Continued from part 1 Q: Who made the initial contact? Joe, did you approach Tony or did Tony reach out to you? Were you that interested in starting a team and when did it get started? TONY STEWART: "It actually started at the end of the...
Continued from part 1
Q: Who made the initial contact? Joe, did you approach Tony or did Tony reach out to you? Were you that interested in starting a team and when did it get started?
TONY STEWART: "It actually started at the end of the calendar year last year - in December was the first time I was presented with this opportunity. And as spring went through, in the middle of spring we went to Joe (Gibbs) and said, 'Hey, I have an opportunity. This is what I'm looking at.' I was very up front and honest with Joe and J.D. (Gibbs) about it.
"Obviously, they were shocked when I came to them because we always dreamed and we always thought that I would start and finish at Joe Gibbs Racing. So it was a shock when we went to them.
"But after sitting and talking with Joe (Gibbs) and J.D. and, I basically said, 'Joe, I've got an opportunity to be in a role like you are.' And I think that's something that at the end of the day Joe respected. And it's hard to not want to see somebody chase their dreams. And that's something that the Gibbs family's always been very good about and passionate about.
"This was a hard process to go through with Joe (Gibbs). There was a lot of emotion involved at times. But at the end of the day there was understanding. And the release yesterday, I went to the shop. I went and talked to my race team first and went and spoke to the entire organization and explained to them why I was doing what I was doing.
"I wondered how it was going to feel. I wondered how everybody was going to react. At the end of my talking to the group, everyone clapped. And when I came off the stage and they broke for lunch, there were people that stood in line to shake my hand and said 'We wish you the best of luck, we valued working with you for ten years.' And that's something that made me feel really good.
"Last night was the first time that I slept really, really well in a long time because I do value that friendship with the organization. I value my friendship with Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, Stewart's current crew chief) and Joe (Gibbs) and J.D., and that's something that through this hasn't changed."
Q: Just wondering if you had an opportunity to get in one of the Haas cars, and if not this year when will that opportunity come, just so you can see what you have, where your strong points are and what you have to work for on next season?
TONY STEWART: "I haven't been in a car yet. And with my contract with Joe (Gibbs) and J.D. I probably won't be in a car till after the end of the season. And that's only fair. My dedication the rest of this year is to worry about trying to do everything I can for the Home Depot team and Joe Gibbs Racing to try to win races and try to win the championship this year. So that focus isn't changing. Obviously, there's a lot of work that needs to be done between now and February.
"When it comes to the driving side and the competition side as far as race weekends, I'm dedicated 100% to the program I'm in right now and trying to do the best we can and focusing 100% of the time. The team feels that way. I feel that way. And, you know, we've battled a lot of adversity in the past and a lot worse than this.
"So the team is very much still in race mode right now. We started this as a team and we're going to finish this as a team and we all want to finish strong. So, that's kind of where our focus is right now.
"As far as the end of the year, I don't know what we'll do between Homestead and Daytona. I think we've got time to figure that out. But I think right now it's more about making sure that we get some key people in place and working from there."
Q: I think everybody can understand why you want to do this long term, but have you reconciled in the short-term you might not be as competitive next year as you're used to being? And if so how would you handle that?
TONY STEWART: "Well I haven't won a race this year and I think we've handled it okay considering the circumstances we've been under in some of those losses.
"I really feel like when you look at this program, we have support with Hendrick engines, Hendrick chassis and Hendrick technical support. So with those variables I feel like that we have the variables in place to go out and be competitive right away.
"At the same time, we know it's a rebuilding process and it's going to be an adjustment period. How long is this adjustment period going to take? We don't know. But at the same time I think the important thing is that Joe and I have looked and we said this is where we want to be. We've set where we want to be and getting our cars in the top-five in points or top-ten in points and knowing that we have cars that are capable of winning championships.
"And that's the goal. As long as we have that goal in mind and as long as we feel like we're making forward progression toward that then I think you have to take it a week at a time. You kind of have to take what it gives you as long as you see that progression though. I think that's what we have to keep in mind right now."
Q: When did it become obvious to you and JGR that 2009 was not going to work and you would need to sever ties? Have you come to any decisions on car numbers for next year?
TONY STEWART: "We haven't (come to a decision) on car numbers yet. We're currently working on that. I think it was a situation where it's hard to work for an organization and know that you're going to have a driver leaving, and looking at what was going to be best for Joe Gibbs Racing, and what was going to be best for myself knowing that we were going to be parting ways at the end of '09 anyway.
"We felt like it was better to sever those ties at the end of this season and let us go our different directions and work toward the future. Staying another year was only going to delay both of our future plans.
"So when it became apparent, probably, two months ago or a month-and-a-half ago that this might happen, something that we've worked really closely with Joe (Gibbs) and J.D. on is making sure that we didn't do anything the to jeopardize the company (Joe Gibbs Racing). Home Depot won't be going with us next year. We were working really strongly with them to help them get Home Depot secure for their future also.
"That was something that was important to us is to not jeopardize the business side of Joe Gibbs Racing and upset it any more than it was going to be with us leaving anyway. Through that process it's been important to maintain that relationship and do what we can to not leave Joe Gibbs Racing in a position where it was really going to hurt them financially."
Q: Tony, do you plan to keep the team based in North Carolina or might you consider moving it to Indiana to be closer to where you live? Or if you keep the team in North Carolina, might you be forced to move down to be closer to the team?
TONY STEWART: "After 37 years, not too many people force me to do anything except NASCAR when they call me to the trailer and you pretty much go when they tell you to go. My parents tried to force me into stuff and I moved out of the house.
"The nice thing is, I think once we get key people in place I think we're going to be spending a lot of time in Charlotte, obviously. We have no intentions of leaving Charlotte right now. They have built - Joe and his staff have built a beautiful facility in Charlotte. And I wouldn't want to move away from that facility right now to go anywhere.
"But obviously the resources and the people, it's important for a NASCAR team to be based in the Charlotte area, in my opinion. Everything is close to there, especially with the COT cars with having to get them approved with NASCAR. We're literally 15 minutes away from where those cars are inspected. So it's important for the operation to be in the Charlotte area.
"I don't see us ever moving away from the Charlotte area. I think it's a very appropriate place for the shop to be."
Q: Tony, a lot of people have tried this. One of your heroes A.J. Foyt didn't do so well as a team owner. You've had dedicated racers, real racers who have tried the ownership role and I think it's probably been about 16 years or so since we've had a really successful, champion-type owner/driver. Why are you going to succeed when so many in the interim have tried and failed?
TONY STEWART: "I can't guarantee that I'm going to, but if we don't, we're going to go down swinging. That's for sure. You know, I like challenges. And if I didn't like challenges, I wouldn't be a part of three race tracks and have four race teams.
"There are no guarantees with this. There's no guarantees that this is going to be successful. But after sitting down and evaluating what the potential of this team is, I wouldn't have made this decision if I didn't think it would be successful and if I didn't think it had the potential to be great. So, like I said there are no guarantees, and I don't know that it is going to be successful, but we're going to do everything we can to make it successful."
Q: Joe, Tony mentioned getting key people in place. How much of this team is going to turn over in the next half a year?
JOE CUSTER: "We're just working through that right now. We're committed to our employees, naturally. And we think we have some great employees. But will there be change? Yes. Will there be more people at Stewart Haas Racing than there are currently? Yes. So we're hiring."
TONY STEWART: "Call Joe's phone by the way, don't call my phone today. At least not until about 8 o'clock when qualifying's over. I'll be busy in cars."
JOE CUSTER: "Quite frankly there's been an interest. Again that's what Tony Stewart brings to the table - the confidence that the organization will win. Employee confidence is critical in our sport. Just a side note. Tony's comment, 'We're in this sport to win.' (Haas CNC) came here to win. We've been here for years building something with the goal of winning. Not to make money at NASCAR, not to ride the coat tails, not for the fame, the glory. It's for the winning. We want trophies."
TONY STEWART: "I kind of like the girl part of it. The fame and glory is kind of cool, too. (Laughter.) If you don't want that I'll be glad to take that on my 50 percent."
JOE CUSTER: "I'm with you on that one, too. Quite frankly we're here to win and we believe Tony can help us do that. And his goal - we align. This wasn't about how can we work with sponsors to escalate the costs of our sport. This was about how can we win next year, immediately. And we've got what we think is a plan to address it. We'll see. The results will speak for themselves. But we're committed to the winning piece."
Q: Tony, are you officially now an owner? Is it in ink? Also, do you already have confidence that there is a sponsor in place for you for 2009?
TONY STEWART: "We're currently working on it. But going back to the first question, yes it is in ink and it's dried even. It's been dry for a couple weeks.
"The big thing - and just to explain to you guys why this process took as long as it did is, and what I said from day one as far as telling you guys that we would tell you guys something as soon as we could talk about it - there were a lot of details that had to be taken care of in this. And I don't want anybody in the media to think we were putting it off week after week.
"Yes, the decision had been made. Yes, the contracts had been signed. But there was a part of it where we had to get a release from Joe Gibbs Racing and work through that. Then we had to work through the contracts with Joe and his group. But at the same time there were a lot of people and a lot of families that were involved in this. And being able to go talk to everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing before the release announcement went out and the before today happened was something that was very important to us.
"So I hope all of you understand that it wasn't that we were trying to put you guys off week in and week out, it was a matter of there were a lot of details. And not only contracts that needed signed but a lot of people that have a lot of sweat and tears and hours, and families have hours without their spouses being there. There were people involved that were important to talk to before this was announced.
"So all of that is done and in place now and it was a matter of trying to go to our organization. And I felt like that was the best thing to do and to be fair to the team and everybody involved was to talk to them before we made an announcement about this."
Continued in part 3