Joe Gibbs Surprised by Tony Stewart

Gibbs pleasantly surprised by Stewart, 20 team By Brett Borden (April 7, 1999) Joe Gibbs' teams have finished in the top-10 in points four times in seven seasons. In the realm of professional football, where Joe Gibbs used to earn his keep,...

Gibbs pleasantly surprised by Stewart, 20 team By Brett Borden

(April 7, 1999) Joe Gibbs' teams have finished in the top-10 in points four times in seven seasons. In the realm of professional football, where Joe Gibbs used to earn his keep, it would be difficult to imagine the owner of the Washington Redskins also owning the Dallas Cowboys. But the helmets aren't the only things that are different in NASCAR -- the ownership rules are, too. When Gibbs shifted his attention from the gridiron to the qualifying grid, he entered a world where the guys who own one team have to compete against guys who owned as many as five teams. That's five sets of information. Five squads throwing ideas around to each other.

Gibbs didn't win three Super Bowls by conceding when his opponents have an advantage. He waited for the right situation to come along, then nabbed open wheel ace Tony Stewart to pair up with the ace he already had up his sleeve -- Bobby Labonte.

Stewart competed for Gibbs for one year in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division, then was called up to run in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series in 1999. The results have been the equivalent of having one team in the Super Bowl and another on the verge of making the playoffs.

Labonte is in 2nd place in the current NASCAR Winston Cup Series standings, a mere two points behind leader Jeff Burton. Stewart sits in 13th, only 15 points away from a spot in the top-10. It's been a pleasant surprise for Gibbs.

"We have worked for eight years trying to get Bobby in position to win a championship, not knowing if that was going to happen or not, and we still don't know," said Gibbs. "We got off to our best start. That one we've worked extremely hard, felt like we had everything in place. To see the 20 car with Tony step out there with that all-new race team, I think that was the one that, if there was a surprise in here, certainly that was.

"We've got great confidence in (crew chief) Greg (Zipadelli) and Tony and everybody over there, but at the same time you have a new team. Not saying that we still won't have our hard lumps here as we go, but certainly that one I think is the one that... I'd say if you asked almost anybody, here or anywhere in NASCAR -- they would say that has been a real surprise to see Tony run that well. He's only had one wreck, and that wasn't his fault. Somebody else wrecked him. He's run extremely well, he's qualified every week on the first day. We've just been really excited and pleased."

Gibbs says the second team was expected to help Labonte contend for a championship, but not really to compete for a top-10 finish on its own. He says the two drivers have a good working relationship that suits both the veteran and the rookie.

"I think Bobby's the one that has the experience, and I know Tony's constantly asking Bobby questions," said Gibbs. "I think Bobby's our lead guy that directs things there. What I like about Tony is his attitude. He doesn't have an ego thing. He is wanting to learn every single thing he can learn. He's excited about it. He talks to Bobby. He's a willing learner and looks at it that way. And people like that that have a lot of talent, which he does have, I think are going to make quick learners.

"I think Bobby's our lead guy and certainly Tony does most of the asking of the questions but I think that the two of them compliment each other. Obviously just in information, having two crew chiefs, having two people working on shocks, two engineering groups, is added information I think that helps the 18 car."

Source: NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart