Report from Motorsport News International NASCAR Public Relations Gibbs, Labonte on Stewart CHARLOTTE, N.C. (April 30,1997) Excerpts from the Joe Gibbs Racing press conference Tuesday. Gibbs announced he has hired three-time USAC ...
Report from Motorsport News International
NASCAR Public Relations
Gibbs, Labonte on Stewart
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (April 30,1997)
Excerpts from the Joe Gibbs Racing press conference Tuesday. Gibbs announced he has hired three-time USAC champion Tony Stewart to drive for him. Stewart will drive Gibbs Pontiacs on a full-time basis beginning with the 1998 NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division season. Stewart will team with Interstate Batteries Pontiac driver Bobby Labonte to give Gibbs a two-car Winston Cup team in 1999.
"We started talking about game plans and what was the best way for the 18 car to win the championship. In NASCAR, multiple teams have become what a lot of people feel like is the best way to go. We were sitting back, Bobby, Jimmy (Makar, Labonte's crew chief), and I were saying, 'There's some questions about that.' Everything we have here right now is focused on one race car. When you run two race cars do you run the risk of losing some of that concentration? We've been talking about this for two years. "At the same time, we're out there running against multiple-car teams and we see there are some advantages. You've got twice the tests. You've got two drivers to communicate on some things. You've got two crew chiefs and more resources. Our whole focus here is what's the best way for Bobby to win a championship? "We didn't feel like we were ready to add a second team last year. We implemented our own motor program for the first time, and we knew we were going to go through a learning curve with that. This year when we started talking about the future and where we wanted to be with our race team, we decided to have some meetings to lay out what it would take for us to go to a second team. "We had to see if there was someone out there that we were excited about as a driver. We never settled on one person until we got down to Tony's name. Then they kind of turned me loose to try to chase down Tony, and that was no easy task. It was kind of complicated by the simple fact that Harry Ranier's had Tony's contract at that time. "We struck up a great conversation with him and came up with something that would mutually work for both of us. I got excited about it, and we kind of ended the deal and the chase Friday afternoon and were able to get everything signed up. We're not going to take anything away from the 18 car. We're going to try and add to it with every single thing we do with Tony's team. "Here's what Tony said. He said, 'I don't think I'm ready to jump in a cup car. That's the big leagues over there. Yes, I've driven a lot of different types of cars, but I think I need time to work with a Busch car.' He got extremely excited about the opportunity to work with Bobby, and having the chance to race in Busch. "We plan at the end of this year to get several Busch races in for Tony. He'll be a teammate of Bobby and work with him at the track, and work out of his shop. Next year he will race the full IRL schedule, and he'll do that for Menard, and then he will race the rest of the Busch races that don't clash with that. He'll also be testing a Cup car. We're really happy with our switch to Pontiac. I just want to say that I'm thrilled about the year and what's happened for us, and the fact we're sitting fourth in points right now. Jimmy and Bobby obviously know what they're doing for us. "This is a three years and longer contract. I think it's lifetime (laughs). I think the three of us (Stewart, Gibbs, and Makar) took it out in blood. We haven't cut his (Stewart's) finger yet, but I'm sure that's coming in the future."
"I've had a lot of desire to return to NASCAR. When I didn't run the full season last year I felt like I left a lot behind there. I still wanted to get back into NASCAR, but only if I could do it with the right team and the right opportunity. To come back with Pontiac and have Jimmy, Bobby, and Joe as my tutors is probably the best opportunity I could ever have. I wasn't about to let this opportunity pass. "I'm one of those guys that doesn't like it when somebody tells me I can't do something. I've always wanted to try and run both series (NASCAR and IRL), and as long as I have the opportunity I'll try and do that. I don't think I'm leaving the IRL, I'm just reducing my schedule after 1998 a little bit. "I probably need a million and a half laps right now (to get ready for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series). This series is so tough. When you go to a race track and have 45 cars qualify within three tenths of a second it is something no average Joe off the street can do. The cars are so even and it puts so much pressure on the drivers. You've really got to be on your game. "To come from the type of cars I come from that are half the weight, that's too much of a jump to assume you can just do that. I think last year is a good testimony that I need a lot of laps in those cars. I've spent 17 years of my life working up to this point, and it's the opportunity of a lifetime, and I don't want to ruin it by a wrong decision that will get me labeled the rest of my life. "I'm sure one day I'm going to have to (choose between the series). Running both divisions for a couple of years, I'm going to know what I'm going to want to drive. I think the decision will be pretty easy when the time comes. Right now I haven't had enough time in a stock car. Not enough to where I can make a judgment where I'm going to be successful. I feel like now I have the resources to gain that knowledge in order to make that decision. "If I'm not doing well in these cars, I think these guys will say, 'Hey, this isn't working out. Maybe you should go back to running sprint cars or midgets or something.' We'll just wait and see. I can't tell you what's going to happen. "I think the challenge more than anything is why I wanted to come back. I've driven a lot of different types of cars, and in most of them I've had a certain amount of success. I've struggled over here, and that really created a lot of drive in myself to challenge myself and see what I was lacking. That really pushes me to learn, that takes a lot of the question marks out of my mind. It will help accelerate that learning curve. I thought it was a great opportunity to get with a quality team. This is a team that can push me forward and get me to learn what I need to get through the learning curve and come out a winner."
"Joe touched on helping the 18 car. I talked to Joe and Jimmy, and I said if we go to two Winston Cup cars, we don't want an A team and a B team. We want two A teams. I want to make sure Tony doesn't just help out the 18 car. That's not right, and I don't think he's going to do that. I'll see something in him that will help me, and that's going to help a lot, too. That's going to drive me a little further, and hopefully, the same thing will happen to him. "I kept coming back to his name because I see that in him. I've seen a lot of talent throughout his career to know he's got a lot to bring to the table. He might be past the 18 car. The 18 car might have to catch up to him eventually. We want that kind of challenge. Not a rivalry, but you want someone to help you push a little bit, and when he brings something to the table that's better than I can do, then I want to make it better. "We want two potentially great race teams, not just one helping the other one. That will make both teams successful for Joe Gibbs."
Pontiac Motorsports manager Gary Claudio's comments:
"To be associated with a team like this, Jimmy and Bobby, and now to be involved with Tony Stewart, is a thrill. I first met this young man about a year and a half ago. I was extremely impressed with him. To have him in a Pontiac for a short time, then lose him, and now have him back again is just marvelous. "I think the future is his to be had. Working with tutors like Jimmy Makar and Bobby Labonte and coach Gibbs is just marvelous. When Joe first told me he was working on Tony Stewart I couldn't get the smile off my face. To get this young man in with the team he has already in place is really an accomplishment. It's just great for Pontiac. I'm in a great position to accept this team into Pontiac. Bobby and Tony are the future of Winston Cup. They are it, believe me. These gentlemen will be heard from. "I think when you have an opportunity to get a team like this, and get a type of driver like Tony is, then you have to go for it. I went to my people and said, 'Look, this opportunity may come to fruition, and if it does we're going to have to be prepared to step up.' We're committed to the 18 car and they've shown in a very short time what they can do in a Pontiac. I'm looking forward to even better things with this new organization that Tony's joining. Whatever monetary amount is involved is really going to pay dividends down the road."
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