NASCAR Teleconference - Tony Stewart March 31. 2009 An interview with: TONY STEWART DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you and welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference in advance of this weekend's events at Texas Motor Speedway.
NASCAR Teleconference - Tony Stewart
March 31. 2009
An interview with:
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you and welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference in advance of this weekend's events at Texas Motor Speedway. We're pleased today to be joined by two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Old Spice Office Depot Chevrolet for his own first-year team, Stewart-Haas Racing. Tony will also be doing double duty at Texas. He'll drive the No. 33 Armor-All Chevrolet Impala SS for KHI. He comes into Sunday's Samsung 500 seventh in the series standings and comes off a third-place finish this past Sunday at Martinsville.
Tony, things are obviously advancing well for your new team. This past Sunday both you and your other team's driver, Ryan Newman, finished in the top 10 for the first time this season. Can you talk about how this group is coming together as an organization.
TONY STEWART: I'm really proud. I mean, obviously to get our first top five was something that we were really proud of. But at the same time, you know, we had a pretty uneventful day from our standpoint. But, you know, Ryan, he had a long way to go from starting 27th to get up to 6th. I was really proud of him of and his effort and everybody on the U.S. Army team. Between the U.S. Army team and the Old Spice Office Depot team, I thought we had a great day as an organization.
DENISE MALOOF: As you go through the next several weeks, I know you're probably very encouraged for both teams.
TONY STEWART: Absolutely. I don't think any of us knew exactly when this organization was really going to start hitting its stride and start clicking. But it has right off the bat from Daytona on. I mean, obviously with Ryan's side, we had four weeks of bad luck in a row before he got on track. But he's had a 7th- and a 6th-place run consecutively. We had three 8th-place runs in our first four races.
I feel like we're really getting on track. I think it's clicked a little sooner than we all anticipated it would.
DENISE MALOOF: We'll now go to media questions for Tony Stewart.
Q: Tony, now that you're six races into your new role as owner/driver, could you tell us, even if it was during a yellow flag lap, you have caught yourself thinking more as an owner than a driver?
TONY STEWART: I haven't. I mean, I think the reason for that is we've been really good about knowing, even before the race, once Friday starts that I switch that hat over and I strictly stay in driver mode. You know, I catch myself worrying sometimes about where Ryan is, you know, with some of the bad luck he had early in the year, a couple of races I would ask where he was at. But, you know, that's probably the only difference between what I normally would do and what we're doing now.
I mean, now that I've got Ryan as a teammate, and as his car owner, I'm a little more curious about where he's at sometimes during the race than I have been in the past with other teammates.
But, you know, there's other times that I've had teammates and have asked where they were at, too. But I think a little bit more of it on the cautions now because I am a car owner. For the most part, I stay strictly in that driver mode and concentrating on what I've got to do to get to the front.
Q: Now that you have these expanded business relationships, have you felt any need or pressure to not get involved in the controversies that come along during race weekends?
TONY STEWART: Not at all. I mean, I think, if anything, it's made me feel like I could get involved in them if I chose to.
But, you know, I think I focus more on what I got to do to work with a new crew chief during the weekends. Last couple years we've been a little better, with the exception of the Goodyear controversy last year, and that wasn't in an effort to get in a debate with them as much as it was just a response to try to get 'em to make something better.
I think they've done a good job with that this year. But, you know, it's been easy to kind of stay out of the controversy. We've got enough stuff to keep us busy that I think it's a little better to put it all in perspective and realize that some of those controversies aren't worth the time and effort.
Q: Tony, you know what it's like to be an owner. Can you imagine having to build a Cup team from scratch, like Michael Waltrip Racing, and have you noticed an improvement from that team?
TONY STEWART: Definitely seen a great improvement. With Reutimann and Marcos, they have had two great weekends in a row. It's been easy to see the improvement there. I can't honestly imagine building an organization from scratch. With this opportunity with Haas Automation, the opportunity we've had there, if we had to start from scratch, I don't think we would have tried to take that kind of a task on.
But, you know, we got an opportunity to come into an organization that already had pieces in place. It was just a matter of, you know, getting the right people in the right places. And I think that made it to where it was, you know, a realistic option for us.
But to start from scratch, I don't think I would have tried to take that on.
Q: To see where the 20 car is now, having driven that for so long, do you kind of feel for it? Has he called you up for comfort?
TONY STEWART: He hasn't. But I feel bad for those guys because I know they deserve better than that. It's just a matter of time before Joey hits his stride. He's got a lot of talent. That's why he's in that car. It's just a matter of getting used to it.
You know, I've been over there, so I know there's nothing wrong with that organization, there's nothing wrong with that team. It's just a matter of them getting Joey some more seat time and getting him used to being in a Cup car full-time.
He's more than capable of doing it. He's going to hit his stride soon. You can see his confidence building every week.
Q: Going back to your car owner and businessman role. How competitive are you, how much rush or feeling of satisfaction do you get out of having a business success?
TONY STEWART: I can remember when we won our first World of Outlaw race in 2001 when we started a team, how proud I was then to be a car owner. I think that's kind of what has led us to today.
It is. I mean, I was proud of our guys. I've left Martinsville after a third-place finish and left mad 'cause I knew we had a shot at winning the race or a shot at at least a better finish than a third. This weekend a third was like a win to us. A year from now it won't necessarily be like that. I think we'll constantly adjust the yardstick as far as where we expect to be.
But six races in, to have a top-three run like that, then to find out Ryan had a 6th-place run, I felt that was an awesome accomplishment for a young team to be able to do that in just six races.
You constantly adjust that. You know, you sit there and I think you have to keep it in perspective. That's where the car owner side of knowing where we're starting, what we're up against. I like that success. I like that feeling when we have a good day. The success isn't just necessarily measured by wins, it's also measured by measuring yourself up against the competition and to know the teams that we were up against and that we're up against every week, but to know that in six weeks we've been able to get right in the middle of those teams, that's something that we're really proud of.
Q: I guess that still doesn't compare to winning a race yourself as a driver.
TONY STEWART: It does, but it doesn't. I mean, obviously a win is more kind of an individual feeling, whereas a team owner you're happy for the whole organization. I think being a car owner has helped put it in perspective, that it's not just a personal accomplishment. You always know it's a team effort. But when you're at that shop as much as we are and when you're there to build this organization and to see these people come in from all these different great teams, and to see it grow, I mean, it makes that satisfaction of watching it grow that much greater.
Q: I want to ask you about Darian. You spent 10 years with Zipadelli. Does it feel like you have broken each other in yet?
TONY STEWART: I think so. Every week we have spent more time with each other. The one thing that's happened from day one is we felt very comfortable around each other, you know, just in casual conversation. So from that side, it's been really easy.
You know, at the racetrack, obviously it's taken me a little bit of time to get used to his package, the cars that we're bringing to the racetrack. But every week that we go out and have a good run, I gain that much more confidence in him, in that relationship that we have, with the communication just getting stronger and stronger each week.
I think we're getting to the point where, you know, we're starting to narrow that gap down of, you know, just saying, Well, it's a little loose. How much is 'a little'? That's things that just takes time to get through those stages.
But I feel like Darian and I are having a lot of success in that category and are getting more comfortable with each other each week.
Q: From the owner's perspective, there's been everything in the news about the government getting involved with GM, everything else. How, if any, do you think that's going to impact the sport?
TONY STEWART: Well, I don't know honestly. I know that talking to the people at Chevrolet they're very committed to the racing program. They realize the value of it with not only the rest of corporate America but what it does to our nation. It still goes back to 'win on Sunday, sell on Monday.' This is a sport that's been good for the auto industry and vice versa.
I do know how committed they are. I also know how committed they are to ensuring that all of General Motors is going to be successful in the future. I mean, they're working really hard to make it the best company they can. We've seen their car lineup. They've got some great products coming out that are going to be good for our economy. Like the E85, for example, trying to cut back on greenhouse emissions and everything. They're working really hard.
I know it's a tough time for them, but they're very committed to not only the racing product, but also the products that they build for the Americans out there in tough times. I'm very confident that the racing side is going to be fine.
How it's affected, I think only time will tell. But talking to the people at GM, I mean, they're very committed to this program and understand the value of the racing side.
Q: Tony, you have an average finish at Texas of 13.2. In the last eight races since the data was started with NASCAR, the loop data, you have a driver rating at Texas of 103.1, which is third best. I'm wondering how you would look at that data and your performance potentially at Texas, given you're on a new team, in a new car?
TONY STEWART: Well, I think we're pretty comfortable with it right now in all honesty. I mean, we've been to California, which was two-mile. We've been to Vegas, a mile-and-a-half. I feel like our superspeedway program is really good. Our mile-and-a-half package is really good, even though we've really ran one of 'em.
I've got a lot of confidence going into this weekend. Texas is a track that I really enjoy. It's a lot of fun. I feel like we're gonna have a good run this weekend. I have that gut feeling. I don't have any facts other than just my gut to support it on right now. But I've been comfortable everywhere we've been with this new package that Darian's brought. I feel like this weekend we'll fall right in line with that.
Q: You wouldn't look at your driver rating. If people were to look at how you might finish there, being in a different car, manufacturer. You as the driver are ranked third best right now.
TONY STEWART: I'll be honest, I don't even know what that driver ranking is, to be perfectly honest (laughter). It's nice to know that we're ranked third right there. You know, I think it doesn't matter. You could be ranked first. When you show up, if you're not comfortable in your car, your car's not good, it doesn't matter how good your ranking is.
Like I say, it's a track that I enjoy. It's a track we've always got around well in. I'm looking forward to being there in our Office Depot Old Spice car. Looking forward to driving for Kevin and DeLana in the Nationwide Series this weekend.
Q: I wanted to find out from you in the big bustle and hustle of the preseason getting your team ready if you sat down and had a set of goals for your team? If so, where are you guys with those goals right now?
TONY STEWART: Honestly, we didn't. I mean, we go to the racetrack with the attitude that we're going to try to get a hundred percent out of whatever we've got that weekend. I think when we sat down early in the year, you look at everything on paper, and it's supposed to be successful. All the pieces are in place. I feel like all the right people are there, all the right tools are there. So on paper it's supposed to work. It's just a matter of how soon are all the personalities going to click with each other. You start building momentum.
I think that's something that we've had happen right away. So I'm not really sure that we set a goal. But I think we feel like we've got a lot of momentum on our side. Obviously coming from a 3rd- and 6th-place run, the whole organization is on a big momentum swing going into Texas this weekend. Ryan has had two great weekends in a row and we've had a great start to the season ourselves. I feel like we got a lot of momentum and I feel like we expect big things this weekend.
Continued in part 2