Fontana: GM - Stewart, Gibbs press conference, Part II

This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured defending champion, Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. As the series moves to California Speedway for the Auto Club...

This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured defending champion, Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing.

As the series moves to California Speedway for the Auto Club 500, Stewart sits in 7th place in the point standings. He is one of only three drivers to be ranked in the top 10 all season. Stewart has posted three top-10 finishes at California in four races there including a career best 4th place finish in both 1999 and '01. He will be making the 150th start of his Winston Cup career at California and hopes to make it 10 different winners in the first 10 races of the 2003 season.

Part 2 of 2

JOE GIBBS:

Q: DID THE EXTRA WEEKEND OFF HELP YOUR WINSTON CUP TEAMS BETTER PREPARE FOR THE UPCOMING RACES?

"The difference between football and Winston Cup is that if you won a Superbowl, the most games you played was 21. The difference over here is that we're pretty well tapped out. When you go 36 weekends and you're gone from Thursday to Sunday, it's pretty hard on the guys. It's not hard on me. They're pretty well shot. It's still early in the season but they needed this weekend off. I was just praying that we would get here without having to fill it up with a cancelled weekend or something. I think it's real important for the off-weekends. I noticed our guys in a meeting this morning looked refreshed. I think they needed it."

Q: ON THE PERFORMANCE OF HIS TWO TEAMS -- TONY STEWART AND BOBBY LABONTE - AT THIS POINT IN THE SEASON

"I think this is the best I've felt about both of our cars. That doesn't mean that we're necessarily going to run as good as we have other years because so many things can happen. But I really feel like the No. 18 car has bounced back and we've done a lot over there of course. I think Bobby really has his jaw set. For Tony, I can't really think of one race where everything has gone our way there. We've been good, but there's nothing really going our way. We either hit something or we get a piece bounding up underneath the car. This can happen in racing. But I really feel like if that car has a couple of weekends where it stays out of trouble, it's going to start showing itself. For me, I'm the most optimistic about the season. But having said that, your performance doesn't always reflect that."

Q: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT COY GIBBS GOING INTO THE BUSCH SERIES?

"All those years I was in football, I coached everybody else's son. I was on the sideline yelling, 'Hit 'em, kill 'em'. And then all of a sudden I go to the first high school game and I thought they were killing my son. I thought it was good for me to have a son and kind of see the other side of it and realize that you're working with other parents' kids. It's been tough for me and Pat. Coy got a late start because he came out of college and didn't really race cars. He played football. He got a late start in this. You carry an added responsibility knowing that he wouldn't be in it if you weren't in it and giving him the chance. But he's prayed about it and his wife has prayed about it. And they've got their little baby now. He's pretty much committed to this. I do think that his interest lies in that area. He kind of likes working on the cars and he's over there all the time and stays there late at night. We'll just see how far he goes. This is a tough league."

Q: DOES GETTING THERE EARLY AND STAYING LATE SOUND LIKE THE COACH YOU WERE?

"Well, he doesn't get there early (laughs). He stays late. I do think that with sports in general, if you're pretty good in racing you're probably going to be a pretty good competitor in most other sports. In racing, as we know, it takes a lot of time and a lot of races to get a real good feel for things. He started in Late Models. He went to the All Pro Series and then he went to the Truck Series. Now he's up in Busch. Busch is a tough step. We'll just have to see how well he does."

Q: DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE FILTER PROCESS THEY PUT ON TONY'S CAR AT MARTINSVILLE AND HOW WAS HE PHYSICALLY AFTER THE RACE?

"I went to the research center and one of the things they're doing is an extensive test. They're letting all the race teams come over there and use their equipment. They hook up what they have for their drivers - Hendrick's stuff was on there the day I was over there - and they have the different filtering systems. In that way, NASCAR's learning about it and they're making that equipment available to people. Our biggest problem last year was when Tony got a pretty heavy dose (of carbon monoxide) and didn't feel very good. They gave him a test and it wasn't to a level where he needed to go to a decompression chamber. But it was fairly substantial. They tested him the next four races after that and he came right out of that and didn't seem to have any problems. But so far this year, both our drivers are doing a good job of testing them. I think it 's good and we're making progress. What is going to come out of this is probably the best system to protect the drivers."

Q: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF A DRIVER ATTEMPTING THE DOUBLE - THE INDY 500 AND THE COCA-COLA 600?

"When I signed Tony, that was part of our conversation. We had an agreement there and we talked it over. Tony had a tremendous interest in wanting to race Indy even though he was going to Winston Cup. Our agreement was that we would help him any way we could in doing that. It would be up to him and obviously to the sponsor. We didn't have Home Depot signed at the time, but the sponsor would have to agree. We had a real good relationship twice that Tony has done it. The first time, we learned a lot. He did extremely well over there. We had the intravenous stuff on the plane and all that but Tony didn't really take it. He felt like he felt great. He was more relaxed and didn't really prepare in probably the right way. We got over here and there wasn't much left toward the end of the race. He was all over the place. He raced extremely well, but when we got him out of the car it made a big impression on us.

"So the next time, we were much better prepared. We had a trainer that was with him all the time about three or four weeks previous to the race. He came over here and raced that race (at Charlotte) and got out of the car and laughed and asked if there were any Late Model races around here he could go to. So he handled it much better. After the first one, I had reservations about someone trying to do that. After the second one, I'd say he handled it pretty good."

Q: HOW HAS TONY HANDLED BEING THE CHAMPION AND HAVE YOU SEEN ANY CHANGE IN HIM?

"We were all concerned about going to New York because New York is a full six days with a lot going on. You go from one thing to the other and it 's pretty hard to stay up. You know it's going to be a grind. If you picked something that Tony might not be good at, that might be it. Since he won the championship, he's much more relaxed. He did understand that he was representing the sport and all the people that had gone before him. I think he enjoyed the week and just rolled through the thing. We all saw a maturing process. The press is probably the best ones to say, but I thought he showed great patience. He was not frustrated by it. Tony normally just wants to race a car. Since then, he's taken to heart that he's the champion and he wants to represent the sport in the right way. I think he's done a terrific job. I think he's handling it extremely well. We've had a lot of things happen to the car this year and he doesn't seem to get nearly as uptight and rattled by it. He's much more relaxed. I thin Zippy helps with that a lot."

Q: FROM A CAR OWNER'S PERSPECTIVE, WHAT'S THE VALUE OF THE L.A. MARKET IN RACING IN CALIFORNIA AND WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO HAVE A SECOND RACE THERE?

"Our sponsors are national sponsors. We only have one regional sponsor on our cars really. So we need to be a national sport. We need to be in all the key markets. Certainly L.A. is one of the biggest. I think NASCAR has done a terrific job in the last five race tracks they've added to the schedule. They've been in big markets. They've been big places where you need to go. Regarding hospitality, I can tell you where corporate America values racing. I'll have six or seven corporations doing hospitality in California. I've been to some other markets where I haven't done one. We need to be in those markets. TV wants it. TV is a big deal. Somehow we need to be in the northwest. That's the last big market that we haven't got. And to be quite truthful, we probably need something in New York. When you get in those places, it's good for sports and good for TV. Yes, it's a shame to lose some tracks in the southeast, but you can go there once and it would help the sport grow. L.A. is big, Vegas is big. Dallas and Kansas City. We need to be in those places. I think it's the right move for me as a car owner."

Q: ON TONY TURNING DOWN DOING THE DOUBLE AGAIN

"We have an agreement. The only thing I've asked him is not to go over there and get in something that he can't win it with. You run the risk of injury and all the stuff that we' re going to go through. Knowing how he feels about that race, his saying no says a lot. He's been cautious about doing it. It says a lot about his priorities now. He knows how much dedication you've got to give to Winston Cup. He knows that Zippy is spending his whole life on those race cars. He's got 30 other guys doing the same thing. He's got Bobby over there as a teammate. He's probably taken that to heart. Will he probably do it again? Probably at some point. And we'll sign off on it. If you ask me for the vote, he knows what my vote is going to be: don't do it."

Q: ON BOBBY LABONTE AND THE ADDITION OF FATBACK TO THE TEAM

"Our first year in Winston Cup, we had a total of 17 people working in the front office and everything. Today, we have 180 people working on two cars. Because of the growth of the sport and the number of people in it, it causes you to rethink your management. We took Jimmy Makar and moved him up to be the team manager over both race cars. We all voted 100 percent that we wanted Michael McSwain (Fatback) to come in to be the crew chief. It's helped us overall and he has a crew chief's view of things. He has taken a lot of pressure off the crew chiefs that are forced to go to 36 weekends. They can't go to a lot of these tests. They can't go to the wind tunnel. There is a combination of things there that have really helped the No. 20 car and the No. 18 car. With Michael, that car has been there pretty much every weekend. For two years, to be truthful, we really haven't been there every single week."

Part I

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing