Q&A with Newman and Stewart Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman appeared on Trackside Live! on SPEED Friday evening to discuss their pairing in the 2009 season at Stewart-Haas Racing and Stewart’s remaining races with crew chief Greg Zipadelli, among other topics. Below are excerpts from the interview:
Elliott Sadler: You’re not far from your work in progress, putting it all together for Daytona. How are you feeling? How is it going?
Tony Stewart: “Obviously, you’d like to say everything is done and ready to go in the trailer for the test at Daytona but we’ve got a lot of work to go. We’re still hiring people now. It’s like holding a grenade in your hand and pulling the pin and it’s like ‘tick, tick, tick’ to get ready for February because you know you have a short amount of time to get ready. We’ve got Darian Grubb in place, we’re getting really close to having Ryan a crew chief and a GM to take care of everything over there. I feel like things are coming together. In as short amount of time as we’ve had, I feel like things are coming together in a timely manner but you always want it to be quicker than it is.”
Steve Byrnes: I heard you doing an interview … one of the things that you were pleased with was hearing from a lot of guys who want to come work for your operation. I would imagine that’s pretty gratifying and shows respect.
TS: “Probably the most flattering part of starting and having the team so far is that we’ve had so many good guys from so many different teams come to us and send us resumes saying ‘we want to part of this, we’re excited about what you’re doing and we know you’re dedicated and we want to be a part of it in some way.’ That’s the good thing. It’s really good when you know you’re going to hire some people and you don’t know you have an option until you have two or more. But we’ve got a lot of people and I feel confident we’re going to put together a group of guys. There’s a lot of great people at the shop now and we’re going to be adding a lot of people to the program. I feel confident we’re going to have good people for Ryan and myself to be successful next year.”
Larry McReynolds: Going back to your Talladega win, I could see in your emotions and hear in your voice that you’re starting to see the end at Joe Gibbs Racing. It will be 350 consecutive starts with one crew chief, one sponsor, one number and a lot of the same guys. There have to be some mixed feelings there as the time is drawing near.
TS: “Yeah, I think it started when we did the last Home Depot commercial with Joey Logano and a lot of the people from the ad agencies were there and it will probably be the last time I’ll see those folks I’ve worked with for 10 years doing commercials and ads. There are constant reminders and it’s getting closer and closer and the reality is it’s a bittersweet time. Every week we get closer to the end of the season, you’re excited knowing you’re going to get to work on next season’s program. But at the same time, it’s bittersweet being for 12 years with the same organization. For a third of my life, I’ve been with Joe Gibbs Racing and all these people are family. We had our fan fest there last week and every time somebody gives their two-week notice at Joe Gibbs Racing, they duct tape you to a two-wheel cart. At some point during that week, they take you out there during lunch and duct tape you to the flagpole and leave you out there for the whole lunch. I was up signing stuff in the Gibbs cafeteria and it was really quiet and I thought ‘something doesn’t feel right.’ Then all of a sudden, about 40 crew guys from the shop came out from everywhere and duct taped me to the cart and took me out and there were still fans from fan fest out there. I was hanging up there and they were taking photos of me duct taped to the flagpole. It was a good time.”
Jeff Hammond: I’m curious about your relationship with your crew chief Greg Zipadelli. You two would die for each other … I feel more for you with that change than anything else.
TS: “That will be the hardest part. I guarantee when they drop the checkered flag at Homestead, that for sure will be the single hardest part of the equation, Zippy and I looking at each other knowing it’s a 10-year run that’s over. He’s been there for 10 years with all the stupid things I’ve done, all the mistakes I’ve made, all the bad positions I’ve put him in as a crew chief but he’s always been behind me and supported me 100-percent and it’s not just the stuff at the track. There’s all the things that people don’t know about and don’t see. He’s three years older than me and it’s like having the big brother you never had. I call him and say ‘hey, I’m thinking about this, what do you think?’ It’s been a lot of those situations I’ve relied on him because I trust him so much. Even though we won’t have a working relationship, that relationship will not go away at the end of the year. It will be hard for both us and has been hard up to this point knowing every week we get closer and closer but the way we’re combating that is going to the track and doing what we do and instead of focusing on it coming to an end, making sure we enjoy the time we do have left.”
Jeff Hammond: Trust … you had it with Greg (Zipadelli). How are you going to find it with your new crew chief? Is it going to be hard to find?
TS: “Sure, it’s obviously always that way. It’s always an unknown variable just like society. Society doesn’t like change in general but not all change is bad but it’s always scary at first because you don’t know what’s going to happen. There are no guarantees things will be exactly the way it was. It will be different. The worst I can do is to try to make it the same. It’s a different guy with a different mindset but that’s not a bad thing. The times Darian and I have spent together so far, we have a lot of fun, we joke and we carry on with each other. We don’t know each other that well but that’s the way Zippy and I started. I didn’t know Zippy until Joe had signed him as a crew chief and I met him at the shop. So, I’m excited about working with Darian. I know working with him will be quite a bit different but he’s fun, he’s got a great attitude and he’s very, very dedicated and that’s a similar quality Zippy had. This guy sleeps, breathes, eats that race team coming up next year. I’m excited about it.”
Steve Byrnes: You’re so passionate about all motor sports and are so passionate and honest … some people say when Tony becomes an owner, he won’t be so outspoken.
TS: “That part probably won’t change that much. The last two days, I had photo shoots with Office Depot and we had dinner between the two days and they were like ‘we know what we signed up for.’ That’s the great thing about them. They know they have someone who’s outspoken. Just because you’re outspoken, I don’t think that means it’s bad. I think in the last couple of years, we haven’t been as abrasive to people as we’ve been in the past and we pick our battles and pick the ones that are truly worth fighting.”
Larry McReynolds: You’re wearing a lot of caps - your driver cap, owner hat, you own race tracks. I’m sure you took a lot of things away from Joe Gibbs but I bet the thing you took away is our sport is about people and surrounding yourself with the right people.
TS: “Absolutely. That’s where Ryan came into play when it came time to hire a driver. When you’re driven for someone like Joe Gibbs who has been successful in NHRA, NFL and NASCAR, you’re not successful in all those areas by luck. There was a common variable that he knew that has made him successful and it’s about knowing how to hire the right people to do the jobs and that’s what has helped me since 2001 with our World of Outlaws team; our USAC team; owning Eldora Speedway; Paducah, Kentucky; Macon, Illinois; and now going into the Sprint Cup Series as an owner. I can’t tell you how to run a Sprint Cup team but I can find the person who does know how to do it and I can find the right people to put in those positions. That’s what you take from Joe and that’s what 100-percent of my focus is as an owner. It’s not sitting here like I know more than I know. I’m not that smart but I know enough to know the biggest key in the equation is getting the right people to do the jobs.”
Jeff Hammond: Why did you want to go drive for Tony?
Ryan Newman: “I’ve always thought a lot of Tony from a racing standpoint. I looked up to him when I was short-track racing and midget racing back in the early ‘90s. His goals … his racer mentality. Knowing and getting the people but when you get those people, putting them in the right place is what makes the difference. Knowing how to do it versus doing it are two entirely different things.”
Steve Byrnes: Are you nervous about what you don’t know yet?
RN: “I’m not nervous. I appreciate the fact that Tony includes me in the things he’s doing with the personnel and sponsorship situations. That means a lot to me because he knows what it means to me. I think deep down inside, he knows I have the same desire that he does, not necessarily to be an owner but to have a successful organization to be a championship contender. I’m happy to be included in that and it makes a huge difference to me personally.”
Elliott Sadler: The U.S. Army has to be one of the best sponsorships out there … and a number you’re familiar with. Isn’t it cool to put that all together to go to Daytona for the first time?
Ryan Newman: “It is. Tony surprised me with the number. We talked about it at first but then we went with the 4 and went back to the 39 and he totally surprised me on a radio show so that was pretty neat. The U.S. Army and what they do for our country and fighting for our freedom, the 1.2 million men and women that help support us and give us the opportunity to debut a car like that, a cool-looking car. I’m really excited about it and pumped up about it.”
Larry McReynolds: Your 14 number will go with the 70’s points because you’re locked in. I would assume the 39 will be with the 66. That way, both those cars are locked in the first five races.
TS: “That’s exactly right. That’s what we’re trying to do is make sure we keep that car in the top 35. Bootie and Scott have done a great job. They’ve dug deep. The last three weeks they’ve run really well and gone forward and I’m really proud of Bootie Barker and Scott Riggs and what they’ve done. We’ll give those points to Ryan. Hopefully, neither one of us will have to use them but it’s the insurance policy. That’s why it’s so important to keep that car in the top 35 in points right now.”