Tony Stewart is one of the most popular and recognizable drivers in NASCAR. He currently is caught up in NASCAR's playoffs, otherwise known as The Chase. He also serves as a co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, a racing team that consists of himself, Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick. I had the opportunity to interview him, and we discussed the state of NASCAR, the challenges he faces as a successful driver/owner and of course...his good luck, pre-race, butt grabs. Check out the interview, below.
SBD: The internet was buzzing after your pre-race, good luck "butt grab" of Delana (Harvick). What did she say to you after she realized it was you?
Tony Stewart: She just laughed about it. I go (sic) for Kevin and Delana for a long time in the Nationwide Series in the last 10 years. We know each other really well and we're real good friends with each other. Last year and a couple of years ago when we were driving the Nationwide car it seemed like every time we did that, we had a good finish, and we'd win races. So she'd actually come up to the car, right before the race and uh, last week it was funny cause that was the first time anyone really saw it. It wasn't the first time that happened, its just something that, being friends with her and Kevin its started out more as a joke, but its turned out to be a pretty good luck charm for us.
SBD: You've even managed to get Kevin a couple of times, haven't you?
TS: Oh yeah. We don't want Kevin to feel left out. We include him occasionally.
SBD: NASCAR in general... The last few years, you've seen a decline in in-person attendance, but television ratings have been fairly consistent. How do you feel about the health of the sport?
TS: I think the product itself is a good product. I mean, the health is good, as far as good teams and good drivers out there right now. The Chase that we're in right now is a perfect example. You've got 12 really strong teams and drivers and you know, no one has really reached out and made a prediction as to who's going to win this thing. I think its proof that everything in the series is going in the right direction. Its just, we got to get the economy turned around a little bit. When hotels are charging three night minimums and charging 300 dollars a night for rooms its making it hard for race fans to enjoy a race weekend and that's something that has definitely hurt the at-track attendance.
SBD: You are one of the few people that's been able to be successful as both an owner and a driver. Can you discuss the challenges you face in this dual-role position?
TS: As much as I would love to tell you that I'm a genius and I had a formulated plan to make all of this happen this way, I can't tell you that. The one thing I can tell you is that if it weren't for guys like Joe Gibbs and Rick Hendricks...you have to hire the right people to do the right jobs. I'm not sitting there as a team owner everyday at the shop trying to figure out how to make things faster and better, there's a lot of days I'm not at the shop...its having the right staff there. Guys who are hands-on everyday with that race team and doing the things to make it better. It boils down to people, like any other business. If you surround yourself with the right people, you stand a much better shot at being successful, and that's what we're always trying to do.
SBD: I'm guessing that you don't regret the decision to become an owner, then?
TS: Trust me, there are times when I go to bed and I say, why didn't I just stay a driver, and eliminate some of the stress from my life. But there are also days like when we're standing there at Homestead and we won the regional championship last year...that really makes all of that worthwhile and adds an element of satisfaction to the championship that you don't get as a driver. For every bit of hard work you have to put in, if you can get results like that, it definitely makes it worthwhile.
SBD: Office Depot has declined to renew their role as your sponsor and Ryan (Newman) lost his sponsorship with the U.S. Army earlier in the year. Where are you at in terms of finding new primary sponsors?
TS: We're in the same spot as we were before. We're still trying to find people to replace both Office Depot and the U.S. Army for next year, but we've got some good leads on potential sponsors and we have some current sponsors who we think might be doubling some races for Ryan's car next year which is good news. I don't think its a doom and gloom situation, but its definitely a blow to the company for sure, to lose two major sponsors like Office Depot and the U.S. Army that help us fund two cars.
SBD: You have Danica coming on next year, full time. What impact do you think she'll have on NASCAR and on Stewart-Haas specifically? What can you expect from her
TS: From a business side, I don't know if I'm the right guy to ask. As far as what she's going to do for the sport, I really don't know. But, from the race team side we're excited to have her. I feel like she's the first female that's come along in a long time that really has the talent to approach...she approaches races with the right attitude, and she has the talent to back it up. Next year, who knows what could happen as far as the success with her. She's done a very good job this year with the cup races she's ran. There's definitely room for improvement, but I mean, we took her Darlington and Bristol...those are places, in my rookie year? I crashed a lot at. And she pretty much, for the most part, is running laps, finishing races, and gaining a lot of knowledge. And as an owner, that's something that's been very impressive -- to watch her learn, and how methodical she is and how precise she is about everything. She's really done a very good job, and I'm sure in the big picture, with the sport, its great to have someone like her, who's a great personality and who's a female coming in to what's typically been a male dominated sport, and giving these guys a run for their money. I think its great.
SBD: Switching gears slightly. Tell me more about the Tony Stewart foundation
TS: We started the foundation in 2003. Basically, my family came to me and we talked about the possibility of starting a foundation. My background in racing...I didn't grow up in a wealthy family; we didn't have extra money. When I started to drive professionally, there were a lot of nights I slept in my car, or a parking lot, or a rest station, cause I didn't have the money to afford to rent a hotel room. To make a long story short, we were fortunate enough that we had gotten to the point in our cup career where we were able to give back. There are three main categories (of the foundation) Children's charities, Animal charities and Injured drivers. It is something that we're really passionate about. We enjoy being able to make a difference and raise money for these charities. It takes some work, but at the same time, a lot of days, its as gratifying if not more than winning races. It is something I've been very proud of since we started.
SBD: You've raced in literally every sort of motor vehicle imaginable. Is there anything that you haven't done, race-wise that you still want to do?
TS: There's one car that I haven't driven that I want to drive and that's a top fuel dragster. Fortunately, we have a mutual alliance with Don Schumacher Racing through the U.S. Army. I've known them for a long time. We've been working for the last two winters to get a test set up to where I can go to a test session and drive one of their cars. I think I'm finally going to get that done. We've got the equipment ordered, and we're definitely going to get an opportunity to fulfill that, and that's something that's on the bucket list, probably the last car on the bucket list that I really want to drive.
Sports Business Digest is working in conjunction with NASCAR during the 'Chase for the Sprint Cup'. This post has been sponsored by NASCAR and Taylor PR.