The official announcement was made today that Tony Stewart will join forces with Haas/CNC Racing to form Stewart-Haas Racing for 2009. The following is the transcript of the press conference featuring Tony and Haas/CNC GM Joe Custer. Audio of the event should be available soon.
July 10, 2008
TONY STEWART: Two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion
JOE CUSTER: General Manager, Haas CNC Racing
MIKE ARNING: Moderator, Vice President of True Speed Communication
“Obviously, a big day yesterday when it was announced that Tony Stewart and Joe Gibbs Racing will part ways following the 2008 season. Joe, this is a big day for you – Joe Custer, General Manager of Haas CNC Racing. Tony, another big day for you. And to start it off right I believe there's something to unveil just to the left of you. Why don't we go ahead and do that.
“Like we always said from the get go and what Tony reiterated many times, when we had something to announce, we'd announce it. That day has come, and Tony, talk a little bit about why we're here today.”
“I thought when we got in here there was really a cool menu for the buffet today. I've never seen this many media people in here before.
“Obviously, this is a huge day for me. It's, you know, this is a huge turning point in my career obviously. But I'm very proud today to be here and announce that myself and Joe Custer have, with the Haas CNC team, merged and now formed Stewart Haas Racing. That's where I'll be next year, and hopefully for the rest of my life and my career in NASCAR racing.
“It was a huge decision making process obviously, something that was not made overnight. And every week like we told you guys this was a long process. You know, this was not something that was easy by any means, and we did weigh our options heavily as far as what was available out there, what our options were. And, the opportunity to have ownership in a race team was something that was, in my opinion, a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“I don't think an offer like this has ever been made in this series to a driver. And I don't know that an offer of this magnitude will be offered in the next year or two or down the road even. But I'm very honored that Joe and his organization have welcomed me aboard not only as a driver but as an owner and really excited about our future at Stewart Haas Racing.”
“Thanks, Tony. Joe, a big step for your organization. Talk a little bit about how this day came to be.”
“Well, it's an unbelievable day for our organization and the Haas Automation folks and worldwide dealership network. We've been in this sport for a number of years building what we feel like is the nucleus of a winning organization, but, quite frankly, we haven't finished that journey. And being able to work together and put the deal like this together is a dream come true for the Haas organization.
“And we welcome Tony. We welcome his talent, his leadership, his passion, everything that he brings to this sport. I think this is a great day for NASCAR, a great day for his fans and our fans, and we look forward to not only winning races but really enjoying it in the years to come.”
“And we'll go ahead and open it up to questions now. Again, because we are doing a transcript of this afterwards and because it is being carried live by a number of outlets, if you could, state your name and affiliation as well. And I know there are folks here with Chicagoland Speedway who will have a mic so if you can wait on the mike.”
Q. Joe, you said passion. That's a keyword with Tony in racing. The two are almost synonymous. Can you talk about having somebody like that come over and what that brings to the Haas organization?
“Well I keep using the word ‘franchise’ player. I don't know if it's worn out in the sports world. But there are just a few people, you know, whether it's Wayne Gretzky or just people in a sport that influence -- and you can't put your finger on it. Fans put their finger on it. That's who puts their finger on it. We believe that Tony Stewart that is person. And why? Because the fans believe that.
“So how does that affect our organization? Top to bottom. Top to bottom it affects obviously our people. How they view coming to the track this week is different. You know, they knew about this press conference and loading on the plane today was a different, exciting feeling at Haas. And the owners, Haas Automation and all the folks back in California building machine tools there, it affects them. So I think going forward, I'm not sure I realize how much that will change our organization but I'm ready for it.”
Q. Tony, why is ownership so important to you at this time in your career?
“I think since 2001 when we started our first World of Outlaws team, I think as time has gone on, I've started to understand the value of it and what it means to me in life. You know with a second World of Outlaw team that we added this year and obviously our two USAC Midget Sprint Car and Silver Crown operations, I've really enjoyed that aspect of my life over the last seven years.
“Eight years ago when people asked me if I'd consider ownership in a NASCAR team, I said no way. I said I wouldn't be able to deal with the politics. But, you know, after owning race tracks and having race teams, now I think it's a side of me that I really enjoy and having the opportunity to have a new challenge and to help build an organization and be a part of it and know that whatever the results are at the end of the day that I'm directly responsible for that as a part of it is something that's important to me.
“And, you know, it's hard when you guys have always asked in different conversations, ‘What do you do when your career's over?’ When you stop as a driver you don't want to -- it's hard to just -- you talk to drivers that have retired in the last three or four or five years, it's hard to just walk away from the sport. And this gives me an avenue, if the day comes that I can't drive a race car or don't want to drive a race car anymore, I can still be involved heavily in NASCAR. And I know what that feeling's like, obviously, at the smaller levels with USAC and the World of Outlaw Series. And this is something that I really feel like I want to do the rest of my life.”
Q. Tony, tell us about your ownership in the team. Are you buying it? Is it being given to you? Did you go to the bank and take out a mortgage?
“Actually, I got into your piggy bank over your cupboard and I didn't realize how much money you really had. I’ve actually got some left over if you want me to take you to dinner tonight on your dime.
“No. I think this is the only detail of the agreement that I think we're willing to talk about as far as the terms and everything, but I was offered half of the team in this deal. That was something that doesn't make this a lateral move from where I came from to where we're going next year.
“You know, having 50 percent of this race team is something that's huge. But I look forward to it. Haas CNC is a company that's spent a lot of their own money to build this operation, and has spent a lot out of their pocket. I'm hoping to come in as a driver – not only as a driver – but as an equal partner in this and be able to attract sponsorship to where now Haas CNC doesn't have to spend that money out of their pocket to where we can make it pay for itself.
“So, you know, that was something that I don't think, like I said, has ever been offered. I don't think any driver's ever been offered 50 percent equity in an organization, and, you know, that made this such an appealing offer.”
Q. Two quick questions. The first is: Will you be announcing another driver soon? There's a lot of chat about that and who that might be. And, second, there's also a lot of chat about you having been ill last week. How are you feeling? Did you get to the bottom of what was making you ill and do you have another announcement coming up soon that people might expect as to who the driver might be that drives with you?
“We hope so. Obviously, we would like to announce this sooner than later.
“As far as being sick, I can't pick when and where I'm going to be sick and where I'm not going to be sick. Trust me, I felt like a pin cushion this week with needles in my arms, so I've not enjoyed that part. I do feel better. I started feeling better Tuesday evening.
“And I had to miss an event at Eldora Speedway which I been looking forward to for a long time and running my 360 winged sprint car there and I didn't get a chance to do that. I only get a chance to do that once a year. So it was not an opportune week to be sick by any means. I do feel better.
“As far as drivers are concerned, we're looking – just like any other car owner does now – looking at who is available, where they're at in the stages of their contract, who is available, who is not available, who is interested and who is not. So, you know, it's kind of the same process that I'm use to doing with our World of Outlaw teams and USAC teams. And Joe and I will work together to try to secure drivers as soon as possible, and hopefully not only a driver but sponsors, and we'll be able to announce everything hopefully soon.”
Q. Tony, the way this whole thing evolved prior to the connection with Haas CNC, had there been an option for you to perhaps buy into Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR)? We've seen guys like Rusty Wallace – he got a quarter of Penske Racing. Jeff Gordon owns Jimmie Johnson's car. Had that been an opportunity for you originally, or was that inability to do that what led to you do this?
“No, it wasn't offered. JGR is a family business and I respect them for that. I don't think you can ask a family business to give away part of their race team. But it wasn't offered.
“That didn't turn me away from Joe Gibbs Racing by any means. This was just a unique offer. I don't know that I've ever heard of any driver offers that have had this involved in it, so that's just what made this a very appealing offer.”
Q. Tony, can you talk about how much it weighed on your decision to make this part of your legacy? You've already got a strong legacy in the sport. How important was it to continue and help build NASCAR and help make the sport even better like you've done with open wheel racing?
“I think as time has gone on and I've gotten a little bit older here, you start realizing the importance of history and what values are important to you. And, you know, the thought of being another Richard Childress or a Richard Petty or a Rick Hendrick, somebody who is driven in this sport and now, in some cases their legacy's bigger than when they were drivers here. That opportunity to do this in this sport was very important to me.
“You know, I look back and I know I keep mentioning our open wheel teams but that's really where the foundation of this all started in my head. And I look at where we are this the year. I mean, this past week we were leading all three national divisions and that's the first time in USAC's history that any one organization has led all three national divisions in the point standings.
“I looked at that and thought that's something that's never been done in this sport. And to be part of that and to have my name on that organization that's doing that is something that I'm very proud of. And, you know, to have opportunities to put my name in the record books as a car owner now is something that I'm excited about.
“I mean, this is something that, you know, it's -- I know what it feels like to win as a driver. But I know after winning the Chili Bowl 2005 or 2006 what it's like to win as an owner. Or I guess it was 2007. But, you know, to sit there in the winner's circle and climb out of the car that I know I had a part in building that team, I mean that was a feeling that I never had before.
“To have that opportunity to do that here with Haas CNC Racing and now form this new entity is something that I'm excited about having that opportunity. I'm excited about the fact that I feel like we could go to Daytona and we have the opportunity to go there and win the Daytona 500 and stand there and climb out of my own car with my own guys and my own operation and be there as champions that way. So that's an aspect that I'm hopefully going to get a chance to experience that and enjoy that.”
Q. Your name's on top of this deal. Will you be calling the shots? Will you be bringing in your own people at all? How will the structure of the organization work?
“We're 50/50 in the entity. So, we'll work together. It's not about who ranks where. It's not a ranking issue. It's matter of goal issues and what our goals are and sitting down and working together.
“The one thing I think I've learned from Joe Gibbs Racing is that it takes people to win. And it's not equipment that wins races. It's people that win races. And, we're going to assemble a strong group of core people that we feel like will work together – not somebody over top of anybody else. It just made the logo look really good. That's how it got stacked up that way. It wasn't really an ego issue by any means. (Laughter.)
“But we'll have a good group of people. It's not a matter of really who is calling the shots. You hire the right people to do the right job. So, my strength's going to be hopefully taking the knowledge I've learned from Joe Gibbs over the last ten years and hiring the right people to be in the right position and let them do their jobs. My job on the weekend is going to be to drive the race car.
“If we get the right people then we don't have to worry about who is calling the shots here and there. You’ve got the people in place to do it for you.”
Q. Who made the initial contact? Joe, did you approach Tony or did Tony reach out to you? Were you that interested in starting a team and when did it get started?
“It actually started at the end of the calendar year last year – in December was the first time I was presented with this opportunity. And as spring went through, in the middle of spring we went to Joe (Gibbs) and said, ‘Hey, I have an opportunity. This is what I'm looking at.’ I was very up front and honest with Joe and J.D. (Gibbs) about it.
“Obviously, they were shocked when I came to them because we always dreamed and we always thought that I would start and finish at Joe Gibbs Racing. So it was a shock when we went to them.
“But after sitting and talking with Joe (Gibbs) and J.D. and, I basically said, ‘Joe, I've got an opportunity to be in a role like you are.’ And I think that's something that at the end of the day Joe respected. And it's hard to not want to see somebody chase their dreams. And that's something that the Gibbs family's always been very good about and passionate about.
“This was a hard process to go through with Joe (Gibbs). There was a lot of emotion involved at times. But at the end of the day there was understanding. And the release yesterday, I went to the shop. I went and talked to my race team first and went and spoke to the entire organization and explained to them why I was doing what I was doing.
“I wondered how it was going to feel. I wondered how everybody was going to react. At the end of my talking to the group, everyone clapped. And when I came off the stage and they broke for lunch, there were people that stood in line to shake my hand and said ‘We wish you the best of luck, we valued working with you for ten years.’ And that's something that made me feel really good.
“Last night was the first time that I slept really, really well in a long time because I do value that friendship with the organization. I value my friendship with Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, Stewart’s current crew chief) and Joe (Gibbs) and J.D., and that's something that through this hasn't changed.”
Q. Just wondering if you had an opportunity to get in one of the Haas cars, and if not this year when will that opportunity come, just so you can see what you have, where your strong points are and what you have to work for on next season?
“I haven't been in a car yet. And with my contract with Joe (Gibbs) and J.D. I probably won't be in a car till after the end of the season. And that's only fair. My dedication the rest of this year is to worry about trying to do everything I can for the Home Depot team and Joe Gibbs Racing to try to win races and try to win the championship this year. So that focus isn't changing. Obviously, there's a lot of work that needs to be done between now and February.
“When it comes to the driving side and the competition side as far as race weekends, I'm dedicated 100% to the program I'm in right now and trying to do the best we can and focusing 100% of the time. The team feels that way. I feel that way. And, you know, we've battled a lot of adversity in the past and a lot worse than this.
“So the team is very much still in race mode right now. We started this as a team and we're going to finish this as a team and we all want to finish strong. So, that's kind of where our focus is right now.
“As far as the end of the year, I don't know what we'll do between Homestead and Daytona. I think we’ve got time to figure that out. But I think right now it's more about making sure that we get some key people in place and working from there.”
Q. I think everybody can understand why you want to do this long term, but have you reconciled in the short-term you might not be as competitive next year as you're used to being? And if so how would you handle that?
“Well I haven't won a race this year and I think we've handled it okay considering the circumstances we've been under in some of those losses.
“I really feel like when you look at this program, we have support with Hendrick engines, Hendrick chassis and Hendrick technical support. So with those variables I feel like that we have the variables in place to go out and be competitive right away.
“At the same time, we know it's a rebuilding process and it's going to be an adjustment period. How long is this adjustment period going to take? We don't know. But at the same time I think the important thing is that Joe and I have looked and we said this is where we want to be. We've set where we want to be and getting our cars in the top-five in points or top-ten in points and knowing that we have cars that are capable of winning championships.
“And that's the goal. As long as we have that goal in mind and as long as we feel like we're making forward progression toward that then I think you have to take it a week at a time. You kind of have to take what it gives you as long as you see that progression though. I think that's what we have to keep in mind right now.”
Q. When did it become obvious to you and JGR that 2009 was not going to work and you would need to sever ties? Have you come to any decisions on car numbers for next year?
“We haven't (come to a decision) on car numbers yet. We're currently working on that. I think it was a situation where it's hard to work for an organization and know that you’re going to have a driver leaving, and looking at what was going to be best for Joe Gibbs Racing, and what was going to be best for myself knowing that we were going to be parting ways at the end of '09 anyway.
“We felt like it was better to sever those ties at the end of this season and let us go our different directions and work toward the future. Staying another year was only going to delay both of our future plans.
“So when it became apparent, probably, two months ago or a month-and-a-half ago that this might happen, something that we've worked really closely with Joe (Gibbs) and J.D. on is making sure that we didn't do anything the to jeopardize the company (Joe Gibbs Racing). Home Depot won't be going with us next year. We were working really strongly with them to help them get Home Depot secure for their future also.
“That was something that was important to us is to not jeopardize the business side of Joe Gibbs Racing and upset it any more than it was going to be with us leaving anyway. Through that process it's been important to maintain that relationship and do what we can to not leave Joe Gibbs Racing in a position where it was really going to hurt them financially.”
Q. Tony, do you plan to keep the team based in North Carolina or might you consider moving it to Indiana to be closer to where you live? Or if you keep the team in North Carolina , might you be forced to move down to be closer to the team?
“After 37 years, not too many people force me to do anything except NASCAR when they call me to the trailer and you pretty much go when they tell you to go. My parents tried to force me into stuff and I moved out of the house.
“The nice thing is, I think once we get key people in place I think we're going to be spending a lot of time in Charlotte , obviously. We have no intentions of leaving Charlotte right now. They have built – Joe and his staff have built a beautiful facility in Charlotte . And I wouldn't want to move away from that facility right now to go anywhere.
“But obviously the resources and the people, it's important for a NASCAR team to be based in the Charlotte area, in my opinion. Everything is close to there, especially with the COT cars with having to get them approved with NASCAR. We're literally 15 minutes away from where those cars are inspected. So it's important for the operation to be in the Charlotte area.
“I don't see us ever moving away from the Charlotte area. I think it's a very appropriate place for the shop to be.”
Q. Tony, a lot of people have tried this. One of your heroes A.J. Foyt didn't do so well as a team owner. You've had dedicated racers, real racers who have tried the ownership role and I think it's probably been about 16 years or so since we've had a really successful, champion-type owner/driver. Why are you going to succeed when so many in the interim have tried and failed?
“I can't guarantee that I'm going to, but if we don't, we're going to go down swinging. That's for sure. You know, I like challenges. And if I didn't like challenges, I wouldn't be a part of three race tracks and have four race teams.
“There are no guarantees with this. There's no guarantees that this is going to be successful. But after sitting down and evaluating what the potential of this team is, I wouldn't have made this decision if I didn't think it would be successful and if I didn't think it had the potential to be great. So, like I said there are no guarantees, and I don't know that it is going to be successful, but we're going to do everything we can to make it successful.”
Q. Joe, Tony mentioned getting key people in place. How much of this team is going to turn over in the next half a year?
“We're just working through that right now. We're committed to our employees, naturally. And we think we have some great employees. But will there be change? Yes. Will there be more people at Stewart Haas Racing than there are currently? Yes. So we're hiring.”
TONY STEWART: “Call Joe's phone by the way, don't call my phone today. At least not until about 8 o'clock when qualifying's over. I'll be busy in cars.”
“Quite frankly there's been an interest. Again that's what Tony Stewart brings to the table – the confidence that the organization will win. Employee confidence is critical in our sport. Just a side note. Tony's comment, ‘We're in this sport to win.’ (Haas CNC) came here to win. We've been here for years building something with the goal of winning. Not to make money at NASCAR, not to ride the coat tails, not for the fame, the glory. It's for the winning. We want trophies.”
“I kind of like the girl part of it. The fame and glory is kind of cool, too. (Laughter.) If you don't want that I'll be glad to take that on my 50 percent.”
“I'm with you on that one, too. Quite frankly we're here to win and we believe Tony can help us do that. And his goal – we align. This wasn't about how can we work with sponsors to escalate the costs of our sport. This was about how can we win next year, immediately. And we've got what we think is a plan to address it. We'll see. The results will speak for themselves. But we're committed to the winning piece.”
Q. Tony, are you officially now an owner? Is it in ink? Also, do you already have confidence that there is a sponsor in place for you for 2009?
“We're currently working on it. But going back to the first question, yes it is in ink and it's dried even. It's been dry for a couple weeks.
“The big thing – and just to explain to you guys why this process took as long as it did is, and what I said from day one as far as telling you guys that we would tell you guys something as soon as we could talk about it – there were a lot of details that had to be taken care of in this. And I don't want anybody in the media to think we were putting it off week after week.
“Yes, the decision had been made. Yes, the contracts had been signed. But there was a part of it where we had to get a release from Joe Gibbs Racing and work through that. Then we had to work through the contracts with Joe and his group. But at the same time there were a lot of people and a lot of families that were involved in this. And being able to go talk to everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing before the release announcement went out and the before today happened was something that was very important to us.
“So I hope all of you understand that it wasn't that we were trying to put you guys off week in and week out, it was a matter of there were a lot of details. And not only contracts that needed signed but a lot of people that have a lot of sweat and tears and hours, and families have hours without their spouses being there. There were people involved that were important to talk to before this was announced.
“So all of that is done and in place now and it was a matter of trying to go to our organization. And I felt like that was the best thing to do and to be fair to the team and everybody involved was to talk to them before we made an announcement about this.”
Q. Is this team still going to remain a two-car team for next year?
Q. Obviously you’ve got the Champions Provisional you can fall back on. How critical is it to get that 66 car in the top-35, and secondly we hear some names on who might be in that second car. The current driver of the 66, Scott Riggs, is not one of those. What kind of position is he in, trying to help you get into the top-35? Or is that just the way business is done in this sport?
“Scott hasn't been ruled out by any means. I think Scott's done a great job this year of stepping up to the plate on a lot of occasions. It's a big list of drivers that we're working on obviously. It's important to get one of the two cars, or especially the 66 car who is the closest right now, of getting him back inside the top-35 in points.
“You know, it's important but at the same time I feel like the level of this race team is going to go up next year and hopefully that won't be a factor when it comes time to qualifying each week. If we can get through the first five weeks, I think that part will take care of itself. But it is a valid concern at this point obviously.
“But that's where, like Joe said, there's people been calling already because of this announcement today and hopefully the people that we'll be adding soon will be able to ensure that we get the 66 car back in the top-35 in points and it won't be an issue.
“We obviously have 18 races left to accomplish that goal. And that's a very big variable in the equation right now of things to do before the end of the season.”
Q. Tony, you talked about the appeal of becoming another Richard Childress or Richard Petty, somebody who has driven in the sport. You are a businessman now but started as a racer. You are bucking a recent trend of a lot of private equity firms and deep pocketed businesses from outside the sport buying into it. A lot of the guys you mentioned like Childress and Penske and Petty are getting late in their career without obvious successors. Is it good for NASCAR to have somebody like yourself who is racer buying into team ownership and maintaining a tie to the way things have always been with the racers making the calls?
“I think you have to ask NASCAR that to understand it from their side. But I don't see where it's negative. I don't know where having a driver that's won races and won championships in the series at the end of his driving career staying a part of this series as a car owner. I'm not sure where I see the negative in that. So I don't see NASCAR saying that. I feel like it's positive. I really don't see where there's a negative in that part of it.
“Obviously, there's a lot of changes on the business side of it in the last couple years. But I don't see where having somebody that's had a 10-year past in NASCAR changing roles necessarily in the sport is bad versus having people that have never been part of it coming in the and buying equity in teams that don't know anything about the sport. I don't see where this part of the equation is bad.”
Q. Tony, does this make you reevaluate any of your ownerships in your tracks and specifically Macon Speedway ?
“As far as?”
Q. Would you keep those tracks? Are you still going to stay involved in all of those?
“Absolutely. None of the business ventures I'm currently involved in are going to change because of this. We've got a pretty good staff. Obviously the people that we have with all three of the race tracks and both sets of our race teams have been in place for awhile.
“And those people are going to continue to be in place and we're going continue to work forward and do everything we can to make those teams and those race tracks as competitive as possible and as good of an experience as possible as far as the race track side.
“So none of that is going to change. This is just another big candle that we'll be burning each week.”
Q. Joe, you mentioned the partnership and the alliance that you have with Hendrick Motorsports. We know it's one of the closest alliances there probably is in the garage area. Is this something that you had to get Rick Hendrick to sign off on? Did he play a role in this?
Also, you have the open book policy with Hendrick, but it has to be frustrating knowing that you have been as far behind as you have been with that kind of an open book policy over there with Hendrick Motorsports.
“It's a challenge. You are absolutely right. First of all we have a great relationship with Hendrick Motorsports. But there are boundaries and there's a lot to it. It brings in Haas Automations machine tool piece where they're marketing machine tools through the use of the manufacturing of the motors at Hendrick. So there's a lot of business stuff that goes on.
“But there's no ownership between the two companies. Rick Hendrick doesn't make our decisions. We don't have any influence over his financial decisions. We're separate operating organizations.
“Although that being said, we are a customer and a technology partner on the chassis side of it. We purchase chassis from him. We get support for that. And it has been a frustration that our performance isn't at the same level of Hendrick Motorsports over the years.
“But as Tony's mentioned we feel that we've – if you go down the check list of motors, chassis, facilities, wind tunnel time, seven post rigs, all of the things that people use in our sport as excuses sometimes for the non-performance – we get to check most of those boxes.
“But the people thing is a constant challenge in our sport. And again, we feel that we've got good people. But drivers are absolutely critical. And with this new chassis that we're working with, the COT piece, it's even more. The driver is a huge factor. And that's really what drove this decision is performance. We want to win. And we feel Tony Stewart wants to win as bad as we do.
“And we think we can learn a lot from him and we're going to listen to him.”
Q. Tony, you're obviously adding to a plate that's already pretty loaded. At what point is it enough? Would you consider maybe IndyCar Series ownership at some point down the road?
“No, I've been down that road. You know, I guess I've learned in this sport, never say never because eight years ago I said I've never been be an owner in NASCAR and here I am today announcing I am an owner in NASCAR now.
“You never know. Obviously you look at organizations like Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske Racing who were involved in multi-series. Is it out of the question? No. It's never out of the question.
“I think as time goes by, I guess the way we look at it, we've now added three race tracks and four race teams and now a Sprint Cup team, but not all in one year. This is all something that's grown over time. And, you know, as time's gone on, we've evaluated where we're at and do we have too much on our plate, do we not have too much, do we want more our plate?
“I think as time goes on you constantly evaluate that and evaluate where you are and the status of your companies and that's how you decide whether you've grown as much as you want to grow or whether you want to continue with that growth. And this is something that, obviously if we didn't feel like that we were going to be capable of continuing with this growth we wouldn't have taken on this project. So, we'll see down the road what we decide to do next.
“I mean, we might buy a little league baseball team, an eight-year-old team or something. We may do that next.”
Q. Tony and Joe, is it fair to say from what I'm hearing that you're basically given 50 percent of the team for your name and your talent to take it to another level? And, secondly, how much did General Motors (GM) play in role in getting back with them?
“Obviously, GM made a huge push when Joe Gibbs Racing made the announcement that they were going to be switching to Toyota . Obviously the comments that GM made were very strong about wanting to get me back. But, you know, the people at Toyota have been great this year. I've really developed some good friendships with the people on that side. But I've had a lot of relationships in the past with General Motors too, and those relationships haven't gone away. So, obviously that was a variable that we had to consider.
“The ownership side, yes, that was part of the deal. That's the only part of the deal that we'll talk about. But, having that opportunity and being given 50 percent of an operation to come in and not only drive but be part of it was something that was a huge variable to us. Basically led to our decision and where we are today.
Q. Tony, have you or are you going to seek advice from other drivers who have tried to be driver/owner and if so, what has anybody said to you?
“We can't tell all the secrets, but, yes, I've had conversations with Robby Gordon. Robby really, is to the best of my knowledge, the last owner/driver in the series right now. And, basically at the end of the day, and the moral to the story is, he said ‘You are going to enjoy this.’ So this is a challenge I'm looking forward to. And, if in talking to Robby he would have said ‘This is going to be a total disaster and you are going to regret it the rest of your life,’ I would have thought different about it. But that was far from what he said.”
Q. Is it Stewart Haas Racing from today moving forward or does that start next year?
“The entity exists right now, but it will race-under that banner next year. Haas CNC Racing will continue to operate as it does with the teams that it does until the end of the year.”
Q. Do you anticipate that the relationship with Hendrick will continue long term, or is your long term vision for the team getting to a point where you're building and developing your own equipment and technology?
“Obviously when Haas CNC Racing started, having that ability to tap into the Hendrick resources, I feel like, has given this team an opportunity to close a huge gap. You don't get to where the Hendrick operation is overnight and having the resources available to us and having these resources available long term are very, very key at this point. I see the relationship being a very valuable relationship not only now, but long term also.”
Q. Tony, can you talk about ending the longest driver-crew chief relationship and how much emotion was involved in that for you?
“I think that's probably been the single hardest part about this. It's like we've mentioned many times when the topic of Zippy and I come up it's kind of like a marriage. He's been there both professionally and like a big brother on the personal side. And that relationship is very important to me, not only now but down the road.
“But that has been the single hardest part about this is having to think about for the last ten years I've had Greg's leadership and have had the security blanket and the peace of mind of knowing that Zippy's in charge of this. He knows me better than 99 percent of the girlfriends I've ever had in my life, I think.
“So having to make a change like that is something that, well. . . I'm not going to call it a divorce because it's really not like that. I mean, our relationship is still as good as it's ever been. We were laughing yesterday. Obviously, yesterday was a bittersweet moment for both him and myself to have to sit down in the room with our guys and our team and let them know that this combination that we've had that has won over 30 races and two championships was going to finally separate and part ways.
“But the important thing to me is not only with Zippy, but the entire organization, we're parting on great terms. We want to part as champions at the end of the season and the friendships, not only with Zippy but the team guys, the rest of the organization and the entire Gibbs family, is something that throughout this has been very, very important to us.”
Q. Any idea who your crew chief will be next year or are you going to be the first driver/owner/crew chief? (Laughter.)
“Oh God. If you're trying to put me in the hospital today, that will do it. You couldn't pay me enough to be a crew chief. I honestly feel like no matter whether you are a car owner or crew member or driver or crew chief, I feel like they have the toughest job and the toughest responsibilities during the week and obviously from the time that they show up at the race track to the time they leave.
“But I don't have an answer for you as far as what we're we going to have for a crew chief yet. Obviously the announcement today will hopefully spark some interest and guys that we don't know are available or might be available or might have interest or not have interest. Hopefully we'll know more about that in the next couple weeks after this announcement's come out. And all the crew chiefs in the garage area and potential crew chiefs in the garage area learn about this operation and what's transpired today.”