STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX "A lot has been said and a lot has been rumored about what my future is here and what my position is on a lot of different topics lately. "Do I plan on leaving Winston Cup? No. Am I happy...
STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX
"A lot has been said and a lot has been rumored about what my future is here and what my position is on a lot of different topics lately.
"Do I plan on leaving Winston Cup? No. Am I happy here? Yes. Am I frustrated about some things? Yes. But, the number one thing I want to stress is I do not believe in the position that I don't like the fans. I do love the fans. And that's the number one reason I wanted to come in here today and talk to you guys because a lot has been speculated saying, 'Well, Tony Stewart doesn't like the race fans,' and, 'He doesn't like them in the garage area,' and this and that.
"I do think it's a good idea they are in the garage area. I think it gives them a very good opportunity to see what we go through on a daily basis, what the crews have to go through, and they understand our sport a little better. I think it's better for all of us that way. Do I think it's crowded sometimes? Yes, because I'm not used to it. A lot has happened in the last year and a half to me - a lot of things that when I signed up with Joe (Gibbs) and when I decided to come run Winston Cup that I thought I understood. I thought I understood everything that was going to happen and realized I knew so little about what was going to happen and what was going to change in my life over a very short amount of time with the way things happened last year.
"We do care very much about the race fans. I spent five and a half hours at our first fan club picnic in Indianapolis the day after the Brickyard 400 and sat at one table for five and a half hours and signed autographs, and never got up, never stopped to take a drink, never moved from my table and sat there until every fan that showed up at our picnic got an autograph. I spent a ton of time out at our trailer last year doing autographs.
"I enjoy spending time with the fans. I enjoy spending time at The Home Depot stores. A lot has been speculated that I'm frustrated with our sponsors. I can tell you one thing: I've raced for 21 years and Home Depot has been absolutely the best sponsor that I've ever had in the 21 years that I've been racing. They care about me as a person. If I feel like that I don't have enough personal time to myself, they'll reschedule things for me and give me a couple days off if I need it. They've been an absolute pleasure to work for. I couldn't have asked for a better sponsor than what I have.
"So the speculations about, 'Am I angry with my sponsors? No. I couldn't be happier with them. Am I happy with the race team and Joe Gibbs? Absolutely. I can't think of somebody better to driver for than Joe that gives me leadership, not only with what I do with the race team and in the race car and with the race shop and the guys at the shop, but with what I do in my personal life, too. Have I made mistakes in my personal life? Have I made mistakes at the racetrack? Absolutely. We all do at one time or another. I'm sure you guys make mistakes. You guys don't always write the perfect story. But we all go on the next day and life doesn't stop."
"Keep in mind that I'm new here and I'm going make mistakes. But I care a bunch about NASCAR, about Joe Gibbs Racing, Home Depot and most definitely, the fans. I want them to understand that what was said were my words, but it wasn't the whole story, and it doesn't paint the big picture accurately. The big picture is I do care about the fans. I probably care more than anybody else.
"I, of all the Winston Cup drivers, probably read more of what you guys write on a weekly basis than anybody else. That is the first thing I do when I get to the track on Friday morning. I grab every copy that you guys have dropped off at our trailers and read everything cover-to-cover because I want to know what is going on. And that's because I care about what's going on. I just wanted to make sure you guys all understood that it's a process."
"I grabbed my schedule - I was getting ready to leave and I was looking to see what time the next event started - I thought it was kind of appropriate to bring over here. Every little highlighted area, that's something that happens with Winston Cup during this week. There's a lot of green marks on there. There's a lot of responsibility in those green marks. There is not a lot of time in between sessions, but if you look, there is time in between sessions. Well keep in mind that part of that time I have to dedicate to the guy that adjusts my shocks, part of the time I've got to talk to the guy that is setting the car up, I've got to talk to Greg Zipadelli, part of the time I have commitments with you guys.
"The hard part and probably the most frustrating part of why I said some of the things I said was that I don't have the time to spend with the fans, and there are so many fans down in the garage area that I feel like I'm letting people down by not being able to spend time. It's hard to do things for five or 10 people and then have to turn somebody else away because you have to go somewhere. It's not because we don't want to do it. It's because we have to be somewhere. It's just like this schedule says. We've got things we have to do and it's all on a tight time schedule every week. So it's hard for me to learn to adjust, but as time goes on I'm going to get better about it.
"I'm going to a lot of the veterans now. The nice thing is the veterans have been very good about offering advice. I wish I would have done this a lot earlier because I think I could have saved us all this press conference. But the important thing is I want to make sure you guys all know that I don't plan on going anywhere. Last year was one of the most fun years of my life. I spent 28 years of my life trying to get to this point, I don't plan on changing it any day soon."
(CAN TIME BE BUILT INTO THE SCHEDULE TO MAKE THINGS EASIER FOR HIM?) "I'm sure we'll try to. The hard thing is it's just hard to adjust right now. There are so many hours in a day. I wish we could figure out a way of putting 32 hours in a day because I'd get a lot more done. But we're going to try. We're going to try to do stuff - scheduling-wise - a little different to try to make better opportunities to do some of the things that we want to do. There are some things that I'd like to do with my life that I enjoy. I'm going to go across the street tonight to the sprint car races. I do that because I'm just as big a race fan as all you guys are and everybody that is in the stands. I'm going there as a race fan tonight. I want to go have a good time and enjoy that, and I'm taking personal time out of my schedule to go do that because I feel like it's important. It's important to me to go out there and be a race fan. So, we're going to look at scheduling quite a bit."
(ON ADJUSTING TO HIS POPULARITY SPILLING OVER INTO HIS PERSONAL LIFE) "We went to Daytona. We're down there for two weeks. That's a long two weeks to be down at any racetrack. In the evenings we all have our number of appearances that we have to do, and speaking engagements that we all do. Well, part of coming and joining Winston Cup was that I had to leave part of my heart beside and stop open-wheel racing. That took a big chunk of my life and took a big chunk of my heart away because that is what I love to do. I'm still very passionate about racing on dirt. Joe and I found middle ground. He lets me race my dirt late model whenever I have a chance and I'm very thankful for that because I got part of my heart back. I didn't get it all back, but I got part of my heart back that way. I'm starting a World of Outlaws team for next year because I still want to be a part of dirt track racing and still want to be involved. I don't want to leave that part of my life behind, and I feel like there are a lot of race fans that respect me for becoming a part of that again.
"I went down (to Volusia County Speedway, near Daytona) with a brand new (sprint car) race team. I was really excited and went down there for four nights, and every night I was down there I spent less time with the car because I was signing autographs. I looked at it two ways. After leaving Daytona and having some time to think about it I found two different sides and two different perspectives to look at. The first perspective was: this was my time off. I worked really hard to plan and pack as many of the things that we were supposed to do in the evening - we doubled up two or three of them each night - so I would have those four nights to go to the racetrack and relax and enjoy myself. But I show up there and I want to work on the race car, and you'd have people standing in line pushing books in your face saying, 'Can you sign? Can you sign?' It made me very frustrated. I was upset and I didn't understand why I couldn't have personal time off."
"Then I looked at it, and I took a step back, and looked at it from the fans' perspective. There are a lot of those people that showed up at Volusia County that will never have an opportunity in their lifetime to get closer to a Winston Cup driver than when they had the opportunity to see me over there. And you don't see a lot of Winston Cup drivers outside of Winston Cup tracks, anywhere. They just don't go, a lot of them. I'm going. No fans are going to stop me from going. I finally realized, 'You know, even though it is my personal time, it's also a great opportunity for them to spend time with us.' So the hardest thing is a lot of it has been new to me. But there is common ground somewhere and I'm sure I'll find it soon. But it's just been overwhelming and that's why I've gotten myself in so much trouble here is because I haven't found it yet. That's why I'm so frustrated and upset and angry. If we win a couple races, maybe it would be a lot easier. But now that we haven't won we've been spending a lot of time at the trailer with Greg and Ronny (Crooks), our shock guy, and it's put a lot of pressure (on us). A lot of things that you take for granted in life have to be adjusted. I'm sure if we didn't have the year that we had last year it would have been a lot easier to adjust in time. But a lot got thrown on us at once and I'm just asking you guys for a little help in understanding that there was a lot (of adjustments) in my life. You can't go to college to learn this stuff. There is no book on the shelf that teaches you how to deal with what we deal with every day out here. It's not saying it's wrong, it's not saying it's right. It's just different. It's different than any other life you could possibly imagine. I think you guys that are here on a weekly basis can understand that, too, so just bear with me. It's learning process I'll figure out, but it's going to take a little bit longer than I anticipated."
(ON HE AND HIS TEAMMATE, BOBBY LABONTE, BEING REFERRED TO AS "FIRE AND ICE") "Well, I haven't read the article. But I can guarantee you I know which side is which. I'm definitely the fire and he is the ice. I would be the fire that could cook at brontosaurus burger at times.
"A lot of that is because Bobby has been here a long time and Bobby has made the adjustments, and Bobby knows how to separate his personal life from his professional life. I don't have a family. I'm still a bachelor and I'm still trying to learn how everything is supposed to work. And in time, it's stuff you learn. When we had as successful a season as we had last year a lot of attention cam to us that I didn't anticipate was going to happen, and I had no idea would ever going to happen as much as it did happen. But it's stuff that, like I say, in time we'll learn. But it's hard to start here and go to here, and not have some disruption in between. That's what has happened. I've had a big disruption in my life and it's stuff I'm going to have to make adjustments and learn. I'll make the adjustments and I will learn. I can promise you, nobody is going to try harder than me to do that."
(ON LAST WEEKEND'S INCIDENT WITH MARK MARTIN) "I went and talked to Mark last night. I sat up there with him for 15 minutes and he was fine. I think a lot of what happens in this sport is like Joe (Gibbs) says. There is so little controversy to write about that little things turn into big things. I made a mistake Saturday night. I told Mark there were two things that popped in my head when he moved, and when he moved, I was thinking both at the same time. It was the first time in a year and a half in a Winston Cup car that I didn't make one decision and make it right away and act on it right away. I juggled two decisions around in a split second and made the wrong one because I couldn't figure out which one I wanted to make quick enough. And I hit him in the back and it turned him around and crashed him into Ward, and I crashed two race cars doing it. I made a mistake. "Well, how many race cars were there crashed? A lot of people made mistakes the other night. We make mistakes on a daily basis. We're not going to stop making mistakes. That's why we're human beings. The day that robots start driving these things around it will be a boring race and nobody will come watch it. The human element is why people come watch us race because they do respect the fact that we do go out and make mistakes. It just happens and he knows that.
"Mark Martin is the cleanest racer in the entire circuit. Of everybody that you get closed to, you know he is going to race you clean. He knows I wouldn't do that to him intentionally. I didn't realize it at the time, but I realize (now) he was trying to get out of the way because he felt like he was going so slow and he was having problems. I didn't realize he was having problems. I just made the wrong decision at the wrong time. I'm a human being. I made a mistake."
(WILL THIS CRITICISM MAKE HIM RELUCTANT TO SPEAK HIS MIND IN THE FUTURE?) "I hope not. I don't plan on being any different. I believe that you guys and I believe the people that read what you guys write and print; I believe they deserve an honest answer on your honest questions. That's the way my stand has been up to this point and it's always going to be that way. If you guys ask an honest question I feel like I'm not doing my job right if I don't give you guys an honest answer. You guys are asking legitimate questions. Why shouldn't we give you legitimate answers? There is no need in cookie-cutter answers and that's not what got this sport where it is. There is no reason it should start that way now."
JOE GIBBS, CAR OWNER, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT PONTIAC GRAND PRIX, ON TONY STEWART
"I'm glad that Tony had a chance to kind of share (his thoughts) because we all know there has been a number of articles. There wasn't one; there was a bunch. I think that many times Tony has said, hey, what he said, he said. We're not questioning that. He wanted a chance to kind of paint the whole picture, the way he kind of feels about everything.
"Now for me, the only thing I can do is give a testimony as to what I've seen Tony do since he came with us. It's things like, with the fans, I've seen him go out of his way to do things for kids. I've seen him go to our souvenir trailer and spend hours as a voluntary thing signing autographs all of last year. I've seen him go out of his way. I think he does care. I've witnessed that.
"I also know he cares a lot about Winston Cup. Let me give you a little background on something. When I originally signed Tony Stewart, in a conversation with him it really came up that he could have made a lot of money the year before I signed him to drive Winston Cup, and he said, 'No, I'm not ready.' When I signed him he said, 'Joe, I'm not ready.' He said, 'I want to spend another whole year in Busch.' And his reason was, he said, 'I don't want to disappoint the people I'm going to be racing against out there and make a stupid mistake.' He said, 'I think I need more time to get prepared for this. It's the biggest step of my life, I'm excited about it, and I really have a passion and really want to do it.' So I have kind of had a chance to witness some of the things about Tony and the excitement.
"Now, having said all that, we wish and I wish that some of the things that were said hadn't been said. But that's part of life. I wanted to kind of just say that from my personal experience and the time I've spent with Tony, I've had a chance to witness him in several of these areas.
"Certainly I'll say this. His relationship with Home Depot is a unique one. I think (chairman of the board) Bernie (Marcus) and (chief executive officer) Arthur (Blank) are on a personal basis with him. He goes down and gets a chance to spend time with them, they've got a great sense of humor, they joke back and forth, they love Tony and I think it's one of the neat relationships I've seen from a sponsor to a racer standpoint.
"We just wanted to paint the whole picture for you - kind of the way Tony sees it - and I'm glad he had a chance to do that."
(ON TONY ADJUSTING TO HIS POPULARITY SPILLING OVER INTO HIS PERSONAL LIFE) "Tony and I have had some discussions on this. I think that what Tony does (for a living) is very unique. Everybody knows he gets to make a lot of money doing a lot of exciting things. And with that and with stardom in sports comes the other side of it.
"I had it probably in a smaller way because I was an NFL coach. And you do have times where you're wanting to kind of enjoy something with your wife and somebody comes over the top of the table because you belong to them. I've kind of talked to Tony about this. That's the thing that is sometimes hard to perceive, and you have to say that is wasn't somebody being rude. I'm their coach. And Tony is their driver, and so as a part of that, sometimes it takes away some of the things that you want when you are trying to be by yourself. But let me say this: the benefits are phenomenal. "With that, one of the greatest things we've got in our sport; one of the things I sell the hardest to everybody out there; you know what it is? I came from the NFL, and you can pick up a paper almost every single day on the NFL or the NBA, and somebody's in trouble. I've been over here nine years and I don't know of any driver that's ever been in trouble. I think that is one of the greatest things about our sport. So I'm saying there is the good and there is the bad that goes with popularity. I'm not trying to put words in Tony's mouth, but I think that is probably one of the things that he has had a tough time adjusting to. On one side you think, 'This can be great. I make a lot of money and get to race these cars.' And then the other side of it, some things go with it and you go, 'Hey, I didn't think this was coming with the package.' And I've talked to Tony and told him it's just one of those things you've got to accept. I think we are some of the luckiest people in the world that get to do this."
(ON FANS BEING IN THE GARAGE AREA) "I think one of the neatest things about our sport is the fact that fans do get to come in here before a race. I was in the NFL part of it and you're pretty insulated. As a matter of fact, if you wanted to get (Dallas Cowboys quarterback) Troy Aikman's autograph before the game, you would probably get arrested. Here I think it is neat that the fans get to come in here. Does it cause a lot of confusion and everything sometimes? Yeah. But I think that is one of the great things about our sport is people can still get close to these guys and I think from my side of it, I think it's really neat, and it's a neat perspective."