A Q&A with Tony Stewart
Q: Your team had a tough season in adapting to the Gen 6 car and adding a third car. Do you write off much of it because your absence likely contributed to the struggles?
A: With the 14 car, yeah. Our focus never wavered on Ryan (Newman)'s car. It was, "Listen, it's a setback for me, but we can't afford to take any of this distraction and let it affect the 39." There's multiple teams here, and the other two don't stop because I had a problem.
Q: So is 2013 a success for SHR because you made the Chase with Newman?
A: It depends on which area you're talking about. The 39 is still a success because we got a car in the Chase. The 14 car has kind of been a disappointment, and obviously my leg has been the biggest disappointment and how my accident affected everybody. Even before that, I think we made gains up to when I got hurt. I'm not sure that at that point we were on track to get it all sorted out.
Q: Should Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick have any concerns about the state of the team?
A: I think honestly we'll be in even better shape than that with Gene (Haas)'s enthusiasm, for lack of a better word. The (new) team has actually been a blessing for all of us. It's been great for this whole organization to see how enthusiastic the team is and how hands-on (Haas) wants to be. It's a Ringling Bros. circus around here right now. Somebody should be riding a unicycle through the hallway juggling balls, and we should have a bear walking on a tight wire somewhere through here. There's a lot going on. It's a good thing. It's nice when there's two names on the building and one guy that you know is excited and the other guy that's the heavy hitter of the equation is excited. Everybody sees it firsthand vs. just him writing a check. That's got everybody excited, even more than normal.
Q: When will you feel as if you're out of the woods with your injury?
A: Not until I get to Daytona and I get in the car. Then I will have a lot better idea. I went to Texas and had a great weekend with Kevin for Budweiser. I felt the best I have felt through this whole thing and went into therapy Tuesday and couldn't do half the stuff that I did on Friday when I left. I was like, "What happened?" It's just the reality of you're going to have good days and bad days. I'm kind of evaluating everything a week at a time. It's Sunday to Sunday. Day to day is so hard to do.
Q: What role can Mark Martin play in staying with the team?
A: Huge. I think the one thing I've learned from this whole process of being out of the car is (at) Martinsville and Texas I was able to help out with Danica. I think Mark will be a huge asset for that, but at the same time I think Mark is a great liaison between us as drivers and the crew chiefs and Zippy (vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli). Mark's got so much practical knowledge and experience, is good with people, and I think that is a lot of value. Being in the car on weekends, I'm in one role, and I can't always see the other role until Monday. Even by Monday, you still don't really see Friday, Saturday and Sunday like you should. Zippy's awesome for that, which is why we hired him, but I think Mark and Zippy's communication at this point has been so good that I think it will help. I think it's a little easier for Mark to help Danica. I don't know how you could possibly ask for a better coach than that. I think Mark can make me better. I think he can make all of our cars better.
Q: When you were out of the car, what did you see from Danica?
A: I still see a lot of potential there. I see room for improvement, but I see a lot of potential.
Q: What are her strengths?
A: She's very detail-oriented. That's still her biggest strength — 10 times more so than I am. The way she communicates during practice, after practice, the things she thinks about all the way until the race starts — it's a level of focus that I've never seen before with anyone. I think she realizes to a certain degree she took a big bite doing this as early as she did. I think everybody's judging of her, you have to look at how much time she's really had in a stock car. The time she's been in a stock car, she's done a pretty good job considering the time frame. The first run or two runs of the race is definitely her weakness. The longer the race goes, the better she gets.
Q: Are you surprised at how well Danica tunes out the critics?
A: Absolutely. That is a strength as well. I couldn't do it. I couldn't get beat up that bad. At some point, I would put my foot down. She stays so focused on what she's doing.
NASCAR fans are pretty judgmental no matter what's going on. The unfortunate part is that Twitter is evil anyway. People don't have to be accountable for what they say. It's amazing stuff that I hear about. We have our (Twitter) accounts — I don't even know how to sign into them, which there's a reason for that. I can't even follow somebody. Just hearing the comments that drivers say. Just like the Joey (Logano)-Denny (Hamlin) thing. They say all the stuff during the week, and then they get to the racetrack and it's like nothing happened. ... I guess everyone thinks that's OK to do nowadays. When I grew up racing, you would have wrenches flying, eight cousins and uncles that came to the race with you that would be down there all fist-fighting over it, and then you'd go to dinner once it was sorted out. It just amazes me. Every form of pro sports, Twitter people are out of control.
Q: But Danica doesn't blink or react to Twitter?
A: That's a superpower I think. How she does it amazes me. I'm very envious of her from that standpoint, because I wish I could do it. She focuses on what's important to her. She has a great ability to tune out stuff that just doesn't matter. I wish 15 years ago I had the ability to do it the way she does it. I hope my last 15 years are a lot smoother than what they've been.
Q: What about this collection of dynamic personalities you are putting together with Busch, Harvick, Patrick and Stewart? There have been combustible episodes involving all four drivers.
A: At the same time, we are putting a collection of talent together. There are flaws in all of us. Two of the three of us there are four championships in this series in the last 10 years. It's not a total flawed equation.
As much as people are making it out to be a recipe for disaster, I think it's the opposite. I think it's a huge support system for each other. The equation is not a disaster for us, because we're teammates now and we're all going to work with each other for the same cause. Kevin and Kurt already have a working relationship and talking to both of them together and individually, they both love working with the other.
Q: So it's not as if you hired Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, who obviously don't get along?
A: "We didn't hire Denny and Joey or Clint (Bowyer) and Jeff (Gordon). We got guys that get along. The ironic part is that we all have similar flaws. With that, we all can be a huge support system for each other because of that. I can help Kurt. Kurt and Kevin can help me."
Q: Have you been able to enjoy being out of the car?
A: Brian Vickers gave me the best piece of advice that I couldn't use. He says to enjoy your time off. You're not going to get to do what you want to do in racing so just enjoy your time off. The problem was I wasn't able to get out of bed for the first two weeks. I kept that in mind the whole time. I went to the World (of Outlaws) Finals, which, in all the years I've had my dirt-track teams, I've never been to the last race of the year. Never been able to walk through and thank the guys for their hard work. I got to do that. That is the first time I got to take Brian's advice and actually apply it to something.
Q: What will you do during the offseason?
A: Therapy. Be a therapist for Zippy. ... When I say that, I'll get to go home some (to Indiana), but I will be down (in North Carolina) a lot more than I would have planned. I'm going to be a support system for Zippy. It's going to be the hardest winter he's ever had for a long time. There is just so much that has to happen. The pressure's on him.
We are all one unit and that's why I'm going to be down here with him. We're going to win as a team and lose as a team. We will build this thing, and we've got great people in place. Whether I do anything other than walk around and smile and keep everybody upbeat and joke around with the guys, smack them on the back of the leg with the cane if I'm still on it ... that's part of being a car owner. You have to be a cheerleader, too.
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