TONY STEWART was the guest on the NASCAR Weekly Teleconference. Below is the complete transcript:
THE MODERATOR: We welcome Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. A three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and Columbus, Ind., native, Stewart has three wins this season and currently sits seventh in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings. He has two wins, nine top 10s and an average finish of 8.1 at his home track of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Tony, can you talk about the chemistry you and Steve Addington have had as a driver/crew chief combo this year and what are your expectations for the team heading into your home track, the Brickyard this weekend?
TONY STEWART: I’ve been really happy with what Steve and I have been able to do together in such a short amount of time; to be halfway through the season and have three wins together already, obviously really proud of that.
Steve knows it’s a big week for me. It’s a big weekend for everybody. Not only myself being from Indiana, but the Brickyard is probably the second biggest race on our schedule behind the Daytona 500 now.
So everybody gets really geared up for it, and you know, hopefully we’ll get started on Saturday and have a great weekend.
Q. We know it’s a big week. What does your schedule look like and do you have any other races other than the Brickyard activities?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, it’s a busy week. I mean, obviously we have had an hour’s worth of radio call-ins this morning to do for Office Depot and then the teleconference here. You know, tomorrow, I don’t even remember what we have tomorrow to be honest. I know I’ve got my crew guys coming in a day early, and they are coming into Columbus down here to hang out for an afternoon. And actually tomorrow, I have an Office Depot store appearance.
So every day we have something going on. The schedule this week is actually a little bit lighter than normal. We don’t do anything at the Speedway until Saturday. So kind of gives us one of those days back a little bit to rest and I’m going to take full advantage of Friday and watch the Silver Crown cars and the GRAND-AM race this weekend before we get started on Saturday.
But I’m planning on going to Eldora on Saturday night to run my Sprint cars and I’m going to treat it just like another week. It will be a big weekend for us but I seem to be doing better when I’m staying busy, so having Saturday night to run my car at Eldora is going to be a lot of fun.
Q. So you’ve been in Columbus for a couple days?
TONY STEWART: I got back Sunday morning at nine o’clock in the morning. I’m driving back from Williamsburg, Pennsylvania Saturday night. I haven’t been home long, but enjoyed the day and a half that I’ve been here.
Q. Since the SAFER barrier made its debut in Sprint Cup, how do you measure the device’s impact on the sport?
TONY STEWART: Well, it’s something that we are very grateful for obviously. Tony George was a big part of getting the SAFER barrier going.
You know, it’s definitely something that none of us as drivers take for granted for sure, because who knows how many lives its saved now. The good thing is that we have not had anyone killed since we had the SAFER barriers.
But I don’t think it’s changed the racing. I don’t think it’s changed how drivers approach races. But you know, at the end of the day, it’s definitely made it a lot safer for us and we are definitely grateful for it.
Q. You’ve raced on some tracks that don’t have SAFER barriers when you do the short track stuff. Is that any different for you when you go to a place that doesn’t have one?
TONY STEWART: No, we don’t think about it unless you crash. But it’s definitely something that, you know, when you hit the wall, you definitely realize, you know, it’s a pretty significant change when you crash in a SAFER barrier versus a wall.
Q. With U.S. Army now leaving a few weeks ago, where does that leave you as far as commitments with new sponsorship for your team next year?
TONY STEWART: We’re working on it, it’s definitely still a setback but –
Q. Is it your hope to have three cars next year?
TONY STEWART: Yes, and it has been since we signed Danica.
Q. On the sponsorship deal, last year at this time it seemed like the environment was changing a little bit and maybe getting a little bit better and if you’re still seeing that kind of thing and what it’s like out there now in terms of what kinds of things you’re having to do to get sponsors now that maybe you were or were not last year at this time.
TONY STEWART: Well, I still think it’s gaining momentum. We have been able to bring in Aspen Dental and Quicken Loans on board and those are two companies that had not been a part of NASCAR racing in the past. I’m pretty proud of that side of it.
You know, it was definitely a huge disappointment that we were going to lose the U.S. Army. But it’s not something that we have had a lot of at Stewart Haas Racing, we have not lost a lot of partners. And especially a group like U.S. Army, they have been a lot of fun to work with and they been a very dedicated group and have been very involved with what the race team is doing and very such pore at this point. We are going to miss out having them on board next year.
But I still think it’s coming around. There’s a lot of new companies that we are seeing in the sport, and we are seeing that in our organization. So we are not giving up hope and throwing in the towel thinking that we are losing one sponsor; we are going to hopefully be able to try to find somebody else.
Q. Do you feel there is more pressure to win because you’re in your hometown?
TONY STEWART: I don’t. I like to win no matter where we’re at. It fun to win here at home. It’s always fun to win at Indianapolis because it does mean a lot to me to win there. Probably the best part is we have so many friends and family that get to come up to the Brickyard; that makes the days even that much better.
As far as putting pressure on ourselves, I don’t think we really do that anymore. As time has gone on, I think after we won that first one in 2005, it’s just taken a huge weight off our shoulders on that side, and just go at it every year with the attitude that we know what it takes to win there and we try to do our best to accomplish it.
Q. Do you almost feel a little more relaxed going into IMS, considering you’re a native?
TONY STEWART: I don’t know about relaxed. I’m still anxious because I want to win the race. Like I mentioned right off the top, we have a busy week. We start today and we go all the way through Sunday.
It’s kind of like being at Charlotte. Everybody thinks that being at Charlotte is a relaxing week because you’re at home. For some reason, when you go home, everybody thinks that you need to do more work. We definitely have a lot of things of things on our schedule and a lot of obligations that go along with that. It makes for a long week but it’s a fun week at the same time because you are at home.
Q. How do you do as well as you do in the Sprint Cup Series and manage to put on such a show as Eldora is doing these days? A lot of improvements; the buzz here in Ohio is: ‘Go to Eldora.’
TONY STEWART: Well, I think something I learned from Job Gibbs when I was there, he was always successful at everything he had done. And being around him for 12 years, I got to see a lot of reasons why he was so successful. He was really good at hiring the right people to do the right jobs and that’s something we have tried to do as well.
You can’t be hands-on every day with every company and every interview that you have, but having those people that you trust and that you have the confidence in to do the right jobs; and not micromanaging and letting them do their job, it just makes it that much easier. We have a great staff there this year and I feel like they are doing a great job, so I don’t have to have my hands around it every day.
Q. As an Indiana guy, is it good to see the cars headed there this weekend?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I’m excited about it. We were all sad when we lost Formula 1 there. It’s a neat racetrack. I’m not going to speak for everybody, but I know for myself, I’m really excited to watch the GRAND-AM race on Friday and see how it turns out.
Q. Would you have felt the same way back in the day when some of the purists were kind of wanting to keep it more pure?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I mean, I was one of those guys that when I watched the first Cup test at Indy, I got pretty upset about it. I was like, this is the home of the Indy 500 and that’s all that should be here.
I think most of us in society don’t like change, but after a while, after the first year, I started watching a lot more, and started wrapping my arms around it and then Formula 1 came and Moto GT. It was really neat to see so many different disciplines at the highest levels coming here to race.
So it’s neat to see GRAND-AM come in here now, and I’ve got a lot of buddies that race in the Nationwide Series and a lot of those guys probably would not have the opportunity to ever race at Indianapolis. So I’m glad to see those guys, and it’s a great facility. I think the more that realistically we can run there, the better.
Q. With three wins already and a comfortable spot in the points standings and this being Indy, will there be any special instructions for you, and do you treat it any different?
TONY STEWART: Not necessarily. We have not talked about strategy yet and I think the biggest thing for us right now, even though it’s a big weekend, this is one battle in the war, and the war is to try to win a championship at the end of the season. To do that, we have got to beat the system.
So I don’t think an all-or-nothing attitude is the approach we are going to have this week. We definitely have that luxury to do that with the three wins that we’ve got, but I think right now in the big picture, we are trying to get the consistency the best we can, and I would like to see us put together some consistent runs before the Chase actually starts.
So I don’t really know what the approach is going to be yet and the hard part is it’s such a big track that depending on what happens during the race, that will dictate what the strategy is at the end. Like I say, when I’m in the car, I’m not calling the race, anyways. Steve has the ability to do whatever he thinks is the best for us at the time, and he always runs that side of it. So I always back him up whatever he says.
Q. Obviously this track has been a big deal to you, but what is it about Indy? You have two wins there; what is it about this track that you feel that you run so well?
TONY STEWART: I think there’s some things that help me there but it’s not things that I would ever tell anybody. You know, I think there’s some variables, things that we do that definitely worthwhile and help us during the race. It’s trade secrets that’s you’ve got to hold on to as long as you can.
Q. Congratulations on your World of Outlaws win; what was it like winning there?
TONY STEWART: It was fun. We had a little different format than what they normally have. They have double features and got to start on the front row on the second one. Started with some really good cars there. Definitely wasn’t easy, but we definitely had a really good run there and it was nice to get the first Outlaw win of the season.
Q. How do you feel about the Nationwide and Truck Series losing Lucas Oil with Nationwide coming to the Brickyard for the first time?
TONY STEWART: Honestly as excited as I am for everybody to race at the Brickyard, I have that same level of sadness of losing the Truck race and Nationwide race. That’s one of the things that I’ve liked about the weekend is that a track that I got my roots at. I know when we ran Sprint cars, we always looked forward to watching the Trucks and the Nationwide cars. So we are sad that we lost that. But I think that even though we are sad about losing the races, we are excited that we are going to get a chance — that the Nationwide Series will get a chance to come into the Brickyard.
Q. If you could talk about your program Wednesday where you’re going to be giving out backpacks at Indianapolis.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, it’s something I’m really proud of. I mean, Office Depot was the first company to express interest in being a part of what we were doing with Stewart Haas Racing, and it’s something that they are very passionate about is their national backpack program.
We are going to get a chance tomorrow or Wednesday to give out 6,000 backpacks, or sackpacks they call them. That’s something that’s really big for these kids. It gives them the opportunity to go to school knowing that they have all of the supplies and tools they need to be successful no matter what their financial situation is. Those 6,000 sackpacks are going to make a big difference, and they are giving out about 400,000 over the course of this year, 2.9 million since the program started.
We are really, really proud of the Office Depot Foundation and the fact that they work so hard to give back to this community.
Q. Talking about the Nationwide Series and the Rolex coming into Indy this year, the track has been pretty open about the fact that it’s been an attempt to try to reinject some enthusiasm and excitement into the event as crowds have dwindled the last few years. I know it’s still the second biggest race for you and the drivers after Daytona, but how important do you think it is for the event itself and the perception to maybe get the Grand Am full again?
TONY STEWART: I know it’s a big deal. It’s big for us and the more people that are in the stands, the more we enjoy it as drivers. The year that we had the tire troubles really made a huge impact on the race there.
So it’s gaining that momentum back. Like I said, when I heard about it, my first thought was disappointment because IRP was the truck race and the Nationwide race at the same time; it was pretty exciting there knowing the road course was going to get shot in the arm again at the Indy and the GRAND-AM Series is awesome to watch.
So I’m excited to see those guys run. And like I said, to see them get the Nationwide race, it will be an interesting week to see what that really goes for it. A lot of people would have had to make the choice of one or the other, and now they can come to the Brickyard and catch all of it in three days.
Q. You mentioned Formula 1 earlier; I know there’s instances at Indy, Indy 500 seems like racing has gone up since the merger and there’s been more buzz around that event since the merger. Do you see that as being possible for NASCAR? Can it regain that luster pre-2007?
TONY STEWART: I think so. Since we had the tire problems a couple of years ago, good year has put the full-court press effort to resolve that and I think they have done a really good job. The last couple of years we have had really, really good races there. I mean, it’s still a two and a half mile track that’s flat and the corners are very short.
So it puts a lot of emphasis on getting good track position. You know, if you can get a car that drives well, you can drive in traffic there just like anywhere else. You know, it’s just always such a momentum track; if you’re off a little bit, you’re off a lot and puts a lot of emphasis on getting the balance in the car that you want.
Q. Qualifying is always important at tracks like this where the race is ultimately the difficulty that it is. How much importance does your team put on qualifying and how important do you feel it is?
TONY STEWART: Definitely it’s important for sure. Getting that that selection, it’s very, very narrow and you can get yourself in a spot pretty quickly if you’re not paying attention. It’s definitely a big deal.
The thing that I’m excited about is that we don’t have the big temperature swing this year that we normally have. We have qualifying on Saturday at two o’clock and the track is going to be very, very hot and it should stay consistent through the whole qualifying session.
So I think that’s going to make – I think that’s going to make it right as far as guys not trying to sandbag and get an early spot and have a cooler race and being honest – in the actual qualifying runs.
Q. This summer, to say the least, has been uncomfortable with hot weather for a race driver. You know, even though there has been some good changes, like in driver suits and other things, how do you keep all of that heat out of your mind, and is there a point with the heat that you or maybe even NASCAR consider a danger for a driver to be racing in such heat?
TONY STEWART: Honestly I think the guys are in a tough series, and I think we are all acclimated to the face that we are in a hot race car all weekends. You say it’s been hot all summer. No matter how hot it is this weekend, it’s not going to be the first time this year we have had to deal with hot temperatures.
I think the seat technology and the safety equipment companies have found ways to try to make the drivers as comfortable as possible in the cars, and the good thing is, even though Indy gets hot, you’re still running fast you and get a lot of air flow in the car.
You know, you’re still whipped at the end of the day. It’s definitely a long way. But I don’t think there’s anybody that’s going to have much trouble this weekend.
Q. They talk about how some of the Nationwide Series drivers going into Indy for the first time, they might wreck because it’s so prestigious at the Brickyard, and I just want to know, have you ever had that where you almost wrecked going around the Brickyard?
TONY STEWART: You know, first time I went there, I was there with the IRL. It was ’96. So we went there during the one year that they were able to run turbocharged cars. So we were pretty fortunate. We were running in the 230-mile-an-hour bracket right off the bat. There have been times when we have crashed at the Brickyard, no more than anywhere else that we go. It’s just part of what can happen obviously.
But I think the Nationwide teams get plenty of practice and you know, those guys are pretty sharp. They will figure it out pretty quick.
Q. And also, Ryan Blaney is driving for Penske for a couple of Nationwide Series races. Maybe talk about going through some of the pressures of being a young driver driving for a big team.
TONY STEWART: Well, it’s definitely something that is very nerve-wracking and you know that you’re getting a great opportunity and you definitely want to make the most of it.
You know, the thing that helps Ryan a lot is the fact that he’s got a father and an uncle that both are really good at what they do. And with his dad, Dave, and Dale, they both have been racing a long time. He’s been around a long time and seen it firsthand and I think Ryan has got a really good mind-set and level of focus that kind of gives him an advantage over some of the other rookies that don’t necessarily have that in their background.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for joining us today, Tony, we appreciate it and wish you the best of luck this weekend at Indy.