Smoke Speaks: The wit, wisdom and worldview of Tony Stewart through the years (Part Two)

2 Comments

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The second installment of our excerpts from the most memorable and revealing interviews with Tony Stewart covers the final eight years of his NASCAR career.

It was a period of immense professional growth for Stewart, who became a co-owner of a Sprint Cup team, brought a NASCAR national series race to a dirt track for the first time in 40 years and won a third championship.

But it also marked much personal tumult and tragedy for Stewart, who missed the last 18 races of 2013 with a broken right leg, three races in 2014 while grieving over the death of Kevin Ward Jr. and eight races in 2016 after breaking his back.

Here’s a sampling of Stewart interviews from 2008-2016 (click here for the first part of the series):

CHARLOTTE, Oct. 19, 2016

After a Mobil 1 appearance to help change the oil in his No. 14 hauler before it headed to Talladega, Stewart was in a reflective mood, sticking around to talk to reporters off the record for nearly as long as he took questions on wide-ranging subjects.

Q: Any plans to ride to the track in your team’s truck?

Stewart: “I used to do that. My very first trip with Harry Ranier’s team in ’96, I rode in the hauler all the way down to Daytona. I saved about $150 in gas money. As a rookie Busch Grand National driver, $150 was a lot of money to me.”

Q: Rick Hendrick recently said he offered you a Sprint Cup ride around that time. What’s your side of that story?

Stewart: “(It was offered) in the fall of ’96. I’d only ran eight Busch Grand National races with Harry, and I crashed out of two thirds of them, so I was fairly certain I wasn’t ready to jump in a Cup car quite yet. At that time, I was making all the decisions with my future. You’ve got one step to go (in NASCAR), the last thing you want to do is make that move too soon or not in the right deal. Obviously the Hendrick deal was the dream deal, but if I moved too soon or didn’t do a good job, the next thing you know you’re going back down the ladder, not up. So as hard as it was to make that decision to not do that, it may have worked out fine. We’ll never know. I felt like it was safer to make that decision and taking the time to make sure I felt I was ready before I went. I wanted to make sure I didn’t make a move and have to worry about going backward.”

Q: Have you thought about life after this season?

Stewart: “I’ve got to get through five weeks and five days. Not that I’m counting. Once I get through that five weeks and five days, then I have plenty of time to think about the rest of my life. It’s really not a big change and big adjustment. I’ve got plenty of projects to keep me busy and that I stay active in anyway, so 90 percent of what I do won’t change, I just won’t be in a uniform driving a Cup car.”

Q: What is the emotion going to be like after the final race?

Stewart: “As soon as we get out of the car at Homestead, I’m going to ask if there’s an A main I can get a ride in that night at a dirt race. I’m very comfortable doing what I’m doing. I’m excited about what I’m going to do next year. If you retire and you’re not excited about it at the end of it, you’ve done something wrong. It’s proof I’m doing the right thing for me, and I’m going to have a lot of fun doing it.”

Q: What’s your greatest accomplishment?

Stewart: “I have no clue. I think it’s all a matter of opinion. To different people, it’s different things. What I might think, you might think different. I’m proud of everything we’ve done. There’s little races that nobody has ever heard of, and there might only been a 1,000 people in the grandstands that were some of my greatest accomplishments. People weren’t there to see it. Media didn’t see it, but I know in my heart that was a big deal. There’s a lot of those moments that have come in the last 38 years.

“If you ultimately had to pick one, it would be hard to beat 2011 at Homestead. To battle that much adversity through the whole day, and it started early in the race. It was a have-to-win scenario. To pull that off, for what was on the line for an individual win, that’s about as big as it gets.”

STEWART-HAAS RACING, Sept. 30, 2015

In a news conference at the team shop, Stewart announces his retirement after the 2016 season.

Stewart: “I think it’s more of a formality. I think you guys already know everything you need to know. But yeah, next year will be my last year in the Sprint Cup Series. It was a choice that was 100 percent mine. There wasn’t any pressure from anybody. If anything it was the opposite. I had more people trying to talk me out of it than anything. You know, I think it’s a scenario where everybody in their career at some point makes the decision that it’s time for a change and it’s nothing that you plan. I think it happens.  I think deep down you know when it’s time to do something to make a change like this.

“It’s kind of a bittersweet day. I’m excited about it, but at the same time I’m sad about it, as well. I love what I do with NASCAR, and I love what I do as a driver, and the great thing is I’m not going anywhere. NASCAR is probably going to be the most disappointed of everybody today because they aren’t getting rid of me. They have to deal with me as an owner.  There’s still the opportunity to get fined and there’s still the opportunity to be put on probation, just like always.”

Q: What has been the impact of the leg injury and the death of Kevin Ward Jr. on this decision?

Stewart: “Zero percent. This is strictly what I want to do, and my leg feels fine. The tragedy, nothing is going to change that.  It happened, but it’s not going to direct the rest of my life.  I’m still going to go race when I want to go race, but as far as the Cup Series, it had no bearing on that.”

Q: Do you have any regrets?

Stewart: “I think everything that’s happened in my life has happened for a reason. I think there’s things that I would like to have skipped in my life and things that have not happen, but I think everything in the big picture has happened for a reason and is part of something that’s a lot bigger than what we are in this room.”

ELDORA SPEEDWAY July 23, 2014

In the Camping World Truck Series’ second visit to his dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio, Stewart spent the weekend singing the praises of slinging dirt while lobbying for more NASCAR races – particularly during an animated postrace session.

Q: What was your view of the battle between Bubba Wallace Jr. and Kyle Larson?

Stewart: “I’m going to sum this up really short and really easy. If you didn’t like that race, you don’t know what racing is all about. Because when you have a half-mile dirt track and have trucks legitimately four wide and three wide for a bunch of the race, we don’t even have that at any of our big races (in Sprint Cup), that four-wide and three-wide action. As good as it was last year, this definitely topped it.”

Q: Are you thinking about how to top this and bring more NASCAR events here?

Stewart: “Absolutely. I think my brain thinks in circles and squares and this is a lot bigger than that. Last year far exceeded my expectations and I left here going, ‘Now what are we going to do? How are we going to beat that?’ In my mind, we far beat last year by a mile and knocked it out of the park. So now I’ll leave here going, ‘What are we going to do?’ That’s the benefit of having someone like (Eldora general manager) Roger (Slack) on staff that worked under one of the greatest promoters of all time in Humpy Wheeler. To bring in someone like Roger who thinks outside the box, there is no one else that could have handled it the day I made phone call and said there’s a possibility I could run a truck race here. Most of them would have passed out on the phone. Roger never batted an eye and knew exactly what he was going to do.

“I get to look good and be the one everyone pats on the back. I do the least amount of work of anybody around here. He does the most and probably gets the least amount of credit for it. I just have good people. I’ve been lucky my whole life being surrounded by good people. Being able to put it all together. There’s no dirt track in the country that’s ever pulled anything like this off.”

DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY, Feb. 20, 2013

 After six hours of running through a bevy of commercial shoots, sponsor appearances and autograph signings, Stewart spared a few introspective moments in his motorhome before dinner.

Q: Many of your sponsors are engaging in social media campaigns. When will you join Twitter?

Stewart: Why are you looking at me? Look at him (points at PR rep Mike Arning). He’s the holdup on it. (Arning: He can. I’ve let him know it’s a commitment. You can’t just start and quit it). Yes I can! I don’t know I want to be as diehard as some of these people. I might dabble in it a little bit.

“The reason I don’t is I’m scared of saying something that may get taken the wrong way. I already deal with enough of that crap as it is. Do I want to subject myself to one more thing that can be that way? Everyone wants more access, but as soon as you get the access to us, and we do something wrong, you’re setting yourself up to get shot down. It’s hard because people want us to be genuine, but then when you’ve got the (jerks), it’s like, ‘Why are we doing this?’ Eventually, you get pissed off at somebody and say, ‘All right, I’ve had enough of this,’ because of it.”

Q: On a day heavy with PR and sponsor commitments, do you even look at the schedule of obligations and responsibilities?

Stewart: It doesn’t matter whether I look at it or not, Mike’s going to make me do what I want anyway. That’s the reality of it. There are some things I can absolutely throw a fit about, and I’m still going to have to do it because he’s told me. In a lot of ways, I work for him on weekends. He’s getting the stuff done that needs to get done. And the thing is we work with each other long enough, he doesn’t come to me with stuff that doesn’t make sense.”

Q: But in the last four years as a car owner, you’ve noticed the schedule has gotten more harried?

Stewart: “Oh God, yes. There’s no doubt.”

Q: But it’s worth it?

Stewart: “Next question.”

Q: Most days, it’s worth it?

Stewart: “There are some days you go, ‘Why am I doing this?’ And there’s some days it’s, ‘Yeah, there’s no doubt why I’m doing this.’ It’s no different than anything else in anybody else’s life. Doesn’t matter how simple or complex your life is. There are days you hate it and days you love it.”

Q: On balance, life is good, though?

Stewart: “Yeah. I drive a race car for a living. My car owner lets me go race as many sprint car races as I want to go run. Mike’s the thorn in my ass. Life’s good.”

Q: As you enter the 15th year of trying to win Daytona, has it become the Holy Grail the way winning Indianapolis was?

Stewart: “Oh yeah. It’s the biggest race of my year. Yeah. It’s still never going to take Indy’s place because of where I’ve grown up. But as far as my career right now, that’s it now. There’s always going to be a blank spot at the top of the page no matter if I win this race or not. There’s always going to be one blank spot above this for the Indy 500 that may or may never get filled. It’s the top goal every year.”

Q: Are those blanks spots here and Indy something you think about it?

Stewart: “Oh yeah, every year when May comes around you’re thinking about, ‘What if?’ That’s been consistent for every year that I haven’t run it. It’s always been the same. That doesn’t change. The degree of that doesn’t change. You always still want to go back and do it. You still want to win that race. The hard part about the Daytona 500 is that’s all you think about once Homestead is over. Which makes sense, that’s what you should be thinking about is wining the biggest race of the year. The hard part is it’s the first race of the year, and if you don’t win it, you can’t go back. You can win the next five races, and it doesn’t take the place of winning the Daytona 500. You have to wait 365 days. That’s the hard part. You’ve got the whole rest of the year. It’s not like we’ve got the winter to start, and we’ll work toward that again. You missed it, and now you’ve got to run the rest of the year. Then you’ve got an offseason, then you get to drive. It’s a hard way to wait to have an opportunity to win the biggest race of the year. That’s the hard part. If you don’t get it done, you can’t go the next week and fix it. You can try to win another race, but you can’t try to win the Daytona 500.”

Q: If you had one race left to run in your career, where would it be?

Stewart: “The hard part is knowing it’s going to be the last race. That would be the hard part. The thing is if someone just said you got one more race you can run. By the time you get to the last race, most of those options are gone. That’s why it’s the last race anyway. It’s injury or age or whatever it is. Oh, man.”

Q: But if it could be up to you, though, and you could choose wherever?

Stewart: Winning or just running it?

Q: Just running it.

Stewart: Believe it or not, it wouldn’t be Indy or Daytona. Just running your last race, that’s not the way you’d do it. I’m trying to think where I’ve had the most fun racing, and that’s where I’d want to run my last race is someplace I had fun doing it. (Sighs, long pause) What makes that hard is that it’s not just stock-car racing. It’s not just IndyCar racing. It’s sports car racing, sprint car racing. (Long pause) I honestly don’t know. It’s much harder than people think. Because I’ve got a lot more variables than most people do. Most of these guys are thinking of 38 races at 20 tracks or whatever.

Q: Would it be easier if the choice was winning your last race?

Stewart: “If it came down to winning it, it’d be the Knoxville Nationals. If I knew the last race I was going to run, I was going to win. Well, at that point, it’d be the Indy 500. Second would be the Daytona 500. Third would be the Knoxville Nationals.

STEWART-HAAS RACING, Nov. 13, 2013

 In some of his first public comments since breaking his leg in a sprint-car crash, Stewart greets a small group of reporters at his team’s shop.

Q: How bad has the rehabilitation been?

Stewart: “It’s definitely not easy, but it’s not supposed to be easy. The worst part of it is the last 20 minutes and that is when I am laying on my stomach and they are digging into the leg trying to break the scar tissue up and loosen everything that’s been reconstructed. You sit there with your face buried in a pillow trying to not remember all the four letter words you’ve been taught over the years.”

Q: How much has this made you appreciate being active?

Stewart: “I have a huge appreciation for just daily things that I can’t do now.  It’s like I have to plan, I have to think about stuff.  Before I get to the end of the hallway I make sure I have everything I need before I go down that flight of steps.” It’s like if you forgot something, no big deal you run back up and get it and not think twice about it.  Now, I have to still think about everything I need to go out of the house.  I don’t want to have to go back and make another trip.”

Q: The team is adding a fourth car. What’s it been like for vice president Greg Zipadelli to add staff for Kurt Busch and also fill out the new team for Kevin Harvick?

Stewart: “I’m the one that gets the phone call when he’s mad about something or he’s had a bad day. That is my role here.  He can call and yell at me anytime he wants. He yells at me a lot more than I’m allowed to yell at him.”

Q: Do you have input in the hiring?

Stewart: “Not really. I trust (Zipadelli’s) judgment. If he’s hired somebody, he’s much more qualified to know why they should be considered for that position than I am.  Having that confidence comes from our relationship in the past. If he says it’s right, then it’s right. We’ve had guys here in the shop that I loved and he said we’ve got to let them go. I don’t second guess anything he says whether to hire somebody or fire somebody. He knows what the goal is and he knows what the objectives are, and he knows what we’re trying to accomplish, and he knows what the plan is, and he’s the guy that has to execute.  That’s a lot of pressure on him as well.”

Q: What will you do during the off-season?

Stewart: “Therapy.  Be a therapist for Zippy. It’s going to be a hard winter and the hardest winter he’s ever had for a long time. There is just so much that has to happen. Unfairly, it shouldn’t be on one person and it’s not, it’s on the organization. We are all one unit and that’s why I’m going to be down here with him.  We’re going to win as a team and lose as a team. Whether I do anything other than walk around and smile and keep everybody upbeat and joke around with the guys, smack them on the back of the leg with the cane if I’m still on it. That’s part of being a car owner. You have to be a cheerleader too.”

LAS VEGAS, Nov. 30, 2012

After his speech at the NASCAR Awards Ceremony, Stewart mulls the passing of the torch.

Q: Will Brad Keselowski need to tone things down as champion?

Stewart: “I don’t think Brad’s learned to be cautious yet. Hopefully that won’t bite him like it has a lot of drivers in the past. It’s refreshing. It’s nice to see somebody who just speaks from the heart and isn’t guarded, and that’s the way all of us should be.”

Q: Are you going to miss the news media in the offseason?

Stewart: “Oh God, no. As much as I like to battle with you guys during the season, there’s a lot of time when we don’t have mics and cameras on that we talk about different things other than racing, and I will miss that.”

Q; Late NASCAR exec Jim Hunter had to help you through some tough moments. Brad’s been able to be himself and hasn’t needed a Jim Hunter to help. Is that a sign things are going in the right direction?

Stewart: “To be perfectly honest, I hope that you guys continue to treat (Keselowski) the way that you are now. That gives him that opportunity to be that way. I think that’s what the fans want to hear. But I’m so scared that at some point, somebody is going to turn on him, and it goes downhill from there. I hope you guys keep doing what you’re doing. I’m proud to see you guys give him a chance to be open like he is. I think it’s great for our sport. I think the sponsors and fans really enjoy that.”

Q: I know you feel people get burned by speaking their mind.

Stewart: “They do. History has proven that.”

CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY, Sept. 18, 2012

A few days after his infamous “goosing” of DeLana Harvick is caught on national TV during the prerace of the Chase for the Sprint Cup opener at Chicagoland Speedway, Stewart had a previously scheduled media appearance.

Q: Do you plan to do that every week?

Stewart: “This is old news. I guess it’s just the first time the cameras caught us, but we’ve been doing that since I was driving the Nationwide car with them. We’ve always joked around and horsed around like that. It just seems like this week when it got caught on camera it was a lot bigger deal for some reason. I didn’t even know anybody saw it. It wasn’t something that was out of the normal for us. Kevin comes up and gets me. I get Delana. DeLana gets both of us. We’re always just messing around, I guess. Not necessarily at the same time. I drove for them for a long time and have a great friendship with them. It always makes her jump, so it’s just something we’ve always joked around about and talked about it being good luck. It’s normally good luck for us. I’m just glad picking my nose wasn’t what is good luck.

“Anything I do gets that attention, which still amazes me. So I guess it’s a compliment.”

Q: Is it a compliment that probably nobody else would get away with it but you?

Stewart: “It’s good for me at least. It’s not really that big a deal. Why even this whole group (of reporters) is talking about it is amazing to me, because you guys are kind of the upper echelon, and we’re talking about something that isn’t a big deal.”

Q: But it’s been on national news programs.

Stewart: “See, you guys should be looking for the next great bigger, better thing than that. So basically you’re saying you guys aren’t as good as you think you are, and you’re following suit with what everybody else is doing.”

Q: The stories about it got more traffic than Brad Keselowski winning the race, though.

Stewart: “That’s pathetic. I think it’s pathetic because there is so much more stuff going on in our sport than that.”

Q: Have you ever gotten smacked in return?

Stewart: “No. I never grab anybody that I thought would smack me. I’m not going to grab somebody that I would offend, because they know that I’m not doing it in any more than a playful way.”

Q: Do you hear sponsors say you’re different than the public image they’d expected?

Stewart: “A lot of times they’re surprised there is more to us than just being a race car driver. I don’t have a business degree, and I’m not the best guy on the business side, but I do understand it a little bit. I’m not sitting there with my hand out saying write us a check. I understand there’s a goal they’re wanting, too, and we all sit down to figure out how to accomplish that together. It’s more than just me being a driver and somebody they see on TV.”

LAS VEGAS, Dec. 1, 2011

Stewart meets the media on the eve of his being crowned champion after beating Carl Edwards in his last race with crew chief Darian Grubb, who was fired.

Q: Have you been impressed with how Carl Edwards handled finishing second to you?

Stewart: “Yes, absolutely. He handled it with a lot more class than I would have been able. That’s just differences in personality. It doesn’t mean that I would have been a poor loser, but I think he handled as good if not better than anyone else would have handled that.”

Q: Darian said it’s been hard to look at you this week; are you feeling the same way?

Stewart:  “Well, when we started this organization together, we worked hand in hand to build it together. Like I told him, if it wasn’t emotional, it means it didn’t mean anything. It shows what it means to both of us.

Q: Do you have an understanding of why you appeal to fans?

Stewart: It’s my devilish good looks, there’s no doubt. It’s the only good trait that I have.

Q: Why do you think people are calling you ‘The People’s Champion,’ though?

Stewart: “I’m pretty normal. And I think everyone knows that. I’m a jeans, tennis shoes, T-shirt guy. I always have been. I always will be. I can just about listen to anybody’s story and find something that is a parallel to it in my life on my way up to getting to this level. I didn’t just start here. I worked jobs I didn’t like. I had to do a lot of things and sacrifice a lot of things to get where we are. I can relate to people who have to sacrifice every day to do what they do.”

Q: What was it like to receive a call from President Obama on Air Force One?

Stewart: “I was most concerned about not being able to understand him on the phone, but they’ve got really good cell service up there, so … it was a huge honor obviously. To hear him talk about the race, and he was paying attention to the race, and that really means a lot to the sport and for NASCAR. It’s cool to know that our Commander in Chief is engaged in what we’re doing.”

Q: A pinch-me moment?

Stewart: “Yeah, I kept holding my breath trying to make sure I wasn’t going to miss anything, and I about passed out by the end of the conversation. It was a short conversation, but it meant a lot.”

CHARLOTTE, N.C., MAY 12, 2011

In an appearance at Levine Children’s Hospital with Rick Hendrick, Stewart donates $50,000 in the team owner’s name.

“A lot of times I feel embarrassed with myself. Because you realize how hard these kids are fighting to get healthy. We’re all leaving here happy and healthy. We all have jobs. We don’t have a care in the world compared to these children and families. That’s very, very hard. It’s very humbling. I told Rick it’s amazing the comparison to listening to the staff of doctors talking about trying to find the best person, and it’s no different than what Rick does with his race teams. He tries to find the best personnel, best equipment, best resources. It’s just amazing how you wouldn’t think a children’s hospital and race team have similarities, but there are a lot more than your realize.”

Q: You and Rick seem to have an easygoing rapport.

Stewart: “That just shows you what kind of relationship we’ve got with each other. There’s hardly a conversation we have where we’re not laughing and joking about something. I don’t know if he’s that way with all of his drivers, but I know that’s something I appreciate with him. He’ll call and just give me grief. Doesn’t even have anything he wants to talk about. He’ll just call and give me a bunch of crap. It just makes you laugh. It’s fun.”

Q: Is it more like brothers or a father-son relationship?

Stewart: “A lot of the conversations are like a father-son-type conversation. My father and I give each other a hard time like Rick and I do. For what we do together and how business-oriented our relationship is, we find a way to make it fun and talk about stuff outside racing, too.”

STEWART-HAAS RACING, OCT. 12, 2010

After announcing the extension of his deal with Mobil 1, Stewart held a session for a small group of reporters, and the discussion focused on contracts and  sponsorship.

Q: Is it as competitive for sponsorship off track as sponsors on the track?

Stewart: “I don’t know if this is customary, but I realized how competitive it was when we get letters from our sponsors that were sending responses they’d sent to Roush after Roush had solicited them and said we can do a better job. Why are they soliciting our sponsors? That was a pretty good lesson. We’ve got contracts, and we’ve got Roush trying to take our sponsors away. That was a good lesson this is as competitive off the track as it is on.”

Q: Do you worry about money and sponsorship?

Stewart: “Who doesn’t? The hard part is every day when one of these guys walks by, I’m responsible for that guy, his family, his children. Yeah, you think about it. If I screwed up and don’t do my part to secure the finances, it’s going to affect those guys. It’s hard to imagine.”

Q: Can you cut a better deal because you can be flexible on salary as a driver-owner?

Stewart: “I don’t know which side is cutting a better deal is the hard part. Don’t know if I get a better deal as a driver or car owner. That’s part of the equation. I’ve heard a lot of owners talk about it in the owner meeting. I’m sitting with my owner hat on, listening to owners talk about it and you think about it from that other side, and you’re like, ‘Yeah, how many guys are going to take a pay cut?’ There are guys who have. That’s a good thing. There’s guys who didn’t have to but did. Instead of thinking backward, I’m thinking forward saying we’ve got to keep beating the streets and get these spots sold.”

Q: As an owner, how do you manage also paying yourself as a driver?

Stewart: “It’s based off my salary and percentage at Gibbs vs. what we knew other drivers were getting. I’m responsible for making our finances work. Our salary and percentage is right in line with guys who won races and championship. I didn’t pay myself a huge salary and percentage and put the company at risk. We did the original owner’s agreement and knew we’d sign two separate agreements as a driver and owner. We dealt with those independently. We didn’t go into the driver side trying to gouge anybody. I wasn’t unhappy with what I was making at Gibbs. My salary was less than guys that hadn’t even won a championship. We adjusted it and didn’t go crazy but moved it fair with the market. But we’re not making Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt Jr. money, but we’re in line with a lot of the top 10 guys.”

Q: Now that you have two full seasons under your belt, where do you see yourself as a driver and owner in five year?

Stewart:  Five years ago, I never saw myself as a team owner, let alone be two years into it. Who knows how long I’ll do this? A lot of it is ‘Are you competitive? Are you healthy?’ I don’t feel I’m off my game any. Whatever day I decide to stop driving, I want to be part of this organization. No disrespect, but there are owners in this sports that are starting to get up there in age. I have a partner who I believe wants to be here a long time, and I want to be here a long time. I love the sport. I like what I do. I just don’t necessarily like all the things that go along with it all the time.”

ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY, SEPT. 5, 2009

Stewart explains how he played consigliere to Danica Patrick, who was weighing a switch to stock cars.

Q: Danica Patrick said she has consulted you about NASCAR; what are your impressions of her interest?

Stewart: “We’re just trying to help her. She’s really come to us for a lot of advice about what to do. A lot of that is because she understands that I went through the same things that she went through. We’ve known each other through different personal service deals that we both had. Some shows we’ve done together when we’ve had time to sit and talk. We just seem to get along really well. I know she’s talked to a lot of teams in NASCAR right now, and she’s trying to figure out what it is she wants to do and how to go about it. So we got her down there and tried to give her an example of where her seats needed to be and went through that process and just spent time while she was in town answering her questions. Not so much us asking questions as she’s asking our opinion. I’m glad I can be here to have somebody for her to bounce ideas off. I think it’d be awesome for our sport if she could come over here and be successful.”

Q: Is she serious about this?

Stewart: “I know that she’s serious about it. She looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘This is what I want to do. It looks like fun. It looks like a lot of work, but it looks like fun.’ I don’t think she has some misguided idea that it’s going to be easy. She wants to do it the right way. She has intentions of doing everything right. She asked a lot of very smart questions in the discussion about it. You can tell she wants to do it the right way. She understands how hard everybody has worked to get to this level, and she doesn’t want to be one of those people who comes in and gets stuff handed to her. She wants to earn her way and work her way up like everyone else has.”

Q: Should NASCAR look at adding push to pass like in IndyCar?

Stewart: “God I hope not. If I want to play a video game, I’ll go back to the bus.”

CHICAGOLAND SPEEDWAY, JULY 10, 2008

At the news conference to announce his new co-ownership with Gene Haas, Stewart naturally took several questions about the team he was leaving at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Q: Could you have bought into Joe Gibbs Racing instead?
Stewart: “It wasn’t offered. JGR is a family business. I respect that. You can’t ask a family business to give away part of the team. That didn’t turn me away from Joe Gibbs Racing. This was just a unique offer.”

Q: How much does it weigh on your decision to make this part of your legacy?

Stewart: “I think as time has gone on and you get older, you start realizing the importance of history and what values are important. The thought of being another Richard Childress or Richard Petty or someone who has driven in this sport, and now their legacy is bigger than when they were drivers. That opportunity was very important to me. I look back and I know I keep mentioning open wheel teams, but that’s where the foundation started. I look at (Tony Stewart Racing) this past week leading all three national divisions, and that’s the first time in USAC history one team has led all three national divisions, and I thought that was something that’s never been done. To be part of that and have my name on that organization is something I’m proud of, and to have opportunities to put my name in the record books as a car owner is something I’m excited about.”

Q: Why can you be successful as a team owner?

Stewart: “I can’t guarantee I’m (going to succeed), but if we don’t, we’re going to go down swinging. I like challenges. If I didn’t like challenges, I wouldn’t be part of three racetracks and have four races teams. There are no guarantees it’ll be successful. After evaluating the potential, I wouldn’t be involved if it didn’t have potential to be great. There are no guarantees. We’ll do everything to make it successful.”

Q: Would you consider owning an IndyCar team?

Stewart: “First, you’re smoking crack today. No, I’ve been down that road. I guess I’ve learned never say never. Because eight years ago, I said I’d never be an owner in NASCAR, and here I am today announcing I am. You never know. You look at Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske Racing who are involved in multiple series. Is it out of the question? No, it’s never out of the question. We evaluate where we’re at as time goes on and do we have too much on our plate, and do we want more? We’ll see down the road what we want to do next. We might buy a Little League baseball team.”

Q: Are you seeking advice from other driver-owners?

Stewart: “I’ve had conversations with Robby Gordon, who really is the last owner-driver in the series right now. The moral of the story is he said you’re going to enjoy this. If Robby had said this was going to be a total disaster and you’ll regret it, I’d have thought different, but that’s far from what he said.”

Q: How emotional is it to leave crew chief Greg Zipadelli after this season?

Stewart: “That’s been the single hardest part about this. It’s like a marriage. He’s been there professionally and like a big brother on the personal side. For the last 10 years, I’ve had Greg’s leadership and security blanket and peace of mind that Zippy is in charge of his. He knows me better than 99 percent of girlfriends in my life. I’m not going to call it a divorce  because it’s not like that. Our relationship is as good as it’s ever been. Yesterday was bittersweet to sit down with our guys and let them know that this combination that won over 30 races and two championships would part ways. The important thing is not only Zippy but the entire organization parted on great terms.”

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

0 Comments

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

0 Comments

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023

0 Comments

Brennan Poole will join Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity season, the team announced Friday.

Poole will drive the No. 6 car for the full season. Currey returns to the team’s No. 4 car for the season. Currey scored five top-15 finishes last season for the organization.

JD Motorsports is planning to run the No. 0 car next season. No driver or sponsor has been announced for that ride.

“We’re full throttle here and getting ready to go,” Davis said in a statement from the team. “Bayley and Brennan are signed on and looking forward to chasing races and points next year. We’re actively moving along looking for sponsor commitments and for drivers and sponsors for the No. 0 car.”

“We’ve always taken the approach here that we want to go after the series with multiple cars, and that’s how we’re looking toward 2023. The new schedule is very interesting and provides new challenges to our drivers and team members.”

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

Friday 5: Will Kyle Busch become NASCAR’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

0 Comments

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weight of an unfulfilled season, deciding where he’d race in 2023 and the impact on his Truck Series team are off Kyle Busch.

It’s back to racing for the two-time Cup champion, who seeks to reignite his career at Richard Childress Racing this season.

Busch performed his final duty representing Joe Gibbs Racing at Thursday’s NASCAR Awards (show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock) and it’s now all about helping RCR win its first Cup championship since 1994.

MORE: NASCAR Awards red carpet scene

Busch will be with Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Circuit of the Americas for World Racing League endurance events. Busch said the team has turned an old Cup car into an endurance car for the event. Last year, RCR won an eight-hour endurance race there with Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kaz Grala.

Busch seeks better fortunes at RCR than what he’s had recently at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He has one Cup win in his last 53 starts — 14 drivers have won more races than Busch in that span, dating back to the July 2021 race at Road America.

His 17 top-10 finishes this past season were his fewest since scoring 16 top 10s in 2015. 

He was running at the finish in 29 of 36 points races — the first time he’s been running at the finish in fewer than 30 races since 2015. Two blown engines in the opening round of the playoffs led to failing to advance to the second round for the first time in his career. 

“It’s obviously been a challenging, not just this year, but the last little while,” Busch said Thursday at the Music City Center. “So, it’s kind of maybe a blessing in disguise, honestly, where it might just be time for a fresh start, time for something new, time for something different.”

He looks to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for inspiration.

Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before  joining Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.

Manning won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Denver Broncos and winning a Super Bowl there in his final season in the NFL.

“I’m kind of looking at it as a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning aspect where they left great teams, great organizations where they won championships and they were able to win a championship somewhere else,” Busch said. “I’d like to think I still have that opportunity to be able to do that at RCR.

“I look at the opportunity with the new Next Gen race car as an easier move to make now with that vs. years past with previous generation cars.”

He says that because with the previous generation of cars, there was a greater separation between teams because NASCAR did not regulate as much of the car. With the the Next Gen car, teams have the same parts. Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that his team still has much to learn about the car and maximizing setups. 

Even with his struggles at the end of his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch says he doesn’t go to RCR with a chip on his shoulder. 

“I don’t think I have anything to prove or I need to have a chip on my shoulder,” Busch said. “I just want to go out there and run well again. … I felt like we had a lot of strong runs this year. There were like six races I can count that we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve won and we didn’t whip is very frustrating. 

“We were so good at giving them away that I need to get back to I’m so good at stealing them and earning them.”

2. Special delivery 

Among the perks with winning a Cup title is getting the Champion’s Journal. Jimmie Johnson started the tradition after his 2010 championship. The existence of the journal remained a secret until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing the journal to Martin Truex Jr.

The journal passes from champion to champion with the current champion holding on to it for a year and adding an entry for the next champion before handing it to them. Logano will receive the journal from Kyle Larson. 

“I can’t wait to read it again,” Logano said before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards. “I’m telling you, it’s probably one of the coolest things. Jimmie deserves all of the credit for coming up with the idea. 

“I wish it started sooner. It’s so interesting. Some drivers are very detailed what they write to the next champion and some are kind of quick and simple. It’s very interesting to read it. It’s cool. It’s a real secret. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule, you can’t take pictures of it and post it. It’s a thing that only the championship drivers know and have read and seen.

“Every time I get it, I’m so nervous. I’m like don’t spill anything on this thing, don’t lose it. It would suck to be the guy that loses that. That would be bad. I’m putting it right in the safe.”

Logano won his first Cup title in 2018. He then gave the journal to Kyle Busch, the 2019 series champion.

“It’s something you put a lot of thought into, at least I did,” Logano said of what he penned. “I wrote a letter to Kyle. You put a lot of thought into it. It’s something that will be there as long as our sport is around. I hope so at least. It’s a really great tradition.”

3. Fun factor 

The day of last year’s NASCAR Awards, William Byron said he wanted compete in more races outside NASCAR in 2022. 

Byron, who seeks to make Sunday’s prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race, has fulfilled his goal, winning, gaining confidence but also having fun.

“What I got out of it was immediate fun, sort of relief,” Byron said of racing various Super Late Model races this year. “It was not racing the Cup car. It was different. It was not as stressful working with the team and things like that because there’s not as much on the line. There’s still prize money and things, and honestly you’re there to have fun. I enjoyed that.

“As I got going in it, I realized how productive it really was for me to do it, how much I was learning. As I did it more often throughout the season, I learned little nuances that were helping me get back in the Cup car with a better skill set.”

That element of fun stood out to Byron. Cup racing is full of pressure with the multi-million dollar sponsors, expectations to win and all the people at the shop relying on the car’s performance. That’s significant pressure, on top of what any driver puts on themself.

“There’s a lot of guys that you are trying to provide for and do a good job for,” Byron said of Cup racing. “There is a weight to that. You want to perform for those guys that work non-stop at the shop. There’s just a much broader net that you are casting as a driver. Whenever you go to the short track level, it’s you and six to 10 guys working on the car. … There’s natural pressure with what we’re trying to do at the Cup level because it is the No. 1 motorsports in the U.S.”

4. Looking for a ride

Ross Chastain says he’s been “trying for years” to get a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway without success but that hasn’t deterred him.

“I’ve met with the president of IMSA,” said Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano for the Cup title this season. “I’ve met with team owners. I’ve talked to drivers. I just can’t find my way in yet. I haven’t found the right person yet to either tell me how to do it or give me the opportunity. I could show up with sponsorship and get a ride, but how do I get in as a race car driver? I haven’t found that spot yet.”

Chastain said he’s reached out to some this offseason with no luck. 

He said the prestige of the season-opening IMSA event (Jan. 28-29, 2023) draws him but he also wants to gain more experience racing on a road course — even with his win at Circuit of the Americas this past season. And Chastain is not picky on the type of ride he’d like to have for that race.

“I’m not even looking to be in the top class. I want to find a mid-pack Xfinity team of the Rolex and go run there and experience it and then just to be around those road racers that do it year around. I know I could learn something. … I just want to race.”

5. Indy 500-Coke 600 double

It has been eight years since Kurt Busch competed in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the last time the feat has been accomplished. 

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson are among those who have expressed interest in running both races in the same day but don’t appear to be in a position to do so in 2023 because of the limited IndyCar rides available. 

Roger Penske, owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he could see Jimmie Johnson attempting it this year, and others as soon as next year. 

“It’s about having the car and the manufactures, whether it’s Chevy and or Honda,” Penske said, referring to the IndyCar manufacturers. “All would be interested to see somebody run the double. Maybe Jimmie is going to do it, which would be great. 

“He has the experience. He did very well on the ovals. … It’s my understanding that he’s going to run potentially the 600 as one of his races (with Petty GMS). We’ll see.”