TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT/OLD SPICE IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Bristol Motor Speedway and discussed qualifying at Bristol, his RC car hobby, his time spent at Fort Knox and much more. Full transcript.
TALK ABOUT COMING INTO BRISTOL AND YOUR PERFORMANCE SO FAR. “I’m excited about it obviously. Every time we go to a different discipline of race track it’s exciting to see where your program is at. Seeing Ryan (Newman) second in practice and we were 17th, I was really satisfied with that. The first half of the year is like every time you come to the race track it’s a question mark because you don’t exactly know what it’s going to be like and what Darian’s (Grubb) combination is going to be like and how I’m going to have to adjust to it. Every time we come for the first time to a new track it’s been fun so far. It’s nice to see Ryan having a good weekend so far this weekend. That’s probably the one thing after the first four weeks that I desperately wanted to see happen is just to see Ryan get some luck. I’m glad to see their off to a good day.”
DID RYAN AND THEM NEED A WEEK OFF TO SORT OF CATCH THEIR BREATH? DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAS BEEN WRONG WITH THEM AND WHY HAS IT CLICKED TODAY? “It’s just been bad luck. You look at the things that have happened. They’ve had two races where they had a loose wheel. They’ve had the pit stop where they got in bad track position and got them in a bad spot. Just everything that they’ve had has seemed to be bad luck so far. I don’t think there is any one thing that any of us, nobody has been in crisis mode over there, not on our side either with it. We look at it and I think we’ve been able to sit and say okay this is what happened and this is why what the result of it was. It’s just a matter of them getting things starting to click and its good just to see that after a week off to have them come out today and they were on top of the board there for a little bit and then they ended up second in the session. That’s a great way to start the weekend and this is one of those places that if you can start off the Friday sessions on a good note it seems like your whole weekend can be really good.”
ON THEIR CONFIDENCE. “I think their confidence is good because they know. I think if we were running bad it would need to be a confidence builder. That’s been the one thing that has been good for them is the fact that we’re running good so they know that they’ve got the same stuff that we have. All they have to do is get the monkey off their back and they can run right there were we are. There’s nobody in the organization that’s doubting that team can do it. It’s opposite today. We’re chasing them. We were 15 spots behind them at the end of practice. We’re trying to figure out what we can do to try to catch them now.”
ON QUALIFYING AT BRISTOL. “No different than anywhere else. Obviously this place is action-packed and everybody gets in a hurry and there’s a lot of cautions here. Obviously it’s a little more important this week than some of the other tracks we go to about qualifying and getting a good starting position but more so a good pit spot. These boxes can be tricky during the race and it’s easy to get stuck in your pit box and lose eighth or ten spots if you get boxed in. If you can get a good qualifying run and get a good pit selection it helps you through the whole day no matter whether your car is good or bad you’re going to gain spots.”
HISTORICALLY SINCE THE CHASE HAS BEEN PLACE GUYS WHO LEAVE HERE IN THE TOP-12 IN POINTS ABOUT 75 PERCENT OF THEM GO ON TO MAKE IT IN THE CHASE, GIVEN THAT AND GIVEN THAT YOU ARE A NEW TEAM IN SOMEWHAT DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES HOW CLOSELY ARE YOU WATCHING POINTS FOR YOUR TEAM NOW THIS TIME OF YEAR? “We looked at it at the end of the day. I guess its stuff that I didn’t look at before but now I look at it a little more closely being a team owner but I don’t think that we sit there and base everything off of that. We kind of glance out of curiosity. That’s what’s fun about coming to the media center is you guys tell the stats like that so it kind of makes me feel like if we are in that position it kind of makes us feel a little bit better. Obviously the last four weeks and Ryan’s situation in the points standings we’ve been watching a little closer there. From our standpoint it’s just more out of curiosity, where we are at and who is around us. I think right now it’s more just trying to learn each other and go race to race and figure out his (crew chief, Darian Grubb) package matches my driving styles and we talk about he sees how I’m driving and now I can adjust for that because I know what you do. That was kind of some of the things that we had that were fun today and makes us focus on that instead of the point standings I guess.”
TALK ABOUT YOUR DESIRE FOR RC CARS AND HOW YOU GOT INVOLVED IN THAT. “Actually it’s something that I’ve done for a long time. When I was racing midgets and sprint cars in Indiana we didn’t have anything to do in the winter so that’s what we did. We raced RC cars a lot. I went out and had a seven-week trip to Bakersfield, California and I met Bryan and Jerry Landgraff who are real close friends of mine now and actually I think about 10 or 12 years later ended up buying their company from them when they sold it. I’ve been active in the production side of building RC cars that are for racing purposes; it’s not just something to go play around in the grass in the back yard. They’re built with the same intentions of what we do here every week and with the same technology. It’s something I’m a big fan of obviously. I think it’s great for your hand-eye coordination, especially when you come to a track where we are running low 15-second laps here things happen quick and you’ve got to react quick and I think that’s where that hand-eye coordination comes into play.”
DOES THIS TRACK SORT OF REMIND YOU OF WHAT YOU DID GROWING UP? PEOPLE TALK ABOUT WINCHESTER AND SALEM THEY’RE NOT EXACTLY THE SAME BUT THEY’RE PRETTY MUCH THE SAME. “Not even close. They really aren’t in all reality. From the standpoint other than the physical shape of it the thing that was so different that makes Winchester and Salem so different from what we do here is you had to be up against the wall there. Here we are on the bottom. It does but it doesn’t. There’s no where you go around the country. If you took the grandstands away it might make it a little more similar but this place is its own unique special place because of the fact that you look around this race track and you’ve got grandstands 15 feet away from the edge of the track and you may not even be able to stretch your neck high enough to see the top of the grandstands. It’s all the way around, 360 degrees. There’s no place like this.
BUT DOES THIS PLACE HAVE AN ATTITUDE? “The track doesn’t run us into each other. We run ourselves into each other. I’ve never seen a race track drive a race car yet. It’s the guys that do it. It was kind of disappointing after we ran the first couple of races here how everybody said well it’s not as exciting. If you want to go see people crashing each other all day, wait until fair season. They have demolition derbies at every county fair across the country. When you see the amount of time these guys spend to build these cars to go fast here and to know how frustrating it’s been for us in the past, the fact that you couldn’t pass guys and the only way around guys for a long time was to kind of nudge them out of the way. With the car the way they used to be it used to be like a shovel. If you got a guy and you got him just a little bit too hard, not only did you pick him up and move him but you crashed him. Now we’ve got cars with the COT side with the way the bumpers line up you can nudge each other a little bit plus when they redid the surface now we’ve got multiple groves to run. I think it’s been some of the best racing we’ve ever seen here from that standpoint. If you’re here to watch a crash fest then you’re not here for the right reasons I don’t think. There are a lot of other things you can go watch where you can watch guys crash into each other all day long on purpose.”
YOU SEE GUYS LIKE JOSH WISE, BRIAN CLAUSEN STILL WITH THE ORGANIZATIONS BUT NOT ABLE TO GET SEAT TIME BECAUSE OF THE ECONOMY OR WHATEVER PURPOSE. HOW MUCH TALENT IS OUT THERE THAT IS SITTING AND NOT GETTING THE OPPORTUNITY RIGHT NOW AND HOW MUCH MORE DIFFICULT IS IT FOR THE GUY IN THE MIDWEST OR SOMEHWERE ELSE TO WORK HIS WAY UP? “There have always been guys like that across the country. We kind of got the sport in a mode where everybody hired all these driver development guys. The problem was that everybody hired drivers and then where do you put them once they are ready to go to Cup. If you hire two developmental drivers and you’ve got a three-car Cup team and two of your guys don’t leave there is nowhere to put them guys to race and that is kind of what the situation was that happened. It was kind of a flood to try to find the next top talent and not let them get away then car owners were getting them and just didn’t have spots for them. Page
“Now with the economy it’s made a bunch of them scale back and definitely the first thing that goes is your development program with the driver’s side. It was good for these guys but at the same time it’s been bad for them too because they got their opportunity but they didn’t make it all the way and now there is nowhere for them to go. The good thing is they are all going back and running the same things they were. I know Josh (Wise) real well and I know Brian (Clausen) and they get to go back and still run sprint cars and midgets and do the same thing they were doing before they had the opportunity. It’s not a situation where they’re totally out and don’t have anything to do and got to this point and have nothing. At least they have the open wheel series to fall back on where they were to begin with.”
FORMULA ONE IS CHANGIN THEIR RULES ON HOW THEY CHOOSE THE CHAMPION; IT WILL BE THE DRIVER WHO WINS THE MOST RACES. WOULD THAT WORK HERE, IS THAT SOMETHING YOU WOULD BE IN SUPPORT OF? “I don’t know. I think this sport has made it 60 years because they’ve made good decisions and they’ve always had a good point system in place. Obviously the Chase was I think a great idea. I think it’s been more exciting for the fans. With four or five races before the Chase guys didn’t get necessarily enough attention I don’t think or get the attention now because of the fact whether they’re going to make the Chase or not. Then it’s made the end of the season more exciting because it’s always come down to the last race now where races have been decided before the end of the season. I don’t know. I think the system in place is a pretty good system. I’m sure there’s ways that you can tweak it a little bit here and there but I don’t think that a major overhaul in a series like this will work like it is in Formula One. Formula One you realistically have got three or four cars that have a shot at winning the race each week. Here you’ve got three times that many cars or four times that many cars that have a realistic shot at winning. I’m not sure because it’s going to work in that format that it’s the right thing for this series.”
NOW THAT YOU’RE SEVERAL MONTHS INTO DRIVING AND OWNING A CAR, IS THERE ANYTHING THAT HAS REALLY JUMPED OUT AT YOU THAT HAS SURPRISED YOU LIKE A BIG BILL OR SOMETHING? “The good thing it’s like Monopoly money. I don’t see the money I just see the numbers on the paper and you almost treat it like Monopoly money. If you’re in the plus you’re good and if you’re in the minus you’re bad. I don’t see the bills coming in and going out. Obviously I’m updated in the meetings where we are at with the finances but there’s not been that one big shocker yet that has happened in five weeks at this point. I think that’s a great thing. I’m glad there’s not been that one thing but I’m sure it’s going to happen. I don’t know when it’s going to be. I think that’s been a credit to Bobby Hutchens and Darian (Grubb) and Tony Gibson. Since they’ve all been there its run just like clockwork so far and it’s ran exactly the way we thought it would and hoped it would. From that side there hasn’t been that big shock and hopefully there won’t but I’m sure there is going to be a day that something like that is going to happen. I still believe exactly like Joe Gibbs has said so many times, this series success is by the people that you have surrounding you and I feel like we’ve got a good group of people. The great thing is that everybody does their job. I don’t feel like I have to watch the guy that’s paying the bills and I don’t have to watch the bills coming in and out because we’ve got a good guy to take care of that area. We’ve got a competition director with Bobby Hutchens who is always conscious with where our budgets are where the money that we have available needs to be spent to make the teams go faster. Hiring those right people in those right spots it’s taken a lot of pressure off of me of having to oversee everybody. I feel like I could literally not go to the shop for the whole year almost and other than signing paperwork it would run just fine with or without me in the shop. They’ve got it pretty efficient right now and everybody is really comfortable with working with each other coming from so many different organizations.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT GOING TO TRAIN WITH THE TROOPS AT FORT KNOX AND DID YOU GET TO BLOW UP ANYTHING FINALLY? “I did but it was all on simulators. We shot a helicopter out of the sky, shot a bunch of tanks down. The thing that was probably the coolest thing we got to do yesterday was I got to repel down a 50-foot wall. I’m not a big fan of heights so to see me even step off a 50-foot wall like that was pretty cool. We got to hang out with Tony Schumacher who I don’t get to see very much obviously but got to spend a lot of time at Fort Knox yesterday. Just to see the training that these young men and women go through it was pretty amazing to see how rigorous how it is and how technical it really is. It’s every bit as technical, you think about what we do in racing and how we measure everything to the thousandth and hundredth or tenth of a thousandth of a second, then you see what these guys are doing with simulators, firing ranges and their vehicles. They can simulate any condition that they’re placed in front of before they ever have to get there. It was kind of interesting and impressive to see how advanced our military really is.”
DID YOU MAKE IT? “Well yeah I didn’t make it. Obviously I didn’t go splat at the bottom but it was fun. I got down to the bottom and Schumacher was still up there. I yelled up there what was he waiting on and his crew guys kind of got a kick out of that. It was a lot of fun. You see what a lot of these 17, 18-year-old men and women have to go through and realize the challenges that they face just to get training to go into combat let alone the stresses of actually being there.”
FOR A LONG TIME YOU USED TO TALK ABOUT HOW ALL THE TIME YOU RACED DIRT LATE MODELS AND RACE ON THE SHORT TRACKS DURING THE WEEK HOW IT KEPT YOUR SANITY, SINCE YOU’VE HAD TO CUT BACK ON THAT . . . “Who said that. I haven’t had to cut back. I just talked to Jimmy Carr (manager of Tony Stewart Racing) last night and I think he’s faxing me today schedules for 360 races.”
SO BEING A TEAM OWNER HAS NOT MADE YOU CUT BACK ON THAT? “No, not at all. The Chili Bowl was actually the only time we’ve cut back on races. Obviously making sure that everything was ready to go to Daytona and at the beginning of the year it was a little more important to miss the Chili Bowl this year but I’m not having to miss anything and that’s the great thing. Ryan (Newman) is going to run some Nationwide races and he’s going to run the modified some more this year. We’re both going to get to race as much as we want to race and I think everybody in the organization is really good with that. Bobby Hutchens is good with it, Tony Gibson is good. Darian (Grubb) is happy with it. We get to go out and race and we get to do what we love and I think that’s something they understand the value of.
“Actually two days ago I got to see the paint scheme for the 360 sprint car and got to see the drawings for the late model so everything on the extracurricular side is still full throttle.”
YOU OBVIOUSLY HAVE BEEN AROUND THIS YOUR WHOLE LIFE. YOU’VE SEEN HOW THE OUTSIDE INFLUENCES OF THE SPORT CAN AFFECT A TEAM. OBVIUOUSLY YOU’VE SEEN THE JUNIOR FACTOR, HOW HARD DO YOU THINK TONY EURY, JR’S JOB IS COMPOUNDED BECAUSE OF THE EXPECTATIONS OF HIS FANS AND PROBABLY THE MEDIA TOO? “Obviously Dale, Jr. has a status that nobody has in this series so any time that they don’t fulfill the expectations of themselves or their fans, any time any business or any sporting team goes through that everybody starts trying to point a finger at where is the problem, why is the problem happening and what do you do to fix it. It’s been pointed at Dale, Jr., it’s been pointed at Tony Eury, Jr., it’s kind of ruthless deal from that standpoint. The only people that know what’s going on are the people in the organization. I think unless that you know every detail about what’s going on I don’t think you’re an educated enough person to know. I’m not talking about this room, but I’ve seen people that are quick to point the finger. Unless they’re in there working with these guys and know what’s going on and know what the whole situation is behind it, I don’t think it’s an accurate assessment to be able to point the finger at one person and be able to say this is the root or cause of the problems. I think it’s a pressure to both Dale, Jr. at times and Tony, Jr. at times that is an unnecessary pressure that they don’t deserve.”
I’VE GOT THE NUMBER OF FLAT BEDS
THAT WE NEED FOR TOMORROW’S LEGENDS RACE AT FIVE, ARE YOU TAKING THE OVER OR THE UNDER? “Can I get back to you before the end of this on that one? Let me think about that one for a minute.
“How many cars in each deal?”
THERE’S 24 CARS. TWELVE IN THE HEATS AND 12 DIFFERENT CARS IN THE MAIN EVENT SO YOU HAVE 24 PROBABLE CARS. “Is it one car per flat bed?”
YES, ONE CAR PER FLAT BED. “I’ll take the over. I think that’s something it would be really cool to have a series that can go around to some of these tracks. Martinsville would be a great one. Richmond would be a great one. I’m excited for tomorrow night. It’s just something aside from being a driver and aside from being a car owner tomorrow night I’m going to be a fan. It’s going to be cool to see Bill Jordan and Ricky Rachman get to drive race cars. To get to watch Junior Johnson live drive a race car is something I’m really excited about. I think that’s something if you’ve been a part of this sport for any amount of time you realize how special tomorrow night is going to be and how cool it’s going to be to see these guys get a chance to get back in a car. You know there are some of those guys that haven’t been in one for a long time and they’ve had the itch for a serious amount of time. It ought to be interesting to see what happens when you turn them loose finally and let them go. I don’t think I’ll sit on the front row of the stands. I might try to sit 20 rows up.”