Tony Stewart Press Conference
Location: Chicagoland Speedway Media Center
July 10, 2008 @ 230PM EST
On-Site LuvRacin Track Reporter, Sue Doane
Story By: Debbie Kuhn
The press conference today held at Chicagoland Speedway included Joe Custer, General Manager, for Haas CNC Racing and Two-time Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart. They began by unveiling the new red black and white logo “Stewart Haas Racing.”
“Obviously, this is a huge day for me,” Stewart said. “This is a huge turning point in my career, but I’m very proud today to be here and announce that myself and that Hass CNC team have merged and now have formed Stewart Haas Racing. That’s where I’ll be next year and hopefully the rest of my life.”
Team ownership is a huge part of the reason Stewart is leaving Joe Gibbs Racing. He already has had a taste of ownership with three racetracks and his four USAC and World of Outlaw teams. Ownership was not a huge deal to Stewart until 2007 when he won the prestigious Chili Bowl Nationals as the owner/driver of his midget car. He said, “I was happy and content running three racetracks and four-open wheel teams, but it was not until I stepped out a car that I owned after winning the Chili Bowl in 2007. It all changed at that point”
According to Stewart, “The opportunity to have ownership in a race team was something that I think was, in my opinion, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” He also mentioned, “I don’t think an offer like this has ever been made in this series to a driver.”
General Manager Joe Custer, “It’s an unbelievable day for our organization.” He stated about the organization, “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. Being able to work together and put a deal like this together is a dream come true for the Haas organization. We welcome Tony. We welcome his talent, his leadership, his passion, everything he brings to this sport. I think this is a great day for NASCAR.”
The one thing that Stewart always brings to the table and in his racing is his passion for the sport. Custer called Tony a “franchise player.” “There are just a few people in a sport like Wayne Gretzky that the fans put their fingers on … Tony Stewart is that player in our sport.” He is not quite sure of how this will change their organization going forward yet, but they are ready for the change and the future.
The only part of his contract that Stewart would unveil is that this is a lateral move and was given 50% of a team as part of that contract. No other driver has ever and probably will ever be offered such an opportunity in this sport again.
Stewart made mention and I believe its worth a shout out that as of last week Tony Stewart Racing was leading in all three national divisions. “That’s pretty cool as an owner to have that as its never been done before,” Stewart said.
Stewart being 37 years old has never been forced to do anything his whole life and he did state that this organization would not be moving anywhere. They just built a wonderful facility in the Charlotte area and its important that a NASCAR team be based in this area. All the resources are located within a short distance.
The sponsorships for his future team and the second car are in the works and would be released on a later date when everything was set. Also, Stewart’s new number was not unveiled yet and will be at a later date.
“Success can’t be guaranteed in this sport,” Stewart said. “There will be likely challenges to come and we’ll work all of them out.”
On the idea of legacy, of securing a place in NASCAR history was more than he could handle. When Stewart approached Joe Gibbs with this offer, “I have an opportunity to be where you are now.”
Stewart did make a comment, “GM had not given them the money to do this”
Stewart was asked about a crew chief, “would he be the first owner/driver/crew chief?” Stewart replied in his wit, “if you are trying to put me in the hospital today you’re doing a good job. You could not pay me enough to be a crew chief.” Stewart is hoping that this will put a “little sparkle” out there for any crew chiefs that are available or in the garage area.
Stewart said goodbye to the only NASCAR team he has ever known and it was one of the hardest things to do. Stewart was at the JGR shop Wednesday. He felt it important that he talk to his #20 team and then the members of the organization. He addressed them and let them know why it was so important why he was leaving at the end of the season. After he finished, there was applause. They all stayed after and shook his hand and explained how they have enjoyed working with all these years. Stewart said, “I slept better Wednesday night than I have in weeks.”
Looking at the future of Stewart Haas Racing, “I feel we have the variables in place to go out and be competitive right away. At the same time, we know it’s going to be a rebuilding and an adjustment process. How long will that adjustment take? We don’t know.”
Moving forward and looking towards the 2009 Daytona 500 and wanting to win that, as an owner/driver would be a big accomplishment according to Stewart.
The main goal at hand right now is to get these cars into the Top 35 in owner’s points this year and also Top 5 and 10 finishes. Also to work on getting better in the qualifying, but that will come in time.