JOE GIBBS, OWNER, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: HOW DOES TONY COMPARE TO OTHER ATHLETES YOU'VE DEALT WITH? "Tony is an intense competitor. I think he is very focused on driving race cars. That has been his whole life. When I first met...
JOE GIBBS, OWNER, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
HOW DOES TONY COMPARE TO OTHER ATHLETES YOU'VE DEALT WITH?
"Tony is an intense competitor. I think he is very focused on driving race cars. That has been his whole life. When I first met him and we got ready to try and do a contract with him, I was impressed with the fact that he said, 'Hey, I'm not interested in the money. I could have made a million dollars last year driving in Winston Cup. I'm not ready for Winston Cup. I want to spend another year in Busch.' I think there are very few guys in this sport that would have said that to me. I think that said a lot about him. It said a lot to me that he was more interested in being well-prepared for what he was going into to race. He wanted to win at it and he wanted to make sure - he told me - that he didn't do something stupid in front of his peer group there.
"I think Tony is very focused on his driving career. What's important to him is to win races and, of course, a lot of people are competitive like that. I think the places where Tony is a little different is he does have that No. 1 focus - he wants to win, and he will sacrifice money. I've watched him do that. That's a little different. I've also seen that during or around the race weekend he pretty-much wears his emotions on his sleeve and he can get caught up and step over the line in some of those cases. I'd say that is some of the things about him that are a little bit different."
ON CHOOSING GREG ZIPADELLI AS TONY'S CREW CHIEF IN 1999
"Jimmy Makar deserves the credit on that. Jimmy has run our racing program from the very beginning. He travels in those areas. When we picked Tony - and that was our first choice on that - Bobby, Jimmy, J.D., everybody in the front office sat down and said, 'Tony is our choice,' but it was my job to go get him and that was very complicated. I had to buy out contracts and everything else. After we got him, then it became, 'OK, who are we going to get to be a crew chief?' To be quite truthful, in the first meeting we all sat down and said, 'We've got a young guy here that has never won a Winston Cup race. We need to get a veteran guy to go with him as a crew chief.' Then, we started our search and somewhere in there, Jimmy said, 'Hey, I think I've got a guy over here that I really like that I think would be good, hasn't had crew chief experience at this level and he's young.' I was in shock. But, when I sat down and talked to Zippy I became very at ease. I think where we were fortunate there is that he grew up just like Tony did. Since he's been seven or eight years old he's been working on race cars. He grew up working in his dad's garage. He's from the same background, the talk the same language and they really fit together. You've got to have a great chemistry there. I'll say this - Greg's every bit as excitable as Tony is. They've got a quick trigger. Every now and then they'll go off at each other and it's kind of interesting to watch them. Because of that, I think they've got a great respect for each other. If there is probably any one person that I know of that Tony would listen to, it's probably Greg."
IN WHAT WAY HAS TONY'S EMOTION BEEN ESSENTIAL TO HIS SUCCESS AND IT WHAT WAYS HAS IT WORKED AGAINST HIM?
"If you take Bobby as an example in contrast, I think Bobby is every bit as competitive and most of those great athletes that we deal with are very competitive, so I don't think there is a big difference there.
"They all want to win. They want what is best. Now, some of them are obviously more skilled than others. There have been hundreds of drivers in Winston Cup that have had tremendous desire. I think the difference, sometimes, is the way they control their emotions. I think that is an area where there is a big difference between, for instance, Bobby and Tony. Bobby, no matter how bad it gets, he somehow seems to be able to compose himself and go ballistic inside the hauler, but not do it in public. I think the difference there is that Tony is maybe a product of racing a lot of different series and racing one car one night and one the next, one here, one there - it's always kind of been, 'Hey, I'll say whatever I want and I get out of there and I'm gone.' Well, in Winston Cup there is more to it than that and I think a couple times he has stepped over the line, so I think he has gotten better at it."
COMPARING JOHN RIGGINS AND TONY STEWART
"I think John was a little bit different. The person I compare Tony to is Gary Clark. Gary was one of the most intense competitors on Sunday. He was very emotional, yelling and screaming on the sidelines, and a couple times calling me names and I had to get after him. John was much more controlled than that, so I think the comparison would probably be a Gary Clark. We've all been around people like that."
AFTER INDY, HOW CLOSE DID YOU COME TO HAVING TO FACE A DECISION ABOUT FIRING TONY STEWART?
"Like we mentioned at times, Tony has stepped over the line and that was one of them. One good thing about Tony is that he has always come right back the next day when it's happened and said, 'Hey, it's my fault.' He's probably done that three or four times.
"One great thing about this sport is that it's not only getting around NASCAR's rules - such as in the NFL. If you get around the NFL rules you've pretty much got it made. If you don't get in trouble with their rules and violate their rules, you're OK. Over here, it's different. There is a different standard. Tony is an executive, really, with Home Depot, in a lot of ways and he represents them corporately. Bob Nardelli is probably one of the biggest Tony Stewart fans and one of the neatest guys you ever want to be around. But, any action by Tony would obviously have an effect on The Home Depot. So, there were just a series of serious discussions there between us and them. Then, we kind of laid out a plan of what we thought was best. We were never close to saying, 'Tony, you're fired.' But, you obviously know that any driver here could do things that would cost him his job. So, we laid out a plan and then sat down and had a big meeting with Tony and several of the people real close to him. We just said, 'This is what we think we need to do. This is what the future needs to look like.'"
IS THERE ANY FEAR THAT THERE MAY BE A DRIVER THAT WILL INTENTIONALLY TAKE TONY OUT SUNDAY?
"I think there is always a fear of that. Certainly, I can tell from talking to our drivers that there are certain people that they don't mind racing next to and other people where they are more concerned. You can kind of hear it and you can hear it in the voice of the spotter and you can hear it in our crew chiefs. I think there is always a concern of that. You don't like to have any personality conflicts on the track when you're in this position, so yeah, I think you worry about that."
DO YOU SEE TONY'S ANGER MANAGEMENT PROGRAM WORKING?
"Yeah. Jack Llewellyn (Dr. Jack Llewellyn, Ph.D.) has been working with Tony - worked with him before, has been there on a weekly basis. He is a sports psychologist and has dealt with a lot of pitchers in baseball and kind of understands sports, so he has kind of been on a steady basis with Tony, trying to go through a program. I think there has been a dramatic improvement since Indy in the way that Tony has approached things, his self-control. I think at times in there he's had some times where he would still get upset, for sure. But, they seem to be fewer, so I think we're making progress there. I think the program, generally, we're trying to do every single thing we can to limiting his activities and things like that, so he's not tired when he gets to the racetrack, which I think has probably helped him."
COMPARE THE CHEMISTRY OF THE '18' IN THEIR CHAMPIONSHIP YEAR TO THE '20' THIS YEAR
"I think there is a difference. In Jimmy and Bobby winning that championship, Jimmy has been around for a long time, won championships, is more the veteran guy and Bobby, having grown up through his brother winning championships and all that, experienced things a little closer to that - they were both just as excited and as nervous coming down the stretch. But, that car that year was kind of phenomenal, from the standpoint that it made every lap but nine. I think if a car had done that this year, he'd probably be leading by 500 points, so this year has been different. But, I also think the two teams have been different in that you have a crew chief that has not won a championship, a younger guy, also very excitable - Greg - and you have a driver that is very different emotionally than Bobby, so I think there are some marked differences between the two teams.
"People ask you what is so fun about winning championships. For me, it's always been - whether it's football or racing - the people that get to go with you through those championship runs. Seeing them get the excitement and the joy - if it's Bobby Labonte, it's seeing his dad, Bob, and the family - and Tyler and Madison and Donna and all the family that get to go with him in living out a dream. And, then all the people working here, getting to experience that championship. Now, you have a whole different set of characters and you see the people - you've got Tony, all the people around him - Zippy, his family, everybody here - and you get a big kick out of that, because they staked their careers and came with you and said, 'This is where we want to race.' So, seeing those people enjoy that - that, to me, is the real thrill of seeing a championship is all the different personalities and the fun of those people. It's a totally different experience for that group that is going to get to have a chance, anyway, to run for that championship. We all expect it to go to the last lap. We've got to earn it, but that is the fun part of it, is the people."
WHAT DO YOU HAVE THAT SEEMS TO DRAW EXCELLENCE FROM TEAM MEMBERS?
"I kind of look at it like it's the other way around. The only things I've been involved in have been team sports and I've said that everything about football is so close to racing and business, the same way. I look at it as if it's your job to kind of lead the things and the most important thing you can do is pick the right people. I've always said that if you're in football and you pick the right 45 football players they're going to make you look good. It's always kind of been that down through history. It's the other way around for me. If I pick the right people and try to give them the resources and what it takes over here - and I've been involved in people sports - so, it's picking people. It's not as much what I've done. It's picking the right people, making the right choices, having the right character, and then being blessed. The Lord's blessed me beyond belief because I've had the chance to work with so many good people, to be on their team really. I guess I kind of look at it as 'people sports.'