Stewart Very Ready To Bid Adieu
Sunday, after competing in the season-ending Sprint Cup Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, three-time champion Tony Stewart will drive off into the sunset. Well, into the swamps of South Florida, anyway.
Stewart announced long ago that his driving days in Cup would end at the end of the 2016 season and he has said a couple times since, good riddance. For him, the native of Columbus, Ind. said, sliding out of a Cup cockpit after Homestead, would be a beginning and not and ending.
The grind of being a driver in one of the longest seasons in pro sports would be gladly left to others.
On Friday, however, the owner/driver from Stewart-Haas Racing – who could be as snarly and tenacious in media gatherings as he was on race tracks – took a softer tone in his farewell presser. He talked about old friends, old races, old owners, ugly shirts and having his cell phone stolen on his way to the track the other day.
The following is a transcript of that final press conference:
WHEN DID YOU SEE THE CAR? WAS THERE ANYTHING YOU PARTICULARLY LIKED ABOUT THE SCHEME ON IT?
“I saw it on I guess it would have been Wednesday and loved it. The thing I liked the most about it is all the employees at Stewart-Haas Racing signatures are on it. That means a bunch to me. That was pretty cool to see and it’s going to be pretty fun to run that car this weekend.”
HAS ANYTHING GOTTEN TO YOU SO FAR THIS WEEK?
“I guess I will get to that, but the first part you said kind of struck a nerve because somebody reached out and touched me yesterday and stole my cell phone out of my pocket. I was like ‘well that kind of brought it right back to my mind.’ Yeah, it’s been a hell of a start to the weekend to get your phone stolen. That was probably the biggest thing that was disappointing last night when I realized my phone was stolen was the fact that I was in the process of answering text messages from people. I got a flood of text messages yesterday and I think I’m going to have a phone by tomorrow. So, I’m sure when I turn it on it’s going to be absolutely crazy when I turn it back on. It’s been neat. People I haven’t talked to for a long time, people that are friends that I haven’t seen or heard of from a long time reached out this week and it’s been pretty cool. Nothing in particular really struck a nerve, but it’s just the overall support from everybody was really awesome.”
DOES IT MATTER TO YOU WHAT PEOPLE SAY YOUR LEGACY IS?
“Normally legacy means you’re old; you’ve been around for a long time. It’s just been fun. It’s been a fun 18 years. Not every part of it has been fun and I’ve made your guys life hell at certain points during my 18 year run here, but the thing that I think at the end of it I’ve always said what was on my mind whether it was popular or unpopular. I always fought for what I believed in, whether it was safety for other drivers or something etiquette that was going on on the race track or whatever; I always fought for what I believed in. At the end of the day I can sleep alright knowing that is why I did it. It wasn’t because I was trying to be a jerk or something like that I just always spoke my mind and fought for what I believed in. It’s been a lot of fun. The great thing is I’m not really going anywhere. In the big picture what is changing really isn’t in my big picture it’s not really a huge change because 90 percent of the stuff that I’m already doing I’m still going to continue to do. It’s a big part obviously in the racing world, it’s a big change, but for me it’s not going to be that big of a change. I just look at it like it’s half-time of the ball game in all honesty. This is the end of the first half and next season we start the second half and it’s going to be just as much fun if not more fun than this first half was. I’m excited about finishing this chapter, but I’m really excited about starting the next chapter next year.”
HOW MUCH FUN HAVE YOU HAD IN THIS GARAGE?
“You guys know because you guys go through the same grind three days a week at the race track that we do. If you don’t have fun doing this you would be miserable. You guys know the same people I know in the garage area. You know the same drivers, you know the same crew chiefs, and most of you know a lot of the same crew guys I know. There are fun people in there and if you don’t have fun doing this why do we do it if we are not going to have a good time? It’s been fun. The good thing is I think there is only two more days I’ve got to dodge whatever pranks guys that decide they want to pay me back. So, I’m very strategic about what I do for the next two days. It has, it’s been a lot of fun. There are a lot of really neat personalities and neat people. The fun part has been getting to know all of these guys whether it’s NASCAR officials or crew chiefs, drivers, so on. It’s been a good time with them.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY DESIRE TO GET BACK IN A CUP CAR FOR ANY REASON AFTER THIS SEASON? WOULD YOU FILL IN FOR ONE OF YOUR DRIVERS?
“No, I’m good. This is it. This is the last one. I think I learned my lesson from Jeff (Gordon). Jeff tried to do somebody a favor this year and got roped into running half the season (laughs). Thank you Jeff for teaching me a lesson before I got roped into it. So, no, I’m not planning on that at all. We are going to be busy. In all honesty and I don’t have a schedule set next year, but I just know the things that I’m planning, my schedule next year is going to be much busier than it already is this year. There is just not going to be room for it.”
WHERE WERE YOU WHEN YOU LOST YOUR CELL PHONE? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
“My girlfriend and I, we were actually on our way Wednesdaynight to Miami in a hotel we were staying at there because we had the owners meeting yesterday. We saw some carnival deal, so we stopped and it was about the close, but we went back to it last night on our way back to here. We were just getting ready to leave and I realized it wasn’t in my pocket. I had her phone, my phone and a couple of other things I was holding for her. When I was checking to see where it was at it was not there anymore. We had bumped into some people right before that and I’m fairly certain that is when it decided it went a different direction, but it was kind of fun because they have that Find My iPhone app. We went chasing people forever trying to find it. Until we realized they were in the parking lot and they got in the car and they were gone. I hit block on it and deleted it and now I’ve got to get a new phone, which is devastating because I do everything off of my cell phone. My life is on that cell phone, so I start my life over tomorrow (laughs).”
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO MISS THE MOST? AND WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO MISS THE LEAST?
“I don’t know that I’m really going to miss anything because I’m still going to get, you know the great thing is I still get to see the people and be around the people. That is probably the best part of the whole deal. I’m still going to be around the sport. I’m still going to be active. If you don’t think being an owner is competitive I can show you a bunch of different cases where it’s competitive being an owner. That part of it is not going to change, so I don’t think I’m going to miss a lot. The thing that I’m not going to miss is 9:00 a.m. practices on Saturdaymorning. So, I never have to get up for a 9:00 a.m. practice ever again. I don’t know the schedule is probably the biggest thing. That is the thing I’m looking forward to the most is having a more flexible schedule. There will be weekends where I’m at the track all three days and there might be weekends that I’m at the track just on Sunday. At least I have the flexibility now to do more things and kind of set my own schedule now.”
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
“All of it. I mean it was all… when you look back at it it’s hard to pick one thing to be honest. Just the whole ride has been the best part. Like I said, I’m not done yet. I’ve got a lot of racing left to do. I’ve had some phone calls and offers to do some pretty neat things that I never thought I would have the opportunity to do now that I have more time. It has opened up some opportunities. I think it’s kind of a chapter that part of it is still open, it’s not done yet. I think everything we have done to this point though in the big picture, every bit of it has been… there hasn’t been any part of my career that I didn’t enjoy. There are things about everything that I’ve done that I’ve liked more than others and disliked more than others, but as a whole I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done and the road that I’ve taken to get here.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL GUESTS COMING THIS WEEKEND FOR YOUR LAST RACE?
“Umm… Eddie (Jarvis, Business Manager) and Drew (Brown, PR Representative) and Mike (Arning, PR Representative).”
IS ANYBODY SPECIAL COMING?
“Eddie, Drew and Mike they are pretty special. I mean Eddie back there that man has been through every battle and war with me. He has probably been the biggest father figure I’ve ever had in my life. I think that is pretty special just to have him here let alone Mike, who has been through 17 years with me. Gooch, my bus driver who has been with me for almost 20 years now, those are the people that I’m excited to share this weekend with. It’s not one off friends that come here and there and are hanging out for the weekend. It’s the people that everyday week-in and week-out have been through this journey with me.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY REGRETS? COULD YOU TELL US WHAT YOU THINK YOUR GREATEST MOMENT IN NASCAR HAS BEEN?
“I think there are always points in everybody’s life you wish you had done something a little bit different. I’ve had a lot of those moments for sure that if I could go back and redo it I would love to do it over again. I think how everything shook out at the end I’m pretty proud of that and happy about it.
“I still feel like it was winning that first Brickyard 400. I mean I don’t know how you… I would say that is probably top of the list and I think this race in 2011, I don’t know how you can top that either. Those two I would say have to stand out more than anything.”
ON COLLECTING HELMETS:
“I am getting 25 helmets from guys this weekend. It just happened… that shows you how thoughtful Carl (Edwards) was he could have picked any helmet that he wanted to give me, but he gave me the one that we raced for the 2011 championship with he ran second to us. That is the helmet he gave me, which is I think a huge honor. I think that shows Carl’s character and how thoughtful of a person he really is.”
HAVE MOST OF THE TRACKS RESPECTED YOUR WISHES FOR NO FANFARE OVER THE LAST SEASON?
“The only wild card is always Eddie Gossage. I got a ginormous bauble head that I have no idea what the hell I am going to do with it. So if any of you guys really want the bauble head, I’ll be more than happy to ship it to your house. I will sign it, if you want. Anything to get rid of it. At least I don’t have to feed what Eddie gave me this year. Yes, everybody has been good. A lot of it has been compared to what Jeff (Gordon) did last year. Obviously we have different personalities, and different likes and dislikes. I just wanted to be another driver this year. It is my last year, but at the same time…if I was totally walking away from the series and never going to be here again, it might be a little different. I am going to be here a lot next year harassing everybody, so I don’t need all that.”
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED TO BE A BETTER OWNER?
“You have to remember I drove for Joe Gibbs a total of 12 years – 10 years in the Cup Series. If it weren’t for that, I don’t think I would have ever been a race car owner; I don’t think I would have ever been a track owner; and I damn sure wouldn’t have even remotely entertained the idea of being an owner at the Cup level. I learned a lot from Joe. Anyone who has been successful in the NFL, NASCAR and NHRA you realize there is something special there and you want to learn from. If you paid attention to what he said, which there were a lot of times that I didn’t pay attention enough, but the days I did pay attention, I learned a lot from Joe and those lessons are what helped the foundation in my mind to do what I have done in the last 15 years.”
YOU ARE BUILDING A NEW XFINITY TEAM. WILL YOU DRIVE THERE?
“I have a lot of race cars to have fun in. No. There is a reason we have the Xfinity Series program. There is a lot we are trying to do with it. My plans aren’t in that. The Truck race (at his track – Eldora Speedway) is a tug-of-war every year. About April or May, I get in a tug-of-war with myself…do I want to do the Truck Race? I would love to race the Truck race at Eldora. The trouble is, I worry like a parent the whole time that we are there for that race. I think you guys have seen the role I play there every year, and it’s a busy role. So I don’t know that I have time to do the Truck Race. Maybe one day down the road. But right now I am going to take care of making sure we do the best job we can as a race track to put on a great event.”
TALK ABOUT THE MUTUAL RESPECT YOU AND JIMMIE JOHNSON HAVE FOR ONE ANOTHER AND YOUR THOUGHTS ON THERE BEING A GUY WHO COULD POTENTIALLY TIE DALE EARNHARDT, SR. AND RICHARD PETTY:
“I think it is pretty cool You know…you look at history in all forms of sports. Records are there and they eventually get broken at some point. To have the opportunity to race in a race that might put Jimmie in that elite category is pretty cool with it being my last. Jimmie and I have a great respect for each other. It’s been a friendship that has kind of been behind the scenes away from everybody. We have a lot of respect for each other and respect each other.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON TOLD US A STORY ON YOUR PLANE WHERE YOUR DOG GOT STEAK AND YOU GUYS ATE HAMBURGERS. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
“Easy. I like my dog. I like my dog more than I like people so my dog gets better meals. My dog eats better than I do normally. He was having some stomach problems and we were trying to get his stomach settled down so we were giving him some stuff that worked in the past.”
WOULD I FEED YOU STEAK?
“If it is left over from a restaurant last night and I could get it….there are a lot of you guys. I’m on fixed income next year. Feeding all of you steak is going to be a little rough. But, yes, I would buy you steak for sure, but you aren’t going to get the big one. You are going to get the petit filet. It is about $5 cheaper.”
ANYTHING MISSING FROM YOU RESUME THAT BOTHERS YOU?
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that I didn’t win a Daytona 500, a Southern 500 and most of all an Indy 500. But, I look at it and look at where I was when I was 15 years old, and 18 years old, I never even thought I would get a chance to race those races let alone in all three of them have opportunities to win the race. In a perfect world, yes, I would have loved to be able to cross those three off the list. But at the same time, I look at the big picture and it was pretty damn cool to just have the opportunity to go race those races.”
IS THERE ANYTHING OUTSIDE OF RACING YOU WANT TO DO OR PLAN TO DO AFTER SUNDAY? “The crazy thing is I wouldn’t even know what to do. You guys know all the entities that I have, and all of it evolves around racing. It’s like I never…since I was eight years old there has never been a thought in my mind about doing things outside of racing. I don’t know what to do outside of racing. It’s been 24/7 my mind is consumed with some capacity…a friend of mine asked me this week what the first thing I was going to do…I said I don’t know. I mean, all I can think of is I am done the 16th of December. That is the last thing I have to do for the calendar year. I leave the 27th to go to Tulsa to work the Tulsa Shootout for Emmet Hahn. I’m there for a week. I come home and then go to Talladega to the short track for three days for their big race. Then the next day I go back to Tulsa for seven days for the Chili Bowl. So, yes, this is what retirement is like. Like I said, it is busier. But anything that is non-racing, I don’t know and what I want to do. I know there is other stuff outside of racing that I’ll enjoy too. It is just a matter of figuring out what it is.”
HOW MUCH WILL YOU MISS COMING INTO THE MEDIA CENTER AND ANSWERING QUESTIONS FROM ALL OF US?
“If I truly thought it was the last time I would be coming to the media center, I would be high-fiving everybody on the way out. But like I said, I will be here next year, and if one of my four guys does something that makes me have to come to the media center and answer dumb questions, make fun of somebody in a salmon colored shirt that must have felt bad and went to go change. Obviously by your laughter, you thought he should change to.”