NASCAR Nextel Teleconference Moderator: Tracey Judd July 27, 2004 Guest: Tony Stewart Tracey Judd: The driver of the ...
NASCAR Nextel Teleconference
Moderator: Tracey Judd
July 27, 2004
Guest: Tony Stewart
Tracey Judd: The driver of the #20 Home Depot Chevrolet, Tony Stewart. Pocono has been really good to you throughout your career, but the last two outings probably haven't produced the results that you're used to at that track. How about your recent hot streak and the confidence you've gained from that. Will the 20 team use that to reverse that trend at Pocono on Sunday?
Tony Stewart: Well, we hope so. I think the last four races we've had top five finishes so it will be a nice string to continue with right now. It's that part of the season where we typically in the past have been able to string along a lot of top 5's. Hopefully the things that we've learned here recently with an Indy test and some others runs that we've done in the past couple weeks, hopefully some of that information we can use at Pocono this time.
Judd: Pocono gives way to a visit for you back home to Indiana and the Brickyard in two weeks. Can you talk about your preparation for the Brickyard and your feeling about the history of that event and the venue in particular?
Stewart: Well, we went and tested this year. Last year we didn't use one of our tests there but we used one of our two day tests there on our off week. We felt like we had a very productive test. Just showing up there for a test it sends goose bumps down your spine for somebody like me that grew up around Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Obviously it's a big week for us. Everybody's question normally is what is it going to mean to win there? It will be one of the biggest ones of my career obviously, if not the biggest win as far as an individual race. You still have to treat it as one of the 36 on the schedule. It's still one of the first 26 that get us into that playoff format. It's real important for us to have a good run at Indy.
Operator: Our first question comes Ron Martin from CBS Sports.
Martin: Caution lights on the dash and also tail lights. You're familiar with caution lights from your Indy car racing. How do you feel about the possibility of having caution lights on the dashboard?
Stewart: I think it's a good idea. It was actually brought up in a private meeting at Chicago with the drivers and teams talking about the format of how they are freezing the field and how they're going in depth with the teams and drivers about how it worked. That was one of the topics that was brought up and NASCAR is currently looking at that right now. The biggest factor in doing that is finding a system that can't be tampered with from an outside source. That's something that's very important and that could be a very big catastrophe for our sport to have. Cars going around the race track and all; particular cars or all the cars all of a sudden you get a caution light for no reason. A lot of times we give NASCAR a lot of criticism for some things that they do or don't do. A lot of the times the things that they don't do, they are in the process of working on and this is one of them. They will research this very thoroughly and come up with something that will work along those lines as a dash deal, but they won't do it until they know it's 100% effective and reliable. I think it's something that will work very well. It works very very well in the IRL. Obviously the lights can relay a message quicker tha a spotter can tell you that a caution is out. I think it's something that will work very well.
Martin: In the driver meeting this past week with Mike Helton talking about the sponsor bottles on top of the cars. I had to think of Fittapaldi at Indy winning and would not drink the milk because of his orange groves. What are your thoughts and your car being in the winners circle and having a competing sponsor bottle on it? Do you think there's a better way to do it?
Stewart: I don't know. I think it's a bad position in a way corporate NASCAR has put us in to. You look at Coca-Cola for example, Coca-Cola is the official soft drink of NASCAR and ISC who is all of the same family and all their family is Pepsi Cola tracks. It kind of seems like a conflict of interest and they are kind of playing both sides of the fence there and that's what gets us in the conflicts that we have. I think it should be up to the teams, I mean we have sponsors that we're responsible to and we have obligation to those sponsors and I don't think it's fair for anybody to put anything on top of our race cars after we won the race. That's our space, if they want to buy a commercial, that's their time to do that. I think the drivers taking the product off the car; I think we have a right to do that in all honesty. But, we're not NASCAR we don't control that side of it and we will abide their rules.
Operator: Our next question comes from Tim Haddock from Los Angeles Daily News.
Haddock: The change in leadership as a team going from Joe Gibbs to J.D. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the changes in personalities and some of the changes in the style of the people who are running the team right now?
Stewart: To be honest, it didn't really affect me from my standpoint. I didn't know what to expect totally going through as far as much of the season with J.D. leading the team. I'm really impressed what J.D. has done and what he's been able to do so far. There have been a lot of changes and not necessary that Joe wasn't in line with. It's a longer time table that it was suppose to happen. J.D. has continued with those plans and made a lot of things happen. I've been really impressed so far, his leadership is and he's come out of his shell so to speak. It's hard to grow up being one of Joe Gibbs' sons. Now that J.D. has been put in the leadership position he's really shown how much leadership ability he has and I don't know if any of us realized how good of a leader he was going to be while Joe was running the operation. Now that J.D. has control, Joe's still very involved in racing, but J.D. has really taken it upon himself and has really I think surprised everybody in how well he's really done in running the team. I don't feel like we're missing anything, I don't feel like there's any weakness with our leadership right now. I really feel like we've come up with a breath of fresh air and not that a change was needed by any means. We all miss Joe daily. With a change there's always speculation on what's going to happen. I think we've all been pleasantly surprised with how well the changes have worked so far.
Haddock: Can you talk about any of the specific changes that J.D. made. What are some of the details that are different than Joe had?
Stewart: If I told you then we've been telling all the other race teams that. I don't really want to share that information right now. I can say that we've got a 2 year, 3 year, 5 year plan on paper and in place that J.D. has executed and stuff that has been in the works already. A lot of times when you change leadership like this plans that are in motion can be put on hold for awhile while there is a restruction so to speak and that's something that J.D. didn't allow to happen. Everything has been running along smoothly and has really progressed a lot faster in some areas than a lot of us anticipated it happening.
Operator: Our next question comes from Claire Lang from XM Satellite.
Lang: I got an email yesterday asking if Tony has talked to Kasey Kahne yet, please ask him. So have you guys had a chance to chat yet?
Stewart: Actually that's was the reason I was late, I was talking to Kasey on the phone. I think a lot of my questions got answered, but there are no problems between Kasey and I. We've probably had a good ½ hour talk and I had to cut it short obviously, but we got through the meat of the conversation and we were laughing about a lot of things. I told him I would call him back later this afternoon. It was a very productive phone call.
Lang: Did that take the weight off of both of you just to have that over and just to explain yourself?
Stewart: It wasn't a big weight anyway. We're two racecar drivers and the grudges in this day in age aren't as mad as what they used to be in the past. I just asked Kasey what happened and he told me what happened and I told him my prospective on it and we both have an understanding on the other persons prospective now of what happened. There are only two people who know what happened and that's Kasey and myself and I didn't know the whole story and I'm sure he didn't know the whole story. At least now we have the full picture of what happened.
Lang: They were talking about the dash board caution lights. How about the possibility of functioning tail lights on race cars? Would that just drive the drivers crazy or would it be a marginal role in helping the driver avoid plowing into the car in front of him. What about tail lights, Tony?
Stewart: I don't think we need tail lights on a race car. I think the sports car racing is good because they are running at night. For 50 plus years, NASCAR has made it without tail lights. I don't think we're going to need head lights or tail lights in the near future. To be honest it's just a distraction more than anything for the drivers on the racetrack. I know running the sports car it took some getting used to seeing break lights come on. I think the caution lights are enough of a solution to handle all the problems that we have here.
Operatior: Our next question comes from Bill Fleischman from Philadelphia Enquirer.
Fleischman: How do you balance your racing style as you continue to be aggressive and so forth?
Stewart: I don't think it's me on track that has given me the two strikes, I think it's the way I've handled things off the track that has given me those strikes. Just like the deal at Chicago, NASCAR thought I did something wrong, they would of done something obviously. I talked to NASCAR, Kasey talked to NASCAR, their explanation of what happened in what they showed me backed up exactly what I said happened. I stuck to my guns saying I didn't do anything wrong. The reason I did that was because I didn't do anything wrong. At the same time if I do something off the track I know I've got those two strikes on me already. This is not the deals to go through as a driver. It's not just about driving race cars any more, that's the way up to this point it's always been. Now, we're representing multi billion dollar companies that we have a TV package and NASCAR is very image conscious now which they haven't always been. Driving the race car which is what I got hired to do in the first place and what I have been doing the past 25 years of my life is only a fractional part of my overall job as a Nextel Cup driver. There's a lot more changes that go on in your life than the media could understand in one conversation. It's something you really have to be behind the scenes, you need to live it and breathe for more than a day or two or a week to fully understand what all is involved in it.
Operator: Our next question comes from Pete Schnatz from the Philadelphia Enquirer.
Schnatz: I wanted to touch on the fact about J.D.'s job that he's gone over the first half of the season. What I was also interested to hear from you how you felt when Joe announced that he was leaving after all the speculation about you leaving the team and then he got you fined and you stayed there with Home Depot. Did you feel in anyway betrayed when Joe decided to go back to football?
Stewart: Absolutely not, I never liked Joe that much anyways. (laughing) I mean that's kind of been my joke all along. I wish I could have had a closed camera when Joe told myself and Greg Zipadelli and Jimmy Makar. We were actually at the test in Daytona and Joe had called us and asked us to a meeting. My first reaction when Zippy had told me that we had a meeting coming up, well I just re-signed my contract so I'm not getting fired. Then I looked at Zippy and he said well I just re-signed mine. We realized that he wasn't going to get fired and then we looked at Jimmy and Jimmy said I haven't re-signed mine yet so we thought Jimmy was getting fired, we didn't know what was going on. After a long day of testing and all of us trying to sit there and most of the time somebody knows the contents of the meeting are going to be about before we get there. Jimmy being the team manager now, Jimmy didn't know what it was about, Zippy didn't know, I had no clue what it was about so when we met J.D. and Joe at the airport and you know it was pretty much self explanatory when he walked us out to the Redskins plane and we see the Redskins helmet on the tail of the airplane. We went in there to have the meeting and it was pretty self explanatory before we even sat down what was actually going to happen. Everybody could've seen the expression on Joe's face and the way he explained it. He was like a 6 year old boy coming down the stairs on Christmas morning to open presents. It was the neatest expression, it was the neatest look. I'm proud of him I didn't feel betrayed at all. I would never feel betrayed for someone following their dreams, their desires and passions. I don't think anybody could've held that against him. I'm very supportive of him doing that. Joe is at the point of this life where he could be enjoying his family and his grand babies and he loves the game of golf and he could be doing that seven days a week spending time with his family as much as he wants to. Not have to deal with the headaches and hassles of being with me or the NFL or any of that. He's very passionate about racing; he's very passionate about the NFL. I know he'll give it 110% like he always had. I'm very proud of him and seeing Joe be in the position he's in and having that desire to go back and put in those grueling hours that he'll have.
Operator: Our next question comes from Lee Spencer from Sporting News.
Spencer: Does the new points system actually favor a situation like the one you have where you didn't get out to a strong start, but now in a few months you'll be able to jump in there and start from fresh.
Stewart: Not necessarily, if you think about it. I'm not sure if last year or two years ago when we won the championship. After 26 races either last year or two years ago we weren't even in the top 10 in points. Getting off to a slow start can get you into a deficit that 26 races wouldn't be enough to get out of where 36 would. If you can get yourself in that top 10 I think it helps. We still have to have a good front half of the season just to get ourselves in that position. It can work against or for you, depending on how good or bad we start the season.
Spencer: Have you and Zippy discussed how aggressive you want to be in those final ten races?
Stewart: No, I think we look at those last 10 just like any other ten. You look at it like any other championship year. You still go with the attitudes that we're going to win the race. Those last ten races you're really going to be racing nine other guys in all reality so even though there are 43 cars running the race each week and as much as you want to win the race I think you will pay more attention to those particular nine teams and drivers than the rest of the field.
Operator: Our next question comes from Tony Fabrizio from the Tampa Tribune.
Fabrizio: Tony how do you feel about the title of NASCAR bad boy and not being able to get way from that?
Stewart: It's just a title, it really doesn't affect me. I think you guys are the ones that created that so how do you feel about it?
Fabrizio: This year I think some things have been blown out of proportion some what.
Stewart: I agree, but I think it's what adds character to our sport. You look at wrestling and you had all the popular guys quote un quote the good guys in the sport and you had them wrestling each other each week, I'm not sure it would be as appealing to the fans as if you got somebody that people like and somebody that they dislike. So I think that adds flavor to the sport. I don't really take it personal, I don't think it's a personal deal; it's just a title that's given to many of us. I guess I lead the pack of the bad boy group. I think there are fans out there that are looking for that guy. Dale Earnhardt didn't get his reputation or popularity by being a good guy. He got it by being aggressive and he was probably the bad boy in his era. So I don't think it's such a bad thing after all.
Operator: Our next question comes from Beth Tuschak from Nascarmedia.com
Tuschak: What do you think about the chase opening up the field rather than one driver building up a 300 or 400 lead and running away with things?
Stewart: It's just like anything, its security of change. For so many years now the Cup series was winning the title was based on the guy who has the most points in 36 races and was the most consistent. It's just a change in time and I'm not really sure if my opinion counts in the equation any more; especially when I'm not part of the decision. I'm not sure it really matters how I feel about it. It is what it is right now and I think it could be a positive thing for our sport. I can see where I had ideas where it could be a negative to it but we're going to sit back and wait and see what happens. I'm not sure if any of us like it or dislike it, we can't do anything about it at this point, just ride it out and see how it works out.
Operator: Our next question comes Damian Dottore from Orange County Register.
Dottore: How important was it for you to get a win before this chase for the championship started. I imagine you wanted to go in knowing you could win a race?
Stewart: I think we've won enough races to know that we could win races. I'm not sure that we had to do that before the last 10 weeks to have the confidence or anything, there's no guarantees each week. The odds of winning a race each week are 1 and 43. Anytime you win obviously, it's great, but I don't think it adds any pressure if you haven't won a race. If you run 2nd in every race in those last ten races you're beyond a shadow of a doubt you're going to win the championship. I don't think there are any standard things that you have to win a race. It's a nice feeling; obviously, it's a big boost for the team. More than anything to win a race and that's out goal every week and to finally attain that once this year is great. Even though, we're on a just a big of a high as finishing 5th at Loudon this weekend; knowing that we put together 4 weeks in a row with top 5 finishes. That's probably as important to us as winning a single event is. I'm not sure that it's a huge importance, still every week when we show up at the track that's what our number one goal is to win the race.
Dottore: As you go through a season like you have with being involved in this controversy. Does it come to a point where you can go back to the days where you can drive midgets, sprint cars, and not worry about everything that's going on like this?
Stewart: No, not necessarily. I think there are days that I'm frustrated and I feel that way, but I think there are more days that I wake up and it just doesn't bother me anymore. We've been through so much controversy in my whole career in the Cup series, anymore I'm just kind of numb to it all I guess so to speak. It's not a distraction to me; it's not an aggravation to me. I've found a way to simplify everything and not worry about it. Controversy is controversy; it's just something for people to read in the paper and something for them to talk about. When I'm in the race car I mean my job is to go out and win the race and that's what my passion and desire is whether it's in a midget or in a sprint car or in the Nextel Cup car. To be honest, the controversy and having the controversial season, I've pretty numb to all that now.
Continued in part 2