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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
July 6, 2010
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR cam video teleconference, ahead of this weekend's events at Chicagoland Speedway. Our guest today is Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot Old Spice Chevrolet. He's a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and a two-time Chicagoland winner. Welcome.
TONY STEWART: Thank you.
DENISE MALOOF: Tony also had some other duties this weekend, all for a good cause. The hood of his car will sport a colorful reminder of every parent's back to school shopping list which will be fun, and Tony will partner with the Office Depot Foundation to donate 4,200 backpacks to kids in need in the special back to school backpack celebration event this Thursday at a local Office Depot store in Chicago. It's all part of the 10th anniversary celebration of Home Depot Foundation's national backpack program. Eventually, Tony will help to donate 300,000 backpacks to kids in need across the country during the 2010 back to school season.
Tony, excellent stuff there.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, it's really cool. Obviously being with Office Depot and learning about the national backpack program that started in 2001, it's a really, really big effort that they put forth every year. Last year we were able to be a part of helping them donate their two millionth backpack. This year they will have donated 2,300,000 backpacks by the end of the back to school season. To donate 300,000 more backpacks this year is an awesome milestone for them.
It's something I'm really, really proud of, to have the back to school paint scheme this weekend at Chicago is really cool. To have a lot of different vendors being represented on the car is really going to be neat.
It's a perfect time of year to remind everybody that school will be coming up sooner than we think. So to go to Office Depot and get your supplies, for sure.
DENISE MALOOF: School will be on us before we know it.
Before we get started with the media, we do have a question for you. It's a fan question from our NASCAR Twitter account. Samantha from Wisconsin wants to know what is the most difficult part of being a car owner.
TONY STEWART: You know, the hardest thing right now is the economy. It takes a lot of money to fund these teams. There's so many great things about it that I enjoy. I really enjoy working with the people. There's so many guys on our team that have been involved in racing all their life. There's a lot of guys now that specialize in engineering or different areas that haven't necessarily been racers all their life. But at Stewart Haas Racing, we've got a lot of true racers, I call them, that have been racing all their life. Now we all work together.
But, you know, the hardest part is generating and raising the funds that you need to run these multi-million dollar race teams. It's a very costly sport. It takes a lot of funding to do that. That seems to be the hardest part, is just finding the funds to do everything we need to do.
DENISE MALOOF: Let's go straight to media questions for Tony Stewart.
Q. Tony, I just wanted to ask you, excluding Daytona, a lot of reasons for the wrecks, after Darlington, you were 18th in points. You really climbed the ladder into the top 12 now. Can you talk a little bit about what you found, what you're doing now that you weren't doing before.
TONY STEWART: Well, I don't know that there's been one particular thing that has really changed it all for us. We've just been working hard. It's kind of like last year. We had a great first half of the season, then just kind of fell off. We didn't really feel like we were doing anything different. We just weren't hitting on the things that we needed to in the fall to keep us good.
I think it's kind of worked the opposite way this year so far. We just weren't finding the things to make the car happy. As time is going on, every week we're just learning a little more about what to do to get the feel in the car that I like. It's been working out.
So, yeah, I agree. We weren't happy where we were at in the points. I'm still not really comfortable where we're at in the point standings right now, but we're definitely making gains for sure.
But it's not just one thing. It's a lot of little things here and there. The engine department, they keep making gains. Our chassis are getting better. At our shop, our shock engineers, everybody has just really been digging deep. You don't have to find one big chunk to make a big gain like that. A lot of times it's very, very small details that each individual department will find that helps bring the whole performance of the team up.
Q. Tony, a question related to USAC. You're very close to that series. From the outside, it doesn't seem like we've seen as many guys make the jump from there into NASCAR's national divisions as we once did. Are the guys in USAC still looking at NASCAR as a viable career path? Is it harder to find rides? Is the talent still down there?
TONY STEWART: There's definitely a lot of talent. You have Bobby Santos that ran at Louden in the modified, Levi Jones who drives for us in USAC, and Bryan Clausen who has run some stock car stuff here. There's still a lot of interest. There's definitely a lot of talent. We got Josh Richards who runs our dirt late model. He's been running a little bit of ARCA stuff, trying to get his feet wet here. There's definitely a lot of interest.
The hard part right now, the economy's kind of got everything backed up a little bit to where it's hard for these drivers. Unless they have millions of dollars in sponsorship that they can bring, their talent alone won't get them the opportunity down here they deserve.
It's really hard right now for those guys to get the opportunity. There's a ton of talent not only in USAC ranks but all over the country in different forms of racing. The hard part is there's only so many spots here to fill. So it's still back the way it always has been. It's really hard to get your opportunity down here.
There's definitely a lot of drivers, not only in USAC, but across the country that have the talent to do it.
Q. So that era that produced guys like you and Ryan and Kasey, that was lightning in a bottle sort of moment? We can't expect that thing all the time out of there?
TONY STEWART: I don't know that it's necessarily just with us. The hard thing is to have their opportunities, there has to be somewhere for them to go when they get here. That's the problem. There's those guys, and there's the talented drivers waiting. There's just not good opportunities for them to come down here right now. Bryan Clausen has been running. He went back to running Sprint cars. Josh Wise is running races in the Nationwide Series. There's just not a lot of cars available for these guys to get in. That's the hard part. There has to be cars for them to drive before they can actually make that move.
Q. Do you find that people, whether it's fans, media or corporate America, that looks at you guys, the drivers, now more as entertainers instead of athletes in light of the changes that have been done to enhance what some would call the show, and even now talks of changes to the Chase? Do people forget you're athletes and look at you more as an entertainer, per se?
TONY STEWART: I don't know that it's really changed. I think over the years that's kind of changed a little bit. But I think they still respect the athletic side. Granted, we're not running up and down the court or wearing pads or jumping or anything like that. But to sit in the cars with the temperatures that we deal with, the g-forces we deal with all day, there is that physical aspect to it.
But I think anytime you're in an industry, even though it's sports, we're still in the entertainment industry, too. That's what keeps people coming back every week. So, you know, people do look at you from that side I think so now more than ever.
But I don't think they forgot about the physical aspect of it. But these people and the fans are so passionate about their drivers, you know, they are, they're entertained by us. I think that is a big aspect of their lives. We're very thankful for that.
Q. I know you're still looking for sponsorship for your two cars. At this point what would you list as the percentage likelihood you could or would expand to a third team for next year?
TONY STEWART: I would say there's probably a zero percent chance we'll expand to a third team for next year. We're still trying to fill the void when Old Spice changes this year. We're talking to a lot of great people. There's a lot of good opportunities out there. It's just a matter of finding a package that works for somebody to fill our spot. There's still races we're trying to take care of on Ryan's car.
The hard part about it is, it just takes funding. We could be up to a four-car team very quickly. But it takes the funding to get it done.
Q. Tony, looking ahead to a couple weeks, we have Indianapolis on the schedule. You got a couple of wins under your belt already. Being a car owner at the same time, does that kind of reset your goals and make you even more hungry to win there as well?
TONY STEWART: No. I don't know how my goal could change. I mean, I go to Indy for one reason and one reason only. It's never changed. I'm just so passionate about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Whether it's a driver, owner, the good thing is I got two opportunities to have a shot at winning at Indy.
But to me, I mean, I obviously first and foremost want to win as a driver. But if we can't do that and if I can go to Victory Lane as a car owner there, that would be just as special to me to be standing there with Ryan. So it's cool to have that opportunity.
Q. Obviously you probably talked to Ryan about that goal. He's got to be pretty excited about being in such good equipment to win at one of his favorite tracks as well.
TONY STEWART: Yeah. I mean, obviously both of us growing up from Indiana, it's a special event for the whole series in general, but when you've grown up around that speedway, it's a big goal and a life-long dream for us to have that opportunity. We're both excited about it.
Q. There is a lot of talk about possible changes to the Chase, new tracks, formats and all. I realize you're captive to whatever NASCAR wants to do. Does it matter to you if they make some dramatic changes to the Chase?
TONY STEWART: I don't think so. I mean, you know, I believe in Brian France. I believe in the vision that he has. He's learned from two of the greatest promotors in all of racing with his father and grandfather.
I guarantee whatever it's gonna be and whatever they're talking about and looking into as far as changes are concerned, that it's something that's been well-thought out and will be good for our series. Anytime that it's good for the series, it's good for all of us, too.
Everybody was skeptical about the format of the Chase to begin with. But, you know, it's provided some great, great excitement for our series at the end of the year.
The good thing is it's the same for everybody. That's all you ask for. It really doesn't matter what the format is to us, you know, you just learn how to plan for it and how to adapt to it.
Q. Tony, we're going to go see the cheetahs tomorrow at the Indianapolis Zoo. I wanted you to share with me the experience working with them and the conservationists out there. If you could share one funny tidbit about filming that commercial.
TONY STEWART: We had a lot of fun. We've worked with the Indianapolis Zoo in helping be a part of building the cheetah exhibit at the Indy Zoo. It was pretty cool. We had a whole day at Stewart Haas Racing, we had Jack Hannah, one of his two guys brought down Roe (phonetic), who is a male cheetah. We got to shoot the commercial spots for it to help promote the Zoo.
It's really, really cool. They've got I think males and three females that are there. They're actually separated because they don't -- the females and males don't get along that well with each other. A part of the exhibit is you get a chance to race a cheetah. It's actually a section of running track. The light runs across the speed that the cheetah runs. You run and see how far you can get by the time the cheetah gets to the end. It gives you perspective. I think it's 50 cents to race against the cheetah there. The money that that generates helps go to the conservation efforts in Africa. It's cool to see such a beautiful animal. For me it was a great experience.
I've always loved animals. I got along with Roe (phonetic) really well right off the bat. Toward the end of the day, I was walking Roe (phonetic) around the shop. We got some really, really neat pictures. You go to TonyStewart.com, we've got some really good pictures of Roe (phonetic) and I interacting that people can get.
It was a really cool do to do that. There's not many times in your life you get an opportunity to spend time with a wild animal like that. So it definitely was a day I'll never forget. The exhibit was awesome. We got to go up a couple weeks ago and do the grand opening for it. It's really, really neat to see how hard people are working to help with the conservation efforts.
Q. I know you had a monkey. Do you think a cheetah will go to the new place?
TONY STEWART: No. Mojo is down at the Louisville Zoo where he's getting better taken care of than we can take care of. We still get a chance to go down and work with the Louisville Zoo also. We get to go back and interact with him. He still recognizes us. He still remembers who raised him.
We're still very passionate about him.
Q. You've won twice at Chicagoland. I wanted to find out what you think of the track, if the track holds kind of a special place for you with those two victories.
TONY STEWART: Well, you always like tracks that you win at. But it's fun. I mean, it's a great race for us. We've got two tracks that are very close to home, basically a couple weeks away from each other. But a lot of our friends and family, a lot of our friends that are from Wisconsin and Illinois get a chance to come to watch us there. It makes for a really cool weekend.
Actually, it's not quite as busy as when we got to Indianapolis, so we get to spend a little more time with our friends that we don't get to see often from that area. We like it. I'm very appreciative the track took the time and put the lights in. I think it's added a lot to our race. Looking forward to a great weekend there.
Q. You said after the track put the lights in, it added a lot to the race. How so? Does it change actually how you run the race? Give it more grip?
TONY STEWART: It does give the track more grip. Obviously, the cooler the track temperature is, the better grip that we have in the car. We definitely get to run faster. But it's the same for everybody. I wish I could say that when the sun goes down at the end of the day, we're the only ones that benefit from it.
I think there's something about watching Cup cars racing at night. If the cars bottom out, you see the sparks. That's an aspect you don't normally get to see during a daytime race. I just think it just adds to the excitement. I always thought night races were just more exciting in general.
Q. Do NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers and nominees, do you think they differ a lot from present drivers? How would you compare the Hall of Fame NASCAR nominees present, maybe future, to Hall of Fame athletes in other sports?
TONY STEWART: Well, I think there's a lot of similarities. Obviously, by the time you get nominated to go in the Hall of Fame, you've definitely been around for quite some time.
No matter what professional sport you're in, whether it football, basketball, baseball, as time goes on, the sport changes, and physically you're different than you were when you were in your peak. I think there's a lot of similarities there.
But I think we saw an example of it last year at Bristol, watching the older guys go back and run the late models there. The sport's changed a little bit since they ran. Definitely in auto racing, in particular, the technology changes so fast that what we're doing and the types of cars we're driving now, the setups on the cars are drastically different than when these Hall of Fame drivers were running their cars. It's definitely a lot different for them.
Q. There's been a lack of development of the younger drivers. Last week Brian France alluded to the fact there may be some changes coming up to the Nationwide Series, not necessarily eliminating Cup drivers, but getting more Nationwide drivers more seat time. Do you agree with that aspect that there needs to be more of a college football version of the bracket series being in the Nationwide?
TONY STEWART: I'm all for guys getting more time. The hard part is, you know, trying to figure out the guys that we already have running, making sure -- the first step, in my opinion, is to make sure that the 43 cars starting the race aren't starting and pulling in after 20 laps. You could give more guys opportunities, but if they're having to park their cars after 20 laps, they're not learning anything.
The bigger thing is trying to get the young drivers that already have the opportunity, trying to get it to a way where they can run the full race and not have to park the cars to save money.
But, you know, I understand that side of it. What people don't realize, this is different than college sports versus pro sports. Last night I raced in Macon, Illinois. If everybody had that mindset that Cup drivers shouldn't go down and run another level, then I shouldn't have been racing at Macon, Illinois last night. Neither would Kenny Wallace and Kenny Schrader, who was there also.
Fans come to see those guys, too. You're eliminating a chance -- what people don't realize is this is how we all make our living, we drive racecars and make a living driving racecars. The guys that choose to run on Saturday, that's part of how they make their living, too.
I'm not sure it's fair to try to eliminate those guys and try to keep those guys from racing also. In a perfect world, you'd have a lot of guys having that opportunity to do it. But I don't know that there's a simple solution to fix that.
Q. With the back to school paint scheme, do you think you might get a little bit more of a reaction from the younger fans?
TONY STEWART: I hope so. I mean, I've seen the artwork of the car. It's a pretty cool car this year. I thought last year's scheme was pretty cool. This year's is pretty cool, too. Especially after we did the back to school car last year, seeing how many kids actually brought them to autograph sessions throughout the remainder of the year was a pretty good indication of how popular it was.
Q. Tony, you mentioned that a lot of times the race fans forget about the g-forces you drivers have to go through. What track on the NASCAR circuit, in your opinion, puts out the most g-forces?
TONY STEWART: Uhm, you know, I would say probably in all reality Daytona has the biggest individual loads because of the bumps of how it loads you in the seat. Bristol and Dover are two tracks that I can think of that definitely have you pinned in the seat a lot because of how small the tracks are and the loads that we carry through the corners.
You do that for four hours, you're loading the right side of your body like that, it's definitely a physical sport that people sometimes forget about.
Q. Looking a few weeks ahead to August, MIS, the last time you were you finished well moving up in the Sprint Cup Series series rankings. How do you hope to finish in the upcoming race at MIS?
TONY STEWART: I mean, it helps everybody, because everybody gets a chance to learn from the time before. I think it's kind of an obvious answer of how we want to run. Nobody goes into a race going, I think I'll just try to run 30th to 35th. We obviously want to win every time we go out. That's what we're hoping for.
We're trying to improve every week on where we run. We had a good run there at MIS last time. Hopefully we can have a better one this time and finish a little higher.
Q. Are there any aspects of the racetrack that you like particularly?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, you know, Michigan is a very, very wide racetrack. The good thing with that is it gives us as drivers an opportunity to move around to different spots of the track and help ourselves out as far as if our cars aren't handling exactly the way we want, you can normally move around and find a spot that's a little bit better and helps you out.
That's one thing about MIS that I think all the drivers really like, is that there are so many options. It's not a track that's 'line committed', we call it, where you're stuck in one spot on the racetrack. We have the flexibility to move around. That gives us the opportunity to make our cars drive a little better without having to make changes.
DENISE MALOOF: Tony, thanks for being with us today. We appreciate it. Good luck this weekend.
TONY STEWART: Thank you, guys.
DENISE MALOOF: Thanks to all the media who were with us today. We always appreciate the coverage. We will see you again next week.
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