NASCAR Hall of Famer remains unafraid to share his opinion and did so Tuesday, raising concerns about driver development programs that pluck youngsters, sharing his take on the Next Gen car’s impact for teams and discussing 2021 for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, spoke to reporters on a conference call after SHR announced that Chase Briscoe will take over the No. 14 Cup ride next year with Clint Bowyer moving to the TV booth.
Briscoe becomes the third driver to race the No. 14 at SHR, following Stewart and Bowyer.
Here is what Stewart had to say on a variety of subjects:
Q: YOU SAID YOU SEE A LOT OF Chase Briscoe IN YOURSELF. WHAT ARE THOSE QUALITIES?
Tony Stewart: “I think (Ford Performance Global Director) Mark Rushbrook just mentioned it, actually. When he makes a mistake he will spend more time reflecting on that mistake, unfortunately, than he does the rest of the good things that he does all day, but that’s kind of the way I was in my career, too. I felt minimizing mistakes was the key to winning races and championships and that’s also the same mindset that Chase has as well.
“He’s very, very diligent about making sure he learns from everything that happens on the racetrack and he’s got a pretty good memory bank to hold all of that knowledge in, so he’s great about realizing when he makes a mistake and then analyzing what happened, why did he make the mistake and what can he do to correct it for the next time. That’s something that I had to try to do through my career as well.”
Q: DID CHASE’S PERFORMANCE EARLY IN THE YEAR IMPACT YOUR THOUGHTS OF GOING AFTER KYLE LARSON OR ARE THOSE TWO SEPARATE THINGS?
Tony Stewart: “They were two separate things, actually. I think Ford has done an awesome job with their driver development program. There aren’t a lot of drivers in it, but there’s a reason there’s not a lot of drivers in it because they put that focus on that small group of race car drivers versus one of the other OEMs out there that is, in my opinion, ruining other drivers’ careers on a daily basis by just signing mass numbers of drivers and then at the end of it they don’t have anywhere to go with them or they decide they don’t like them and then those drivers, and most of them are young drivers, lose opportunities that they could have had along the way to go somewhere else.
“That’s what I’m really proud of Ford about is that they’re very selective, they’re very mindful of realizing when these drivers make that commitment to be a part of that driver development program that they work with them and really push to get them where they need to be and make sure that they really are the right drivers before they actually get signed up in the system. So, it’s not throwing darts at a dart board. I feel like Ford has done an awesome job and Chase is a perfect example of that.
“They were the first ones to really recognize his talent before anybody else got him in the system, so we obviously with our Xfinity program that is the whole point of having an Xfinity program is to try to cultivate talent, whether it be from the driver’s side, crew chief’s side, crew member’s side, pit crew guys’ side. That’s what the Xfinity program is for us and to be able to run Chase through that system with us it was a natural transition to eventually get him from the Xfinity car to a Cup car. The Larson piece was a whole separate side.”
Q: DID STEWART-HAAS RACING IMPROVE TODAY WITH THE HIRING OF CHASE BRISCOE?
Tony Stewart: “I feel like obviously that’s part of why we made the decision. I love Clint. You’re not gonna have more fun with anybody than Clint Bowyer and you’re not gonna have anybody that’s got any more passion, drive and desire than Clint Bowyer, so losing him is a detriment, obviously.
“But looking down the road in the future of Stewart-Haas Racing, knowing that Clint was going to the booth in another year, we had an opportunity to get Chase I think now at the right time to get him in a car and work on the future. We could have ran Clint another year in the 14 car, but I don’t know that it really was gonna progress the program any further than where we’re at with him right now, so giving Chase an opportunity to get a year under his belt and, ultimately, at the end of the year it may not be a step forward in one year, but long-term and down the road we feel like Chase has a lot of potential.
“You obviously have seen what he’s done in Xfinity this year and the competition level goes up when you go to the Cup Series, but we feel and have a lot of confidence that he has what it takes to be a great Cup driver. So in year one, at the end of the year will we say it was a great decision? Maybe or maybe not. I hope he goes out and rattles off three wins and wins rookie of the year next year and ties our record for most wins as a rookie, but the big picture is what we’re looking at and I feel like even if the first year is a struggle for him, we’re committed to him and we’re gonna make sure we get him where he needs to be, and I think we will have a lot of success with him down the road.”
Q: HOW WILL THE CHANGEOVER BE FOR THE DRIVERS AND TEAMS FINANCIALLY WITH THE MOVE TO THE NEXT GEN CAR?
Tony Stewart: “Financially, it shows on paper that it’s gonna be a huge improvement for all the teams, especially the bottom third of the field. It’s a great opportunity for them to be able to be more competitive with the top third tier teams, so I think all in all that’s gonna be a great thing.
“Getting Chase in a car this year. Getting him used to his team. Getting him used to the drivers, the tracks in a Cup car, I think, is a valuable learning year even though you’re gonna be switching to a different car the next year. I think having him get that experience this year with that group will even make year two and getting into that new car put him on a more level playing field with everybody once he’s got that first year under his belt.
“Everybody is gonna have to start kind of from scratch when the new car comes out, but financially it’s good for the sport and good for the teams and for Chase I think getting this year is a gonna be valuable for him before he gets in that car.”
Q: IF KEVIN HARVICK GETS ONE MORE WIN THAT WOULD BE 10 AND HE WOULD BE ONE OF ONLY THREE DRIVERS TO DO THAT IN THE LAST 25 YEARS, AND HE WOULD BE AT AN AGE WHEN MOST DRIVERS ARE LOOKING AT RETIRING. IS THIS A PROGRESSION OF DRIVERS CAN HAVE GREATER SUCCESS AT OLDER AGES AND WE SHOULDN’T BE JUDGING THEM WHEN THEY REACH AGE 40?
Tony Stewart: “I think you’re definitely right on that. You look in different forms of motorsports there are drivers that are over the age of 40 that still win a lot of races, win a lot of championships as well. I feel like, and I can’t remember how many years ago this wave of starting to try to find these 14-, 15-, 16-year-old drivers that was a huge push for everybody, and I feel like they’ve really put an emphasis in an area that they’ve overlooked some really good talent, and I think Kevin is a perfect example of that.
“But I’m also gonna go back to years ago. I’ve said it then and all the way to the present and I’ll still continue to say it — Kevin Harvick is the complete package. He’s a great race car driver. He was a great owner. He’s great at building teams. He’s great at managing teams. He understands how partnerships and sponsorships work in this sport and he also has a great management company, so Kevin Harvick single-handedly is the most well-rounded driver in NASCAR right now — has been for years and that’s why someone like him is able to do what he’s done this year.
“He has the ability every week to go out and if we can give him a car that’s close and in the ballpark, he can do the rest of the work and get it the rest of the way. On days that the car is perfect and he’s perfect, you’ve seen what happens. It’s proof that you don’t have to be a 14-, 15-, or 16-year-old driver to be great and all this emphasis on finding the next young guy, there are other guys in the sport.
“Look at Martin Truex Jr. Martin has been around this sport for a long time. One variable changed in the equation and all of a sudden Martin is a championship-caliber driver, so I laugh and I make fun of all the organizations that are looking for these super young kids that are kids. Some of them don’t even have their driver’s licenses and their parents are having to drive them to the race shop and I’m like, ‘You have to let these kids grow up.’ They aren’t mature yet. They’re great race car drivers, but at the same time I’ve also told people to tell my how good their 14- or 15- or 16-year-old kid is I said, ‘Well, has he crashed hard yet? Or her?’ And when they say no, I said, ‘Well, don’t tell me how good he is until he comes back from a hard crash and then let’s see how good he is because then you’re gonna find out what you’ve got.’
“So a lot of these young guys, the cars are so safe that they feel like they’re invincible in them and they all run fast, but they don’t have the savvy and the background of someone like a Kevin Harvick has and a Martin Truex has to sit there and go out and understand why they’re doing everything the way they’re doing and that’s why you see a guy like Kevin Harvick have the success that he has.”
WHAT IS THE TEAM STATUS ON THE XFINITY SIDE FOR NEXT YEAR?
Tony Stewart: “We’re still working on it, but we have been working on it for a couple months now. We’ve got a couple prospects that nothing is done yet to announce, but we’ll keep working on our end. We definitely plan to continue the Xfinity program. We obviously see the value in it as you see with the announcement today, so we plan to continue down that path.”