An interview with Tony Stewart, Gene Haas and Clint Bowyer:
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Mike Arning, director of communication here at Stewart-Haas Racing, and thank you very much for coming to today’s announcement. A couple things I do want to go over. We have a NASCAR teleconference a part of us, so when we get to the portion where there’s a Q & A we’ll go back and forth between the folks here in the audience and the folks there on the teleconference, and also please take advantage of this time. There will not be any one-on-one interviews afterward. However, everybody up here on the dais will be here for as long as everyone here in attendance and on the teleconference have questions. We’ll go ahead and get right to it.
On stage are the co-owners of Stewart-Haas Racing, Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, and Tony, you’ve always been pretty good about drawing a crowd. Today is no different. Tell us why we’re here today.
TONY STEWART: I think it’s more of a formality. I think you guys already know everything you need to know. But yeah, next year will be my last year in the Sprint Cup Series. You know, it was a choice that was 100 percent mine. There wasn’t any pressure from anybody. If anything it was the opposite. I had more people trying to talk me out of it than anything. You know, I think it’s a scenario where everybody in their career at some point makes the decision that it’s time for a change and it’s nothing that you plan. I think it’s just — I think it happens. I think deep down you know when it’s time to do something to make a change like this.
You know, it’s kind of a bittersweet day. I’m excited about it, but at the same time I’m sad about it, as well. I love what I do with NASCAR and I love what I do as a driver, and the great thing is I’m not going anywhere. NASCAR is probably going to be the most disappointed of everybody today because they aren’t getting rid of me. They have to deal with me as an owner. There’s still the opportunity to get fined and there’s still the opportunity to be put on probation, just like always, just from a different capacity than now. But the reality, I guess, of why we probably had to make this decision, I think, is because Mike Arning and Eddie Jarvis are tired of dealing with me and said we can’t do another year, so they forced us into this.
I’m excited about what we’re doing in the future. The great thing is I think a lot of athletes and professionals get to this scenario and get to the point where they make this decision and don’t really know what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives, and I can say that I honestly have everything lined down and in place and it’s basically doing everything I’m doing now, just not driving a Cup car. I’m going to enjoy Stewart-Haas Racing. I enjoy working with Gene. I’m excited about what he’s doing with the F1 side, and now I might actually get a chance to go to a Formula 1 race with him here in a couple years. I’m going to get to do a couple things that I haven’t been able to do. But again, I love this series. I love NASCAR. I love working with Mike Helton and Steve O’Donnell and the great people, and that’s what it really boils down to, and that’s why we’re staying with all this is it’s the people. It’s all the guys in NASCAR. It’s all the guys at SHR, and its co-owners and other owners in the series, other drivers, and crew chiefs. Those are the people that I’m — that’s the reason I’m not going anywhere. I couldn’t stand to be away from that family. Just changing directions a little bit, but I’m excited about it. I really am.
I’m excited that I got two more chances. I’ve got two more big wins on the schedule that I want to win, and that’s the Daytona 500 and the Southern 500, and I wouldn’t mind adding another championship to that.
This added year is not just a ride-it-out year. This is we’re going to gouge our eyes out and do everything we can to win races and win another championship. I’m looking forward to that.
To be perfectly honest, there was a really good possibility that this would have happened at the end of this year, and the reason that we decided to go ahead and run through the end of next year is 100 percent because of the fans that have supported us through the years. I’ve seen and been able to follow what Jeff has done this year and see how much it’s meant to the fans to watch him race and have the knowledge and knowing that it’s their last year to watch him. That’s important to me to be able to do this for our fans that have stuck with us through thick and thin and supported us. It’s as important for me to do this for them as it is for me to do what I’m doing for my future. That’s why we ended up adding the year to it, and looking forward to everything that we have to come.
And we’ve got one more thing before I let Gene talk. A lot of you probably were here yesterday or some of you might have been here for the press conference here in the same room yesterday for Gene’s Formula 1 announcement. The one variable he left out, I know it was just probably a miscue, but he announced his full-time driver next year in the F1 car. He didn’t announce his second driver for the F1 team, and you’re looking at him.
- Q. You know Tony well; you brought him on board to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009. Regardless of his driving status, what has he brought to this race team and what will he continue to bring to SHR?
GENE HAAS: You know, certainly it’s been a quick seven years. We started this in 2009, we were one of those back marker teams, pretty much unknown. We had a few times when we stood out. I think we led a few races but never actually won one. We were really a struggle. Joe Custer was really instrumental in putting these little pieces together, and Tony had some kind of interest in maybe change, and quite frankly, if you’ve ever been around racers they’re always looking for change. They’re looking for the latest swing arm or spindle or whatever to make them go faster. Change in racing is pretty much standard course.
But all the naysayers out there kind of beat up on Tony, why in the heck would you want to leave a great team and do something crazy like this. Even I had to have that question myself. It was a heck of a step for Tony to do something like that, to leave the security of his team, being a championship driver and starting with — to everybody it looked like a start-up team. But what it really comes down to is that I had a good foundation. We had a nice race shop, good relationships with Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports, so we had all the fundamental pieces, and I think that’s what Tony saw, hey, I can go in here and we can be up and running, and that’s what you saw in 2009, Tony and Ryan Newman came out of the gate and they were incredibly fast and went right to the top, and people were wondering, well, Tony must have been a genius to do all that.
You know, the reality of it is that Tony brought the talent and I had the foundation here, but without Tony we never would have turned into the super team that we are now winning two championships. Who was more valuable? Probably — I don’t think you could say either one of us was all that valuable, but the value was in the combination of the two of us. He brings the talent, he brings the sponsors. I had the foundation, and you put those two together, and you had a NASCAR superstar team.
This is just part of it, I think, the transition of going from drivers, drivers come, drivers go. It’s just part of what you do in racing, and Tony is not only an owner but a driver, so I think this is a smooth transition, and also allows Stewart-Haas Racing to navigate the waters. We’ve got sponsors, we’ve got employees. There’s a lot of responsibility. So this transition is going to be something that this company needs to do, and we can prove that Stewart-Haas Racing is just not a one-shot wonder. It’s a team that can go on. It can compete, and we’re going to be here for a long time. It’ll be great to have Tony be part of that. Too often drivers when they retire from the sport just disappear, and as much as I assume some people would like to see Tony disappear, he’s going to stay around for a while, so it’ll be good to have him at the racetrack.
We already have some plans to do some other things that probably will surprise people. But anyways, it was fast, it was a blink of an eye for me to join up with Tony, and then here we are talking about his retirement. Just incredibly fast. But I’m sure that going forward that things will be changed just as fast again, but that’s what racing is about, fast-paced, fast cars. Anyways, I’ll turn it back to Mike.
THE MODERATOR: Sure. Tony, you’ll wear the duel hats of driver-owner next year, but when the helmet comes off for good and that 14 car is rolling around the track in 2017, who have you chosen to pilot it?
TONY STEWART: We’re bringing Harry Gant out of retirement. His hair still looks immaculate, but another guy that has immaculate hair and a great personality and has a very similar background to mine and passion for motorsports outside of NASCAR is the guy that’s going to take over the No. 14 Chevrolet, and that’s Clint Bowyer.
THE MODERATOR: Clint, welcome to Stewart-Haas Racing. You’re taking over for a first-ballot Hall of Famer. No pressure.
CLINT BOWYER: No kidding. What an unbelievable opportunity, just to think how my year started. You know, you thought you were set, you thought you were good, then all of a sudden you’re not, then all of a sudden that led to a door opening in one of the biggest powerhouses in the sport. That to me is what this world is all about is opportunities, and certainly with that opportunity, the unfortunate thing is you lose one of the boys, one of the guys that I’ve always had a lot of fun with, enjoyed, whether it was racing alongside of him or beating him, banging on him and bickering about it afterwards, I always enjoyed the fact that Tony Stewart’s character was on the racetrack.
That being said, damn, I’m glad that you decided to retire and open this seat up for me, but you know, it’s just all about people, it’s all about culture for me, and I think the fit factor couldn’t be any better.
Rodney, I’ve worked with him at MWR, Kevin, most of my career, I’ve raced alongside Kevin Harvick, just Zippy, when I talk to him, just the communication is so easy, Tony, when we talk about this, and Brett. There’s so many good people here, and that’s why they have the success that they do. Gene, you know, the — everything that he’s created, just like he said, the platform that he built and instilled in Stewart-Haas Racing is something that is definitely there seeing the horizon and his F1 team is exciting. Just knowing your name is attached to all this is something I’m really looking forward to and very proud of.
- Q. You talked about the decision, but do you feel like you’re going out on your own terms?
TONY STEWART: Absolutely. Like I said and like I mentioned, this was 100 percent my decision. There wasn’t — there was not one factor that led to this other than just I felt like it was the right time. You know, everything in racing is timing, and the opportunity to get somebody like Clint Bowyer, I mean, that’s when you know you seize the opportunity. We’re probably going to have a hard time working together and communicating with each other. We probably won’t have any fun racing. It’s the right time, it’s the right opportunity, and when somebody in a scenario like Clint’s this year came about, you jump on those opportunities, and you know that timing is everything.
You know, it just all meshed. Everything happens for a reason, and you look at my career and you look at all the different entities that we have, nothing was ever part of a master plan. It all just came about with opportunities coming at the right time, and I think this was one of those, as well. I think it was the right time for me to make a change and had the perfect opportunity to get the perfect driver to fill in for us. We’re going to enjoy this, we’re going to have a lot of fun, and we’ve put the right guy behind the steering wheel coming forward.
- Q. You took the No. 14 to honor your hero, AJ Foyt. Have you spoken to him, and if you have, what is his reaction to your retirement?
TONY STEWART: I haven’t yet. He’s probably going to yell at me like he normally does when I call him. I’m sure I’m going to get a bunch of grief, but I’m trying to be as nice today as I can. But I’m sure he’s going to give me a lot of grief over this.
But I think he’ll be proud of who we picked. I think Clint fits that style that AJ and I have always had, and I think he’ll carry the torch pretty well for us.
- Q. Tony and Clint, you joked about F1 racing. You have a lot to contribute to racing —
TONY STEWART: Who said I was joking?
- Q. Do you have aspirations to drive in any other series, and are you just hanging up the Sprint Cup hat or —
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I’m still going to race. I’m not retiring from racing; I’m just retiring from the Cup Series. You know, perfect examples like this past weekend at Loudon, I’ve run the modified tour race up there before and loved it. A lot of times since then, I’ve tried to run it and we’ve had sponsor obligations and other things. I’m not totally getting away from it, and that’s a perfect opportunity on two perfect weekends where I can be there with the Cup side and I still get to race, too. I’m not retiring from racing; I’m just retiring from the Cup Series and focusing on the owner side.
- Q. And Clint, can you officially confirm where you’re going in 2016?
CLINT BOWYER: Yeah, there’s going to be some more announcements later in the week as far as where we’re going for next year. But for this announcement, why I’m here today is to announce the long-term future plan for me.
- Q. Tony, what has been the impact of the leg injury and of the tragedy, the emotional toll of the tragedy been on this decision?
TONY STEWART: Zero percent. Not one percent of it has had anything to do with it. I mean, this is strictly what I want to do, and my leg feels fine. There’s nothing wrong with my leg. The tragedy, nothing is going to change that. It happened, but it’s not going to direct the rest of my life. I’m still going to go race when I want to go race, but as far as the Cup Series, it had no bearing on that.
- Q. 20 years ago you were doing the triple; you won all three national championships in USAC and you’re so far the only driver to win the IndyCar title and the NASCAR Cup title. What do you want to remember about those years?
TONY STEWART: As much as I can because every time I crash I seem to forget more stuff. No, we’ve been pretty fortunate to have a lot of great years in racing, and I still think we have a lot left to do driving race cars in the future. There’s a lot of events and a lot of places that I want to go to that I haven’t had the opportunity to go to, and like I mentioned, I really am looking forward to the Haas F1 program and being able to go and hang around with Gene. Those cars absolutely fascinate me.
Having the opportunity to go do some other things outside of NASCAR is, you know, it’s time to do that. It’s time to be able to not be focused 100 percent seven days a week on the NASCAR side. It doesn’t mean we won’t work hard and stay focused on the task at hand, but there’s other things that I want to do the rest of my life that I haven’t been able to do so far.
- Q. You’re going to be the only driver with both IndyCar titles and NASCAR titles, you’re the only guy.
TONY STEWART: So far, but records are made to be broken, and somebody else can come along and do the same thing. It’s always a possibility. It’s neat to be the first guy to do it, but I wouldn’t venture to say I’ll be the last.
- Q. If you’re going to keep doing some occasional racing, what are some things other than the modified you might look at? Might you do the Rolex 24, more dirt racing, or what are you interested in?
TONY STEWART: All of the above. I mean, that’s the fun part is, I mean, there’s — the schedule that we keep as drivers, especially being an owner and a driver now, the schedule you keep is impossible really to do much of anything else outside. I haven’t really made plans officially yet of what I want to do and I think the nice part is it’s nice to not have a plan, just to know that we’re going to take the opportunity to do some other things, and we’ll try to figure it out. One of them that would have been high on the list that won’t happen this year, I would have loved to have raced the big block modified at Syracuse, and this is the final year for that, and I wish they could have waited one more year or two more years because I would have loved to have been able to go do that. There’s races like that. There’s great racing across the country and there’s neat marquee events that you look at in the paper, and you’re like, man, it would be really cool to try that. We’re now going to have that opportunity in a couple years to do that.
- Q. In your long and illustrious career, which isn’t over yet, but up to this point, what’s the most gratifying accomplishment that you’ve achieved during your time?
TONY STEWART: I still think hands down the championship in 2011. A lot of it was because of the guy sitting two seats down from me, to be able to race and win a championship for Gene and the organization, it wasn’t about a personal victory, it was about a group victory, and helping a guy that believed in me and allowed me to be a part of his organization, to help him get his first championship and to bring guys that had never won a championship to that scenario, that’s still the way — the way that all happened those last 10 weeks, I don’t think there’s anything that’s ever going to top that.
- Q. It may change today, but watching you from a distance the last two or three years, you don’t appear like you’ve had any fun. Is racing still fun for you, or will it really get fun now that you know what you’re going to do in the future?
TONY STEWART: It’s always been fun. There’s been more challenges in the last couple years that have distracted from that a little bit, but it’s still fun. If it wasn’t fun, I would just walk away from it. I mean, I made my father a promise when we first started racing when I was eight years old, and he made me promise him that the day that I didn’t have fun doing it that I wouldn’t do it anymore, and I’ve never forgot that. I’m still enjoying what I’m doing.
You know, the great thing is it’s because of the people. The people are what make it fun. The racing side of it, we’ve done it a long time, but I think the longer time has gone on, you realize what makes it really fun is the people that are involved in it, and that’s like I mentioned before, all the people involved in NASCAR and SHR and all the people from Chevy and Rush Truck Centers and Mobil 1 and Bass Pro Shops and Code 3, all these people that we work with. We genuinely have fun with these guys. That’s probably what makes this a lot easier than it seems, is that I’m still going to be there at the track every weekend. I’m still going to be working with our sponsors every weekend, and I get to work with a guy that’s as big a clown as I am. We’re still going to have fun doing it, and I’m still going to have fun driving race cars, too.
- Q. You mentioned that deep down, you know when it’s time to make a change like this. When did you come to that conclusion, and how close were you to actually just saying, to hell with it at the end of this year?
TONY STEWART: Well, those days normally came at the end of a race when it went bad, of saying, I’m tired of this, I’m done, and then you let the emotion die down, and you’re like, I’m not done, I’ve still got stuff I want to do. I’m not sure that — I don’t know that I can pinpoint a date for you. I just think as time went on, you kind of just feel like it, that it’s the right time. I don’t know that there was just one day that I woke up and said, you know what, it’s time to change direction. It doesn’t happen like that. You know, you start questioning what your priorities are and how your life is changing, and I think as we get older and our life changes and our priorities change that you kind of sit back and take a step back and think of things.
Like I said, I don’t think it was just one day, but it’s been pretty early in the season that it was — it felt like it was the right thing for me.
- Q. (No microphone.)
TONY STEWART: You’ve got to ask Eddie and Mike because they can tell you exactly which days I said that because there were days I felt like a dealer at the end of my shift at a blackjack table and clapped my hands and was able to turn around and walk out of the building. That was the emotion talking on those days.
- Q. What is that like to have to start to think about that, to go through that process? Most people with normal jobs don’t have to think about those things until they’re 60 or something like that. For somebody who probably didn’t have to think about that until the last couple years, what was that like, and how gut-wrenching that or what kind of serious conversations did you have to have with yourself?
TONY STEWART: I’ve learned a lot about myself. There’s a lot of personalities in my head I’ve had to talk to lately. It’s been like a chat room. (Laughter.)
You sit there and it changes. You run through the range of emotions. There’s days you’re like, I can’t wait, and then there’s days that are like, man, do I — you battle back and forth. But that’s what makes it so hard to know what to do, and that’s what makes it so hard to make — I mean, this is a major decision, obviously, and that’s what makes it so hard to make a change like this. You know, like you mentioned, everybody has to go through it at some point, and I guess I had a conversation with another driver earlier in the week that had sent me a message about this topic and we were talking about how we’ve got to do what we love to do and make a living doing what we love to do, and that when we decided to hang up the helmet, we never walked away from what we loved, and that’s exactly the scenario I’m in. I’m not leaving the sport I love. I’m not walking away from something I’m passionate about, I’m just changing roles, which it’s like just moving to a different position in a company.
I’m not really retiring, I’m just changing positions.
- Q. (No microphone.)
TONY STEWART: I don’t know that it was advice. I was the one that actually in the conversation brought that up, that we’re pretty fortunate to be able to do that and still do what we love to do. I’ve had some great messages since Sunday. Sunday night I was pretty frustrated because it’s like I really wanted to be able to talk about it and bring it up, and you guys are always better at this than we are, and it always amazes me how the resources you guys have are great. There’s never secrets in racing anyway, but I think it’s been in the big picture a huge asset of having it come out Sunday and then talking about it today because reading what people have posted on Twitter and the messages I’ve got from people that I really think of in the sport, it’s made this day much easier than it would have been if you guys hadn’t helped with this and getting it started on Sunday.
- Q. One question for Tony and one for Clint: Going back to you were talking about in order — you have been in order in some facet of some things in your career, whether it be other things in motorsports, a part owner at Stewart-Haas, but I guess I think a lot of people would wonder, will you get the same competitive fire becoming more of an owner than you have as being a race car driver most of your career? And just curious as to whether you’ve thought about that in making this decision.
TONY STEWART: I’ve won more championships as a car owner than I have as a driver, if you look at our record since 2001. I think we’ve won 23 national championships as a car owner. To ask whether I’m just as competitive as an owner, I’m definitely as competitive as an owner as I am as a driver.
You know, that’s the great thing is it’s hard to take somebody that’s competitive and take them out of a competitive environment. That’s the great thing is I’m not having to do that. I’m still going to be competitive with the Cup team as an owner. I’m still going to be competitive as a track owner, as a series owner and as a dirt track owner, as well. That fire is still there, and that’s what makes this transition much easier for me is I’m not sitting here trying to figure out what I’m going to do and I’m not trying to find something to be competitive with. It’s already there, we’ve already been doing it, it’s just a change in direction on the Cup side.
- Q. For Clint, I was just curious, what was your first thoughts when you first heard that Tony was thinking of retiring, and then, B, when the possibility came up of you replacing him in the 14?
CLINT BOWYER: Well, anybody that’s an athlete in any sport, you look at you have an opportunity to sit in one of the best rides ever in the history of the sport, I mean, this is a champion’s seat that I’m filling, so that being said, this is an unbelievable opportunity. Just like I said earlier, to think of that door opening, and holy cow, the timing couldn’t have been any better for myself, just somebody was looking after me. To line up with this championship-winning organization and then kind of alluding to what you asked Tony there, his championships and everything that he’s done, it’s really easy to understand what he’s done on the racetrack, but his brand, I’ve lived through my whole life of Tony Stewart’s brand and what that means to motorsports, what it means to younger drivers coming up through weekly racing series all through the country, my late model teams that are racing nationally. Attaching your name to that brand and building on that, the people you can attract, just look at this powerhouse that he has helped create, and it’s because of that brand of Tony Stewart and the people flock to that, whether it’s employees or partners or whatever the case may be.
Definitely when I heard that that seat was open, I was on board. They didn’t have to call me.
- Q. Jeff Gordon said many times at the start of this year he did not want this to be a retirement tour, and every single week it’s a retirement tour. He gets a gift and he has to come to the media center and he’s honored. How are you going to like that next year?
TONY STEWART: Okay, let’s establish this right now: I will not be coming to the media center every week to talk about it. You can save your gifts. I’ve got enough rocking chairs at home as it is. I bought those when I wanted to go sit on my own rocking chair. You don’t have to give me one. I think it’s great. I think what the tracks and the fans have done for Jeff Gordon is very fitting, and I know Jeff doesn’t want it to be a retirement tour. I don’t think I’ve looked at it as a retirement tour. I think what everybody has done is shown their respect for what he’s done for the sport of auto racing and for Cup and what he has done for motorsports as a whole.
I’m not really that kind of guy. I’m content to go race and be around the racing community and the racing family and be around our fans. They can just send me a note from the track president and say, hey, thank you, and that’ll be sufficient for me.
I think it’s been very fitting for Jeff. I don’t think I’m worthy of that kind of admiration because I think Jeff has really done so much for the sport that nobody will ever be able to do again. I think everything that Jeff has got has been very fitting.
But I think that kind of celebration is reserved for somebody like Jeff.
- Q. (No microphone.)
TONY STEWART: I mean, I might stroll through there to give you guys a hard time once in a while because I can, but if I come to the media center it better be because I ran in the top three or top 5 or did something. I’m not going to go there to talk about what I’m going to do the year after because we already know what I’m going to do the year after. That’s why we’re talking about it today. If you guys miss me that bad, you guys can send me text messages and say we really miss you in the media center. I’m sure Lewis is not going to be the first one to send me that message. I read your Tweets this week. (Laughter.)
We’ll come if you guys want us to. I’m not old — yeah, I am old. Clint told me I was old today. But we’re not going to come to the media center to talk about what we’re doing after that.
- Q. You alluded to this: What next year do you look for on track? You talk about wanting obviously to win the Daytona 500 and the Southern 500, but what are some real goals you have on track? You’ve already done so much.
TONY STEWART: I mean, I still want to win races. I still want to — I can’t think of a better way to go out than to go out on top and to win races and win a championship. You know, we’re going to continue to put all of our effort toward that, and like I said, I can promise you, next year is not a coast and collect year. It’s just the opposite because I don’t have to worry about making anybody mad next year and having to deal with it in 2017. We’ve just got to put something on the back of the car that reminds them that I’m not driving it anymore. I can rough everybody up next year if that’s what it takes to accomplish my goals and sit there and just smile and laugh about it at Homestead.
- Q. Do you feel like you lost anything as far as your driving skill set? Do you feel like you can still compete on a daily basis with the best?
TONY STEWART: Yeah. I mean, I think our race last weekend at Loudon showed that we still have that fire and that intensity. We raced with some really good cars. That’s probably one of the better weeks that we’ve had all year. I know the potential is still there. I know we can do it. We qualify — first guy to run 200 miles an hour at Texas Motor Speedway, and if that doesn’t prove that we can still nut it up, I don’t know what does. Anybody have any questions after that, feel free to ask, but I’m pretty sure if you want to ride along on that lap at 200 miles an hour at Texas, I can ask if I’ve lost anything there.
- Q. Now that you’re going to be retiring after next year, do you plan to spend a lot more time in Columbus?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I would love to come home more. Are we in October yet? Is it officially October? Tomorrow is October? I’ve been home 21 days this year total. So yeah, I don’t think I’ll get to spend half the year there, but I’ll definitely get to come home a little more and more frequent. That I look forward to, especially this time of year. I don’t want to sound like a softy because I’m not, but I like fall and I like being home when the leaves change. I don’t like long walks on the beach and candlelit dinners and all that, but I do like watching the leaves change at home, so I am looking forward to that. Don’t look at me like that back there because I know it really got you excited. (Laughter.)
- Q. Speaking of spending some time in Indiana, you’ve stated over the last two years that in order to do the 500, you would have to have a month to commit to it and actually do it right. Now that you’re not going to be in a Cup car, are you going to be able to spend a month in Indiana and try and win the Indianapolis 500?
TONY STEWART: No.
- Q. You mentioned earlier that NASCAR might be sad that you’re not going away. With that in mind, I was curious what you think about a couple things coming up in terms of on the business side, there were some meetings this week, and then on the competition side going forward, what would you like to see?
TONY STEWART: Well, I didn’t get to go to the meeting yesterday, but I heard it went really well. I was in the driver council meeting last Friday at Loudon, and I thought that went extremely well. I’m really happy with the way I think things are going for the future, and mainly just the way it’s all communicated with the team owners and the drivers and the manufacturers, the engineers. I thought that was probably one of the best meetings I ever attended last week, and I feel really confident in the leadership going forward. I think that’s something that I thought earlier in the year might be a really big problem, and I really feel like after Friday’s meeting, I like the direction that — mainly, like I said, the line of communication I felt like is something we’ve never seen in this sport. To have a meeting like that with Goodyear and with the manufacturers, with drivers, crew chiefs, car owners, I thought it was great. So I’m real encouraged by the conversations we all had last week, and I think we have a lot to look forward to.
- Q. You keep saying you’re not going away and NASCAR is going to be upset about that. With being out of the car now, do you think you’ll be in their ear more because you’ll see things from a different perspective now?
TONY STEWART: I think there’s a really good possibility I’ll get invited to the trailer like I used to years ago. I see that being very realistic. If you go in the trailer and you see my name embroidered on a chair you’ll know I’m thinking the same way. I made sure to send Helton and O’Donnell messages this week and say, listen, don’t get too excited about this because I’m taking a suit and helmet off but I’m still going to be at the track harassing everybody, so nobody is getting a free pass now.
- Q. Could you talk about your first victory at Richmond in 1999 and just about your memories of that?
TONY STEWART: I was skinnier, I didn’t have any gray hair. I mean, I remember it being one of the coolest races, I thought, at that point in my life. I was racing Dale Sr., Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, and those were the six guys consistently throughout that race that I got to race, and to be able to just — we had a great car that night. We led 333 of the 400 laps, and to race that group of those six guys and beat them, I mean, that was when I felt like I truly belonged in the sport that night.
- Q. I wanted to ask you, the Daytona 500, 2017, you’re there as a car owner. Are you on a hauler watching from a distance? Are you one of the guys with multiple numbers on your shirt going up and down with a radio? Are you sitting on a war wagon somewhere, or are you spotting from the roof?
TONY STEWART: I’ll probably be on some fan’s motorhome on the back stretch promoting our sponsors (laughing). I have no idea where I’m supposed to be yet. I’ve got a whole year to figure that out.
You know, I got a taste of it when I got hurt and when we finally got to go back to the track. I got a taste of what it was like. I mean, it’s — I’m glad I sit behind the steering wheel still because sitting on the pit box is nerve-racking. You don’t want to try to talk to anybody because they’re all working, and if I make them that on edge I’m hoping that they’ll be a little calmer when I’m not there. I’m not sure what my role exactly will be on race day there, but I’m used to having a radio where I can talk to those guys and hear what’s going on. If it’s something that — I think the good thing is if it’s something where Clint and Danica and Kurt and Kevin all know that somebody is there and if they need information that they need a driver’s perspective on, I’m there. I can be on top in the spotter’s stand if that’s where they want me. I’ll be wherever they want me. Wherever I’m going to be the biggest asset, that’s where I’ll be. If I’m not going to be an asset, I’ll hang around the backstretch and have fun and go sightseeing.
- Q. Could you describe just a little more what you went through, the lows to the highs this year, and how long a period of time that was before you found out that you had such a good deal coming up?
CLINT BOWYER: Yeah, it’s pretty easy. I don’t really — I don’t think I got fired; it just went away (laughter), and somehow you landed in a way better situation. Do you ever hear that term when you fall in a pile of cow manure and come out smelling like roses? hat’s exactly what this is for me. (Laughter.)
TONY STEWART: I don’t know if that’s going to be the quote of the day or not. I can see that being the headline. Somebody has got to use that as a headline tonight. I’ve got to read that somewhere.
- Q. You’re obviously having a good time up here. You’re being funny and joking and cutting up. You have a huge following of fan base. You have a very engaging personality. Have you ever thought about doing TV?
TONY STEWART: No. We are doing TV right now. I actually did that, and I enjoyed it, but I think I realized — I did it back for TNT. I think I did 15 XFINITY races that one year, and I really enjoyed it. I think it’s a lot of work, and for anybody that doesn’t understand what kind of concentration and focus you have to have driving a race car, it’s exactly the same when you’re trying to call a race.
I think we’ve got probably one of the best guys that I can imagine for that role going in there next year with Jeff Gordon. I don’t think they’re going to need me for that.
I don’t know that I’m going to dedicate that much time to it, either. Like I said, I still have a big to-do list of things that I want to do outside of Cup racing. Going to the TV booth wouldn’t allow for me to do that, so I’m making the right deal for me.
- Q. Will you do sprint car racing again?
TONY STEWART: Maybe. Probably.
- Q. And what will determine what races you do?
TONY STEWART: Just looking at schedules, because obviously the Cup Series is going to be my focus from the ownership side. I think a lot of it — I’m not going to want to be too far away from the Cup side wherever we’re at that weekend. If there’s opportunities to go race somewhere in the area, then we’ll look at that, and if there’s big marquee events that we want to single out and want to go to, we’ll juggle that, as well. But like I said right now, we really haven’t set an agenda or a schedule of what we want to do. We’ll figure it out as we go.
- Q. (No microphone.)
TONY STEWART: Yeah, yeah, and the ‘what do I want to do’ factor. Cool factor is always fun. That’s why Clint and I may be the only two drivers that own flame throwers in the series. There’s definitely some cool stuff we want to do, and not all of it is revolving around driving a race car, either. There’s other things — like I said, having the opportunity to go with Gene to F1 races I think is something that’s really going to be a cool experience, as well.
- Q. Fans on Twitter, which I’m sure you’ll see later, they’re going to really miss you being in the car, but they really are happy for you, but they are asking if you would rule out XFINITY or trucks, if you would race other series, or would you think about maybe driving a truck or an XFINITY?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I haven’t ruled that out at all. A perfect example is the modified series at Loudon. If the right opportunity comes along, I’d like to go back and do that. I can see one day probably a box on the list of things that I really want to do is I really want to run a truck at Eldora. I don’t know how I’m going to pull that off because I lose my mind every day that we’re there for that race as it is, being a track owner, but that’s something that I would like to do, and that may be something we get to do, as well.
THE MODERATOR: I do have a directive from Tony. When we leave this room on Wednesday, he’s not interested in coming to the media center and talking about retirement, so this is the moment to talk about his future plans.
TONY STEWART: Speak now or forever hold your peace, however big your peace is.
- Q. Do you have any regrets?
TONY STEWART: When Clint goes, I don’t think that was better, that’s when you know that was really bad. (Laughter.)
You know, I think everything that’s happened in my life has happened for a reason. I don’t think there’s anything that — I think there’s things that I would like to have skipped in my life and things that have not happened, but I think everything in the big picture has happened for a reason and is part of something that’s a lot bigger than what we are in this room.
- Q. Do you wish you would have taken Penske’s offer to run the Indy 500?
TONY STEWART: There’s days I wonder if I should have taken Penske’s offer to run the 500, there’s days I wonder if I should have back in ’96 at the end of the year taken Rick Hendrick’s offer to drive the 25 car, and there’s days that I wonder if I should have taken Barry Green’s offer to drive for Team Kool Green in the CART series. I think it’s all worked out pretty good since then, so I think we’ve made the right decisions. We’ve always trusted our gut instinct, and I don’t think it’s led us wrong yet.
- Q. Now that you’ve made the decision, how do you feel?
TONY STEWART: I’m going to feel a lot better when I get home tonight because I have stuff lined up on the bar upstairs that is priority number one, and Eddie Jarvis — I’m going to actually see Eddie Jarvis get tore up tonight. He’s worked for me for 15 years and I’ve seen pictures and heard everybody else in the organization talk about how he can be, and it’s a mandatory team event tonight, and Dana is his designated driver, so we don’t have to worry about that. It’s safety first.
- Q. I’m not sure if this is too early to ask with one more year to go. How would you like to be remembered as a Cup driver, and what do you think your legacy will be?
TONY STEWART: Think about me however you want. I mean, that’s — I really haven’t thought about it, I guess, to be honest, because to me at the end of the day I’m happy with who I am. I look at myself in the mirror, and I’m comfortable with who I am and what I’ve done and the path that I’ve been down. You know, I think everybody’s views of what my career has been and meant is going to mean different things to different people, and I think everybody should have their own opinions about it.
I’ve been very fortunate to do what I’ve loved to do for 37 years up to this point, and next year it will be 38, and there’s no period on it at the end of next year. It’s just a little change. Like I said, I still plan on adding stats for years to come after 2016.
- Q. I asked this question the other day of Mike Helton, and now that you’ve made your announcement, I wanted your thoughts. When you look around the garage, the series, NASCAR, Jeff’s retiring, you’re announced your retirement, there’s probably several guys that aren’t too far behind, do you see a group of up-and-coming drivers that can be the next stars of NASCAR?
TONY STEWART: Absolutely. You know, this isn’t something new that drivers have come and gone. You’ve been around this sport a long time, and you think about when Pearson and Petty and Yarborough, you think of all the drivers that were here that are not here anymore and retired, there was always somebody else that came along that brought the same level of excitement to the sport.
You know, I think this year in particular, we’ve seen a strong group of young guys that are coming in.
I remember when I started, I used to be the young guy in the deal and I was 25. Now young guys are 16 starting in this series. They’re a push for the next young guy — they’ve got it as young as they can get it nowadays. Guys can get in early, but there’s good young guys that we’ve seen from experience this year that can really drive race cars and make races exciting that are coming along that I promise you, the sport is going to be healthy for a long time.
- Q. If you were running up front and winning a bunch of races the last couple years, do you think that this decision would still be made today?
TONY STEWART: Yeah, it would. It’s the right thing. It’s not performance-based, it’s just time to do what we’re doing. Like I said, I still fully anticipate we’re going to get things turned around. If I didn’t feel that way, I wouldn’t waste my time next year for anybody. I’m not a guy that’s going to get in a car and ride. We’re full steam ahead. We’re going to keep working and try to win as many races as we can next year, and that goal is going to be — when you guys get to February, go ahead and write this down, what our goals are for the year, we’re going to try to win races, try to win the Daytona 500, then the Brickyard 400, the Southern 500, and try to win a championship. You guys can already start writing it in January when they do the media tour. That’s what our goals are for next year.
THE MODERATOR: One thing that we are going to do, we’ll stand each of them up, get a group photo so we’ll allow everyone to do that. One last time, any other questions? Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your time today. Certainly appreciate it.