is big. You run so fast at the beginning of a run but the pace just falls off so much that you just have to have a car that is hopefully balanced enough on the front of a run that you can take care of it and not have to overdrive the car and wear one end whether it’s the front tires or rear tires out, keeping the balance is key. Most of the guys are going to end up on the top of the race track midway through a run. The biggest part is knowing when to move and being able to have a car that is balanced across the whole race track not just one particular area. That will get you in trouble.”
OBVIOUSLY YOU’VE NEVER HAD A WINLESS SEASON, BUT HAVE YOU EVER GONE THIS DEEP INTO A SEASON WITHOUT A WIN? “I did last year here. I think it was the same thing as what we’re fighting for this weekend. This is the longest I think we’ve went into a season without a win.”
DO YOU EVEN ALLOW YOURSELF TO PREPARE FOR THE POSSIBILITY THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE A WINLESS SEASON? “What do you prepare for that? How do you prepare to try not to have that happen? There’s never any guarantees. You know going into every season there’s no guarantee that you’re going to finish in the top 20 in points, you never know if you’re going to win a race or not win a race but there’s so many variables that change. It would definitely be disappointing if it doesn’t happen but you look at some of the other big name drivers and some of the streaks they’ve had with winless streaks. We’ve kept a pretty good record for the last twelve years in a row of at least winning one race a year so I think we’ve done something that holds a lot of weight and we’ve done a pretty good job over the course of a twelve-year period. If we don’t win a race it’s not going to be the end of the world and it’s not going to be a disaster but it definitely would be a streak that I would hate to see come to an end.”
You can’t just go down to the corner and say I’ll take that competition director off the shelf there. They’re very hard to find.
YOU’VE RACED A LOT OF CARS OVER THE YEARS, THE BATHURST 100 IS LIVE ON SPEED THIS YEAR IS THAT A RACE YOU WOULD LIKE TO RUN SOME DAY? “I’d love to. I’ve been to Australia three times now and talking to the drivers like Gary Rush. It’s a very grueling race but yeah I would love to have that opportunity. I’d love to just have the opportunity to go watch it. While we were over there I saw footage of the supercars and trucks. They just say you can’t get a perspective of what it’s like without going there personally and seeing how big of an elevation change it really is.”
WHAT MAKES THAT RACE SO SPECIAL? “I don’t know. I think you have to ask Marcos to really truly understand it but that’s like our Daytona 500 or Indy 500.”
YOU WERE TALKING EARLIER ABOUT HOW SOME OF THE BIG NAMES HAVNE’T DONE AS WELL AS WE WOULD HAVE THOUGHT, WITH ALL THE CHANGES, IF NASCAR WAS CONSISTENT AND DIDN’T HAVE ALL THESE CHANGES IT WOULD BE A DIFFERENT PICTURE … “Not necessarily. I think as teams are able to have their resources with testing and R&D, even if the rules were the same every year there’s going to be teams that find ways of making it bigger and better than what it is. It seems like you look and there’s a pattern over time where teams leap frog each other. I don’t’ think teams that are on top quit working hard but I think they don’t know how much more they have to strive for. I think that’s why you see that leap frog process. The teams that are behind don’t know how far they are behind but they know they are behind so I think they look for bigger chunks than what teams that are on top do.”
ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC AREAS YOU LOOK AT AND SAY WE ARE DEFICIENT THERE? “We need a competition director right now for sure, that definitely would be a big factor in helping get things going hopefully but I think Matt Borland has done an awesome job of juggling multiple roles. He’s not only had to be the interim competition direction but he’s still the special projects manager and all the things he’s had to do. He’s working three jobs right now so I think all things considering he’s done an awesome job of filling in. Knowing that we’ve struggled this year, I think he’s done a great job of trying to be there and help us get through this time. I’m pretty proud of him. I think if anything it’s kind of been a character builder for us at the same time. There’s negatives and there’s things that we want to be better but at the same time I think it’s shown us some strengths that we have in the organization.”
ANY RETROSPECT ON THE HUTCHENS SITUATION BECAUSE IT’S BEEN A STRUGGLE SINCE HE’S LEFT? “We were struggling before then also but we definitely miss him. Bobby was a big, big variable in helping get Stewart-Haas Racing to what it is and I miss him as a friend from the business side and that’s probably the hardest of it. It’s a lot easier when you just focus on the business side and make your business decisions but Bobby was more than just an employee at Stewart-Haas Racing, he was a friend and I definitely miss him in that role for sure.
“It was the organizations decision. That was the hardest decision for all of us to make. The hard thing is you have to make sure any time you make a decision like that you’re looking out for everybody in the organization and its what we thought was best for the company.”
HOW HARD IS IT TO FIND A COMPETITION DIRECTOR IN THE GARAGE? “We still don’t have one so that’s proof that it’s not as easy as you think. Finding somebody that you trust and has the same direction you want to take your program in and has that work ethic, it’s very hard. A competition director has a lot of weight on their shoulders. When anything is not going right in any department that’s the guy. There’s a lot of weight on their shoulders and that’s not an easy position to fill. You can’t just go down to the corner and say I’ll take that competition director off the shelf there. They’re very hard to find.”
YOU SAID YOU HAD A SCHEDULING CONFLICT WITH THE WHITE HOUSE, WHAT’S GOING ON? “We’re not going to put anybody else under the bus by talking about it but trust me if we could be there we definitely would be there. I’ve always viewed it as an owner to have that opportunity to just have the invitation to go, I’ve enjoyed every trip every time we’ve gone we’ve learned more and more about it. And it’s a pretty cool feeling to be with the most powerful man in the world. That’s not an invitation you take lightly.”
HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU BEEN? “Five times.”