TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT/MOBIL 1 CHEVROLET, was the guest on the NASCAR Weekly Teleconference. Full transcript:
An interview with: TONY STEWART
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, and good afternoon. Welcome to today’s NASCAR CAM Video teleconference in advance of Sunday’s STP 400 at Kansas Speedway. Our guest today is Tony Stewart. At Kansas Tony will be sponsored by A&E’s, The Glades, which will start its second season this Sunday June 5th.
Tony shot a cameo for their originally scripted drama series in late March and that NASCAR themed episode is slated to air June 26th.
Tony is currently ninth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings and has been successful at Kansas Speedway having won there twice and having seven Top 10s in ten starts at the one and a half mile speedway.
Tony will continue to be a busy man even after the Kansas weekend for the 7th Annual Prelude to the Dream is schedule for Wednesday June 8th at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. The All-Star dirt late model race benefiting four of the nation’s top children’s hospitals will be broadcast live on HBP pay-per-view at 8:00 Eastern.
Tony, as you look ahead to Kansas, what’s been your key to success there?
TONY STEWART: You know, I don’t know. It’s just been one of those places that from the first time we’ve run at Kansas on, it’s been a track that we’ve been very comfortable with. We always seem to know at the end of happy hour where the balance is that we need to be really good during the race.
It’s just a big momentum track, and it’s really important just like it was at Charlotte this past weekend to get in the corner well and to be able to not necessarily have to get on the gas right away but just to be able to maintain that corner speed. It seems like if you can make your car pass through the center of the corner that you’re going to have a really fast race car the whole day.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, we’ll now go to questions.
Q. I wondered, did you have any issue with the not throwing a caution on those on those final two laps there where Jeff Burton spun, and is it okay with you if NASCAR calls races differently late in the race versus maybe how they would in sort of the middle or early stages of the race?
TONY STEWART: I think NASCAR just has to be consistent. I don’t think anybody really has a problem with however they do it, as long as they do it the same every time all the time. And that’s probably more from a driver’s side and crew side what you want. That way it’s the same for everybody, it’s the same all the time, and you know what to expect. I think just the consistency is the biggest thing.
Q. What about in the situation on Sunday night? Were you fine with no caution there?
TONY STEWART: Well, we were kind of in a situation that it didn’t really pertain to us anyway. I ran out of fuel at the start/finish line or it didn’t get to the pick-up, so we really weren’t a factor in how the outcome ended up.
Q. Can you just kind of talk about your race on Sunday night? It seemed early you struggled, but then it seemed like things came around later in the race?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I was a little disappointed in the beginning. I thought we were actually going to be able to move up through the field a lot quicker than we did. We really just maintained where we started for the most part. It seemed like the groove was right around the bottom, and it didn’t seem like very many guys were able to actually move up to the high side like we were able to do at the All-Star Race.
I was really surprised. I thought the middle and top of the racetrack would be a lot better than what it was, but we were really line committed. I couldn’t really get off the bottom at all, and it made it really hard for us to pass. But we did get better in the middle stage of the race, I thought, and were starting to make gains on it.
But we just struggled at the end of the race with speed. And at the end, like we said, on the last restart there, I didn’t keep the box full of fuel where the pick-up is, and it stumbled on the start. I just tried to get out of the way and not mess everybody else’s race up too. But we still ended up with a 17th place run out on of it.
Q. Going back to what Jay was asking, I wanted to make sure I had you right. When you say that you wanted things as long as they’re consistent, that’s okay. Do you mean consistent throughout the course of the race or if they officiate the last few laps differently, just be consistent from race to race to race.
TONY STEWART: You want to do whatever you need to do to be consistent. You want to know that no matter what the scenario is, they’re going to make the same decision every time consistently and not change it because it’s the end of the race or beginning of the race. You want consistency all the way through.
If something happens you want to know how NASCAR’s going to react to it, and it should be the same all day.
Q. I want to back up a little bit to the introduction. I’m not up on my television. What is this A&E show, and are you in it? Can you tell me a little bit about the sponsorship here and what’s going on?
TONY STEWART: It’s called “The Glades.” It’s on A&E, and this is their second season that they’ve been having the series. We’re actually on an episode, myself and Carl Edwards and Joey Logano are on an episode that airs June 26th which is the same weekend that we run Sonoma.
But it was a lot of fun doing the show. It’s really going to be neat to be in Kansas City this weekend with The Glades sponsorship on the car. So it’s going to be a neat paint scheme for us. But it will be a lot of fun come June 26th to see whether we’ll ever get asked again to act in a TV series again.
Q. Tell me what is the acting? Did you play yourselves? Give me the synopsis.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, we played ourselves, all three of us were just ourselves as NASCAR drivers. It’s a NASCAR themed show that week, so you’ll have to tune in to watch.
Q. How would you grade it? Have you seen the show, have you seen the finished product, or just give me your review?
TONY STEWART: Well, we haven’t seen it yet. I don’t want to see it till it comes on. I think it’s going to be a lot more fun for us to see it when it’s happening. But we have seen the shows from last year.
It’s a really funny show. It’s obviously The Glades down in Florida, so it’s a Florida based TV series. But it’s got a lot of dry humor in it, and it’s something that I enjoyed watching.
Q. What was the hardest part about acting?
TONY STEWART: Acting, that is the hardest part (laughing). You’re having to remember lines and it’s not just stuff that would roll off your tongue. So you have to memorize lines and try to remember what you’re supposed to say. That is the hard part.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about your swap with Lewis Hamilton at Watkins Glen, how that came about, and is it something that you always wanted to do?
TONY STEWART: I think the further my career went along the more that you wanted to have opportunities to drive everything. We’ve driven monster trucks at Talladega, I mean, you name it. We’ve driven 22 different types of race cars over my career. And obviously having the opportunity to race in the IRL and IndyCar Series there and knowing that the final step of that would be Formula 1, it was always a goal once we got to there to just say that at some point we could get an opportunity to drive one.
Once I stopped racing in the IRL full-time and started NASCAR full-time, it was basically I thought that opportunity would never come about. But thankfully our partners at Mobil 1 had found out about that. It was actually in a conversation, and we were just talking about when Jeff Gordon and Juan Montoya did it at Indianapolis. They took that ball and ran with it.
Next thing we knew they had talked to McLaren and had basically set all this up for us to be able to go to Watkins Glen and Lewis was going to have a chance to drive our Cup car, and I’ll have a chance to drive his Formula 1 car, so I’m really excited about it.
Q. Did you speak to Jeff after he did his, and what kind of feedback did he give you, if you did?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, he was really high on it. I knew some of the stuff that he was going to say because my IRL experience. But I had never ran the road courses, but Jeff was really impressed with how quick they accelerated, how quick they decelerated and just the downforce levels those cars have.
So I’m somewhat familiar with what kind of down force they’ll have. But I’ve never run one at a road course, so it’s going to be one of these things you can talk about it all day long, but you’re not going to really fully understand it until you get a chance to sit in the car and drive it.
Q. As a track promoter yourself, I was wondering what you would do if you were in charge of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. I was wondering what you would do to keep interests a buzz around their chase race in light of the fact that it is no longer the Chase opener this year?
TONY STEWART: I’m not sure I’m smart enough to know what to do in that situation. Aside from the fact that the promoters hat that I wear is a lot smaller scale than what they have at Loudon. But Loudon’s always a fun place. You don’t have to generate extra excitement about it because the fans in that area are die hard racers anyway. They come to watch the modifieds, the northeast race, they go to Stafford, they go to Thompson. They’re dirt fans. They go to New Egypt. They go to Lebanon Valley.
There are just a lot of great racing in the northeast there anyway. So I don’t think the fans care, necessarily, as much whether it’s the first chase race or not, it’s still going to be just as important.
But that whole weekend has an extra dynamic about it because you have all the northeast racers there, and any time you get a chance to race with the modifieds up there, that’s what to me makes New Hampshire so special. It’s the only time of the year we get to race the modified series.
That’s the weekend you watch that race and watch how many drivers are standing on top of the haulers or standing in the corners and watching those cars, that’s something that you don’t normally see the Cup drivers doing. So it shows there is an extra level of excitement for the weekend because those guys are there too.
Q. I was just wondering if you got a chance to see the end of the Indy 500. Maybe if you didn’t see it live, you saw the highlights. Does your heart go out to J.R. Hildebrand and what did you think he did that caused the crash?
TONY STEWART: Well, you feel for him for sure. The guy was less than a mile away from winning his first Indy 500 in the biggest race of his life. But you know what, it was definitely a mistake. He’ll look at that a million times and realize what he could do different.
But I thought he kept his composure even when he hit the wall. When he figured out he got going straight again, even though he was dragging on the wall, he was back on the gas trying to win the race.
But I thought his interview after the race, and I thought John Barnes his car owner, I thought those guys were a class act. I don’t know how you can even handle that kind of situation being in the position those guys were both in. I just thought they handled it well and with a lot of class.
They’re both guys that will be around this sport a long time. They’re going to get their Indy 500. There is no doubt about it.
Q. Some of the younger drivers are having a hard time getting Cup rides because often because of economic factors. Has that situation and the challenges changed a lot since you moved up to Cup?
TONY STEWART: I think it’s still the same challenges. It hasn’t changed for the last two or three years, obviously. All these car owners are trying to — we’re all competing. It’s just as competitive off the track as it is on the track. The car owners are all fighting for the same funds trying to get them to come to your team.
So the hard thing and immediate thing that happens is teams start undercutting each other on prices just like in any other business, trying to make it as economical for the sponsors as possible. So when you do that, next thing you know your budgets are getting cut and things that you’re trying to do to make your team go faster, there are areas that start getting cut in those areas.
It makes it more difficult. I’m not sure that we’re far from out of this hole with the economy from the racing side for sure. I don’t see it changing in the next year or two.
The encouraging thing is we’ve seen a couple new sponsors come in the sport, and that does show that we’re probably starting that upward trend again, I hope. But I think it’s going to be a while before everybody gets comfortable again and really can put the full court press on their programs like they want.
Q. Do you have kind of a special feeling now that you’re an owner and you face those challenges a little differently than you did as a driver?
TONY STEWART: It’s just more difficult on days like today. I’m going to my shop after we’re done here, and I’ve got to sit there and we have a competition meeting. And the hard part is trying to figure out what can you do to make your program better, but you have to work within the parameters and the box that you have. You have so many funds to work with and trying to figure out what is the most important parts to put money where to make your program the best.
Q. Tony, can you tell me a little bit about the plot of this particular show? Is the crime at the track or how does NASCAR get involved in this particular episode? You don’t have to tell me who done it?
TONY STEWART: I can’t tell you anything about it. You’ve just got to watch it.
Q. A lot of the NASCAR boys don’t like to say they have had some bad luck, but for you this season it has been one thing after another, like waiting for a yellow to come out for your pit stop, but instead it comes out just after you take your pit stop. So instead of saying you’ve had some bad luck, I’ll steal a line from Rodney Dangerfield and say this year you’ve had no respect. Can you explain to the race fans how you’re able to put up with all this no respect?
TONY STEWART: Well, I don’t know that it’s no respect as much as it’s just been bad luck. I’ve said it for years that there are only so many variables during the race week that you can control. There are a lot more variables that you can’t control than the ones that you can.
It’s weird. You’ve hit the nail on the head. There have been so many things that happened that have never happened, but let alone week after week things like that keep happening. We’re definitely in a slump right now, but just like anything else, it won’t last forever.
This is probably the part that I think will define what our organization is truly about. Our guys still have good attitudes about it. They’re not happy about where we’re at, obviously, but they have good attitudes about it that we’re going to get out of this and get going again. But that’s something that I’m probably more proud of my guys and how they’re handling this time than when times are good.
Q. Get a couple of wins at Kansas and Michigan following that and you’ll be all set again, thank you.
TONY STEWART: Thank you.
Q. With all of the experience and years in the sport that you have, if you could pick one thing that’s changed our sport the most, what would that one thing be? And did it change it for the good or did it change it for the bad?
TONY STEWART: I would say in the big picture, not only for NASCAR but just racing in general, the biggest thing in the last 20 years has been technology. You look back in the ’60s and ’70s, and even part of the way through the ’80s, and guys were on — I remember watching Harry Gant. The late truck race I got to run with Harry, I remember Andy Graves tell me he walked in the trailer and was watching Harry pushing shocks down.
We had shock finders then, but Harry pushed it down, and he’s like that’s the one I want on the left rear corner. I mean, he knew just by feel. It wasn’t a computer telling him what to do. Honestly, I think that’s an example of how technology has changed all of auto racing.
It used to be guys would think of something in their head, write it down on paper, and that’s how they did it. But now it’s computers and simulation programs, and having to come up with bump stops and all of these things that technology helped develop. That’s probably hurt racing more than anything – wind tunnels.
There are a lot of variables that have gotten into things that make everything better. It’s made things better outside of our sport too. It’s made passenger cars better, but the technology as much as it’s a great thing for society and for life is that sometimes it’s gotten in the way of racing and what racing was all about too.
Q. I was kind of curious how you balance all the pressure and stress that you go through as a business owner as well as a driver? A business owner for a Sprint Cup driver like Ryan Newman, and when he crashed on Sunday night, do you spend more time worrying about him or yourself, or do you feel that you haven’t really had added pressure since he’s come on your team?
TONY STEWART: Well, the circumstance with his crash the other night is nothing I could control and it was out of his control too, I believe. I really haven’t seen the replay of what exactly happened. But whether I was his owner or his teammate as a driver, the first thing I did was check to see if he’s all right. Then once you find out he’s all right, you have to put your focus back on what you’re doing.
Today we’ll be in our competition meeting and I’ll find out exactly what happened. We’ll both be there talking about our weekends and how our races went.
It’s a lot easier than I’m going to be able to make it sound, probably. But Monday through Thursday I have to put that owners hat on and pay attention to exactly what we have to do not only for myself but for Ryan also. That part of the pressure really isn’t that hard.
I have a great relationship with Ryan both away from the track. We’re great friends and great teammates at the track. But I think Ryan has the confidence in knowing that I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that I give both of us the resources we need to be successful on the weekends and Monday through Thursday is when he we do that.
When we go to the track on Friday morning, I have to set that side of the program away and I have to focus strictly on the 14 car, and Ryan focuses on the 39. We still work together during weekends, but I’m not worried about the stuff that I worry about during the week. That stuff has to be put aside at that point, and you have to focus at the task at hand for the race weekend.
THE MODERATOR: Tony, thank you for your time today and best of luck this weekend in Kansas.
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