Continued from part 1 Q: You're getting a fair amount of help from Hendrick Motorsports. Did you have a chance to talk with Rick, since all of those six cars are in the top 10? TONY STEWART: Yeah, I did. I think he was really happy.
Continued from part 1
Q: You're getting a fair amount of help from Hendrick Motorsports. Did you have a chance to talk with Rick, since all of those six cars are in the top 10?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I did. I think he was really happy. Obviously it was his 25th anniversary of his first win. That was a big win for him at Martinsville this past weekend, something he was very happy about. You know, he called us and we weren't even to the airport yet, called to congratulate us, when he was the one in reality that won the race. It just shows how supportive he is of our program, how much we appreciate that support from him.
Q: I was thinking the starts you've had, must be a real morale booster back at the shop. It's no longer just a theory on paper; you actually have the results to show for it. I would think that would be really be a boost for the people at the shop coming in on Monday morning.
TONY STEWART: It is. You know, perfect example was yesterday. We have our competition meetings on Monday. Ryan and I are both there, both the crew chiefs. Bobby Hutchins, our competition director is there. The atmosphere at the shop was unbelievable. Since I've joined that organization, I've not seen everybody in such a good mood and the morale so high. It's a good feeling. You're kind of like a proud father when you walk through there and you see all the people that are working for you be so excited about what's going on and be that happy about a weekend.
You know, it is. It's a really gratifying feeling going in there, seeing these guys happy. Some of them, that's the best finish they've ever had. So it's nice to be able to say you're the guy that's helped them get that.
But you look at them at the same time and say, We're not settling just for third. That's not a win for us. We want to win races, win championships, and hopefully that's just scratching the surface of what this team's capable of in the future.
Q: Is it too early or is it just about time for people to kind of size up where everybody is? Three or four races in, people are saying so-and-so is out of the championship, this guy is a shoo-in. Where does it stand for you? Is this about the time you think to size things up for your team, for the championship?
TONY STEWART: I think it's starting to shape up, at least who has the opportunity to be in the Chase. I'm not sure it's an accurate assessment of who's a championship contender or not. I think by now we're all starting to get an idea of who the contenders to be in the Chase are.
It's the usual list of suspects, with a couple changes so far. But I think the next couple weeks still really solidify who those people are. I mean, this will be the second mile-and-a-half we've been to, so I'm not sure that if you had one bad weekend at Vegas, you can say, They don't have a shot because they had a bad race on the first mile-and-a-half track.
I think the next probably three or four weeks will be an indication of who those people are really going to be that are really solid to be in the Chase this year. But I'm not sure we can say who the champion's going to be yet.
Q: Towards your team, I know you said you didn't necessarily have a set of goals, we need to accomplish this and this, but did you have a time frame where you were going to sit back and say, I'd like to at least see this or that at this time?
TONY STEWART: No. I think the reality of that is with our meetings on Monday we assess what happened during the weekend, make the assessment of what we could have done better, what we did right, what we saw from other teams that we might be able to use to make ourselves better.
I think it's been more on a week-to-week basis versus a time frame of saying this is where we feel like we have to be, going from that standpoint. I don't know that we really put a time frame on it as much as we know that we just want to make improvement each weekend.
As long as we're going forward, that process may be longer or shorter than we all anticipate, but as long as it's making forward progress, I think we're all happy right now.
Q: Your team's relationship with Hendrick Motorsports. Hendrick cars have lost the last four consecutive races at Phoenix International Raceway. Looking ahead to that, have you gotten any feedback from Darian or the Hendrick people how you're anticipating your cars will be there?
TONY STEWART: We haven't. I think the first time that we go to all these racetracks, it's kind of a wait-and-see. What works for Jeff and Jimmie and Mark Martin and Dale Jr. isn't necessarily a telltale that that's gonna work for us. It's more of a reference of a place to start than it is necessarily a destination on our setup.
You know, we're looking forward to it. I mean, I don't know that I've got a great answer for you on that. I know that we're excited about it. Darian's confident going into every racetrack we've been to so far. He's been very confident with where we're starting with our setups. Because of that success we've had, I'm comfortable with it also.
Q: On the FOX prerace show last Sunday, Darrel Waltrip said the fact that Darian is no longer at Hendrick, he cited that as one of the reasons potentially for Dale Jr.'s struggles this year. Would you have any comment on that?
TONY STEWART: I honestly wouldn't know because I wasn't there last year with those two. I don't know what the situation is where Dale Jr. there. Everybody can speculate and everybody can guess. But I think it's unfair to point a finger in any general direction unless you're in the middle of that organization and are there firsthand to see all the pieces of that equation each week.
Q: There's been satellite teams like yours for years, but you are up there as far as being successful. What are you doing different or better than other teams?
TONY STEWART: I don't know honestly (laughter). It's the first time I've done this. You know, I feel like the biggest key to making all this work is having the right key people in the right places and having the right tools in place.
I feel like Haas Automation, Haas CNC Racing did a great job of building a foundation long before I got there. I can't take credit for all of it. I think what we were able to do, what I brought to the table, was helping to attract some other people that they weren't able to attract in the past that helped make the difference and take it from a team that, you know, kind of was so-so to now a team that can run in the top 10 I feel like consistently.
You know, that's all I really feel that I've done. I don't think that it's been magic from our side. I think we have great resources and I feel like that we've really been able through Bobby Hutchins, Darian Grubb and Tony Gibson to assemble two groups of people to work on two teams and at the shop to have made the difference. We only lost 20 people from Haas Racing last year, and we added 50 people since then. So there's 50 new people to the organization, but 30 more than what they had before. I think those 50 people we brought in with the existing group have really turned out to be a group of people that have meshed well and grown well and really are focused on accomplishing the goals like what we had this past weekend.
Q: Is there a discernible difference driving a Toyota to a Chevy?
TONY STEWART: It is feeling-wise. It's not so much physically as much as it is in your mind. I'm proud to be back in an American car. That being said, I mean, the physical part of it is it's a motor difference really and decal package. You know, there's that feeling and pride of knowing that you're in an American car, that we're out there racing with some of the best manufacturers in the world. So that sense of pride is the biggest difference.
Q: You had a good run at Atlanta a few weeks ago. Atlanta and Texas look kind of the same. What is the difference between the two tracks and your approach at Texas this weekend?
TONY STEWART: They're night and day, in all honesty. I'm not sure that everybody realizes, even though if you looked at the top of the tracks, there's shaped almost identical. But Texas is built quite a bit different than Atlanta is and Charlotte. What most people don't realize is the bottom of the racetrack, the apron, is paved all the way to the inside wall. That's different to what you see at Atlanta, Charlotte, some of these other places. The reason, that's what the IndyCar track was supposed to be. IndyCars were intended to run on the apron. That was going to be their racetrack. The transitions going into the corners and coming off the corners are a little more abrupt and later. The banking comes in a lot later, then it falls off a lot earlier than we have at the other tracks. That's to accommodate what was going to be the IndyCar track. That poses its own unique challenges.
But obviously the grip level at Atlanta is a lot less than what we have at Texas, too. But that's what makes Atlanta so much fun. But, you know, Texas every year that we go through, it's getting better and more worn in to where the groove moves around the racetrack and cars are running from the bottom to the top. At least from a drivers standpoint, we enjoy that part of it. We enjoy not having to be line committed. Helps us out on the aero side. We can help ourselves out as drivers versus just being stuck behind somebody.
Q: You're doing the Nationwide race on Saturday. Because of the cars are so different, is it beneficial anymore? Can you learn stuff Saturday to take with you on Sunday?
TONY STEWART: I don't think you learn a ton. I mean, you might learn some stuff air pressure-wise. Aside from that, as far as the actual setup of the chassis, they're night and day different now between the two series. I don't think you learn as much as you used to.
Q: Some might have doubted your move to ownership. Looking at your experience as a Sprint Cup team owner and your proven ability to adjust, that's erased some doubts. Did you have any doubts or were you eager to apply that ability to adjust then and use it going forward?
TONY STEWART: I was eager. I mean, I don't think if I didn't have the background of ownership with the USAC side, the World of Outlaw teams, I don't think I would have been as comfortable making the adjustment to the Cup side. But it's having a great owner like Joe Gibbs that I learned from for 12 years, being in his organization, having that experience at a smaller level.
I think total between the USAC operation and the World of Outlaw teams, I don't think I have 15 people total there between those four teams. Down in Charlotte with the Cup team, we have 150 people. It's at a much larger level obviously.
With that, I think I learned a little bit at the beginning with my open-wheel teams that have led to this. Having somebody like Joe Gibbs, to use his experience as a template for what to do, I used it building our open-wheel programs. Once we started having success there, that gave me the confidence that I might be able to make it work at this level, too.
Q: Have there been any big surprises for you?
TONY STEWART: Not yet. I know there's going to be. It just hasn't happened in the first six weeks. I'm sure that something's gonna happen and the next time somebody asks me that question, I'm sure there's going to be something that has come up. So far it's been really nice and smooth, which has been the good part about it.
Q: I know it's early in the season, your focus is obviously on building and improving the 14 and 39 teams for this year. Have you given any thought about the possibility of expanding maybe in the off-season, considering some of the early successes you've had? Are you content going into next year with a two-car organization?
TONY STEWART: I'm not sure we've got that far yet. Obviously when we had our first meetings with Joe Custer, he filled us in on their intentions to be a four-car team eventually.
My opinion on it right now is I don't want us to try to expand until we get two cars really successful. I don't want to expand till we know that they both have an opportunity to win a championship. Once we get to that point, then I feel comfortable expanding the operation.
It's crawl before you walk, walk before you run. That's kind of my mentality with it right now, is that we don't need to add until we make sure we've got these first two teams - not one, but both teams - capable of running for a championship each year.
I don't know that it will happen for next year. Right now I want to make sure that I give Ryan and myself the best opportunity to run for a championship that we can have. I don't know that diluting it to a three- or four-car operation is the best thing for us right now.
Q: Can you describe the difference in your satisfaction level of having Ryan in the top 10 there with you this past week?
TONY STEWART: It's kind of been a mixed emotion each week. I mean, obviously three out of the first four weeks we had top-10 finishes and Ryan had bad luck. You get out of the car and you're glad you had a decent day, but then you realize where your teammate was and you feel his frustration and you feel bad for his team, knowing they deserve better than that, they know from where we are that they can run just like we are, it's just a matter of having that luck on their side. I think the last two weeks has really been great from that standpoint to assure them that, hey, it's coming. Two weeks in a row has healed those first four weeks from their standpoint. I think it's been a huge morale booster for everybody.
I think it's just proof to them that it can happen. They can have a good run just like we can. I think it's been big for the organization, just showing that, Hey, we got two guys that are capable of running up front if we get the cars right each week and if we can get the bad luck off our side. That side of it's kept us all going.
DENISE MALOOF: Thank you, Tony, for your time this week. We appreciate it. Good luck at Texas in both those races.