Tony Stewart Transcript- Leaving JGR or Not? April 25, 2008Posted by claireblang in Breaking News, Drivers, Teams.
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TONY STEWART, No. 20 Home Depot Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Can you talk about the reports about your contract? Are you happy at Joe Gibbs Racing and do you want to leave?
“There’s nothing wrong at Joe Gibbs Racing. There’s nothing broke — there’s nothing that needs fixing and there’s no problems there whatsoever. It’s the same thing that happened two or three years ago when we got a year within the end of my contract. People started talking and talking to our people about the possibility of us doing other things. It’s the same scenario that we had a couple years ago just this year the variables are a little different. There’s a couple groups that have thrown some ownership in the mix. Like I said, there’s nothing broke and we didn’t go out and say that we were looking to leave Joe Gibbs Racing. We haven’t made a 100 percent decision yet on what we’re going to do, but we’re going to look at all the options. The options are exciting all the way around. It’s pretty exciting as a driver to be in this position and when you see the offers that have been presented to us — I think for me it’s been a huge honor to get these offers because it gives me a perspective of where I fit in this series and what the car owners think of me. We’ve got multiple offers on the table right now and there’s a couple in particular that have really caught our interest. Right now it’s just a matter of trying to figure out what we want to do and just being smart. We’ve had a great run at Joe Gibbs Racing and it doesn’t mean it’s over yet — we’re just going to look at everything that’s out there. A wise person told me that it never costs a dime to listen so right now we’re all ears.”
Would you like to get out of your contract early?
“No, not necessarily. We’re going to look at all these options and we’re going to evaluate what we want to do. I think once we decide what we want to do then we’ll decide what the plan is from there. Right now we’ve not asked to be released out of our contract or anything. They know that there are other offers on the table and we have said, ‘what if this is the case?’ and ‘what if this is presented to us?’ Then we might see if there is a possibility if we can leave early, but we have not asked to be released from our contract at all.”
Do you think you will be at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2009?
“We haven’t signed anything so it’s too early to say I think. This isn’t something that’s happened overnight. This has been one of the best kept secrets in this garage because secrets don’t last long here, but even as early as this morning we got another offer that came to us. We’re going to do our due diligence and go through looking at every option and looking at the pros and cons to everything and then make a decision. The good thing is we have a year left on our contract; we’re not in any rush right now. There’s nobody putting any pressure on us to make something happen next week. Right now we are going to do our job and do our due diligence on all the offers and try to figure out what’s the best option for us.”
Would you like to get back to Chevrolet?
“I’m still passionate about Chevrolet. I’ve had a great relationship with General Motors — obviously when I started I was with Pontiac and then we won a championship with Chevrolet in 2005. They are our power plants and our sponsor in the open wheel series. I still have a lot of connections there, but at the same time we’ve built a great relationship in a short amount of time with Toyota. It’s not an issue where there’s something wrong there, but I have a lot of strong ties to Chevrolet obviously.”
Is Home Depot part of your future?
“You guys are way ahead of us right now. There’s a lot that has to happen before we get to that point. We haven’t even decided where we’re going to be yet so it’s hard to decide what your sponsor’s going to do.”
When would you hope for a decision to be made?
“I don’t know, I’m not in a huge hurry. For me, it’s a matter of taking the time to make the right decision and do what we think is the right thing for us. If that takes a week or if that takes the rest of the year then so be it. I don’t know what it’s going to be. The important thing is to not be in a big hurry and do the due diligence and take the time to make sure we look at every offer very thoroughly and know what the option is.”
Would you be willing to run 15th every week to be a part of building something?
“I didn’t say I wanted to run 15th anywhere. That’s why we have to do the due diligence — we have to think about those things and we have to think about, is that something that could be a product of whatever decision we make. There’s still a lot of decision making that has to happen and the due diligence is part of figuring those questions out and knowing the answers to those before we make a decision.”
Have you talked to Bob Nardelli (former CEO of Home Depot) at all?
“I have not actually and Bob’s (Nardelli) a good friend too. Like I said, this is all really new. I went on vacation last week and I didn’t really do much while I was on vacation and so I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people calling. My phone has rang so much in the last 48 hours that I’ve got a feeling that before the weekend’s over, I’m sure there will be a conversation with Bob Nardelli too.”
Is there too much emphasis put on the Haas CNC story?
“That’s one of the groups that has spoken to us. I don’t think that’s a secret by any means. That’s not the only offer that’s been presented to us. We’ve got a lot of work to do. Nothing has been decided today — I’m going to be in a Home Depot car tomorrow for Joe Gibbs Racing and I will be through the end of the year. We’re going to take the time that we need to take through the rest of the season to figure out exactly what our game plan and long term goals are going to be. That’s the hard part and I wish I could give you guys more because I’m excited about this. This is not something that I’m trying to keep a secret by any means and I think today’s proof of that. It’s just exciting that we’ve got this opportunity. Talking to a couple other drivers that have come up and we’ve spoke with today — they’ve all mentioned that it’s nice to have options and it’s nice to be in a position where you know that many people are interested in you. We just have to wait and see right now.”
What type of owner role do you want to have?
“I don’t know what’s going to happen yet. Like I keep going back to and I’m not sure it’s registering with you guys (media) yet, I have to do homework. It’s kind of like going to class, you don’t just go take finals on the second day. They actually teach you things, you study, you think about things and you try to figure this all out before. That’s why we’re not having some formal press conference behind a desk — this is something where one of the options came out yesterday, you guys (media) found out about it and we’re having to talk about it today. We haven’t done all of our homework yet — we haven’t signed anything with anybody and we haven’t made a decision about what we’re going to do yet. We have to go through that process right now, but it’s a fun option. It’s exciting to know that it could be part of the equation and it could be a possibility that we could be a part of that role.”
Are you going to talk to Joe Gibbs Racing about partial ownership for you to remain with their organization?
“I don’t think it’s fair for me to go ask those guys for anything. I think Joe Gibbs Racing has not only been a great partner, but they’ve been great friends. They’ve given me great race cars for 10 straight years now. If that is something that they want to offer, they have that option obviously, but I don’t feel like it’s my position to go ask them for anything. They’ve been fair to us for nine years and put up with things that they probably didn’t have to put up with when they probably could have gone an easier route, but they stuck it out with us.”
What was the reaction you got at Joe Gibbs Racing when you presented some of these scenarios?
“Obviously it’s a shock. When they don’t know anything about it. We wanted to be up front and honest with them and tell them, ‘listen, this is what’s being presented to us’. They’ve been such great partners all along — there’s not something broke, there’s not something that needs to be fixed and there’s not a problem over there. We felt like the best thing to do was to be up front and honest with them from day one about it and at least let them know what was being offered to us and let them know what was going on and why we were taking longer to discuss our contract with them than what we had planned.”
Was it after Phoenix that you spoke to Joe (Gibbs) about these other options?
“That’s when we had brought it up. We wanted to make sure that a couple of these offers were legitimate. We didn’t want to just go and cry wolf right away. That’s part of being responsible and doing the due diligence process of making sure that we knew that these options were realistic and this was something that could happen. We wanted to make sure we had our facts before we went to Gibbs.”
Who is the ‘we’ that you keep referring to?
“I don’t make enough money to hire 10 or 20 people just to baby-sit me. I’ve got a group of people that I trust and that I rely on and I don’t discuss them a lot because I don’t want the pressure being put on them. I want them to work on the stuff that I need them to work on versus having to discuss all this — it’s my job to talk about this stuff, no theirs.”
How much do you want to keep racing in NASCAR?
”Nowhere in this process has anybody said anything about me stopping racing. It’s been talking about signing me up to race longer. I’m excited about that and there’s nothing in it that says I want to stop racing. I don’t know how long it’s going to be — we haven’t set a date yet. A lot can change in three years or eight years or 15 years down the road. As long as we’re still having fun and we still want to drive then it’s not a matter of setting a particular date. We’re going to do it until we’re not having fun doing it anymore.”
How important is this contract based on your age and older drivers statistically don’t have the same results?
“You have to remember, I act about 12 anyway so I’m not sure how it really equates when it pertains to me. Physically, yes, but mentally I think you have to split the difference and then you still have to figure that I’m in my late 20s or early 30s. We didn’t go out and search these options, these options came to us. I don’t think that was our attitude or thought process at all when these started coming in. It was just a matter of saying, ‘what’s best for us and what’s going to be best for us long term?’ We’re thinking long term so I’m not necessarily looking at this as being my last contract by any means. We haven’t signed a contract and we haven’t decided on who it’s even going to be with so we don’t even know what the terms and the duration will be anyway. That’s for further down the road too.”
Would these long-term deals be beyond your driving career?
“Yeah, oh absolutely. That’s why these multiple offers of ownership make it so appealing. There’s a lot of drivers that come in and they race and when they are done they leave the sport. This is an opportunity to stay in the sport and follow in the footsteps of a Richard Childress or Rick Hendrick or somebody like Joe Gibbs that was involved in drag racing, but wanted to be a part of NASCAR and be a part as an owner. I have that potential to have that opportunity now and that is something that makes this a little different contract negotiation versus a normal deal that we’ve done in the past.”
Are you a candidate for Richard Childress Racings’ fourth car?
“It goes back to Mike Mulhern (Winston-Salem Journal), who has already left. He has already got all of the information that he needs to write this awesome story that he is going to write without you guys. The people that are involved — obviously Haas has come out and discussed that they were one of the parties involved. But I think unless the groups that we are talking to actually want us to mention it, I think we need to respect their side of things on the business side of it and not get them involved yet.”
What were you and Kevin Harvick standing out there laughing about?
“He was telling me about the oil rig he was on today like 150 miles out in the ocean and I asked him if he was actually there on purpose. I don’t want to be that far out there. That scares me to be that far out in the ocean and think I’ve got to swim back, because I might be able to swim 150 feet and then I’m probably going to go down.”
When you were dirt track racing in Indiana, did you ever envision yourself in a spot like you are now?
“I had a hard time even envisioning before that when my mom came to me and said, ‘you’ve got to figure something out quick, because I can’t have another $350 phone bill this month.’ That is what I was spending calling car owners trying to get midget and Sprint car rides. No, there is no way. That is kind of what I meant when I said this is exciting right now. I never thought these opportunities would be presented, and it’s not just the typical driver offer where they want you to come drive. There’s a couple of the offers that have a perk in it that I can be involved, after my career as a driver is over, and stay involved as a car owner and that is something I never would have dreamed could have happened. It’s like every five years something happens and the yard stick keeps going up higher and higher. I guess I grew up in a small enough town that I never thought that big because I just had never been around anybody that had something that big happen.”
Why do you want to own a Sprint Cup team?
“Why not? If somebody came to you today and said ‘hey, we can make you a part of ownership of a Sprint Cup team,’ wouldn’t that somewhat excite you a little bit? My mom worried the first time I got upside down in a three-quarter midget at a fairgrounds too, but everything was alright. That’s part of this due diligence process — there’s no guarantees. There is nothing that says if that is the route that we decide to go that it’s going to be the right decision for us or that it’s going to be successful. It is also — that is the part that makes it exciting — the unknown and what ifs and what can happen or not happen.”
Are you disappointed with J.D. Gibbs coming out and saying that you have a contract through 2009 and you are going to be driving for Joe Gibbs Racing through 2009 with all of these other options and opportunities out there?
“No, not at all. Definitely not. Sitting in the conversations that we’ve had with Joe (Gibbs) and J.D. (Gibbs), they want me to stay and that is flattering. Like I said, they are family to us. There is nothing wrong, there’s nothing broke there. There’s no strain in the relationship that has led up to this. We have the same relationship we’ve always had. For him to say that shows me how much that I mean to them and how much I feel like they want me to be a part of their program as long as possible. To me, I think that is a flattering comment — at least from my side.”
Have Joe (Gibbs) or J.D. (Gibbs) come back and offered you part ownership and said that they want you to be more a part of our family?
“It’s going back to that process of — I’m not sure we can talk about that part of it yet as far as what is going on in their side. I don’t think it’s fair to them to discuss what the business dealings are behind closed doors. Our meetings have been behind closed doors and I don’t think its right to come out and talk about what has happened like that?”
What about Hendrick Motorsports with Haas’ relationship there? They can certainly provide the same package as Joe Gibbs Racing.
“We’ve been made aware of what Haas’ agreement is with Hendrick (Motorsports) as far as the support that they get so we’ve been made aware of that already. That is part of the due diligence process and doing our homework and knowing what we are getting into and what is available and what resources are going to be available. We’ve got a lot more to discuss than that, but that has been brought to our attention and we still have to go through that process with all the other offers, too. There’s more to it than just the resources that Hendrick and Haas have the agreement.”
What is really important to you and what kind of team do you want to race for?
“I want to do like I’m doing now. I want to have fun racing. There is nothing broke at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing). There’s nothing that needs fixing. I think our team has had as much fun as we’ve ever had this year. I think Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, crew chief) and I are communicating as good as we ever have and that is what I want to keep doing. I don’t want to make a decision that’s going to put me a step backwards. I only want to do this if I feel like at the end of the day it’s going to be something that was a forward step for us, not a backward step.”
So you didn’t say that you wanted out, but you did speak through some scenarios of maybe making that happen?
“Absolutely. We’ve not asked to be let out of our contract, but with some of the offers that we’ve had they have expressed their interest in it starting next year. So we’ve been upfront with Joe (Gibbs) and J.D. (Gibbs) and said that if they are very adamant about this and if we were to go this direction would this be an option. That conversation has happened, but we have not asked to be let out of our contract.”
How many offers have you had — five or 10?
“You are closer on the five than you are on the 10. If it was 10 that would be great — that would be unbelievable. If we would do that I would have to hire all of you guys as media people to work for us if that were the case, but it’s not been that strong yet.”
How important is money to you?
“It’s not. I could retire right now and live the rest of my life the way I want to live it, if I chose to. What makes this such a much more difficult decision than in the past is because I have an opportunity to do something I’m passionate about and it’s still being a part of racing after racing. The opportunity of either driving for somebody else or having the opportunity to own a race team is something that — like I said, at the end of the day I’m not a very good spectator. I don’t like just going and watching something to just go watch it. When I go to Sprint Car races with the World of Outlaw teams or the USAC (United States Auto Club) teams it’s a lot more exciting being a part of it even though I’m not behind the steering wheel. I know being there as a car owner and having my hand in it is something I’m excited about — knowing that I had a hand in the outcome of what happens at the end of that day. That’s what makes this time around and these couple offers that we’ve had, in particular, so appealing to look at. It’s not something that has been offered in the past.”
Are you worried if you don’t do it now, that the business model will continue to change with people owning race teams that were not drivers in the past?
“I don’t know what the model is like. That is where you guys are still smarter than us right now. I don’t feel like that is the case. I think this has just been a unique situation where unique offers have come along. I don’t — to the best of my knowledge — I don’t know that it’s happened before. I don’t know if the timing is right. I don’t know if two years, three years down the road would be too late or too early or what. Right now there are offers that are outside the box. It’s outside the normal offer that we’ve had in my whole career in NASCAR. It’s something that’s worth taking a look at.”
How much did the Dale Earnhardt Jr. offer last year and the Kyle Busch offer intrigue all of these other people to come to you?
“I don’t know, honestly. I think a lot of it is timing. You look at drivers contracts and you look at how many guys each year, when their contracts are up — I think a lot of it is just timing in all honesty. There’s years when there’s for or five guys that their contracts are up and it seems like that’s kind of when the switches start to happen and then there’s years where maybe one or two guys are available. If you are race team that is looking to make a change when you have those years where there are only a couple guys available if they are guys that you are interested in, it makes you want to sweeten the pot and put your best offer forward right away. I don’t know if that is necessarily what is going on here. Like I said, the offers here that have come in so far are very flattering.”
Would companies like Gillette-type or Fenway-type organizations that have massive across the board sports appeal be of interest to you?
“There is no offer that is unappealing right now. Right now we’re just looking at everything that is coming along. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings. It’s kind of cool with the Roush Fenway deal. It would be nice to say ‘hey, I want to go to the ballgame tonight and know that guy is a part of our racing program, too.’ But, that is not necessarily what this is about. It’s really early to get much deeper than what we’ve already discussed.”
How daunting of a task is it to know you have all of this to go through in the next year?
“I guess you can look at it two ways. I guess you can look at it like it’s going to be a lot of headaches for the people that are closest around me. It’s going to be a lot of stressful nights and a lot of headaches, but at the same time I’m really excited about it. I’m excited because I’m flattered about the opportunities that are being presented. I think that excitement outweighs the headaches and hassles that go along with it. I don’t see it as a drain. I don’t see it as a strain on me personally. I look at it from the opposite side. I feel very flattered that we’ve been presented these offers. It would be like the highest of media companies coming to you and saying ‘hey, we’re really excited about you coming and being a part of our organization.’ I never thought that would happen so you can’t say that won’t happen for you. You don’t know — I mean tomorrow you might get that phone call and the day after that you might get a phone call from somebody else that is a parallel company to them. That is how it has happened for us. This is something that came out of the blue and multiple offers that stand alone are great offers by themselves. I don’t think if we would have said in September last year that somebody is going to come to us early in the year and make us an offer there is no way I would have predicted that it was going to be like this. I’m not sure I’m that deserving of it, but it’s very flattering to be in this position where these companies are that interested in us right now.”
How much does sponsorship have to do with it?
“Yeah, but we’re putting the cart before the horse, too. We haven’t decided were it’s going to be at and it may not be a situation where we have to worry about it anyway. Like I said, I think we are putting the cart before the horse in that category.”
How has your friendship with Kevin Harvick and what he has done for that organization impacted your thoughts about ownership?
“Yeah, that was fun. To be a driver, at that time, in their Nationwide program was a fun part of that time with Kevin (Harvick) and Delana (Harvick) and our friendship with them was being a part of developing and being a part of their company grow. And seeing them go through the process. I didn’t go to the shop everyday. I was at the shop once or twice during the whole time I drove for them so I can’t say I was there to see the steps that it took for them to build it to what they’ve built it to already. My friendship with Kevin and having discussions that we’ve had about ownership have made a couple of these offers not seem so frightening, I guess.”
What type of owner would you be — A.J. Foyt or Joe Gibbs?
“I don’t know. I think you’ve got to go and ask the Outlaw guys and the USAC guys right now because it’s not a new deal to me. I’ve been a World of Outlaws team owner since 2001 and I think 2002 was when we started the USAC program so I wish you would call those guys cause I’m kind of curious to see what kind of car owner they think I am, too, in all honesty. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from Joe Gibbs as a car owner and what I’ve tried to apply to my teams is put the right people in the right positions and let them do their jobs. My specialty is driving. I’m not somebody that goes to the shop and says ‘do this, this, this and this and this is going to be successful.’ I try to give our teams the right resources and I try to get the right people to do the right jobs and put the right people in place and let them do what they do best. When you hire somebody to do those jobs you let them do what they are hired to do and look for the results to come from it.”