Stewart - Daytona Fan Fest interview, part 1

2009 NASCAR Preseason Thunder Daytona Fan Fest: Friday news conference transcripts An Interview With: TONY STEWART HERB BRANHAM: We're joined by our two time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion, Tony Stewart, this year back in a new team, Stewart...

2009 NASCAR Preseason Thunder Daytona Fan Fest: Friday news conference transcripts

An Interview With:
TONY STEWART

HERB BRANHAM: We're joined by our two time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion, Tony Stewart, this year back in a new team, Stewart Haas Racing, driving No. 14 Chevrolet, Old Spice/Office Depot sponsorship. We're also joined by people on a teleconference, so we'll be coming to questions from that audience, as well. New situation, how does it feel?

TONY STEWART: It's good, it's different for sure, but obviously we're going to do this again in three weeks, and you'll ask me that same question in three weeks, and everybody else will, too. It's going to feel a lot different obviously coming here as an owner and a driver but something that we're looking forward to. We're had a great off season. We have enjoyed everything that we've done with the race team. I went home for about eight days, and after the second day I was wanting to be back at the shop. It's probably been the most exciting off season I think that I can remember having.

Q: Other teams have had developmental programs, and now you as a team owner, what are your plans for a possible driver developmental program? And as a team owner in the Sprint Cup sprint ranks, how do you good about finding the talent for your cars?

TONY STEWART: Honestly, what we've done, and I think we've been really fortunate on the open wheel programs so far, that we're at the situation kind of like a Steve Lewis was and Wilke's and Bobby's, as far as we've got to the point where drivers are going through your careers in open wheel ranks, it's kind of been a distinction which is a huge honor to us. Most of the guys that we've had come through our system now is guys that have been in sprint car racing so literally you have a chance to watch them. It's not guys that you kind of plan early in their career and you say, okay, we're going to watch this guy and get him in our system. We've been able to watch guys come into midget car racing and watch them from there.

On a driver development side, I just want to keep my job right now as a driver. I'm not sure we're really worrying about that. I think Ryan and I are planning on being here a while and haven't really worried about that yet. We're more concerned with making sure we get the two teams up and going and get the performance that we want out of them first before we're going to worry about that.

Q: How irritated are you to have to be here with us tonight instead of at the Chili Bowl, particularly with the way Tracy ran last night?

TONY STEWART: Oh, gosh, that's an easy answer to answer. I'm missing it tonight. Levi is running at Chili Bowl tonight so I'm trying to keep my cell phone close to figure out how he's running.

Q: Where your teams are somewhere and you're teams are somewhere else, how do you find yourself wondering how they're doing, seeking information, and as you look ahead to Speed Weeks '09 as a car owner and driver, how much of a challenge is it going to be to separate that owner's role from a driver's role?

TONY STEWART: Real easy. Once we leave on the airplane to leave North Carolina I put the driver hat on. Still go watch my open wheel teams like I always do. I think that's the great thing the way we've got it set up now is that when I show up at the racetrack all I have to worry about is driving. We've got a good system with Bobby Hutchins and the two crew chiefs involved I don't have to worry about being a car owner.

When it comes to all the open wheel teams on the weekends when we're racing we've come up with a pretty good system over the years with those guys, somebody on the team, whether it's the PR department or whatever is sending me messages every event letting me know how the heat races went, if there's a caution in the main event they're letting me know exactly what's going on as it's happening. Even though I'm distanced from the other teams while they're on the road, I still get the updates and know what's going on, and it really works out good for us because I'm in the motor coach. We have that opportunity to spend a lot of time focusing on what's going on at Eldora and Macon and Paducah and with the race teams. We get that opportunity and luxury of being able to check in and get the reports from those guys as it's happening.

Q: What's your reaction to the rule change that gets you into the shootout, and how is that going to help you prepare for the 500?

TONY STEWART: I get more time on the track with a new crew chief and a new car and package. We're obviously very excited about it. It's one more race and that much more exposure that Office Depot and Old Spice get. It's really a big benefit to us being able to work with each other and get one more race under our belt before we get to the 500 a week later. We're very, very excited that that came out.

Q: Given the way the economy is going, did you pick a good time or a bad time to go into Sprint Cup ownership business? And also, do you at some point plan to start your own engine program?

TONY STEWART: I think that's where the demise of Daryl Waltrip's team came in is when I decided to do that. We've got a great partnership with Hendrick Motorsports and they've got if not the best engine program one of the best engine programs out there, and it always has been. Don't take something that's not broke and try to fix it, definitely. We don't plan on doing that.

You know, I feel like everything is exactly where it needs to be right now. I mean, we're a little bit behind on getting cars built, but I feel like having that luxury of not having to worry about an engine program right now is helping us get caught up, and having Hendrick chassis, all we have to do is hang our bodies right now. We're kind of in a good situation of not havi, ng to worry about those two variables and just focusing on building the cars.

Q: How about the economy?

TONY STEWART: I don't know that we really had a choice on that. This was an opportunity that picked us. We didn't go out and pick it. But I think it shows that timing is everything. I mean, we were able to secure our sponsorships with Office Depot and Old Spice and then getting Ryan signed and having the U.S. Army come on board his car makes me really proud as an owner that we were able to get all that done before the bottom fell out of the economy right now.

Q: Coming off about a month, I was wondering if you could share your greatest Daytona 500 memory with us, whether it be a race you participated in as a driver or one that you watched growing up as a spectator? And also, if you are fortunate enough to win the 500, what are the chances now that you're in the Office Depot car that we'll see you do a backflip afterward?

TONY STEWART: You can put all your money on no backflips. Not going to happen. Not unless I want to go to the hospital and be in traction for two or three months.

You know, I'm trying to remember what the first part of the question now was.

Q: Memories.

TONY STEWART: Obviously I don't have a memory; I can't remember what the question was (laughter).

You know, I think probably still it was watching I remember the race that Dale Earnhardt lost on the last corner of the last lap with a flat tire, and I remember Daryl Waltrip winning his first race and watching Dale Earnhardt Senior get his win. Those are probably the three that stand out the most. I think every one of them is memorable. Obviously Dale Jarrett with Joe Gibbs Racing; Petty, Pearson; Allison and Yarborough at the end of the back stretch with the fistfight and everything. There's so many huge memories of this event that it's really hard to pick one. I mean, they're all special in their own way, and we're obviously in different times. They're all pretty cool.

Q: I wanted to kind of follow up there. Given the state of the economy, could you imagine having to put together a team like starting right now?

TONY STEWART: From scratch, no, definitely not. You know, you would have to own a company that's doing well to probably do that right now, and I think we were I was in a very fortunate position to be offered an opportunity with Haas CNC racing to join their operation and help hopefully build it. I don't think if it were not for an opportunity like this, I don't think that we would have had this opportunity altogether, let alone with the economy the way it is now.

Q: You're involved in so many different kinds of racing as a team owner. What's the atmosphere now like around Charlotte, around Indy in terms of people that work for the racing industry? Are you getting a lot of resumes from people? Are you surprised how many people are out of work right now?

TONY STEWART: I am surprised, actually. I never thought that we would see the fallout of employees that we have being released from teams, not only from the Charlotte area, but like you said, in Indianapolis, whether it's drag race teams, IndyCar teams. I mean, the economy has really hurt all of motorsports. But I guess that's probably been the one thing that's been positive for us is when it came to look at hiring more people and better people, it kind of gave us a buffet atmosphere almost being able to look for people because there were so many of them available. That was the positive to the negative from our situation was being able to have that many people that were looking for jobs that we could sort through and pick the people that we thought were right for the program.

Q: Now that you're the owner in a Cup Series, have you seen any surprises, something that you never thought, maybe came out of left field that you hadn't anticipated, or is it because you've owned cars in other series that everything is pretty much status quo?

TONY STEWART: Probably the biggest thing that I've seen is that I actually can get up at 6:00 o'clock in the morning. I did that Wednesday when we had to fly down to New Smyrna to test. I didn't realize that there was actually a 6:00 a.m. until this year. That was a shock. The rest of it, I have to be honest, I'm not sure that anything has been a big shock or surprise. I think I had the mindset that I had a lot to learn and that I didn't know and don't know everything that I need to know about being a car owner yet but that if we were able to hire the right people that I would learn as we went, and that's what we've been able to do so far. Bobby Hutchins is a great mentor to me right now, and being able to learn from him, just so many little details that are very easy to overlook, and those are things that he has brought to the program already that's given me a lot of piece of mind. It's letting me get more sleep now again and allowing me to focus on being a driver and an owner instead of just worrying about being an owner right now.

Q: I was just wondering, it seems to be a dominant theme of change coming up for the '09 season. I was wondering, has there been any change that's been more difficult to adjust to so far?

TONY STEWART: It hasn't been for me. This is definitely the single largest change I've had in my life. But like I say, it's something that I've even been surprised at how much I've enjoyed it so far. I thought that even though we were going to be busy through the off season, and I knew that going into it, that I'd want to be away and get away from it a little bit more than I have during the off season. But I've really absolutely enjoyed being in Charlotte all the time. I've enjoyed being at the shop, seeing our guys and seeing how it's progressing. I mean, it's really been a fun transition. I'm comfortable with it, which is kind of surprising. It makes me think of the beginning of the end is coming or something.

But I really like being around our guys. I'm really enjoying watching a group of people that have never worked with each other start working with each other and learn each other, learn me, and for me to learn the system of how my role has changed in this series. So that has been it's made this an extremely short off season because it's went by really quick, but it's not been because it's been dragging on me or tugging me back. It's really been a lot of fun to be a part of this process, and I think it's going to make coming to Daytona here even be that much more gratifying when we get here.

Q: Could you just talk about tonight and being here? Ryan Newman said the thunder is kind of gone from Preseason Thunder, but it's cold outside, the fans are lined up. I don't know if you've seen the lines or not, but could you talk about that?

TONY STEWART: It's cool. Obviously that's something that with preseason testing being canceled, this event is really important to get us connected with our fans again after a long off season, or short off season I should say. But that's what makes tonight so important, to have that opportunity to be with our fans again before we get here in three weeks to start racing. None of us tonight are worried about shocks and springs and sway bars and all those things that we'll be worried about when we come back here in a couple weeks. Tonight it's about being here with our fans, and that's something that I think we've all been looking forward to is getting back to our core group.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Jarrett , Ryan Newman
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing