Tony Stewart, Joe Gibbs Phoenix interview

Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix driver Tony Stewart and team owner Joe Gibbs were the featured guests at today's Winston Breakfast Club at Phoenix International Raceway. Stewart is the 1999 winner of the Phoenix race and will be making his 100th ...

Home Depot Pontiac Grand Prix driver Tony Stewart and team owner Joe Gibbs were the featured guests at today's Winston Breakfast Club at Phoenix International Raceway. Stewart is the 1999 winner of the Phoenix race and will be making his 100th career Winston Cup start on Sunday.


YOU HAVE THREE WINS, YOU'RE THIRD IN POINTS - HOW WOULD YOU ASSESS THE SEASON SO FAR?: "It's been like a weird addition of "The Twilight Zone" in all reality. I look at our year and I feel like we've had a miserable season as far as performance, but you look at where we are in the points standings and we're higher than we've ever been, so in all reality I guess I should be happy about where we're at. But I'm not happy with the way we got here. We've got a lot to look forward to, and we still have an opportunity to get another spot in the points and try and finish the best we ever have in the Cup series. So in all reality I guess we're pretty happy, I was just hoping our performance would be better than what it's been this year."

IS THERE ANY ONE THING THAT HAS HAPPENED THIS YEAR THAT YOU WOULD CHANGE OR YOU WOULD'VE DEALT WITH IT DIFFERENTLY?: "I don't know if I could pick one thing, to be honest with you. There's been so many doggone things that have happened this year, I don't think you can just pick one. If you were to ask Joe (Gibbs), he could probably pick one. I feel like I've done everything thing that I've needed to do, in all reality, at least what I thought I should be doing. Some things I haven't done the right way, and those things I would do different, but I don't think I can just pick one. There's probably a whole list of things that I should've done different, but you learn as you go. When you get your NASCAR license there's no manual they give you on how to live your life as a Winston Cup driver. We're just going a chapter at a time."

YOU'VE USED A HEAD-AND-NECK RESTRAINT NOW IN A RACE, AND YOU'LL USE IT AGAIN THIS WEEKEND. HOW DOES IT FEEL AND HOW ARE YOU DEALING WITH IT?: "I'll say the same thing that I said before. I don't feel like either one of the two devices is right for me right now. What we've had to do to get me comfortable in the car is basically make the Hutchens Device not to its job. We've made the straps so long that no matter where I move my head I don't get the tension of the straps. So if I get in a wreck and the device is supposed to do its job, it's not going to do its job because we don't have it adjusted to where it's going to do its job. I feel like NASCAR made a mistake, and I think it's because of the pressure the media put on NASCAR. That's where I feel like sometimes you've got to give NASCAR a break and let technology take its course instead of trying to make a great story about what controversy we can have this week in the sport. What it did was put me as a driver in a bad position in a race car. It put me out there with 42 guys last week that I'd feel comfortable running with anywhere in the country, but I was made to put on a device that made me feel uncomfortable in the car. Not only did it put me in an awkward spot and uncomfortable and in an unsafe spot, but it put the other 42 guys I was racing with in an uncomfortable and unsafe spot. I'm not saying either one of those devices are bad devices, they're just not the right ones for me. When we only have two options, it's not a lot to work with. I think making a rule just because one guy's not wearing a device is a bad idea. The most important part of this answer is I'm a firm believer in head-and-neck restraints. I think it's a great idea, I think it's something we all need to do eventually, but we only have two options right now. It's not that I'm against it, it's just that I'm not comfortable wearing either one of them right now. I'm sure there's going to be hundreds of manufacturers come out with different devices in the future, and I'm going to look at every one of them down the line until I find one that I like, but right now it's put me in an awkward position in the race car. That's probably the reason we rode around in the back last week, I didn't want to be that close to guys all day and the situation I was in.

AFTER THE LAST WEEK'S TALLADEGA RACE, NASCAR SAID THAT STEPS WOULD BE TAKEN TO MAKE RACE CONDITIONS SAFER THERE. IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT STEPS NEED TO BE TAKEN?: "Keep one thing in mind, this is just my opinion. I'm just a race car drive and never took any classes in college. Honestly, what I would do is take the rear-view mirrors out of the car. I know that sounds stupid, but if you can't see the guy behind you, you can't run a guy all over the race track and block him, and get ourselves in the position that we're in. The second thing I'd do is have NASCAR have 43 people to scan each driver's frequency and make sure the spotter's don't drive the race cars for them. If you don't see a guy coming, then you can't block him and you can't turn down in front of him. You can't run people down to the yellow line and you can't run people up into the wall, and we don't get into situations like we've gotten into the last couple of races there. But with the rules the way they are we're forced to do things in a race car that we'd never do at any other racetrack. I don't know a heck of a lot of stuff to say if we do this or we do that, it's going to make it better. I know from a driver's standpoint, if you take the mirror out of there you can't see when a car's behind you. At least when a guy gets a run on you and pulls to the inside or pulls to the outside, you're not going to know he's there until it's too late. And the spotter can tell you if a car's inside or outside, but he shouldn't be allowed to tell you to move up because the guy's coming to the outside. But as it is now, you can't get enough of a run. I got four chances last week to take the lead from (Earnhardt) Junior, but because you can't get much of a run like you can at the other tracks, I couldn't get up beside him far enough before he ran me out of racetrack. And it's not his fault - he did everything he had to do to protect his win. If I were in his position, I would've done the exact same thing. He did what he did because of the rules we have out there. If you take the mirrors away, you can't do that. You're still going to have to pass, but the simple solution to me is two screws. You can take them out real easy."


ASSESS THE SEASON SO FAR FOR JOE GIBBS RACING, BOTH THE 18 CAR AND THE 20 CAR.: "I think the problem with this year is last year. I should've learned in sports, but I just never learned. In football, I think it was '97 we had one of our best seasons, and the next year we had our worst. But I think Tony's probably right. Some things out of our control kind of blew our minds. The motor problems we had earlier this year, last year we had none. That kind of threw us. That shows you what can happen in pro sports. It took us probably two and a half months to figure that out, and we had everybody in the world working on it. That really affected our race team. What I've been excited about with the 20 car is we started that race team with everybody new. Zipp (Greg Zipadelli) had never been a crew chief, and Tony had never been in Winston Cup. I'm proud to watch those guys kind of grow together and be as successful as they are. I told them I get excited every week because I go in every single week thinking that the 20 car has a chance to win the race, and that's exciting for an owner. I don't know what's going to happen each week, but it sure is fun going because I know we got a chance."

TONY STEWART: YOUR OPINION ON STEPS THAT CAN BE TAKEN TO MAKE RACING AT RESTRICTOR-PLATE RACES SAFER?: "We had a great meeting after (Talladega) and I appreciate Jim (Hunter) being there - everybody from NASCAR was there. And Bobby (Labonte), of course, had a lot to say about it. Basically, the problem is that we don't have the answer. When Mike (Helton) as Bobby and everybody, 'What's the answer?' everybody was quiet. Tony's got one and whether that would work or not, who knows. Bobby's real answer was you've got to fix the cars so you have to lift in the corners. Right now we're running at those two racetracks, we're running on the floor. I don't know what Tony thinks about that, but Bobby basically said let's get together. I think what came out of that meeting that I was excited about was the fact that NASCAR and everybody in there says we've got to do something. So I think we're partners on this. It's a tough situation, so it is a partnership. NASCAR, drivers, more than anybody else, I think, and the crew chiefs as the technical people. Those three people I think if they get together I think we can come up with something. We've really got to do something. I think that's what Bobby was saying."

DO YOU THINK NASCAR WAS SINGLING YOU OUT WITH REGARDS TO YOUR USE OF A HEAD-AND-NECK DEVICE?: "I didn't think it was a situation where NASCAR was picking on me, I just felt they made a bad decision because of undue pressure from the media, in all honesty. I'm not saying the media are bad people, because everybody wants our sport to be safer. But forcing the sanctioning body to make a decision is pretty ridiculous and unfair I thought. I mea, I found out about the day before the announcement. Even if I wanted to wear the HANS device last week, I didn't even have the time or the opportunity to get the seat redone. I didn't have time to get it ordered, get it into the shop and get it fitted before I left to go to Talladega. That part is what really upset me about NASCAR's decision. They didn't even give me the opportunity to try either one. I had tried the Hutchens Device at Talladega before so that's why ended up taking the Hutchens back there, but I wasn't comfortable with it then and I'm still not."

ARE YOU HAPPY AS A RACER AND WHAT GOES ALONG WITH IT?: "No, I'm not happy. I've been unhappy for over a year now. But I've talked with Joe and I'm not going to do anything drastic, I'm not quitting, I'm not leaving, I'm just unhappy with NASCAR. I think they do a lot of things wrong. But for every one thing they do wrong they probably do five things right. But there are things that can be changed that aren't being changed right now. It's frustrating for me as a race driver. I'm 30 years old and I've been racing 23 years, and all I ever wanted to do was get to this level. And I got here and saw all of the things that are wrong and the attitudes about why they're not done different aren't the responses I want to hear from a professional organization. But it's things that need to be discussed with NASCAR it's things they really need to look at. I feel like our sport has gone from seeing who had the best race team, the best race driver and who did the best job on Sunday, to what can we do to make a great show for TV and the fans in the stands. I know there's a common mix there that's got to be made. There's an equation in place that must be working to make it as great as it is. NASCAR didn't get here because they're stupid. They're pretty smart to get this sport to where it is. But I think there's a lot of ways to make things better than what they are, and a lot safer than what they are, of course. I don't think anybody's ever 100% happy, but I think there's ways we can make it better than what it is. I fight for what I believe in every week, and I won't stop fighting until I feel like it's good enough to be in a sport as high as it needs to be."

JOE GIBBS: YOU'VE DEALT WITH A LOT OF DIFFERENT ATHLETES - DESCRIBE HOW YOU WORK WITH TONY.: "When you're dealing with different athletes and different guys, people deal with things different ways. I can be part of the blame here, because as I've tried to work through this thing with Tony, I told him when you're upset like that after a race, the best thing to do is just go to the motorhome. Having said that, there have been times where the media's gotten upset with him because he wouldn't talk to them. But I try to tell all my guys that in professional sports, it's not a perfect world. And everybody's different - Tony's different, Bobby's different. But I don't want him to change his personality, but just cautious at times."

-GM Racing-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart