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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
July 22, 2008
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.
Q. I'd like to ask you about the season Kyle Busch is having, winning so many races in the top three series. Being a teammate of his this year, have you discovered anything new about his abilities, has he surprised you at all with what he's doing?
TONY STEWART: Well, I don't think any of us expected would he have the year that he's going to have, and not because he doesn't have talent. He's having a dream season, to go out and win the amount of races he's won in all three divisions, and to be as dominant as he has; you pray that you have a season like that and they don't come around all the time.
You know, I'm happy being Kyle's teammate. I'm happy to be as close to him as I am right now, and get a chance to see him have the season that he's having. I'm proud of what he has done. He's worked hard and the results have shown from that.
You know, it's not easy running the Cup Series and then just running a partial nationwide schedule, let alone the beginning of the year running every race, plus running as many truck races as he could.
You know, that takes a lot of commitment to do that and I'm pretty proud of him for what he's been able to do the first half of the season. Like I say, it's something that you pray that you're in that situation in the future; that every year you could have a year like that. You know, you look at the history books and there's few seasons that have been like this.
Like I say, I'm proud being a teammate of his. I'm really proud and happy for the success he's had this year, and you hope that the rest of the year finishes out the way that it started for him. I mean, obviously we want to go out and win the Chase just like he does and just like Denny does but you hope that they keep that momentum the rest of the year, too, and have a strong finish to the year after the way the first half of it's been.
Q. You answered my question about Zippy but I was interested in also finding out, moving into an ownership role, do you think that you will have any more, I don't know, say, power or pull with NASCAR when you go and complain about something like earlier in the year, you had the problem with the tires and you spoke out about Goodyear; do you think NASCAR takes the owners more seriously than what they hear from the drivers?
TONY STEWART: Not necessarily. Obviously if I have a complaint from the driver's side they will look at it from a driver's side. I don't think being a car owner in the series is going to necessarily have more pull. I think they have always been really good about listening to what everybody has to say and evaluating and making their own decisions about it.
They don't let the drivers make the decisions for them and that's something that's made NASCAR as successful as it's been for the past 50 years is that NASCAR has always retained that control and they always have open ears and they tell you, that if there's something you don't like, come to us and talk to us about it.
I think they treat the driver issues as driver issues. I think they treat the car owner issues as car owner issues and sponsor issues from the sponsorship side. I don't think having dual roles, though, is necessarily going to give you power over what's going on. I think NASCAR itself holds the power to what's going on here. I just think that whatever side of the coin you're on as far as what aspect that your complaints are about or concerned about, that's the side they will address it from.
Q. With all of the changes, is NASCAR an open-wheel series - (indiscernible).
TONY STEWART: In my opinion it's an open-wheel, and when I say open-wheel, I don't necessarily mean IndyCar Racing. Sprint car racing, midget racing, USAC races and Indiana, and they just finished up Indiana Sprint week and to me there's a lot of late dirt model racing and pavement racing, but it's still to me the thing I think most about is all of the midgets and USAC days in Indiana.
Q. You touched on the new car earlier, but given how notoriously difficult it is in the past in Indianapolis anyway, will we see anything different than before?
TONY STEWART: I don't think so. I think you'll see the same style of race. Obviously a track that has 90-degree corners versus 180-degree corners, you're not in the -- the duration that you spend in each corner obviously isn't as long, so that doesn't normally lead to having multiple grooves.
The preferred line is to be on the white line in each corner. It makes it a little harder to pass because of that, but you know, at the same time, I think what sometimes the fans and sometimes the media loses sight of is that you're still winning a race at a track that has a rich history and just to have your name on a list of winners there is a huge, huge accomplishment in my opinion.
Like I mentioned earlier, most of the times, somebody that's won the race there has won it in dominating fashion, and I think sometimes people lose perspective of what the accomplishment of winning that race is when you've had a dominating day like that or you've had a car that was just that much better than everybody else's and lose sight and say, well, it was a bad race. It wasn't a bad race; it was a team that figured out the equation better than somebody else and went out and had a performance that day that showed that.
I think you'll see a very similar race to what we've seen in the past. You never know for sure until you get there obviously but I think it's going to be very similar to what we've seen in years past.
Q. Has the pressure of winning at Indianapolis gone, and do you enjoy this week more than you would have the last few years?
TONY STEWART: Oh, absolutely. There's no doubt about it. You know, every year that we went there, whether it was an IndyCar or a stock car and had not won there yet, just that pressure kept building. Once we won it in 2005, it took a lot of pressure off and then winning last year even took more pressure off.
I think in all reality, after each time that you've won there, I think it makes it easier when you go there. I think the emotional side of it, not the desire, I don't want you guys to confuse the desire of winning versus the pressure of winning; I think the pressure goes away, but the desire is still there, and I think if anything, it makes it easier to focus on what you're trying to do and what you're trying to accomplish because you don't sit there and wonder all weekend, what would it be like to win.
You know what that feeling is like and you know what to do to accomplish that goal, and it's just a matter of going out and doing the work to accomplish it. But I think it takes a lot of the pressure off to where you can just focus better and worry about the task at hand of what you have to do to win that race.
Q. As far as the Chase is concerned, are you comfortable with the direction your team is headed right now, and who on the outside right now worries you the most?
TONY STEWART: I couldn't even tell you any more that we're tenth in points right now. I haven't -- I don't even know who is 13th in the points or 14th or 15th.
As far as the comfort level, I am very comfortable where we're at. I feel like we've really started to hit on things the last three or four races, and it still has not led us to a win yet obviously. Chicago I thought was a great example, for a large portion of the race, we were a contender to win and the car got away from us there, the handling got away from us the last couple of runs, but for the majority of the day, we were as fast as our teammate was, and the guy that's been the dominant driver in all of NASCAR racing this year. To be running with him like that is exactly what we were going to have to do to probably win the championship this year.
I felt like consistently over the last three or four races, our performance seems to be pointed in a direction that we're a lot more comfortable with and I feel like the consistency in our runs now are going to be a big key factor in the success of the rest of the season.
Q. A few years ago you seemed like you would be eager enough to get enough money to get out of NASCAR and race wherever you wanted. Was there one thing that changed your mind about that? This seems like a long-term commitment to NASCAR.
TONY STEWART: It is, but it doesn't mean that I have to drive. I don't know how long that I'll be a driver, but the good thing is, I've enjoyed being an owner in USAC. I've enjoyed being an owner in the World of Outlaw Series, and I have no doubt that I'm going to enjoy this experience of being an owner in the NASCAR Cup Series.
We'll see what direction that goes. I have an option now and I've always had an option as a driver of deciding when I retire and doing it on my own terms, and I still have that option and on the other hand, I have an ownership role that I might stay involved in NASCAR until I die as an owner.
It's nice having those options and you know, like I said, the enjoyment I've had owning USAC teams and the world of out law teams, I feel like all that has got me ready to be an owner in NASCAR and hopefully will enjoy some of the same successes that we've had in the open-wheel series.
Q. Have you made any progress in getting a teammate?
TONY STEWART: We're still working on it. Obviously I'd love to announce it sooner than later. I think it will be a key to being able to attract sponsors to the second car. We're still working on that. Hopefully we'll be able to get -- I want to get that done as soon as I can. I feel like that's a big key in this whole program being successful next year is having the right teammate so definitely want to get that done as soon as possible.
Q. There could be times next season where Tony the driver and Tony the owner are not exactly going to see eye-to-eye. You can't fire yourself --
TONY STEWART: Sure, I can. It makes it easier to fire yourself if you own part of the team.
Q. How do you reconcile that next year where you're going to maybe do things from an owner perspective and another from the driver's perspective?
TONY STEWART: I think it's what I've learned from Joe Gibbs and JD, and you know, you win races and championships with people; it's not with fancy race cars and by having trick strategies. That's not what happens in the long haul. In the long run it's people.
You know, when I'm at the track on the weekend, I'm on the driver's side. You hire the right people to do the right jobs and it's their responsibility to do their job and it's my responsibility to do my portion of it as a driver on the weekends. When we go back on Mondays and Tuesdays and I'm not sitting behind the steering wheel, I'm obviously an owner again but you have to have that confidence that you have the right leadership within the organization to focus on your job of being a race car driver on the weekends and knowing that those people are doing the right jobs and you have to trust that. If you don't trust the people that you have working for you, you're never going to be successful.
I think that's a trust that you have to put in those people that you've put in those positions to do the right jobs and focus on what I need to do as a driver to be successful in my part of it.
Q. As an owner now, putting on your owner hat and looking at adding a driver, several guys out there, what's the type of person you're looking for in a teammate, certain mind-set or attitude?
TONY STEWART: I think so. I definitely think so. We definitely want somebody that you feel like is dedicated to what we're trying to do and realizing that we're taking an organization that's not had the success that it wants and has the for sight to look forward and see what we're trying to accomplish and see that we're dedicated and going to put 110 percent into making this organization the best it can be.
You know, you want a driver that has that same attitude with what they do every weekend. You don't want a guy that's just content to run in the Top 15 or Top 20. You want a guy who has every intention every year and a realistic intention of saying, I expect to make the Chase. I want somebody that expects to win races and expects to be a contender to be a championship every year, and if they don't have those intentions, that's not a guy that I want driving my race cars.
Q. What about a crew chief? There's been a lot of talk about who you might pick, and is Ryan Newman still in the running to be your teammate?
TONY STEWART: There are a lot of drivers in the running right now. It's not narrowed down to just one driver right now.
Obviously the crew chief situation, that is obviously a big factor in what we're doing. You know, now that we're back from vacation, it's kind of the full-court press now on trying to figure out not only who we're going to have -- we need two crew chiefs right now. It's not just one crew chief.
We have to figure out exactly if we're happy with the crew chiefs that we currently have or if we need to look outside the organization, and at the same time, looking at the leadership of what we have on the floor and deciding if the team manager's roles and the people that are going to really be the brain trust, I guess, and the guys that you trust to get everything turned around. Those are key positions right now that are a huge focus for us right now.
Obviously the two crew chiefs whoever they are going to be whether it's booty or somebody different, that's obviously a huge priority for us right now along with getting a driver and other key people in the organization signed up right now.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you and first of all, much appreciated, Tony Stewart, best of luck this weekend for you.
TONY STEWART: Thanks, you guy, I appreciate your time.
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