The NASCAR Sprint Media Tour is underway in and around Charlotte, N.C., this week, and the tour always features stops at various Sprint Cup race shops. The Media Tour stopped by Stewart-Haas Racing on Monday, and a press conference was held that included all three of the organization’s Sprint Cup drivers — Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick — as well as Competition Director Greg Zipadelli and crew chiefs Steve Addington, Matt Borland and Tony Gibson.
During the press conference, topics of discussion ranged from the new Gen-6 race car, goals for 2013, and the decisions made by Stewart and Patrick to not run the Indianapolis 500 this year. Below, is a transcript from the press conference:
Q. Tony Stewart, the center of attention, you’re a driver and an owner, and from a driver’s standpoint a lot of talk is about this new Gen‑6 car. What’s it like behind the wheel, but also what’s it been like as an owner getting three full‑time teams getting up and running for 2013?”
“From the ownership side, looking out the window, it’s been very busy downstairs. These guys have done a great job through the winter of catching up. It’s taken a little time to get some of the pieces and parts, but our guys have done a good job of getting ready. Proud of the effort they’ve put forth to get everything ready for Daytona. It’s going to be a busy spring. We’re still playing a little bit of catch‑up, but these guys are putting in the time and hard work and effort, and when you go down there and you see how hard these guys are working, as a car owner I’m really proud of what I see.
“Driving‑wise, we got to run Charlotte last week, and if these cars race as good as they drive, it’s going to be an awesome year.”
Q. And Greg Zipadelli, you’ve been a part of a lot of transitions, Pontiac to Chevrolet at Gibbs, Chevrolet to Toyota at Gibbs, the COT. What’s it been like getting a fleet of race cars up to these Gen‑6 specifications?
“Well, I think the biggest thing is the parts and things. Everybody knows that decklids, and it’s been really hard to get cars done and finished. But we’re getting there. We’re finally getting the parts that we need. The guys did testing last week working on Daytona stuff, but the biggest thing is the rule changes, just adapting to those. It’s just been a lot of work. Fab shop is about wore out already.”
Q. And Danica and Ryan, Tony answered the question about what it’s like for these cars to drive. Everybody has a different driving style. Danica, what’s it been like with your experience both at Daytona and now Charlotte?
“Well, first, they look great, that’s for sure, and as far as driving, you know, Daytona things are pretty straightforward there. More than anything, I was pleased with how fast the car was. Tony Gibson (crew chief) and the guys did a good job of working on that car over the winter. And at Charlotte there was a lot of grip. You could really drive into the corner really hard and get back to the gas really well. You know, I think that the better platform we have to be able to push hard and run close together, we’ll put on a better show for the fans, and that’s what’s important.”
Q. And Ryan, if you could add your thoughts to that?
“Just the experience with the car at the two different racetracks with two different aero packages, so the car has a lot less downforce on it at a faster racetrack, which is kind of untypical. But just getting a chance to work with Matt (Borland, crew chief) again, the first real test we’ve had with a non‑fiberglass bodied car was a lot of fun, and getting things set up with our team to not just go fast in the test but more importantly come back and have a good start to the season, it’s going to be interesting, as well, going to a place like Vegas and getting some more time and more experience at an open practice session so that we can keep evolving this new Gen‑6 Chevrolet.”
Q. Crew chiefs, expectations are always high entering a season, but I assume with each crew chief there’s a different set of expectations. Tony Gibson, what’s your outlook for 2013?
“Well, I think for us the sky’s the limit. We were fortunate enough to get a couple races at the end of the year; Texas and Phoenix went extremely well. We were really pumped up when we left both those places. Me and Danica talked after Phoenix, and she was like, when we go to Homestead, because everything was going good, guys were excited, she was running good, running up front, doing a great job. But we’re setting small goals for ourselves. I told her when we first started this deal, we’re going to set goals that we can reach, set small goals, and when we achieve it, we’ll go to the next one. And we’ve done that the two races that we did. I think we hit all our goals before we left there, so it was pretty exciting.
“We want to run good, we want to gel as a team, and like I said, it’s so exciting to have a driver that is so pumped up each day to get in the car, and the feedback that she’s been giving us is tremendous, and it’s been a lot of fun to experience that again.
“You know, we all feel like rookies now. I’ll tell you, we’re rookies together. That part of it’s been exciting. But we’re just setting small goals and we’re achieving them and being proud of that. We want to come out each weekend with a positive. No matter what happens on the weekend you’ve got to bring a positive home, and we can build from that and have a great season.”
“I’m excited about it. It’s wiping the slate clean to go out and try to figure this new car out. Made a few changes on the team with a couple of guys that moved in to give us support back at the shop off the 14 car and got new engineer and shock guy and a couple of mechanics and just getting a team to work together. But moving guys that were really, really good and smart guys into seven‑post room to give us support at the shop to go to the racetrack and be competitive.
“But looking forward to getting on top of this thing before other teams and excited about it, to represent Bass Pro and Mobil 1 and go out and win races.”
“Kind of like Ryan hit on, really looking forward to working with him again, just kind of we got a little taste of that end of last year, and looking forward to getting that rolling again. We’ve got a whole new group of guys on that team, and looking forward to starting gelling and getting better and better, and then when we get to the racetrack, get back to winning poles, leading laps, winning races, representing everybody well, and that’s what our goals are.
Q. Tony, one of the biggest events on the NASCAR calendar this year is going to be the truck race at Eldora. Anything you can update us with on that, and are you going to be entering any Stewart‑Haas Racing trucks in that?
“Actually we brought Roger Slack with us today, and he’s going to address everything on the Eldora side. The great thing is we’ve got less than a thousand reserve seats left. We’ve sold over 16,000 seats to the event already. Things are going well and progressing, and it’s ‑‑ pretty excited about it. It’s moving along very well.”
Q. When I look at each of your progresses through types of racing and everything, it doesn’t look a whole lot different than Danica’s, and this is really addressed to all three drivers. But start with Tony. Tony, how confident are you on what Danica will be able to do, and do you feel it’s any different than your progress as you grew from an IndyCar driver to a Sprint Cup driver?
“You know, I think ‑‑ and it’s not only been IndyCar drivers, I think it’s just been drivers in general. It just seems like we saw it with Ricky Stenhouse and we saw it with Juan (Montoya), when drivers first come into this series it takes a minute, and then all of a sudden there’s just a day that you can tell that the light switch kicked on that day, and they finally get that feel that you’re looking for. I wish I could explain it better than that, but it’s just literally one day it happens and something happens and all of a sudden it starts clicking.
“You know, I think like Tony (Gibson) said, Danica has done a lot in a very short amount of time in this series, and her feedback from day one that we worked with her was incredible, and more so ‑‑ a lot better than mine was. I was driving the car and didn’t know what was going on. Her feedback, she understands what the car is doing, she understands what she’s feeling, and that shows comfort. I think that’s a sign that she’s going to do really well, that she’s that comfortable that quick and early, and her stats show that she does a good job behind the wheel. You look at the end of the day and look at the end results and there’s an asterisk beside everything of something that’s happened during the race. But watching her drive the car, I see a lot of great potential there.”
Q. This is for Greg: You guys have tested both at Daytona and also right here at Charlotte. Relative to the other cars on the track, how do you think the Stewart‑Haas cars rate on the curve? Are you there? Are you on top of the game? Or do you have a little making up to do with the others?
“You don’t have to answer this honestly.”
“I don’t think you’re ever on top, and if you are, it’s not for long, with the people we compete against, the other teams. Daytona all the cars showed decent speed. They made some gains. And the same thing at Charlotte, if you just look at the speeds. I think you’ve got to wait until you see when you’re in competition. There’s 43 cars on there, how your cars drive, and just how they react and things of that nature. I think so far I don’t think we’re in any panic, but there’s certainly a lot more work to do.”
Q. Danica, now having raced in Nationwide a couple of races and the Sprint Cup the last years, with the new car, do you have another learning season ahead of you? Is the car totally new for you? And to Greg, even though it’s a new car and new rules, is there anything you can take over from last year’s car and put it in the new car maybe setup wise, aero package?
“I mean, I definitely had a lot of different years the last few with the transition into NASCAR. I’m fortunate enough that I’ve had a sponsor like Go Daddy that’s been behind me the whole time, and I think that ability to be able to move nice and slow and take my time and really learn before jumping into the deep end is what’s going to make moving into Cup a little easier than it could have been if I had just gone all the way at one point.
“I have a good sponsor, I have an incredible team behind me, and we’re all confident moving into this year. I think more than anything we’re going to be intelligently patient and know that it’s going to be a process. I think that the timing couldn’t be better.”
“As far as the race car goes, it’s still a race car. I think a lot of the same principles apply. It’s got four springs and shocks. I think it’s just figuring out what this car wants, what each driver likes. They did change some rules, no rear bars and things of that nature. So it’ll definitely be a little bit different, but I don’t see it being drastic.”
Q. Tony, Roger (Penske) has offered to drive the Indy 500. He insisted that he was very serious about that, and (Tim) Cindric was almost cocky in believing that you would accept it. You didn’t. Why didn’t you, and did you ever at all consider it, because on paper it seems to be a tremendous opportunity for you.
“It’s a huge opportunity, and a very flattering offer at the same time. This group up here is why I’m not going to run the 500. There’s a lot of commitment with what we’re doing here, and like we mentioned, IndyCar racing has progressed and the competition has gotten tighter and tighter there. I really don’t feel like ‑‑ I feel like that’s the perfect team to go and do enough with the month of May with. But I still feel like for me as a driver, I would need to start the year with that team and run through the month of May to really feel like the first day of practice that I was competitive and where I needed to be.
“It’s a very flattering offer. I went back to Roger and actually had dinner with him in Indianapolis after the IMIS trade show reception, and I told him he ‑‑ not necessarily backed me into a corner but he made me a generous offer and I made him a counteroffer that it’s an open‑ended invitation. Even though we haven’t accepted this year, maybe some year down the road we might be able to accept that offer. He never said no, so as far as I’m concerned, we have an open invitation to run it with him.”
Q. Tony, have you considered or are you going to swap points with Danica to give her more of a cushion for qualifying for the first few races?
“No. I worked hard for my points.
“That’s the confidence I have in her, though. I really feel like Tony and that team has done a great job with building her a great car for Daytona, and I feel like she’s definitely got the talent and capability of racing her way in and hopefully just qualifying in where we don’t have to worry about the qualifying races. But I think she’ll do a great job on her own.”
Q. Tony and Ryan, how similar is the new car to what Ryan started out in and what you won your first title in, and what was the biggest change you noticed or biggest thing it threw at you that you weren’t expecting?
“Well, for sure in my opinion this Chevy SS that we’re driving is the coolest looking car of all the cars that we’ve ran in the Cup Series. The great thing about this is when I came into the sport, the theory that what you drive on Sunday is what they sell on Monday, and I know they haven’t unveiled the street version of the SS yet, but you guys will be extremely surprised at how similar they really are. Chevrolet is building a V‑8 rear‑wheel drive car just like we race on the racetrack. From that standpoint it’s the most excited I’ve been as far as how our manufacturer and how Chevy is involved in our sport and what the roots of it really are going back to.
“We did the test at Charlotte, and that was in my opinion the first real test of how these cars are going to drive, and the speeds we were running were unbelievably fast, and the cars just really drove well. Like we mentioned earlier, if they race as good as they drive, we’re going to have a cool year.”
“Just in addition to what Tony said, from a driver’s standpoint, the way we drive it is still the same. The cars characteristically, Chevrolet has done a great job with the SS, it has character, it has some body lines that are awesome, and we didn’t have that 10 years ago. We had cars that were pretty similar. They had different ‑‑ some different character lines, but they were pretty similar.
“The physics are all the same in what we do and how we approach it from a mechanical standpoint, from Matt’s standpoint, and the tires have changed a good bit. But we still from an entertainment standpoint put on the same type of show, doing what we do as far as passing and racing side by side.”
Q. Tony, my question to you is you’re known as one of the finest drivers of our generation, and I ask you the question that I ask many of the most elite athletes of our time. What did your mom say to you to inspire and ignite you to be who you are today?
“My mom, actually, and I had a huge fight because she wanted me to go to college. Now she works for me.
“That is the truth, too.
“I was really fortunate in the fact that not only my mother but my father and my sister all really gave up a lot so that our whole family could follow my passion of racing. I don’t encourage this with a lot of mothers, but I know my mother hated a lot of Fridays when we were running national go‑kart races and I would be in a different state and she was calling the school and having to lie every Friday and say that I was sick, knowing very well that the teachers had already given me my homework and I had it on the road with me.
“But she was very dedicated and still is very dedicated to what we do, and she loves watching us race. She’s probably the one that’s the most nervous every weekend watching at the same time. She knows how passionate we are for it, and she’s seen some of the best and worst times of it with crashes and everything else, and she’s always been there 100 percent.”
Q. For the drivers, but I guess Tony specifically, you guys were fortunate not to be involved in that drafting accident at Daytona in testing, but I guess not having the experience of drafting those few laps, heading into Speedweeks, what’s your level of anxiety now or anticipation about how much learning is yet to be done as you prepare for those races?
“I don’t think there’s any anxiety going into it. Up until that point, everything was pretty calm and pretty much status quo what we’ve been used to. It was actually nice not pushing each other and not being able to see through the cars because we were so close.
“You know, every year it’s still trial and error. You’re always learning new things from what we learned the year before, and this year is no different. The cars drive really stable so far, not more so than what we’ve had in the past, but they’re fairly stable. You know, that’s the good thing about having all the race practice that we’ll have is that we’ll all have that time to learn. I don’t feel like there’s any sense of urgency more so than what we normally have going into Daytona because of that.”
Q. Ryan, you struggled last year. You’ve got a crew chief back that means a ton to you. Is there any limit to what you can do this season?
“You just asked an engineer that question, for the record.”
“To be a little more precise, absolutely there are limits, but Matt and I, as you alluded to, have a great past. We have also failed at times, so we’ve learned from those experiences, and that’s why we’re back together. It’s not just us; we have a big part of the team from a crew standpoint behind us that have a very big impact on how successful we are in addition to everybody else that’s sitting up here.
“There are limits to our potential successes for sure. But that’s what we sit down and try to focus on our goals each and every year so that we can tackle them. Yeah, we’re excited about the opportunity. That’s why we’re here.”
Q. Danica, Tony talks about the open‑ended deal with Roger for the Indy 500. You’ve already gone on record and said you’re not going to do the Indy 500 this year, but you didn’t exactly close the door maybe in the future. Is there a chance maybe you could pick up with Roger and maybe next year you could put a deal together? And Tony, how supportive would you be of Danica’s effort to try and run the Indy 500?
“I feel like Tony is my “in” now. I don’t know, put in a good word for me, maybe something in the future, maybe the both of us could run it in the future. I mean, it’s something that obviously it just didn’t work out for this year. I think it’s most important to focus on the Cup effort. It’s going to be two handfuls of work this year. It’s going to be very challenging.
“That was just a decision collaboratively, and if I do it in the future, it’s going to be with Go Daddy, as well. The support is there if it works out, but at this point in time the focus needs to be on Cup as it’s going to be a big challenge.
“I think it will be exciting and interesting to do it in the future. If it works out, it does; if it doesn’t, I’ve had many great years at Indy and lots of great memories.”
“I’m supportive of it if she wants to do it. The biggest thing, though, is the primary job at hand, and that’s the Cup Series and making sure that we’re where we need to be here. It’s a lot of effort, and like I mentioned earlier, it’s a lot of effort not only to do this but to try to do something also on top of this that is not just one weekend. It’s a whole month getting ready, plus I think it would take a little time before that, as well. I’m supportive of it, as long as everything is in order on this side.”
Q. Maybe for Tony, Ryan and for Danica, the NASCAR drivers at this level always seem to be able to adjust so well, and now you’re getting a new car, but yet some of these drivers adjust better than others and become champions, that kind of thing. Do you think that adjustment, there are a few that are going to stand out as a result of this new car, making it a level playing field?
“I don’t think so. I mean, I think these cars drive a little easier than last year’s cars did, so if anything it might help some of those guys that normally don’t adjust as well, might give them an opportunity to get acclimated a little easier because of how the cars drive.”
“Yeah, I still say that you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Every driver out there has the potential to be successful. The team, how the team adapts to this new car is probably more important right now than how the driver adapts to the car.”
Q. Danica, you’re running for the Rookie of the Year status this year, but there’s another competition out there, the Driver of the Year or Most Popular Driver award. Have you thought about those Dale Jr. fans out there coming over and supporting you?
“I don’t want to make any of them mad.
“It was a big honor last year to be the most popular driver in the Nationwide Series, especially being my first full‑time year in NASCAR. It tells me that the fans are receiving me well, and that’s a nice compliment. Between that and all of our partners voting online, we hassled them I’m sure every week. That was nice.
“But I think I just need to be myself, and if that happens, that does. It’s going to be ‑‑ I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities to show some personality and some character this year, so we’ll just have to see if that’s enough to make it interesting. Dale obviously has a huge following, and he does a great job, and he deserves it. We’ll just play it by day.”
Q. Tony and Ryan, I know at the end of last year we still had some questions about sponsorship and some open races and things like that. Are there any updates on that, anything going forward? And how does that affect your race teams as the season goes on?
“We still have nine races on my car that are open for primary spot. There’s eight or nine races on Ryan’s car, and there’s an opportunity for three races on Danica’s car. It’s still a business. It’s still ‑‑ we would love to sell that inventory, obviously. That would make it easier on us. But racers are very resourceful and they always have been, and you always take what you have and you make the most with it. We’ve been able to do that the first four years that we’ve been with this organization, and we’ll keep doing so.”
Q. The Fords were pretty high on the speed charts, so who’s going to ask Alba (Colon) to go to the NASCAR hauler for some GM love?
“You never have to ask Alba to do that. She does it on her own. So that’s the great thing about the Chevy group is that they are as passionate if not more than what we are. You don’t have to ask them to fight for us, they fight for us every day. I don’t know that one test is an indication of what the whole season is going to be like.
“The thing about a test that you guys don’t understand, it’s not about putting that big number up as much as it’s going out and gathering a lot of data and trying different things to where those guys can go back to the shop, analyze it and figure out what to do with it.
“I’m not so sure we really were that concerned about the speed chart necessarily the other day.”
Q. Danica, this is a question not so much about Stewart‑Haas Racing but about what you’re doing in the Nationwide Series this year. After a few successful years at JR Motorsports, since I guess you’re going to part‑time you’re making the move to Turner Scott. Just curious what was behind going from one team to the other since JR Motorsports is doing kind of a mixed bag of drivers with one of its teams.
“Nothing set in stone there. We are working on it, though, for sure, and I would love to do 10 Nationwide races. I think that would be our perfect plan, you know, mostly to improve on my Cup experience and be able to learn a little bit from some of those races, some of them, to have an opportunity to go out and win a race, and others just to get some track experience.
“We’re working on it, and I think Daytona is looking pretty good, but beyond that, we’re just still putting it together, so we’ll let you all know when that happens or doesn’t happen. But I think the Nationwide Series is a great series, and I notice that when I did double duty those 10 times this past year that the Nationwide race really helped my Cup race, and I think my Cup practice helped my Nationwide practice, but I think that the Nationwide race helped the Cup race. That’s something that I’ll be definitely looking forward to going into those races if I get to do double duty.”
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR
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