Texas Motorsport Speedway - Stewart interview

DRIVER TRANSCRIPTS FROM TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY MEDIA DAY ON FEBRUARY 25, 2009 *** NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart of Stewart-Haas Racing You don't think as an owner out there on the track? You're just a driver, right? TS: ...



NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart of Stewart-Haas Racing

You don't think as an owner out there on the track? You're just a driver, right?

TS: Honestly, the only way it really works is to be a car owner four days a week and to be a driver the three days we are there at the race track. It's hard enough just doing the driver role, but that's part of having people in the right places and having someone like [team director of competition] Bobby Hutchins. He kind of plays that car owner role during the weekend and the short amount of time that I've been with him I can tell you I have 110 percent confidence that if I wasn't at the race track at all during the weekend that everything is fine with him at the helm.

How do you think the economy is affecting NASCAR fans planning on attending this season's races?

TS: The thing about race fans is that people that come to one race a year literally save up the whole year to go to that one event. The things you normally hear the fans talk about the most is gas getting there and the hotel prices. We can go across the street to a hotel and it's probably $80 a night right now. When you come back in 40 days, it's going to be a $380 room and you have to buy a minimum of three or four days whether you stay there or not. It's just things like that that drain the race fans of going to the races. The facility here, not charging for parking, is a great idea. Why should anyone charge for parking? That's showing how the promoters and tracks are trying to help. I always lean on [TMS President] Eddie [Gossage] for my information as a promoter and we try to do the same things at our race track and try to figure out how we can help the same way. But that's the things you hear them talk about, when you're talking about just getting to the track is the hardest part for these people.

Is NASCAR more susceptible to the economic hardship as opposed to basketball or football?

TS: I don't know. I've not been a part of basketball or football so I really don't know. A basketball game is a one night game where our events are two- to three-day weekends. That's where those lodging costs and the fuel cost getting there come in. You don't normally see too many people drive eight hours to go to a basketball game, but they do it to go to a NASCAR race.

Have you encountered any surprises on the owner side thus far?

TS: Everything has been pretty sane from the ownership side. There hasn't been a huge curveball come our way yet that we didn't expect. Honestly, I just don't think it's happened yet. I've been so proud of [team director of competition] Bobby Hutchins, [crew chiefs] Darian Grubb, Tony Gibson and Ryan [Newman]. To come in here and to get these groups of people that we've got there at the shop have come from all different teams. To be able to go to Daytona and for us to be both competitive like we were was something that I was really, really proud of.

How has the owner's role changed you as a driver?

TS: It hasn't because I take that owner's hat off on Thursday night when I get to the race track and put it back on Monday. I'm still dealing with three pedals and a shifter when I get in the car. It's the same thing as it was last year whether I was a driver or an owner. That's the reality of it. My job when I get in the car is to drive the car. It's not until Monday that I focus on that [being an owner]. It's a full-time job being a driver, but Monday to Thursday when I'm not being a driver we still have to shuffle things around like appearances and media days and try to figure out how we need to get done and do all these obligations. It's been something that I think we've all been pretty efficient about so far.

Discuss your relationship with Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage.

TS: A lot of it starts with Eddie Gossage and the respect I have for Eddie and this facility. Eddie and I have had a long relationship with each other and since I've become a track owner Eddie has been a guy I have been always able to have the ability to pick up the phone and call him and ask him a question and get his input. And he has always taken the time for me. That's something that has meant a lot. When this is all said and done and we all quit driving race cars and you guys quit writing articles and quit covering sports, the things that we have left are the people that we have met along the way. Eddie is one of those people that have made a huge impact on me as a person away from racing but on the professional side, too. I believe in everything that he has done and he works hard and any time he asks us to come do an event we are willing to do it.

Do a lot of drivers think that way?

TS: It's like we were talking about the economy earlier. Everyone wants to do their part to make it better and I'm not sure we know exactly what that answer is but our intentions are to do that and to do what we can to help make it a better experience for the fans and make a better product for them every week. It is one thing for the economy to be bad, but we are competing in a time where everything is on the Internet and there are so many things for people to do. The simplest part about what we do here every weekend is we are in the entertainment industry, and we are competing against everybody else whether it is high school football on Friday night or whatever. We are trying to figure out how we get these people to come watch us do what we love to do. And that is the challenge every week for track owners and sanctioning bodies. It's how do you make it better. When the economy gets bad like this, it makes it that much tougher of a challenge. You try and find more ways to make it more efficient for the people to come watch us do what we love to do every week.

Thoughts about leaving the door open to compete in the IndyCar Series?

TS: That's why I've learned to say never say never. I retired from open-wheel racing once and it wasn't about three months later that I realized that that was the dumbest thing I had ever done. You learn to say never say never with it. I don't know what will happen, but the good thing is I have a plan for what we're going to do life beyond being a driver. We will still have our race tracks and we want to have our race teams as long as possible. I really enjoy that side of it. I'm still having a lot of fun being a driver to and that's what I love the most.

Did A.J. Foyt give you any advice on being a car owner during the Daytona 500?

TS: We don't talk about it a lot. A.J. and I have had a great relationship for a long time. Normally when we get together, we are talking about him tipping over his bulldozer or fighting with something with whatever city on the south end of Texas he's fighting with. We have fun away from racing. For a long time we always talked about racing, but as time goes on we like those conversations away from racing that don't have anything to do with what is going on at the race track. We spend more time catching up on what each other is doing.

How special was it to have A.J. Foyt at the Daytona 500?

TS: It was the icing on the cake for the week for me. Anne Fornoro who works with AJ [as the team's publicist] said he had an absolute blast. And that's something we wanted him to come there and have fun and be proud of us and hopefully be proud that we ran that No.14 [Foyt's number] toward the front. The coolest part about this was the very first race we ran in the No.14 car was at the shootout, and we led the 14th lap. That was cool to have A.J. see that No.14 car out leading again.

What does the team need to do to get your teammate Ryan Newman going?

TS: To get the bad luck and the monkey off his back. He is just had rotten luck. He is just had rotten, terrible luck. We've got to find some way to get rid of his bad luck for him. I don't know how we do that, but whatever the way is we'll find it. The good thing is the cars are running well and that is encouraging to both of us. We at least know that the cars can run out front. It's just a matter of getting luck on his side.

Does a testing ban help or hurt a team like yours?

TS: I think it goes both ways actually. It was a blessing in disguise for us through the winter because instead of being gone 15 to 20 days during the offseason -- which we probably would have been if the testing was opened up -- that helped us keep everyone back at the shop. The little bit that it hurt us helped us at the same time.

Can you learn from the troubles of Michael Waltrip as a NASCAR Sprint up CSeries driver/owner?

TS: I don't know if we looked at what they did as much as how are we going to do it. How are we going to do it in a way that makes sense and gives us the best shot to be successful. I don't know if looking at what they did was part of our equation. We never really looked back and said `what did they do.' We really don't know what they exactly did and how they were doing it. But looking at the equation when we first sat down and talked about this process was looking at where the key tools and pieces were in place to do it. And, obviously, with Gene Haas and Haas Automation having built a beautiful shop, they had all the equipment there that we needed. It was a matter of having the right group of people together.

Tell me how you've been able to manage your time trying to get this team up and running with all the driver commitments you've got to make while also being the team owner. That's got to be stressful.

TS: It is - it's a good weight-loss program so far (laughing). Honestly, it's like Ryan [Newman] mentioned earlier. We've got what I feel like are the right people in place earlier and getting Ryan as a teammate was a huge piece of that puzzle, Darian Grubb as my crew chief, Tony Gibson as Ryan's crew chief and when we got [team director of competition] Bobby Hutchins I feel like that really was the glue that started pulling all the pieces together. Once we got that group, there it kind of became their responsibility to go through the system and get the crews together - tire changers, carriers, fuel guys and all the spots at the shop that make the pieces to the puzzle fit. Now I'm more in a learning stage than an ownership side of it. I'm watching Bobby and Darian and Tony Gibson, and learning from those guys.

Has it been as tough as you thought it would be or tougher?

TS: I've been a car owner since 2001 with the World of Outlaws sprint car series and in 2002 we started adding USAC programs to our equation and started buying race tracks so we've kind of been in this ownership role since 2001. Everybody thought it was going to be something we didn't really have any knowledge of, but from day one we kind of had an idea what was going to happen. It's a lot larger scale at the NASCAR level with 150 employees at the shop. I was used to dealing with 14 or 15 guys in the whole open-wheel program, so it's a ten times bigger program. It's been different I should say, there have been a lot of things that I didn't think about but I knew there were going to be situations like that or like human resources departments. I'm normally an HR nightmare and now I've got to worry about our HR department at our shop. It's been fun to learn. Nothing's been a total shock. By the time we left Daytona, Ryan and I realized that between two drivers we used five cars. Other than that, it's been pretty smooth so far.

As owner of the team and driver of the No.14 car, how does the owner of the car deal with the driver of the car when he gets out of control?

TS: Easy - they don't fight with each other. That's the good thing. It's hard to unless I just stand in the mirror, and either way nobody wins that. I think it's probably calmed me down a little bit from the standpoint that there's 150 people at the shop that I'm responsible for and it's not only them. It's their spouses, their girlfriends, their children so easily that number turns into 450 so everything that you do you try to keep in mind how it's not only going to affect yourself but how it affects the other people in your organization.

So the driver... you don't see any outbursts from him this season?

TS: Oh, I'm sure there'll be some somewhere. Let's not be unrealistic about this

Ryan Newman: Seriously, we've got a shock collar for him this year. It's underneath his collar. And for whatever reason, they gave the button to my wife. So I just give her a little wink and she knocks him right down.

Eddie Gossage: Now we know.

TS: Well, it's sad because it's true (laughing).

How do you feel going into this deal as an owner? Obviously you dealt with a backup car at Daytona, but you are running Hendrick Motorsports equipment and motors. Darian Grubb comes out of that program. Does that give you more confidence that you don't have to sweat start-up issues, like Michael Waltrip did, and that you have a great opportunity to compete for race wins and the championship?

TS: Yeah, we feel that way. That's why we made this decision. The process started two [NASCAR championship] banquets ago, so two years ago in December is when this first was even mentioned to us. So the process of trying to figure out what pieces were in place, what are the other hurdles that need to be fixed, how do we fix it. We spent a lot of time going through that and weighing those options before we ever decided what we were going to do. It's not that we expect anything out of the box, not that we expect to do well but we feel like we have a great opportunity to run well right out of the box and that's because of exactly what you mentioned. We know that the Hendrick engines are proven, we know the Hendrick chassis are proven. Having somebody like Darian Grubb [Stewart's crew chief who came from Hendrick] that is very familiar with their system on our side helps so we feel like all those pieces are in place. It's like Ryan mentioned getting the right core group of people was the biggest part of the equation to try to make it all work. We went to Daytona and everybody said "Are you surprised?" and I'm not surprised either way but it was because we knew there was potential. It was just a matter of how soon it would come together and how soon would it gel.

How many Nationwide Series races do you plan on running this year and for who?

TS: A total of three. Obviously, we ran for Mr. [Rick] Hendrick at Daytona with the Hendrick car and had an awesome race in the Nationwide Series race there. We're going to run the second Charlotte race for Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. in the No.5 car and we're going to run a race for Kevin Harvick here in Texas [O'Reilly 300 on April 4].

You've said many times that you would have loved to have won the Indianapolis 500, but now you own a team in NASCAR. Do you ever see a scenario, at some point down the road, where you might give that another try?

TS: As much as my heart wants to say yes, my mind says no. There's a lot more responsibility obviously now being a car owner and the logistics of it still make it impossible to do. When they moved the start time of it back two hours the logistics of being able to complete the [Indy] 500 and get down to Charlotte on time to start the [Coca-Cola] 600, you can't do it. I've learned to never say never, but unfortunately that is probably a chapter in my life that's passed. I've chosen my path especially being a car owner in this series now so I doubt that it will happen.

With the struggles that the big three have had in the economic climate and racing in NASCAR and Toyota being there, is there a sense of trying to be better than Toyota?

TS: I can't honestly say that I feel pressure from that standpoint. Obviously, we're in an economic time that's tough on everybody, especially the big three [GM, Ford, Dodge]. It's not at all about what we do here in racing; it's how much it's going to affect our country if we lose those three manufacturers. It would obviously be devastating to our sport, but on a bigger scale all the families that it would affect that are all employed by those three manufacturers would be a much bigger concern to us.

-credit: --TMS--

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Ryan Newman , A.J. Foyt
Teams Stewart-Haas Racing , Hendrick Motorsports