NASCAR Media Conference
March 31, 2009
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you and welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference in advance of this weekend's events at Texas Motor Speedway. We're pleased today to be joined by two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Old Spice Office Depot Chevrolet for his own first-year team, Stewart-Haas Racing. Tony will also be doing double duty at Texas. He'll drive the No. 33 Armor-All Chevrolet Impala SS for KHI. He comes into Sunday's Samsung 500 seventh in the series standings and comes off a third-place finish this past Sunday at Martinsville.
Tony, things are obviously advancing well for your new team. This past Sunday both you and your other team's driver, Ryan Newman, finished in the top 10 for the first time this season. Can you talk about how this group is coming together as an organization.
TONY STEWART: I'm really proud. I mean, obviously to get our first top five was something that we were really proud of. But at the same time, you know, we had a pretty uneventful day from our standpoint. But, you know, Ryan, he had a long way to go from starting 27th to get up to 6th. I was really proud of him of and his effort and everybody on the U.S. Army team. Between the U.S. Army team and the Old Spice Office Depot team, I thought we had a great day as an organization.
DENISE MALOOF: As you go through the next several weeks, I know you're probably very encouraged for both teams.
TONY STEWART: Absolutely. I don't think any of us knew exactly when this organization was really going to start hitting its stride and start clicking. But it has right off the bat from Daytona on. I mean, obviously with Ryan's side, we had four weeks of bad luck in a row before he got on track. But he's had a 7th- and a 6th-place run consecutively. We had three 8th-place runs in our first four races.
I feel like we're really getting on track. I think it's clicked a little sooner than we all anticipated it would.
DENISE MALOOF: We'll now go to media questions for Tony Stewart.
Q. Tony, now that you're six races into your new role as owner/driver, could you tell us, even if it was during a yellow flag lap, you have caught yourself thinking more as an owner than a driver?
TONY STEWART: I haven't. I mean, I think the reason for that is we've been really good about knowing, even before the race, once Friday starts that I switch that hat over and I strictly stay in driver mode. You know, I catch myself worrying sometimes about where Ryan is, you know, with some of the bad luck he had early in the year, a couple of races I would ask where he was at. But, you know, that's probably the only difference between what I normally would do and what we're doing now.
I mean, now that I've got Ryan as a teammate, and as his car owner, I'm a little more curious about where he's at sometimes during the race than I have been in the past with other teammates.
But, you know, there's other times that I've had teammates and have asked where they were at, too. But I think a little bit more of it on the cautions now because I am a car owner. For the most part, I stay strictly in that driver mode and concentrating on what I've got to do to get to the front.
Q. Now that you have these expanded business relationships, have you felt any need or pressure to not get involved in the controversies that come along during race weekends?
TONY STEWART: Not at all. I mean, I think, if anything, it's made me feel like I could get involved in them if I chose to.
But, you know, I think I focus more on what I got to do to work with a new crew chief during the weekends. Last couple years we've been a little better, with the exception of the Goodyear controversy last year, and that wasn't in an effort to get in a debate with them as much as it was just a response to try to get 'em to make something better.
I think they've done a good job with that this year. But, you know, it's been easy to kind of stay out of the controversy. We've got enough stuff to keep us busy that I think it's a little better to put it all in perspective and realize that some of those controversies aren't worth the time and effort.
Q. Tony, you know what it's like to be an owner. Can you imagine having to build a Cup team from scratch, like Michael Waltrip Racing, and have you noticed an improvement from that team?
TONY STEWART: Definitely seen a great improvement. With Reutimann and Marcos, they have had two great weekends in a row. It's been easy to see the improvement there. I can't honestly imagine building an organization from scratch. With this opportunity with Haas Automation, the opportunity we've had there, if we had to start from scratch, I don't think we would have tried to take that kind of a task on.
But, you know, we got an opportunity to come into an organization that already had pieces in place. It was just a matter of, you know, getting the right people in the right places. And I think that made it to where it was, you know, a realistic option for us.
But to start from scratch, I don't think I would have tried to take that on.
Q. To see where the 20 car is now, having driven that for so long, do you kind of feel for it? Has he called you up for comfort?
TONY STEWART: He hasn't. But I feel bad for those guys because I know they deserve better than that. It's just a matter of time before Joey hits his stride. He's got a lot of talent. That's why he's in that car. It's just a matter of getting used to it.
You know, I've been over there, so I know there's nothing wrong with that organization, there's nothing wrong with that team. It's just a matter of them getting Joey some more seat time and getting him used to being in a Cup car full-time.
He's more than capable of doing it. He's going to hit his stride soon. You can see his confidence building every week.
Q. Going back to your car owner and businessman role. How competitive are you, how much rush or feeling of satisfaction do you get out of having a business success?
TONY STEWART: I can remember when we won our first World of Outlaw race in 2001 when we started a team, how proud I was then to be a car owner. I think that's kind of what has led us to today.
It is. I mean, I was proud of our guys. I've left Martinsville after a third-place finish and left mad 'cause I knew we had a shot at winning the race or a shot at at least a better finish than a third. This weekend a third was like a win to us. A year from now it won't necessarily be like that. I think we'll constantly adjust the yardstick as far as where we expect to be.
But six races in, to have a top-three run like that, then to find out Ryan had a 6th-place run, I felt that was an awesome accomplishment for a young team to be able to do that in just six races.
You constantly adjust that. You know, you sit there and I think you have to keep it in perspective. That's where the car owner side of knowing where we're starting, what we're up against. I like that success. I like that feeling when we have a good day. The success isn't just necessarily measured by wins, it's also measured by measuring yourself up against the competition and to know the teams that we were up against and that we're up against every week, but to know that in six weeks we've been able to get right in the middle of those teams, that's something that we're really proud of.
Q. I guess that still doesn't compare to winning a race yourself as a driver.
TONY STEWART: It does, but it doesn't. I mean, obviously a win is more kind of an individual feeling, whereas a team owner you're happy for the whole organization. I think being a car owner has helped put it in perspective, that it's not just a personal accomplishment. You always know it's a team effort. But when you're at that shop as much as we are and when you're there to build this organization and to see these people come in from all these different great teams, and to see it grow, I mean, it makes that satisfaction of watching it grow that much greater.
Q. I want to ask you about Darian. You spent 10 years with Zipadelli. Does it feel like you have broken each other in yet?
TONY STEWART: I think so. Every week we have spent more time with each other. The one thing that's happened from day one is we felt very comfortable around each other, you know, just in casual conversation. So from that side, it's been really easy.
You know, at the racetrack, obviously it's taken me a little bit of time to get used to his package, the cars that we're bringing to the racetrack. But every week that we go out and have a good run, I gain that much more confidence in him, in that relationship that we have, with the communication just getting stronger and stronger each week.
I think we're getting to the point where, you know, we're starting to narrow that gap down of, you know, just saying, Well, it's a little loose. How much is 'a little'? That's things that just takes time to get through those stages.
But I feel like Darian and I are having a lot of success in that category and are getting more comfortable with each other each week.
Q. From the owner's perspective, there's been everything in the news about the government getting involved with GM, everything else. How, if any, do you think that's going to impact the sport?
TONY STEWART: Well, I don't know honestly. I know that talking to the people at Chevrolet they're very committed to the racing program. They realize the value of it with not only the rest of corporate America but what it does to our nation. It still goes back to 'win on Sunday, sell on Monday.' This is a sport that's been good for the auto industry and vice versa.
I do know how committed they are. I also know how committed they are to ensuring that all of General Motors is going to be successful in the future. I mean, they're working really hard to make it the best company they can. We've seen their car lineup. They've got some great products coming out that are going to be good for our economy. Like the E85, for example, trying to cut back on greenhouse emissions and everything. They're working really hard.
I know it's a tough time for them, but they're very committed to not only the racing product, but also the products that they build for the Americans out there in tough times. I'm very confident that the racing side is going to be fine.
How it's affected, I think only time will tell. But talking to the people at GM, I mean, they're very committed to this program and understand the value of the racing side.
Q. Tony, you have an average finish at Texas of 13.2. In the last eight races since the data was started with NASCAR, the loop data, you have a driver rating at Texas of 103.1, which is third best. I'm wondering how you would look at that data and your performance potentially at Texas, given you're on a new team, in a new car?
TONY STEWART: Well, I think we're pretty comfortable with it right now in all honesty. I mean, we've been to California, which was two-mile. We've been to Vegas, a mile-and-a-half. I feel like our superspeedway program is really good. Our mile-and-a-half package is really good, even though we've really ran one of 'em.
I've got a lot of confidence going into this weekend. Texas is a track that I really enjoy. It's a lot of fun. I feel like we're gonna have a good run this weekend. I have that gut feeling. I don't have any facts other than just my gut to support it on right now. But I've been comfortable everywhere we've been with this new package that Darian's brought. I feel like this weekend we'll fall right in line with that.
Q. You wouldn't look at your driver rating. If people were to look at how you might finish there, being in a different car, manufacturer. You as the driver are ranked third best right now.
TONY STEWART: I'll be honest, I don't even know what that driver ranking is, to be perfectly honest (laughter). It's nice to know that we're ranked third right there. You know, I think it doesn't matter. You could be ranked first. When you show up, if you're not comfortable in your car, your car's not good, it doesn't matter how good your ranking is.
Like I say, it's a track that I enjoy. It's a track we've always got around well in. I'm looking forward to being there in our Office Depot Old Spice car. Looking forward to driving for Kevin and DeLana in the Nationwide Series this weekend.
Q. I wanted to find out from you in the big bustle and hustle of the preseason getting your team ready if you sat down and had a set of goals for your team? If so, where are you guys with those goals right now?
TONY STEWART: Honestly, we didn't. I mean, we go to the racetrack with the attitude that we're going to try to get a hundred percent out of whatever we've got that weekend. I think when we sat down early in the year, you look at everything on paper, and it's supposed to be successful. All the pieces are in place. I feel like all the right people are there, all the right tools are there. So on paper it's supposed to work. It's just a matter of how soon are all the personalities going to click with each other. You start building momentum.
I think that's something that we've had happen right away. So I'm not really sure that we set a goal. But I think we feel like we've got a lot of momentum on our side. Obviously coming from a 3rd- and 6th-place run, the whole organization is on a big momentum swing going into Texas this weekend. Ryan has had two great weekends in a row and we've had a great start to the season ourselves. I feel like we got a lot of momentum and I feel like we expect big things this weekend.
Q. You're getting a fair amount of help from Hendrick Motorsports. Did you have a chance to talk with Rick, since all of those six cars are in the top 10?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I did. I think he was really happy. Obviously it was his 25th anniversary of his first win. That was a big win for him at Martinsville this past weekend, something he was very happy about. You know, he called us and we weren't even to the airport yet, called to congratulate us, when he was the one in reality that won the race. It just shows how supportive he is of our program, how much we appreciate that support from him.
Q. I was thinking the starts you've had, must be a real morale booster back at the shop. It's no longer just a theory on paper; you actually have the results to show for it. I would think that would be really be a boost for the people at the shop coming in on Monday morning.
TONY STEWART: It is. You know, perfect example was yesterday. We have our competition meetings on Monday. Ryan and I are both there, both the crew chiefs. Bobby Hutchins, our competition director is there. The atmosphere at the shop was unbelievable. Since I've joined that organization, I've not seen everybody in such a good mood and the morale so high. It's a good feeling. You're kind of like a proud father when you walk through there and you see all the people that are working for you be so excited about what's going on and be that happy about a weekend.
You know, it is. It's a really gratifying feeling going in there, seeing these guys happy. Some of them, that's the best finish they've ever had. So it's nice to be able to say you're the guy that's helped them get that.
But you look at them at the same time and say, We're not settling just for third. That's not a win for us. We want to win races, win championships, and hopefully that's just scratching the surface of what this team's capable of in the future.
Q. Is it too early or is it just about time for people to kind of size up where everybody is? Three or four races in, people are saying so-and-so is out of the championship, this guy is a shoo-in. Where does it stand for you? Is this about the time you think to size things up for your team, for the championship?
TONY STEWART: I think it's starting to shape up, at least who has the opportunity to be in the Chase. I'm not sure it's an accurate assessment of who's a championship contender or not. I think by now we're all starting to get an idea of who the contenders to be in the Chase are.
It's the usual list of suspects, with a couple changes so far. But I think the next couple weeks still really solidify who those people are. I mean, this will be the second mile-and-a-half we've been to, so I'm not sure that if you had one bad weekend at Vegas, you can say, They don't have a shot because they had a bad race on the first mile-and-a-half track.
I think the next probably three or four weeks will be an indication of who those people are really going to be that are really solid to be in the Chase this year. But I'm not sure we can say who the champion's going to be yet.
Q. Towards your team, I know you said you didn't necessarily have a set of goals, we need to accomplish this and this, but did you have a time frame where you were going to sit back and say, I'd like to at least see this or that at this time?
TONY STEWART: No. I think the reality of that is with our meetings on Monday we assess what happened during the weekend, make the assessment of what we could have done better, what we did right, what we saw from other teams that we might be able to use to make ourselves better.
I think it's been more on a week-to-week basis versus a time frame of saying this is where we feel like we have to be, going from that standpoint. I don't know that we really put a time frame on it as much as we know that we just want to make improvement each weekend.
As long as we're going forward, that process may be longer or shorter than we all anticipate, but as long as it's making forward progress, I think we're all happy right now.
Q. Your team's relationship with Hendrick Motorsports. Hendrick cars have lost the last four consecutive races at Phoenix International Raceway. Looking ahead to that, have you gotten any feedback from Darian or the Hendrick people how you're anticipating your cars will be there?
TONY STEWART: We haven't. I think the first time that we go to all these racetracks, it's kind of a wait-and-see. What works for Jeff and Jimmie and Mark Martin and Dale Jr. isn't necessarily a telltale that that's gonna work for us. It's more of a reference of a place to start than it is necessarily a destination on our setup.
You know, we're looking forward to it. I mean, I don't know that I've got a great answer for you on that. I know that we're excited about it. Darian's confident going into every racetrack we've been to so far. He's been very confident with where we're starting with our setups. Because of that success we've had, I'm comfortable with it also.
Q. On the FOX prerace show last Sunday, Darrel Waltrip said the fact that Darian is no longer at Hendrick, he cited that as one of the reasons potentially for Dale Jr.'s struggles this year. Would you have any comment on that?
TONY STEWART: I honestly wouldn't know because I wasn't there last year with those two. I don't know what the situation is where Dale Jr. there. Everybody can speculate and everybody can guess. But I think it's unfair to point a finger in any general direction unless you're in the middle of that organization and are there firsthand to see all the pieces of that equation each week.
Q. There's been satellite teams like yours for years, but you are up there as far as being successful. What are you doing different or better than other teams?
TONY STEWART: I don't know honestly (laughter). It's the first time I've done this. You know, I feel like the biggest key to making all this work is having the right key people in the right places and having the right tools in place.
I feel like Haas Automation, Haas CNC Racing did a great job of building a foundation long before I got there. I can't take credit for all of it. I think what we were able to do, what I brought to the table, was helping to attract some other people that they weren't able to attract in the past that helped make the difference and take it from a team that, you know, kind of was so-so to now a team that can run in the top 10 I feel like consistently.
You know, that's all I really feel that I've done. I don't think that it's been magic from our side. I think we have great resources and I feel like that we've really been able through Bobby Hutchins, Darian Grubb and Tony Gibson to assemble two groups of people to work on two teams and at the shop to have made the difference. We only lost 20 people from Haas Racing last year, and we added 50 people since then. So there's 50 new people to the organization, but 30 more than what they had before. I think those 50 people we brought in with the existing group have really turned out to be a group of people that have meshed well and grown well and really are focused on accomplishing the goals like what we had this past weekend.
Q. Is there a discernible difference driving a Toyota to a Chevy?
TONY STEWART: It is feeling-wise. It's not so much physically as much as it is in your mind. I'm proud to be back in an American car. That being said, I mean, the physical part of it is it's a motor difference really and decal package. You know, there's that feeling and pride of knowing that you're in an American car, that we're out there racing with some of the best manufacturers in the world. So that sense of pride is the biggest difference.
Q. You had a good run at Atlanta a few weeks ago. Atlanta and Texas look kind of the same. What is the difference between the two tracks and your approach at Texas this weekend?
TONY STEWART: They're night and day, in all honesty. I'm not sure that everybody realizes, even though if you looked at the top of the tracks, there's shaped almost identical. But Texas is built quite a bit different than Atlanta is and Charlotte. What most people don't realize is the bottom of the racetrack, the apron, is paved all the way to the inside wall. That's different to what you see at Atlanta, Charlotte, some of these other places. The reason, that's what the IndyCar track was supposed to be. IndyCars were intended to run on the apron. That was going to be their racetrack. The transitions going into the corners and coming off the corners are a little more abrupt and later. The banking comes in a lot later, then it falls off a lot earlier than we have at the other tracks. That's to accommodate what was going to be the IndyCar track. That poses its own unique challenges.
But obviously the grip level at Atlanta is a lot less than what we have at Texas, too. But that's what makes Atlanta so much fun. But, you know, Texas every year that we go through, it's getting better and more worn in to where the groove moves around the racetrack and cars are running from the bottom to the top. At least from a drivers standpoint, we enjoy that part of it. We enjoy not having to be line committed. Helps us out on the aero side. We can help ourselves out as drivers versus just being stuck behind somebody.
Q. You're doing the Nationwide race on Saturday. Because of the cars are so different, is it beneficial anymore? Can you learn stuff Saturday to take with you on Sunday?
TONY STEWART: I don't think you learn a ton. I mean, you might learn some stuff air pressure-wise. Aside from that, as far as the actual setup of the chassis, they're night and day different now between the two series. I don't think you learn as much as you used to.
Q. Some might have doubted your move to ownership. Looking at your experience as a Sprint Cup team owner and your proven ability to adjust, that's erased some doubts. Did you have any doubts or were you eager to apply that ability to adjust then and use it going forward?
TONY STEWART: I was eager. I mean, I don't think if I didn't have the background of ownership with the USAC side, the World of Outlaw teams, I don't think I would have been as comfortable making the adjustment to the Cup side. But it's having a great owner like Joe Gibbs that I learned from for 12 years, being in his organization, having that experience at a smaller level.
I think total between the USAC operation and the World of Outlaw teams, I don't think I have 15 people total there between those four teams. Down in Charlotte with the Cup team, we have 150 people. It's at a much larger level obviously.
With that, I think I learned a little bit at the beginning with my open-wheel teams that have led to this. Having somebody like Joe Gibbs, to use his experience as a template for what to do, I used it building our open-wheel programs. Once we started having success there, that gave me the confidence that I might be able to make it work at this level, too.
Q. Have there been any big surprises for you?
TONY STEWART: Not yet. I know there's going to be. It just hasn't happened in the first six weeks. I'm sure that something's gonna happen and the next time somebody asks me that question, I'm sure there's going to be something that has come up. So far it's been really nice and smooth, which has been the good part about it.
Q. I know it's early in the season, your focus is obviously on building and improving the 14 and 39 teams for this year. Have you given any thought about the possibility of expanding maybe in the off-season, considering some of the early successes you've had? Are you content going into next year with a two-car organization?
TONY STEWART: I'm not sure we've got that far yet. Obviously when we had our first meetings with Joe Custer, he filled us in on their intentions to be a four-car team eventually.
My opinion on it right now is I don't want us to try to expand until we get two cars really successful. I don't want to expand till we know that they both have an opportunity to win a championship. Once we get to that point, then I feel comfortable expanding the operation.
It's crawl before you walk, walk before you run. That's kind of my mentality with it right now, is that we don't need to add until we make sure we've got these first two teams - not one, but both teams - capable of running for a championship each year.
I don't know that it will happen for next year. Right now I want to make sure that I give Ryan and myself the best opportunity to run for a championship that we can have. I don't know that diluting it to a three- or four-car operation is the best thing for us right now.
Q. Can you describe the difference in your satisfaction level of having Ryan in the top 10 there with you this past week?
TONY STEWART: It's kind of been a mixed emotion each week. I mean, obviously three out of the first four weeks we had top-10 finishes and Ryan had bad luck. You get out of the car and you're glad you had a decent day, but then you realize where your teammate was and you feel his frustration and you feel bad for his team, knowing they deserve better than that, they know from where we are that they can run just like we are, it's just a matter of having that luck on their side. I think the last two weeks has really been great from that standpoint to assure them that, hey, it's coming. Two weeks in a row has healed those first four weeks from their standpoint. I think it's been a huge morale booster for everybody.
I think it's just proof to them that it can happen. They can have a good run just like we can. I think it's been big for the organization, just showing that, Hey, we got two guys that are capable of running up front if we get the cars right each week and if we can get the bad luck off our side. That side of it's kept us all going.
DENISE MALOOF: Thank you, Tony, for your time this week. We appreciate it. Good luck at Texas in both those races.
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