Joe Gibbs excited about present and future of NASCAR

DETROIT, Mich. (May 16, 2000) - As a multi-car team owner, Joe Gibbs has plenty to smile about in 2000 even though it has not been a perfect season for his two efforts. Despite a handful of setbacks, his driver, Bobby Labonte, remains atop the...

DETROIT, Mich. (May 16, 2000) - As a multi-car team owner, Joe Gibbs has plenty to smile about in 2000 even though it has not been a perfect season for his two efforts. Despite a handful of setbacks, his driver, Bobby Labonte, remains atop the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings after 11 races in the Interstate Batteries Grand Prix. His other driver, Tony Stewart, has struggled according to the team's high standards, but still sits 11th in the standings and is expected to return to championship form in the Home Depot Grand Prix before the season is over.

Gibbs has both his teams preparing for this week's running of The Winston and next week's running of the Coca Cola 600, as well as for next year's expanded Winston Cup schedule.

THOUGHTS FROM JOE GIBBS, OWNER, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX AND NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX

...on the 2000 season so far: "With Bobby Labonte we're excited. We finished second in points last year. I think that was the first year that we could consistently say that we were a contender for the championship and raced hard all last year. Dale (Jarrett) had a terrific year and so we came in second. I think when we kicked off this year we tried to stay with our game plan. In general, with our race team we've taken the approach of trying to stay focused just on Winston Cup. We don't do any lease motors. We don't do anything that would distract. Nothing in this building is anything but Winston Cup. This year we tried to keep the focus just on trying to prepare ourselves to be the best we could. We all realized that you don't get many opportunities like this where you have a great driver, where you have maturity and you have a chance for a championship. So that was our focus on that side. Right now we've had some disappointments this year, but we've eeked first place so far at this point. We know it's going to be an unbelievable battle down the road. I think there are five teams within a hundred points now, so we're looking forward down the road. We think it's going to be a real battle every week. So that's Bobby's situation and we're excited about that.

"On Tony's (Stewart) side it seems like everything last year in a dream season as a rookie, we had unbelievable fortune last year. This year it seems to have kind of gone the other way on us in that every week something it seems like has come up to kind of haunt Tony's team, although I will say this: I go to the racetrack each week, and I honestly mean this, I go expecting the 20 car to win every single race. That's how good I think Tony is, Greg (Zipadelli) is and the team is over there. There is an excitement about it because I know if that car is right Tony is going to put it up there. I don't think there is a track that we go to that there is not that potential. I'm excited every week. I know (Richmond) was a bitter disappointment for him. I told him the way to look at it is that I honestly think that he is going to win five races before the year is over with. I just told him, 'Please don't get down about this.' Of course immediately after a race like that he is just fit to be tied. That was a bitter disappointment for him."

...on the France family: "I think the France family, period, starting with Bill Sr., (Bill) Jr., and right on down the line, has done a great job with this sport. I think they paved the way for the rest of us that came in. I've been in nine years now. It wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them. I appreciate that. I've said before, their leadership has brought the sport to where it is. The thing I have always appreciated about Brian (France) and the Frances, as big as they are, as much as they've got on their plate, you can always talk to him. Bill has been the same way. But Brian, in particular, has been very approachable. If you have a problem you can call him on the phone. He is going to call you right back within minutes, or immediately you can get through to him. Obviously from a marketing standpoint he has been brilliant in what he has brought to the table. I think the strong leadership from the France family all the way down the line has been one of the things that has made NASCAR special. "I think what I appreciate about this has been the growth and the way this sport has taken off. I think a lot of it comes from the fact that there is not a committee that votes on this stuff. There's no board. It's Bill France making decisions. They are quick. They are strong. If you want an answer he'll give you one. I think because of that there has been a rapid growth. Great leadership has led to the fact that we have a lot of the things we have in our sport. One of the things I appreciate is since I've been in it I don't know of one driver that has gotten in trouble in any way with the police or anything else - DWI even - since I've been in this. I think that is one example. We have one sport in all of the pro sports that has such a clean image and where the drivers can actually be looked up to as heroes. That's just one example I would use."

...on eliminating qualifying from a race weekend: "Maybe a 'streamlining' (of the race weekend) might be something that would be interesting to consider. I don't think doing away with qualifying would be something that you would probably want for the sport. I always look at each race as three races. One is to qualify. There is a certain amount of prestige, and where you start in those races, believe me, has a lot to do with where you are going to wind up finishing. I always looked at that as one race. Then there is the race to win the race which is obviously a huge deal, and then there is the championship race. So I always look at each week as there are three things we are trying to accomplish."

...on the expanding NASCAR Winston Cup schedule: "Here is my concern. When we're going to have 36 races, the problem is and the strain goes to the crews, and it goes to those crews that are on the road. You think about these guys that are gone from Thursday to Sunday. I think the drivers have more free time. The drivers have jet planes in most cases and are pretty much on their own schedule. I think they can do it. But I think the people that we run the risk of wearing out and running down and kind of messing up somebody's life would be the crew chief -- there is no way you can take pressure off him if he's got to go to these races because it's his job to make everything happen -- and those road crews. As a consequence I think what we need to do as a race team, we're going to have to find ways to give them a break. It's going to mean more people. It's going to mean more money being spent and of course that is going to drive up budgets and everything else, but I don't see any other way around it. For instance, next year we know that we are going to have more than two truck drivers. That's just an obvious thing. Incrementally the cost is going to go up to us, which again gets passed through to the sponsors at some point. "It's a very complicated thing, although, let me say this. Every sponsor that we have with the exception of one is a national sponsor. We need to go to Chicago. We need to go to these other markets. I think that is very important to us, so we want to do that. Now at some point to us we would probably favor doing away with some of the other races and going to some places twice where we really would be more effective in a different TV market and a different market across the country where other people get to see a race and there is more excitement, obviously, when you have one race than when you have two. When we have two in some of these places that's where we're seeing, every now and then, the crowds will drop. Obviously, they are going to drop because there are people saying, 'We're going to go next time,' or 'I'll go at the end of the year,' or 'I'll pick the first race,' or 'I'll pick the second race.' "The places where we go once, I will say this: there is a ton of excitement. I see it in hospitalities for me. To be quite truthful, I go to some racetracks I have no hospitalities because sponsors are not there. Then I go to others, I'll have six, seven, eight. So I think it's good for the sport to go to these other places, race in front of these other crowds, give them an opportunity to be a part of our sport. I think there is obviously a lot that goes into that. There has got to be a balancing act. At some point, we're going to kind of reach a point where we say, 'OK, that's it.'"

...would he like to see Texas and Las Vegas get second races? : "I think they would be good markets (for our sponsors), but I kind of leave that up to NASCAR. I would say that the best case could be made for the racetracks where you have the most attention, the most people, the most sponsors, the most excitement. Those are the places we need to be going if we go to some place twice, if there is going to be an adjustment. They would kind of, to me, speak for themselves. People know where those tracks are, where the most excitement is, and I think NASCAR knows that. So I think they'll make a good decision on that if we do make a change."

...do those two tracks generate that level of excitement?: "To me there is. I did eight hospitalities in Texas. That's a world record. That means that everybody that's on our car is at Texas. You could say almost the same thing for Vegas. Obviously Vegas is a very attractive market, too."

...why is hospitality so important in NASCAR?: "Our sport, for us as a car owner, revolves around corporate sponsorship. In other words, we offer about 20 things to sponsors that we can do - everything from show car event, to me making appearances, to the driver making appearances. There are a million different things we kind of do in some form or fashion for our sponsors. They are the key. They sponsor the thing. They are all national companies. They want to be in these other markets. They want to have people that work for them be able to come to the races in those markets. They want people that are buying their product in those markets to have a hands-on, close race they can go to and see the excitement."

...on comparing Tony Stewart's personality to other winners he has coached in football: "Everybody is different. Our personalities are different. You can have great competitors. I think I've coached in football some of the greatest competitors there were. Some of them were very quiet. Some of them showed very little emotion, but yet were great competitors. Other guys - a Gary Clark - would explode at the drop of a hat. He might call me names. He might call everybody on the sideline names. He's calling the referees names. His personality, that was something that wasn't faked. That was his genuine personality. So all of us are a little bit different. We have to understand that.

"In Tony's case, let me say this: I am absolutely convinced that this guy has one of the best hearts of anybody I've ever worked with from the standpoint of being a great competitor. But at the same time he knows if he does make a mistake, he is one of the few I've coached or been on a team with that on the second day he will turn around and go back and call people, write letters, apologize. He has a great heart. I think he has put his whole life into being a race car driver. He wants to be the best in the world at what he does. It is an absolute thrill for me to go to the racetrack with Tony Stewart because I know that this guy is going to give it every single thing he's got. That is a rare experience to be a part of something like that. For me, I think Tony Stewart is great for racing. I think people like to see somebody with that kind of competitiveness in them. This guy has a great heart. He is a great person, I think. And I think he is going to go down in history - myself, personally, this is what I feel - he'll go down as one of the greatest competitors, one of the best racers and he is going to be great for this sport. As you can tell, I'm a Tony Stewart fan.

"He is fun to work with, I'm telling you right now. Yes he'll blow up. Yes he'll get in your face. I walked up to him after a race - I won't say what race it was - and I'm going to congratulate him on finishing in the top 10 and when he saw me he turned around and vented for about five minutes. He said, 'I'm sick and tired...,' and he went off and chewed me out, half the people in our program out and everybody else, but I didn't get upset about that. I got excited about that because I know finishing 10th to him stunk. You don't want to finish 10th. He wants to win a race. I'm just trying to paint a little picture here of working with him. To me it's exciting."

...does Tony Stewart's personality present any challenges in working with NASCAR or with sponsors?: "I think everybody that has a personal relationship with Tony knows him, particularly The Home Depot and all the people over there on that side. Everybody in their management team knows him. They have a chance to be around him, hear his comments, see what he can bring to the table as a corporate spokesperson. That's really what drivers are. They know him. I think at different times Tony has done things that he gets upset about and wished he hadn't done and we wished he hadn't done. But the point is, I think with most people each one of those is a learning experience. I think this guy is still young and very young in what he does, and I think every one is a learning experience. My bet is a lot of those he is not going to make the same mistake again. I think they know it.

"I'd be willing to bet you if you went inside of Home Depot and asked the management team there what they think about Tony Stewart, I think what you would hear is, 'We love Tony Stewart.' There are 220,000 people that work for Home Depot. I think he is a great representative for their company. He's aggressive, they're aggressive. He likes people, they like people. He does a great job of representing himself and he is a high-quality person."

...does he worry about Tony walking away from the sport to escape the pressure of being a star?: "I think Tony sometimes rebels against the fact that he still likes his private time, wants to get off by himself and stuff, and some of that has been taken away from him. But the other thing that he's got to understand is that he's not going to make the money that he makes, he's not going to have the success, he's not going to be a star unless that goes with it. He understands that. I think it's just something that sometimes anybody in the public eye at some point would say, 'I'm sick and tired of this.' It's a knee-jerk reaction. But I think Tony understands that. Tony loves the fans, the attention, he loves selling his apparel, he loves to see people with his T-shirt on. I can tell you that for a fact, and he enjoys all that."

...does Tony pay too much attention to what people say about him?: "I don't read a lot of negative stuff about him, but I'm sure there are probably comments made about almost everybody that is in the public eye like that. But I think he does (get hurt by it). He genuinely wants people to like him. He wants people to buy his T-shirts, to buy his hats because I think he takes a real pride in that. He wants to be what everybody thinks he should be. Well then it hurts him sometimes I think when somebody will write an article, or it could be a fan, or whatever. I think that stings a little bit and it can happen to almost everybody. I think it bothers Tony because he does care. I think maybe for a different person they could just blow it off. I don't think Tony can blow it off. I think it bothers him."

...on the Christian influence that exists at Joe Gibbs Racing: "I think it's very important. Obviously right now at Joe Gibbs Racing we have about 165 employees. I think when you get a group that big there are all kinds of personal things going on, whether it's an illness, whether it's a problem in relationships. There are so many things happening in our lives. I think everybody can relate to that. There is a drama that everybody has going on. At different times I think it helps obviously to have a chaplain here. Besides the personal things there that you have we also have group bible studies, small group studies, we have different events for both husband and wives at Joe Gibbs Racing. We have 'girls night out' on the first Tuesday of every month. There is just a lot of things going on here where you are trying to be the right kind of employer to a lot of people. Bob (Dyer) has many times stepped in the gap where somebody gets sick or hurt, or is having a problem at home and has been a real benefit to us. I think people around here kind of look at him as somebody that is really trying to help them."

...on pit road rules: "I think pit road speed is fine. I think the thing that could be changed is the size of those pit boxes. Every time we get into something where you are really restricted, man, you've got bodies flying all over the place. I know that NASCAR knows this and they are giving it strong consideration. There have been tracks just recently where we've had pit boxes expanded. I think what we need is enough area there to operate. I think sometimes that is where we get in a mess because you're trying to get so many people and so many cars jammed into such a small area that it does become risky. If there is anything to do with the track designs where we can get bigger pit boxes, that's what we need."

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