Special Motorsports Event - SHR Press Conference
“From Columbus, Indiana, the three-time and reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, the co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, entering his 14th year on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot / Mobil 1 Chevrolet Impala, Tony Stewart.
“From South Bend, Indiana, a winner of 15 races and 49 poles in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, entering his 11th full year of Sprint Cup racing, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army / Quicken Loans Chevrolet Impala, Ryan Newman.
“From Roscoe, Illinois, the first woman to win a Major League open wheel race in a North American series with her win in the IZOD IndyCar Series, Indy Japan 300 at the twin ring oval in Japan, entering her first year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with a ten race schedule, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet Impala, Danica Patrick.
“Now their crew chiefs. From Spartanburg, South Carolina, the crew chief for Tony Stewart, the No. 14 Office Depot, / Mobil 1 team, Steve Addington.
“From Daytona Beach, Florida, the crew chief for Ryan Newman, and the No. 39 U.S. Army / Quicken Loans team, Tony Gibson.
“And from Berlin, Connecticut, the director of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing, and the crew chief for the No. 10 GoDaddy.com team, Greg Zipadelli.
“The glue that keeps all of this together, from Haslett, Michigan, the vice president of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing, Matt Borland.
“Excellent. Thank you, everyone.
“Tony Stewart, driver/owner of Stewart-Haas Racing. We've said it once, we'll say it a lot. You're now the three-time and reigning Sprint Cup champion. First off, how's the view from the top of the mountain, and more importantly from behind the wheel of that Office Depot / Mobil 1 Chevrolet?”
“I'm scared of heights, so I don't try to get up too high. But, no, it's felt good this winter. It's definitely been a short off season, but had a lot of changes, obviously, having Steve Addington on board and having my great friend, Greg Zipadelli back on board. We're very excited about it.
“It's been a short off season, but we're having fun watching the changes of Stewart-Haas Racing and how it's going to help us be better this year.”
“Ryan, you came off another strong chase performance, and a pretty historic day where you led Stewart-Haas Racing to a one-two qualifying effort, and a one-two finish at New Hampshire, and Quicken Loans coming on board and joining the U.S. Army, as well as a host of sponsors, as well as Aspen Dental which was secured over the weekend joining Outback Steakhouse, WIX Filters, Tornados and Haas Automation, how pumped are you for the 2012 season to begin?”
“Really excited. It's a great list of sponsors, and obviously to have the U.S. Army back, one of our founding partners with the team at Stewart-Haas, it's a great feeling. To have Quicken Loans, and like you said the whole list of them – with Outback Steakhouse, new sponsors to the sport, and then Aspen Dental, new sponsors to our team – just really look forward to having an opportunity to get each and every one of them a shot at victory lane.”
“Danica, the year that stock car racing takes center stage is finally upon us, and after balancing IndyCars and stock cars last year, it's all stock cars all the time, including this Memorial Day weekend. For the first time you'll be in Charlotte for the Coca Cola 600 instead of Indianapolis for the Indy 500. So what's it going to be like for the GoDaddy girl?”
“I don't know. You tell me. I'm very fortunate to be in this position with this team and these people. I'm very fortunate. I've been wanting to race stock cars full time for a little while here, and it's happening.
“We've added another challenge with the Coke 600 or Coke 6,000 as I've been told. It's quite long. So I just want to thank everyone for making it happen at Stewart-Haas, and thank GoDaddy for supporting me the whole way through. I even have my own GoDaddy microphone. That's pretty clever. So life is good.”
“We'll reintroduce the folks behind these drivers, starting off with Steve Addington. Steve, welcome to Stewart-Haas Racing. How has the transition been as you sort of rejoin the family that you once knew at JGR?”
“It's been awesome. To come in and work with a group of guys like Tony Gibson has made the transition of just asking me or telling me everything that I need to know and give me the information that I need to get started and where I need to look for stuff.. Matt Borland's got a great group in the engineering department and those guys have been very, very welcoming in getting me started and seeing where we're at and see what direction we need to get going.”
“Tony Gibson, crew chief for Ryan Newman, you've been at Stewart-Haas Racing since the beginning. Can you talk a little about how Stewart-Haas Racing went from a relatively unknown that people really didn't know what would happen to, to an organization that consistently wins races and contends for a championship and finally won a championship this past year?”
“I think it's just being surrounded with good, old fashioned racing people. You know, Stewart's just an old redneck guy that loves to race and will drive everything. Everybody at our place, we just love racing. We grew together and things happened probably a little faster than most expected.
“But when you put a bunch of guys together that all they want to do is win and perform and run up front, things like that happen, partnered up with Chevrolet and they make things easy too. They give us all the things we need to improve our race teams and our company. We have great sponsors.
“So when you put all that in a Bowl, it's got success written all over it. Really fortunate to be associated with Stewart-Haas Racing from the beginning and great drivers. Like I said before, Ryan's one of those guys you want driving, because he's going to give you 110% whether you're two laps down or leading a race by half a lap. Doesn't matter, you get the same effort out of him.
“So it's a privilege to be hooked up with him, and Matt Borland. I'm looking forward to working with Steve and Greg and Danica, new people in our organization that are going to help us grow and be better. Already we've seen huge gains in our company since they've come on board. Looking forward to it.”
“Excellent. And Greg Zipadelli, you're reunited with Tony, but in a different way, as the competition director here at Stewart-Haas Racing. But still not far away from that pit box as Danica's crew chief for this ten race schedule.”
“Yeah, it's a great opportunity for myself. Next chapter in my life, maybe stepping back a little bit as a crew chief goes. I was excited to find out I was going to have the opportunity to do ten races and kind of help put this deal together.
“We had a really good test. I have enjoyed working with Danica. A good group of guys. I can't say enough about the people at Stewart-Haas. The heart and the passion that every individual that I've met that works there is truly amazing. Very warm welcomes. Everybody has been very good to work with.
“They have done so much to help me make the transition. The people in the shop, Tony Gibson and his guys preparing cars for us, Matt Borland in engineering, a phenomenal place. We're very, very excited about the future there.”
“Matt Borland, the vice president of competition wore many hats in 2011, oversaw a lot of change, and also oversaw a lot of success. How did you manage it all?
“I think it's pretty easy. You look up here and we've got three new people up here along with all the people that have been here, each one brings a different talent and experience level to our program. We've got Steve who comes from Penske and Gibbs and a lot of new fresh ideas, things to look at, things to try.
“We've got Greg that's come on board and he's got new ideas from JGR that are all things we can try and try to make our stuff better than it's been.
“Danica comes on board, another driver with open wheel background. So she's got a lot of new ideas, new thoughts and new ways of thinking about things, and that just helps everybody come up with new ideas, new thoughts, new processes and hopefully out of that we'll get a lot of wins and a lot of poles.”
“Well said. We'll open it up to questions.”
Q. I guess sometimes I miss things, but I don't think I missed this, Danica. That's news that you're running the Coca Cola 600? Where does that leave the Indy 500? I assume you won't try a double. Is that a difficult decision to race in that event this year?
“No, you didn't miss it. I'm going to do the Coke 600. I'm not going to do the Indy 500. I hope to do it in the future, the Indy 500, that is. Maybe it will be a double. But at this point in time after a lot of conversations, it's just going to be the Coke 600. It's going to be a big challenge, but I'm looking forward to it, and especially a hometown like Charlotte for NASCAR.”
Q. How did you make the decision?
“The decision? Well, it was just something that didn't work out as far as the business side of things. It just didn't work out. I'm hopeful to do it in the future, but for this year, it just didn't happen.”
Q. With the fuel injection system, how does it affect this race strategy? And, I think you still get your engines from Hendrick Motorsports. Is there still space left for your own modifications and changes to get ready for the race?
“As far as the engines we get from Hendrick, they do a fantastic job, first of all, and they have done a great job of getting prepared for the EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection) stuff this year. They've done a lot of testing. They've really kept us involved in it, and we've done a lot of stuff with Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas.
“We get the engines from them. When they come, we put the headers and transmissions and stuff on it. But their engine tuners come over in our shops twice a week, three times a week. So we don't actually build them, but they keep us in the flow of things. We're hands on with it. They're very open about it. They want our ideas and especially from those guys. Borland on the engineering side making harnesses and stuff for us that go in and sink in with the Hendrick side of it. They're very welcome to our ideas.
“So on that side of it, it's been a great partnership, and pretty smooth so far.”
Q. Matt, can you talk about the whole development of Stewart-Haas Racing, and people talk about the projects you have going on back there. Can you talk about how you've seen the evolution of Stewart-Haas Racing?
“Yeah, Gene Haas and Joe Custer started Haas back in 2002. They put a great program together and when Tony came on board, he added a whole other level of capabilities to the program. It's allowed us to get a lot more people, get a lot more what is the word I'm looking for? We have a lot more people to do a lot more things to be more specialized at what we're looking at and refining things.
“I think the biggest thing that's come about with that is we're able to dive down into the details of the program. With the cars the way they are now, there's not huge gains to be made. There are small gains to be made in a lot of areas. So it takes a group of very strong people that can go and try to find all those little things.
“To Tony Gibson's point, to have a bunch of racers that that's all they want to do. They want to race. They want to beat everybody. They want to find those little things that gets them that much better than the next team out there.”
Q. Ryan, your whole team comes back intact. You have a lot of new sponsors associated with the 39 this year. Are you in the best position in terms of your career with Stewart-Haas than you've ever been before in the last couple of years there?
“From a sponsorship standpoint, without a doubt. We're really proud to partner up with these new sponsors. Like I said in my opening, sponsors that haven't been a part of NASCAR at all, like Quicken Loans and Outback has a little bit of history.
“But just from our standpoint, when you have great sponsors, you're allowed to get the great people and do the great things. Without a doubt, the sponsorship is a big part of that.
“So, yes, from that standpoint, no doubt. From a team standpoint, it's great to have all our group back. We had a great run to get into the Chase. Our Chase was a bit of a struggle for us as a team. But those are the things that you get through them, work on them, build them, and make yourself stronger as a team and an organization for the next years.
“Tony can attest to this too, you can win a championship one year, doesn't mean you're going to win it the next year. You have to work really hard. Other teams, when you win, you build fire and desire within them. So you have to have that same fire and desire within yourself to go back and do what we did as an organization last year.
Q. Tony, the spotlight's going to be bright on your team this year. Not only are you the defending champion, but with the addition of Danica Patrick and with Ryan, how best is the team able to deal with that? From the very beginning, there is a lot of attention given to your team.
“Yeah, we're not worried about that. It's a good thing with our partners on board. It helps us from the marketing side and the sponsorship sides to make sure we're fulfilling what our partners need.
“When it comes time to being at the racetrack and doing what we do on the track, this group of people up here are really good at focusing on the task at hand. I think we're all up for the challenge. It's a good way to start the year. We came off of a great finish to the year last year, and we got a lot of new exciting partners on board this year, and a new teammate that's going to be fun to work with. And a teammate that's always fun to work with over on this side.
“We're excited. We're probably as excited to start the year as I can remember being in a long time.”
Q. This is a special championship. What did you do personally to celebrate it?
“Stayed at the shop until the Wednesday of Christmas. I didn't really do anything, to be honest. Like I said, with the addition of Steve and Greg and Danica, we wanted to make sure that we were kind of there to make sure that everybody was getting started off in the right direction. I wasn't really there for anything more than moral support.
“These guys are the guys that make it all happen, for sure. But honestly, I didn't really do much of anything. I went and raced a couple of times through the winter here, but for the most part, it's been business as usual.”
Q. Can you assess the different dynamics in the shop with the addition of Danica, and Zippy, and Steve Addington, and then the fact that Tony won the championship last year, the mood of the team and the dynamics in the shop?
“I think in general, the dynamics are very positive, very excited. Like Tony was saying, everybody's looking forward to Daytona, looking forward to a great new season. As well, there are so many influx of new ideas this year, that we're able to look at so many different things and find hopefully some more gains that will elevate us even better than we were last year.
“It's been very positive. All the people on the team are pumped up and excited. It's a great deal right now.”
Q. Tony, you won your third championship last year, five of 10 Chase races, and in a driver / crew chief relationship that you ended up changing, how much pressure does that put on the guy to your left when he walks in the front door?
“You're asking the wrong guy. You need to ask him. I feel just fine.”
“I do too.”
“I think he's thinking he's on vacation now. Just saying. It's kind of like what Tony Gibson was saying earlier. We're just low key, down to earth racers and hard core racer that's want to race. That is the attitude that Steve has coming in here.
“And as far as from my side, I'm not putting any pressure on him. I'm looking forward to going out and racing again. We both know there is going to be a period of getting to learn each other, and just little things that we'll have to get sorted out to where we get into that weekly routine.
“Daytona's not going to be… that ten day period's not going to get it done. It's going to take more of that. It's going to take getting through Phoenix and some of those races to really get in tune with each other. But he's been easy to work with so far.
“We've been able to work with him directly at Gibbs. So we kind of know him a little bit. I think it's going to be pretty laid back, and we're going to have a lot of fun. I don't think it's a big stress situation for either one of us right now.”
“Steve, do you want to chime in on that as well?”
“No, look at what the organization did. One guy's not going to make the big difference. I've got to keep the communication with him going as far as the race car's concerned, and having that supporting cast, the people that are around you through the organization makes you successful. That's what I'm looking forward to.
“Everybody that I've run into or worked with in the organization, I've worked with them at some point or beside them at some point that they've welcomed me with open arms. Asking me everything that I need to go racing with them, and that's it. You've got the supporting cast there that's going to be successful.”
Q. Tony, could you explain to fans how life changes and how life doesn't change after becoming a champion for the first, second, and third time?
“It hasn't changed at all, honestly. I think the first time it changes a little bit because you've accomplished that goal. But after the first one, it really doesn't change your life so much the second and third one. Like I said, it's kind of been business as usual. We've enjoyed the whole off season with the team, and it's been fun being at the shop to see how excited the guys are. Guys that three years ago had never won a race, and now they're celebrating their first championship together.
“It's been fun to be at the shop around those guys and see how excited they are to have Danica come on board and Zippy and Steve. It's been fun to watch everybody have fun in the off season. You've got these two guys to the right that are always keeping you on your toes and making it fun, too.
“So we've just got a great group of people that have made it fun, and it really hasn't changed my life any. Like I said, I probably took less time this off season to go enjoy myself than any other time. But I've had fun doing what I've been doing.”
Q. Tony Gibson, the last 30 years we've had two owner/drivers win the championship, Tony and Alan Kulwicki. You worked with both of those drivers. Can you talk about what similarities there are between them and what differences there are?
“I think the differences may be the engineering side of it. Kulwicki was more like Newman on the engineering side of it. But he loved the race. He loved all about racing, and all about winning. In his heart it was win, and the grass roots of racing whether it was in Wisconsin doing the late model stuff or in a Cup car.
“Stewart has that same desire. He has in his heart all he wants to do is race. Every time he'll text you he's at a racetrack somewhere racing, and that's all he wants to do. So the difference is probably maybe on the schooling. I don't know where you went to school at.”
“He went to high school.
“When it comes to strapping the belts down and putting a helmet on and taking the green, it's all with your desire to win. Him and Alan, as far as I'm concerned, had the same desire to win and that's why they're both champions.
Q. Tony, will you divide up your time now any differently between the Cup side and the short track team now that you've got more people? You've got more people to supervise. Are you asking more people to supervise to give you more time for your other ventures?
“No, it's pretty much business as usual. We're adding more to the program, so you want to make sure that you're keeping that time to make sure that everybody's where they need to be and making sure that everybody is comfortable with what we've got. So as far as the time that I divide running the short track stuff versus what we're doing here, it's pretty much the same balance.”
Q. Tony, the economy has been down the last couple of years, but it seems to be doing a bit of a rebound. You guys have been doing well signing on new sponsors. Can you talk about your efforts signing new sponsors and the economy of your team?
“I'll be honest, I'm really, really proud of our marketing team. Mike Verlander has done a great job introducing some new partners in the sport. I think it's one thing from day one when we brought Tornados on board with Ryan's car, and now Quicken Loans and Aspen Dental to bring new partners like this into the sport and introduce them to NASCAR is something that I take a lot of pride in.
“Like I said, it's our marketing stuff that's done it. I can't take the credit for it, but I'm really proud of them. It's been a tough economy, as we know. But to show these new companies that there is this value in NASCAR is something that we're proud of. I think Tornados has had a great experience . I think it's been the same way for Quicken so far.
“We finished up the year last year with them, and I think they enjoyed the first trip in the sport. Looking forward to having Aspen Dental on board.
“I'm really excited about it. It's the best position sponsorship-wise that our company has been in, and we still have races to sell. But it's the best position that we've been in since I partnered up with Gene three years ago. So we're really excited about it.
“I think it's a sign that hopefully things are starting to turn around and work their way back up now.”
Q. For Tony, Zippy, and Danica, what is a reasonable expectation or goals for this season? Danica, when you answer, if you could also address the Nationwide Series.
“I think that first starting out with the Nationwide stuff, very much it depends on the individual weekend itself. There are still some tracks that I haven't raced at before, so probably a little bit different expectations for those. But for the most part, solid top-10. Getting into the top-five more consistently through the year would be a goal, and I'd like to get to victory lane.
“As far as the Cup stuff, I think that it would be good if they answered as well on this. But I'd like to know what I should expect. But I think that at Daytona, the cars are very fast as you guys can see, and as we saw already at the test. So I feel good about that race. I feel good about… I mean, I was lucky enough to get to run with Tony in the Nationwide race last summer, and that went pretty good. So I feel good about Daytona.
“I think there is a real chance if luck falls our way to perhaps win. I think that's a real chance. I mean, a guy like Trevor Bayne last year showed that.
“So those are the expectations for the first race, but then beyond that. I don't know. Top-20 or so, I guess, would maybe be a good goal. I feel like longer races are good. I like long races. I feel like I learn, I get more comfortable out there and we keep tweaking on the car and making it a little better on each pit stop, so I'm hoping that plays into my favor with the length of these races.”
“For myself, it's just good solid days. Give her as much track time as we can, and support, and just trying to teach her as much as we can about this sport and this series for the following year.”
“I'm excited about it. From my standpoint, I crashed everything I drove from the Nationwide cars, and it – on the Cup side – it got better obviously. But looking at it, these ten races for her this year, for me it's just finishing the races and getting the track time.
“In the short amount of time that I've worked with her, she's so good at processing information and what she learns on the racetrack. She can explain it to you right away and very accurate. I think her feedback is excellent.
“Just getting the time on the racetrack and, I guess are from my standpoint, I'm not worried about the finishes at the end of the day. It's just finishing the race, getting the laps and getting that experience in the car. Five hundred mile races are long races, especially in the Cup series when you're dealing with a 3,400 pound car. It's a learning process.
“I think the success at the end of the year won't be judged by where the finishing position is at the end of the day as much as what she's taken away from race weekend. So that's what my goal is for her.”
“A couple other story lines that are definitely worth asking these folks in their one –on-one sessions. Danica Patrick in the Super Bowl. While the New England Patriots and New York Giants are making a return to the Super Bowl in two weeks, so does Danica. This will be the eighth straight year GoDaddy has run a Super Bowl ad campaign, and the sixth in which Danica has starred.
“So all told, Danica has appeared in ten GoDaddy Super Bowl ads dating back to 2007, giving her the title of most commercials of any celebrity in the history of the event.
“Not to be lost on television, Tony Stewart spent part of his off season doing a little acting himself. He made a guest appearance on ABC's ‘Last Man Standing’ with Tim Allen. That episode is slated to air Tuesday, Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. Eastern.
“Tony is also running the season opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race. He'll be in the No. 33 Oreo 100th anniversary Chevrolet Impala. He'll be looking for his fifth straight win in that event, and his seventh in the last eight season opening NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Daytona.
“Again, from a sports business story, I know we've touched about it a little bit, in addition to all the sponsors that have returned to Ryan Newman in the No. 39, new to the sport, Quicken Loans, Aspen Dental, Outback Steakhouse coming back to NASCAR, all affiliated with Ryan and that No. 39 team.”