NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES DAYTONA MEDIA DAY DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY February 5, 2009 TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT IMPALA SS, met with media and discussed being an owner/driver, NASCAR's drug testing policy, A.J. Foyt and the No. 14,...
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
DAYTONA MEDIA DAY
DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY
February 5, 2009
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT IMPALA SS, met with media and discussed being an owner/driver, NASCAR's drug testing policy, A.J. Foyt and the No. 14, his teammate, Ryan Newman, and more.
MOST EVERYBODY IS SAYING THEY COULD USE MORE TIME BEFORE THE START OF THE SEASON. ARE YOU GUYS READY? "I think we got a later start than everybody because of how many different people came from so many different teams, and by the time you get them all there and get the direction with everybody, but I was at Joe Gibbs Racing a couple of days before we left to come down here and he was still thrashing too. He said he had a whole stack of paperwork and just miscellaneous odds and ends to get caught up. And there's a team that's been established for well over 10 years that's still in the same boat. He says it's this way every year. So it made me feel better that our guys have really done a good job of getting caught up in such a short time."
YOU GO INTO THE SHOOTOUT WITH ALMOST NO TIME ON THE TRACK. WILL THAT MAKE IT A LITTLE WILDER, OR MORE TENTATIVE THAN NORMAL? "I don't think so. We've all driven the cars and we've all been here twice already with these cars, so I don't think it makes the race any different. We'll probably be a little more tentative the first session Friday just because it's a new car, a new seat, and a new package for me. From that side, it may be for us. But I don't think in general it's going to be that way. We didn't learn anything last year when we were down here for the test for three days. This is probably the one place you could miss the three days of testing and have it not affect you."
WOULD A SHOOTOUT WIN FOR YOU BE A BIGGER DEAL BECAUSE YOU'RE A NEW TEAM COMING OUT OF THE GATE? "That's obvious. You know the answer to that. Yeah, of course it would be. You move to a different organization and a new group of people and that makes it that much better."
EVERYBODY THINKS YOU WILL BE GOOD RIGHT OUT OF THE BOX. IS THERE SATISFACTION IN THAT? "Yeah, it does. It's very humbling. I don't know what to expect. That's not the first time I've heard that. It's been a very humbling experience knowing that the guys we're racing with consider us ready to go and ready for us to be a contender with them."
HOW HAS THE ECONOMY AFFECTED YOUR TEAM AND HOW WORRIED ARE YOU ABOUT IT? "It's hurt everybody, obviously. We still have 13 races to sell on Ryan's (Newman) car. Haas Automation stepped up and is going to sponsor some of those races, but not all of them. So it's no different for us than for anybody else. It's hurt everybody this year."
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING IN THE BUD SHOOTOUT 'It's two more days that Darian (Grubb) and I get to spend with each other before we get to practice on Wednesday, so it's really big for us. It's not two days of testing. I would much rather trade and get these two days of Shootout practice and the Shootout versus three days of testing down here. That's going to be a lot more valuable to us."
WILL RYAN BE ON YOUR PITBOX WATCHING? "I'm sure he will. If not, he'll be watching it on TV in the bus where he can see everything. We'll all be taking very close notes I'm sure. Tony Gibson will be close by and hearing what's going on so we can try to do everything we can to make sure both of us are strong next week."
WHERE ARE YOU GETTING THE SETUP FOR YOUR NEW CAR? WHERE DID YOU GET THE DATA? "That's a Darian Grubb question. He sets the cars up. I drive them."
TRADITIONALLY, THESE SATELLITE TEAMS HAVEN'T DONE WELL. WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOUR TEAM WILL BE BETTER OR DIFFERENT? "Because we're doing it, that's why."
HAVE YOU TALKED TO THE GUYS OVER AT JGR? "Yeah. I saw them the other day. It's the first time I've seen them in a long time. So guys were stopping what they were doing and we were all shaking each other's hands and laughing and carrying on and joking with each other just like we normally would. It was good to go back and see those guys."
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR JOEY LAGANO? "I don't know that I need to give him much advice. I think that's why I wasn't so worried when we made this change and how it was going to affect those guys. I know Joey. I feel like Joey is ready. For his age, it's a very smart kid and a very good race car driver for his age. I don't think he's going to have any trouble getting used to this series and he's got a team and definitely a crew chief that's got a lot of experience. He's got all the tools in place that he needs to be good."
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM JOE GIBBS, AS AN OWNER, THAT YOU'RE APPLYING TO YOUR TEAM? "To get good people. When you hire the right people to do the right jobs and you let them do their jobs, it's good. This is the same thing we've said from day one."
WHAT'S THE SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT BEEN LIKE TO SEE YOUR NEW TEAM GROW THE WAY IT HAS? "When you haven't been a part of building a program like this, every day is a learning process; and just being there to see it grow and to watch it happen every day. Those are the things that make you proud. When you go in there one day and you see eight brand new chassis and you see them sit there for a week before they get caught up to get to them and then all of a sudden you see chasses start disappearing and getting into the fab shop and that's the process and I don't know whether we were on schedule or not on schedule. It's going up and talking to Bobby Hutchens and saying, are we all right here? Are we on schedule? Are we behind and are we going to be caught up when it's time to go? And it's just having those guys there and having them to lean on and learn from that have made it better."
DO YOU BELIEVE YOU'VE DELEGATED AND WON'T FALL INTO THE OWNER/DRIVER TRAP OF SAYING, IF I WRECK THIS CAR; I'VE GOT TO PAY FOR IT? "I've already paid for them. I don't owe any payments on them. I don't have to go to the bank on them and say I've still got 18 payments or whatever and I just crashed this race car."
ARE YOU INSULATED FROM WORRYING ABOUT IT? "I have made it very clear to Bobby and Tony and Darian that when we show up on Thursdays, that when I go on the race track I'm a driver. That's it. I'm strictly a driver. And it has to be that way. We have to have those people in place to fill in that ownership roll while I'm doing it. I can't do both rolls at the same time. I can be an owner four days a week, but the other three days a week I have to be a driver. And that's the way I want it. That's the only way it will work."
DO YOU TREAT RYAN NEWMAN THE SAME WAY, AS A TEAMMATE AND NOT AS AN EMPLOYEE? "Yeah. And that's the way we've been from day one. We've never had a conversation as an employer/employee relationship. It's always been a teammate relationship.
"I don't think it's for everybody. I don't think everybody can do that, by any means. And it's what are you willing to take on? This is what I do. This is all I do. All I do is racing. I've got other businesses and things I'm involved in, but nothing that's really outside of racing. It all ties into racing. There are other guys that when they get away from the racing on Sunday night, they do something totally different and totally away from this. I'm really not that way. I've been one of those guys that's always been 100% involved in the racing the whole time."
WHAT WAS IT LIKE GETTING THROUGH THE FIRST ROUND OF DRUG TESTING AS AN OWNER AND A DRIVER? "It was a piece of cake. It was easy. It wasn't really hard."
WAS THERE ANY ANXIETY THOUGH, RUNNING A WHOLE COMPANY AND WORRYING ABOUT THOSE THINGS? "No, not at all, because if guys didn't make it, they knew they weren't going to be there. We were very cut and dried about how we were doing it. It's not like you get one strike and then you're out. It's you either make it or you don't. And that's the great thing about NASCAR and their new policy and the way they're doing things. They've made it very cut and dried to everybody involved that this is the way it's going to be. I think it's the best thing they ever could have done."
DID EVERYBODY MAKE IT THROUGH YOURS? "As far as I know."
DO THEY HAVE A DEFINED LIST OF SUBSTANCES? "Why are you asking me that? Ask NASCAR that. That's their deal. I'm sure they probably do. I didn't have to worry about it because I don't do anything anyway. People either passed or they didn't pass. If you want the list, go to NASCAR."
DID YOU EVER CONSIDER THAT OWNING A TEAM AND DRIVING MIGHT TAKE SOME OF THE JOY OUT OF THE DRIVING EXPERIENCE? "No, not at all. I drove the Chili Bowl for myself and it added to the experience. I've been an owner since 2001 and I've loved every bit of it. There was never a part of the process where I thought, well, this might take away from being a driver. I think the majority of that is because I know that on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday that's all I am, is a driver. I'm sticking to my guns on that. That's what I do on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I drive the race car. Darian (Grubb) is my boss. Darian and Bobby (Hutchens) and Tony Gibson are my bosses on the weekend. Those are the people I work for. And then Monday morning, we go back and work as a team together and figure out what we need to do better."
HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO TALK TO A.J. FOYT ABOUT CARRYING HIS NUMBER, AND YOU EVEN WORKED FOR HIM IN 1995 AT INDY. HAS HE GIVEN YOU ANY ADVICE? "I don't know that he's given us any advice. He just told me he was proud of me. He was happy that we got the No. 14 and he knew why we got that and it was because of him and that made him really proud. He just told me to get that thing in victory lane and if I've got to answer to him, that's really all he said."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON BRUTON SMITH SAYING THE DRIVERS NEED TO DO MORE TO HELP OUT THE RACE TRACKS? "Right now, I've been worrying about building a race team. I'm not worrying about what Bruton is saying."
HAVE YOU SPOKEN TO OTHER GUYS WHO OWN THEIR TEAMS LIKE MICHAEL WALTRIP AND ROBBY GORDON? "I really haven't very much. I figure it's a new slate and it has to be treated that way. The only people you want to pattern anything off of is how Hendrick has done for the last three years because obviously they've won. Anybody else you're not really getting good information."
ON GOING INTO THE BUD SHOOTOUT WITH HENDRICK TECHNOLOGY "Obviously that was part of why we did what we did. At the same time it's still the Stewart-Haas people that are working on it and still making the decisions on what we're doing through practice and during the race. So, we rely really heavily on what those guys are doing too. At the same time, they're looking at what we're doing and making sure that they don't overlook something if we're going really good and we're really happy with our cars and they'll be looking at that and trying to figure out if they can make themselves better too."
IS DALE EARNHARDT JR. STILL THE ONE TO BEAT GOING INTO THE SHOOTOUT CONSIDERING HIS DRAFTING SKILLS "Oh, he's always been the guy here. He's picked up where his father left off as a restrictor plate driver. He knows the air very well."
DO YOU HAVE TO MAKE A MENTAL NOTE OF WHO IS IN WHAT CAR AND WITH WHAT SPONSORS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON? "We do that every year. Every year there are changes. You try to memorize and try to figure out who it is. Even the guys that are in the same cars, they look different. It's always an adjustment. We're not reinventing the wheel, guys. It's still the same process we go through every year. There are always different teams, different drivers, different paint schemes, different combinations and it's no different this year. Everybody's got to make this simpler or if you want the big fancy answer you've got to get somebody else to do it because I've had to take everything with my schedule and simplify it as much as I can."
ARE YOU MORE OR LESS A DETAILED PERSON NOW? "I'm very detail-oriented. That's how we got to this point and you don't change that. It's not going to be different now than what it's been."
IS IT MORE DIFFICULT OR LESS DIFFICULT TO START THE YEAR AT DAYTONA IN YOUR FIRST YEAR WITH THIS TEAM? "I don't think it's more or less difficult. If anything, it's probably less difficult because you really don't learn that much at the test down here. You look at last year's notes, the guys told you we didn't need to be down here for three days. We didn't learn as much as we needed to be able to learn. I think this is probably the best place to come."
WHAT ABOUT JOEY LAGANO WITH SO LITTLE TIME ON THIS RACE TRACK, COULD HE SHINE IN THE SHOOTOUT OR GET TURNED EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE? "Either can happen. It depends on how comfortable he is. And that comfort will show with the rest of the guys he's around. If he's comfortable and he's got a fast car, and obviously Denny (Hamlin) proved you could win the Shootout in that situation, so it's just a matter of your comfort and if your car is good or not."
GOODYEAR SAYS THEY'RE GOING TO TEST THE TALLER AND WIDER TIRE THIS YEAR FOR POTENTIAL USE NEXT YEAR, THOUGHTS? "As long as we've got good tires, that's all we care about. I don't care if they're square, as long as they feel good when we're out there running. It doesn't matter to us. We just want to have a tire that we don't have to talk about each week. If we don't have to talk about it each week, that means we had a good tire (laughter). Seriously, if it's a variable that you're having to talk about, obviously there's something wrong with it. With Goodyear as the sole manufacturer, we expect not to have to talk about it each week."
YOU ARE LOCKED IN, HOW MUCH PRESSURE IS THAT FOR SUNDAY'S RACE AND FOR THURSDAY'S RACES? "I think the pressure on Thursday is the normal pressure for guys that are locked in and that's to not get your (Daytona) 500 car crashed or beat up. I don't know that there's really any pressure other than taking care of our cars."
HAVE YOU EVER HAD SECOND THOUGHTS ABOUT BE THE OWNER OF STEWART-HAAS RACING? "No, not at all. Obviously there are nights when you go, can I handle this? But there's never been a moment where I second-guessed my decision. I've always been one of those guys that when I've made a decision, I've put myself at rest with that and gotten through that."
DO YOU THINK YOUR INSTINCT TO DO THIS HAS COME FROM YOUR ROOTS IN MENTORING WITH A.J. FOYT BECAUSE HE'S ALWAYS SO SUCCESSFUL AS OWNER/DRIVER IN HIS HEYDAY? "It might be a coincidence that it's worked that way. My whole career has been that way. We've had very parallel careers except that he's won four Daytona 500's, the 24-hour races and a lot more races than I've won. But, of guys in this era, we're probably the closest as far as guys being parallel as far as how our backgrounds and steps that we took to get where we're at."
IF A.J. FOYT CAME YOU AND SAID HE WANTED TO BE INVOLVED, WHAT COULD HE DO FOR YOU? "He could go get me lunch (laughter). We definitely don't let him around laptops. The good thing is that he's going to be here for the 500 and that's something that we're excited about. He's a great friend of ours and that's why we wanted him here. But him being here shows you how much he cares about what we're doing too. It's an honor to have him here."
IS HE GOING TO BE IN YOUR PIT? "Yeah."
WHEN DID YOU INVITE HIM? "Months ago; a long time ago. It was right after we did the announcement. I said hey, you've got February off, why don't you come down and play with us. He accepted right away."
YOU SAID YOU'D CROSS THE FINISH LINE ON YOUR ROOF IF YOU HAD TO, TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500. AFTER LAST YEAR, CAN YOU WANT IT ANY MORE THAN YOU DID TWO YEARS AGO? "I don't think so. I don't think after last year you could ever want it worse. The good thing is that since they're paid for and I've paid for them, I don't care if there is nothing left but me when I slide across the line as long as the transponder is in my hand (laughter). That's all that I think will count. That's all I care about is that we get it. I don't care if it's destroyed when I come across the line. I don't care if we have to physically take in on a flatbed to Daytona USA Monday morning and slide it off onto that little stage. That's what we want."
HOW REJUVENATED IS RYAN NEWMAN? HOW HAVE YOU HELPED HIM? HE SEEMS TO BE PRETTY EXCITED "I think you've got to ask him about that. I've had more fun with Ryan since we started talking about doing this; even before we signed. We've got a lot in common. We have a lot of common interests. We both are pretty sarcastic and like to play practical jokes on each other. It's been a relationship that's been fun and I think it's what is going to make us a really good team and be great teammates because of that."
HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU IN MAKING A RUN FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I don't know what to expect. I wish I had that magical answer. As a driver that's trying to keep your sponsors and team pumped up, you're supposed to say yeah, I feel like I can win the championship. But I don't know what those expectations should be and I don't know what realistic goals should be. I just know that every week, we'll go out and give 100% and when we leave at the end of the day, as long as we feel like we've gotten 100% out of ourselves that day, then that's going to be good enough for that day. And then on Monday morning, we're going to try to figure out what we can do to make it better for the next week. But I don't know other than that what realistic goals should be. I think that's about as realistic as you can get."
IS IT STRANGE TO ENTER A SEASON LIKE THAT? "Tell me a year that I ever knew exactly where I was going to be able to finish in the points. Nobody can do that. If you ask that question and they give you a solid answer, they don't know. They're lying to you. They're telling you the politically correct answer because nobody knows. This is a series that's so competitive that things change so easily from week to week. There isn't anybody that can give you that answer and give it to you accurately. They can tell you where they think they might be, but that's not what you want to know. You want to know where I'm going to be."
WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING TO BE? "I don't know. It's harder for me to guess this year than ever. I don't know how I can answer that, honestly."
WITH THE LACK OF TESTING AND WITH THE DOWN ECONOMY, WILL THERE BE A LACK OF PARITY IN NASCAR THIS YEAR? "I don't know. It's those same cars as last year. With no testing, it's the same for everybody. It's basically like Homestead ending and Daytona starting the next week. It's almost like there wasn't an off-season."
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT FLYING COMMERCIAL? DO YOU THINK THERE IS AN OBLIGATION FOR YOU TO GIVE BACK TO THE FANS SINCE THEY ARE STRUGGLING SO MUCH WITH THEIR POCKETS? "I think we do everything that we can. I don't know what we can do. Obviously if there is somebody who comes up with an idea that works, we'll all do it. That's the great thing about this sport that you don't see in other sports is that drivers and teams and the sanctioning body have always tried to do that; whether it's at this level or the short track level, it's always been that way. First and foremost, I'm worried about getting a race team up and going and making cars competitive each week. That's a seven-day-a-week job. I don't have four days or five days out of the week to worry about how I can make the world a better place. I've pretty much got a full plate."
AS THE NEW CAR EVOLVES, DOES YOUR DIRT BACKGROUND GIVE YOU ANY ADVANTAGE IN SETTING THE CAR UP? "I don't think so. We all started driving this car two years ago and it has proven that the technology and the engineers are more important now than ever. It's either right or wrong. With a dirt track background, you can slide them around more, but you can't make it do something that it's not going to do and these cars are really, really sensitive. We had more flexibility before with the old cars of being able to get them closer to where they needed to be, but with this car it's either right or wrong. You can make it better as the day goes on, but if it's not right, you're probably not going to get it there."
-credit: gm racing