Tony Stewart - NASCAR teleconference, part 1

NASCAR Teleconference July 22, 2008 An Interview with TONY STEWART THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR teleconference in advance of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the...

NASCAR Teleconference July 22, 2008

An Interview with TONY STEWART

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR teleconference in advance of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. This will be the fourth race in the Race to the Chase. That's the ten-week run that precedes the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Our very special guest today is the race's defending and two-time champion, Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota. Tony comes into Indy tenth in the series points standings.

Now you're a two-time winner at the Brickyard, and what does it mean to go back to that track as a defending race champion?

TONY STEWART: You're obviously proud when you go back, especially after the first year, I don't think we got to enjoy the win as much as we did the second year. I think the first year it was more of just a huge weight lifted off our shoulders that we accomplished a lifelong dream of ours. And I think last year it was a chance that we really got to enjoy it with our team, and you know, really we're able to enjoy the win that night versus just the emotional drain of just finally accomplishing a goal like it was the first time around.

Q: Obviously you're going to be moving over next year as a co-owner of the team; have you identified what you think the team is going to need to raise up to a championship level, and what's your timetable? How long do you think it will take?

TONY STEWART: Well, I haven't fully been able to figure it out. Obviously last week we were on vacation and I did have my first team meeting a week ago yesterday, with the guys in the shop and it was just nice to get that first meeting out of the way and get to see the faces that I'm going to see a lot the rest of this year and a lot of them next year.

So I'm not sure that I fully understand exactly what is holding them back right now but I do know that they have got good resources and it's just a matter of figuring out where the break is in the system there. There's obviously something that's not exactly the way, obviously that it we want it to be or they want it to be right now. It's just going to take some more time, and I think being able to being at the shop a lot the rest of the year will help with that.

But I know that in the short amount of time since we made the announcement at Chicago, we've had a lot of really good people call and want to be a part of this program, and I think that's going to be a big key to getting it turned around.

As far as how long it's going to take, I don't know. I honestly don't know the answer to that. I wish I could say that everything would be perfect by the time that we go to Daytona, but I think it's going to be a work-in-progress right now. You look at the caliber of the teams and the quality of car owners that are out there, it's going to be a lot of work to get caught up to where they are at, but that's something that I'm excited about is having that challenge and taking whatever time that it takes to get it where we want it to be, and to be a team like a Joe Gibbs Racing or a Hendrick or a Roush or Childress.

Just having that opportunity is something that six months ago was barely an idea and was almost too good to be true at the time.

Q: On the team topic earlier in the season, you were weighing the decision and now you've made it and now you're looking ahead, how has the pressure changed on you?

TONY STEWART: I think it's taken a lot of pressure off of me. Obviously I've got a great race team and still have a great race team at Gibbs right now. We've battled a lot of adversity in the last nine and a half years, and obviously when your guys don't know what you're going to do for sure and you don't know what you're going to do for sure; it makes it a little bit tense, but I think we all have made the most of it. Even though it's tense, we still have found ways to laugh and joke and cut up and keep each other relaxed to a certain degree.

So it was definitely something that was a hard process for sure but now that we're through that, I can't say that it's a big weight lifted off my shoulders, because it's like you just switched weights is all you did. We took one off our shoulders and added another one on.

If I wasn't excited about doing, this I think that would probably bother me a lot. But, I mean, I'm excited about it and I'm excited about all the pressure that we have going into next year now. It's something that we've been, looking forward to.

Q: Do you have any fear in making this move?

TONY STEWART: No, not at all. Once we made the decision and once I said, okay, this is what I'm going to do, at that point, the fear was gone. The fear was just making sure that I was making the right decision in what I felt was going to be the right thing, and, you know, once I made that decision, then that part of it went away.

Q: Being that this is the 15th running of the Brickyard, could you compare that first race in '99 to how it is today and your most memorable Brickyard moment?

TONY STEWART: Obviously my most memorable Brickyard moment was the first win in 2005. But obviously the cars have changed a lot since I ran there in '99 as a rookie, and this year is going to be another landmark year of bringing the new COT car there for the first time.

Obviously any time that there's a change, and this is a significant year obviously with bringing a totally new designed car into the series full-time, and to the bigger tracks. So this year, will even be more different than last year and all of the races in the past.

I think as times have gone on and as the series has evolved, it's kind of been neat to see. The one thing about the Brickyard is there's outstanding performances by teams when they are able to win. You know, it's not a track that you back into a win. Track position helps you, but it doesn't win you the race. It always boils down to who has got the best handling and best handling car and the best straight line speed.

So that combination of those two is very important there, and there's always been some really good one-on-one battles late in the race that have decided the winner of this event. That to me is what makes this race so special.

You're not going to have one of those finishes where you've got two guys side-by-side coming to the checkered flag; but it's normally going to be decided before that, and it's also at the same time, it's always fun to watch a team when they have a good day there, and you know, the two races that we have won there, it's been awesome to get in that last ten laps and you know, you pray that when you've got a lead and that when you're pulling away, that you don't get a caution late and that you just have to hit your marks.

But you've got four opportunities to make a mistake, versus two opportunities a lap so, it always makes it more nerve-wracking and those last ten laps of the race seem like they take forever when you're leading.

Q: Now that you're an owner and in the sponsorship game, how do you view the climate of attracting sponsors in these economic times and how important is a driver in that?

TONY STEWART: I think it's big obviously. It was a discussion that I had with somebody the other day, and it's not -- these sponsors don't attach themselves to teams and drivers; winning races isn't the priority. It's still a matter of aligning yourself with a driver and organization that's going to give you a lot of press and a lot of publicity.

It seems like in the last couple years, two or three years, you're seeing sponsorships attach themselves to drivers and creating that relationship to where it's kind of like the Gecko/GEICO. That's been an icon, and no matter what the commercials are, that gecko is in every one of those commercials and that's kind of how they center their marketing campaigns, it seems like.

I think the drivers are a huge part of it. Obviously the reputations of the whole organization are important obviously, but the driver is the one that's doing those commercials and all that, and that seems to me to be where it's kind of shifting gears from sponsorships signing up with organizations to then versus now the drivers are being lined up and teamed up with sponsors, and that association seems to be what the marketing is surrounded by. I think it's probably more critical now than it's ever been.

Q: Just wanted to ask, I know every year about this time of year when you go to the Brickyard you get asked this question, so I figure I would go ahead and ask it. With ownership now entering this new realm in your career, has that given you any more impetus to think about the 500 and going after it?

TONY STEWART: Actually it's just the opposite. With this new venture, I feel like I need to focus that much more energy toward the Cup program. When I was just strictly going to be a driver, it's a lot easier to try to do things outside the box, but I feel like now I've got more responsibility on me, and I'm responsible for a lot more people.

Even if logistics worked out, I don't see myself trying to go back and run the 500 anymore. It's just something that the amount of work and dedication that it's going to take to be a part of this organization and try to help it be successful going to take a lot of time and effort and that's something that the month of May, it's a long, long event. It's not just a three-day event like it is on a Cup weekend.

So dedicating and splitting my time up between the two events is just going to dilute my effort with what we are doing on the Cup side so, I'm just going to focus on that.

Q: With the new team next year, of course you'll be going back to Chevrolet, have you gotten any sense at all in recent days in light of General Motors' announcements that it's looking at cutting back, as to whether the support that you were expecting in the first place will still be there next year?

TONY STEWART: Honestly we've just dealt with the racing side of it. Obviously we all know like you guys know about the economic situation, but just dealing with the people on the racing side is the important part to us right now, and as long as they say we are moving forward, that's what we are doing.

Q: This is your last Indy with Greg Zippadelli, is there any extra sentiment associated with that and how have things been with you two since the announcement became public?

TONY STEWART: I think it's been fine. I think we got along as good this year if not better than all the years in the past.

The thing is, when you spend ten years with somebody like that, this was something that was talked about between Zippy and myself before a decision was made on what I was going to do, and I think we both understand why we made the decisions we made, and you know, what was right for me wasn't necessarily right for him, and vice versa.

But you know I think we've been around each other and with each other long enough to respect why we both made the decisions that we've made. We've all had the professional side of the relationship, but we've also had that personal side. He's always going to be like a bigger brother to me, even when we're not working together next year. He's somebody that has spent over a quarter of my life with every weekend each year for the last ten years.

When you have a relationship like that, just because the working relationship changes, doesn't mean the personal side does. I see us being just as good of friends the rest of this year and in the future as we are and what we have been the last nine and a half years.

Continued in part 1

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing