Transcript: Stewart-Haas Racing Teleconference With Tony Stewart

September 29, 2014

An interview with: TONY STEWART

(Listen to the press conference / Q&A - click here


THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Mike Arning, Director of Communications for Stewart-Haas Racing and want to say thank you for your time this morning. We'll introduce TONY STEWART and start off with any questions you may have.


Q. Tony, since the accident, when you think of Kevin Ward, Jr., what comes to mind?

TONY STEWART: Honestly, before the accident I didn't know Kevin. I don't even know how many times I had raced with him. I race with that group a couple times a year. They've always been a great group to race with, but I didn't know him. Obviously, after the accident I've read a lot about him, and from what I've read, I think he had a really promising career as a Sprint Car driver. It sounded like he was doing a good job and learning a lot at a young age, so I think he had a lot to look forward to.

Q. Do you want to and need to talk to the Ward family to have any sort of closure? If so, can you talk to him or will it be years before all the legal stuff is done before you can talk to them?

TONY STEWART: You know, I think at this point it's -- I want to be available to them if they want to talk about it. At this point, I don't need to talk to them for closure. I know what happened, and I know it was an accident, but I'm offering to talk to them to help them, if it helps them with closure. So I said it when we were in Atlanta, and I still believe that I want to be available to them if and when they ever want to talk.

Q. On the topic of closure, at some point the focus will turn back to your career as a race car driver. Have you thought about when or how that can happen?

TONY STEWART: Well, I mean, we've been racing since Atlanta, obviously, but it's not been business as usual by any means, and this is going to be a healing process for me. It makes you think about a lot of things other than driving race cars, but the one thing that's probably helped me more than anything is being back at the racetrack and being around my racing family and remembering that I have a passion for what I do. So that's probably helped me more than anything when it's come to trying to make that next step to move forward.

Q. If you could do anything differently over the past couple months, what would it be?

TONY STEWART: I'd have stayed at Watkins Glen that night. You know, I do this stuff and I go run those cars to have a good time and that's all I wanted to do that night. I wanted to go have fun. I had just spent the week at Knoxville, and it gives you the edge and desire to want to go race. It wasn't a big paying race for Sprint Car standards. I just wanted to go run my Sprint Car for a night. I do it to have fun, and it didn't end up being fun that night.

Q. How have you been spending the time since the accident happened, and will your routine change now that you've been exonerated?

TONY STEWART: Since we went back to Atlanta, basically, I go from the motorhome to the car, and the car to the trailer, and the trailer back to the car, and that's literally all I've done since I came back. Even after Wednesday here in Charlotte, I haven't left my house. It's just an awkward feeling. I think now I'll start doing some more things. I mean, I've got a lot of friends who have been supportive through this entire thing, and there are a lot of people that have shown how much they cared and it would be nice to go and visit and talk to those people again.

Q. Have you reconsidered or considered stopping driving sprint cars as a result of this and your injury the year before?

TONY STEWART: At this point I don't really have -- I'm not going to say I'm never going to get in one. But when I got hurt, it was as soon as I got healed and as soon as things got settled in with the Cup car I was set that I was wanting to get in one, but right now I wouldn't even be able to give you a small idea of if and when I'll ever get back in a car. So at this point I won't be in one for a while.

Q. The life of a driver and an owner is extremely busy. Press conferences, commercials, appearances, fan things, you haven't done -- have you done much of that? When will you think you'd get back to that life?

TONY STEWART: I haven't done any since the accident. I think after talking with you guys today we'll start getting back into doing meet and greets and appearances again. I think it's important for me to do that and to take -- I think that's another step of making forward progress is getting back to trying to resume what was the best of a normal life before this. I think it's important for me to do that and get back to doing it as soon as possible.

Q. What has been the biggest change within you and the biggest impact upon you as a result of this past month and a half?

TONY STEWART: I honestly think that when you're -- and I'm not going to speak for professional athletes in different forms of sports, but as a race car driver, driving a race car is all that consumed my life. It's all I thought about, it's all I cared about, and everything else was second on down the list of priorities for me. I think this has given me the opportunity to sit here and think about other aspects of my life and what they're going to mean to me in the future. Not that I don't love what I do, because I do love it, but it's not -- just like you guys, it's not what we do all the time. There are more things to our life than what we have as a profession. So it's made me think about some of those other aspects of my life that kind of have been put on hold for years.

Q. How would you characterize the weeks at home, Tony, following the accident? You basically were in seclusion. What was that like for you to go through that and what did you do?

TONY STEWART: I didn't really do much of anything to be perfectly honest. I think the first three days that I was home I really didn't do anything. I didn't get out of bed. I didn't care if I took a shower. I left my room to go get food, and that you almost had to make yourself eat. It's the first three or four days I didn't want to talk to anybody. Didn't want to see anybody, I just wanted to be by myself. You finally get up and you finally start moving around a little bit and every day got a little bit easier, but it was a big, drastic change from what I was used to, for sure, not having the desire to do anything. All you thought about is what happened and asking yourself why. Why did this happen? So you just sat there for entire days on end asking questions and trying to come to terms with what happened and why it happened.

Q. I was at Loudon a couple weeks ago and Jimmie Johnson talked about how people are starting to take sides, and I'm wondering during this process if things coming out on Twitter or people making comments in the media, did you keep yourself insulated from that or did you follow any of that? How did that impact the time that you were at the track?

TONY STEWART: I tried to do my best to insulate myself from that. But I finally started reading what was out there and what people were saying, and you didn't control that. Last Wednesday the facts came out and people still through the weekend, some people that had the same opinion before the facts came out still have the same opinion, no matter what side they think about. To me it's worthless to pick sides. A young man lost his life, and I don't care what side you're on, it doesn't change that. His family's in mourning. I'm in mourning. My family is in mourning. Picking sides isn't solving or fixing anything. It's a waste of time to pick sides. Instead of honoring a young man that had a promising racing career, people are picking sides and throwing -- it's like watching people throw darts at each other. It's disappointing at this point, honestly, because instead of supporting each other and the racing community is such a strong family, that it's dividing people that on a daily basis would help each other. There is no point in it. It doesn't solve anything. It doesn't fix anything. At the end of the day, it's not going to make anybody feel any better about it. It's just people that -- everybody's entitled to their opinion, and we know that. But everybody, and I've seen this for the last seven weeks now, everybody has made their decision and picked their side off of 100% of the information that they got, which is about 10% of all the information that's truly out there. And we all do it. Our society does it. We do it every day. Whatever we see on the news we make our decision as people about what we see. But it's not -- I don't think any of us any day whatever topic we're trying to come to a conclusion about, ever get all the facts. So you understand why people think the way they do, but I think more than not, I don't think people realize that there is more information out there than what we all get on a daily basis about whatever it is.

Q. (No Microphone)?

TONY STEWART: I guess it was more disappointing to me than anything. Even from people that were supportive of us. I mean, listened and reading comments about the sheriff's department and the district attorney, they did a good job of taking the time that they needed to do to get all the facts and to come to a very thought out conclusion of this. You want to sit there and tell people, hey, let them do their job. But it just shows how passionate people are. I mean, if they are on our side or on Kevin's family's side, they were passionate about that. That's something I don't want to see go away. I don't want to see people lose their passion, but I think people need to understand that there are a lot more facts that they didn't understand and haven't seen.

Q. Tony, obviously the season is moving on. Yesterday Kevin Harvick, great run, Kurt Busch, not as great. How much have you let yourself be engaged in that side of the process right now as far as being the Stewart of Stewart-Haas Racing?

TONY STEWART: I've let my team down from that standpoint. I haven't been able to -- I've been a little bit of a cheerleader, but that's about all I've been able to contribute here the last seven weeks. It's just, like I mentioned earlier, it's been hard for me to function day-to-day. There hasn't been anything normal about my life the last seven weeks, so it's been very hard to try to do anything to be productive to help those guys. You try to be a cheerleader, you try to keep them pumped up about what they're do being, but other than that, I haven't been able to contribute too much.

Q. Just wondering, you talk about being in seclusion and all that that's meant. What does today represent for you having us all here? You called us all here together. What does today represent for you in terms of going forward?

TONY STEWART: We knew everybody had questions and we knew that everybody was going to want answered to what's going on. But I think more than anything we wanted to be able to tell everything from the beginning. But it's, like I learned Wednesday, everybody's got their opinions about what happened. Obviously, the facts didn't matter to a lot of those people. They still had their opinions one way or the other. We haven't let anybody know what's been going on the last six weeks. We just kind of went through the motions as far as we're concerned, and we knew a lot of you would have questions about what's been going on the last six or seven weeks and how have we handled it.

Q. What was it like to learn from the district attorney that in the toxicology report, Kevin Ward was under the influence?

TONY STEWART: Honestly, for me, it didn't change anything. To me a young driver lost his life. Didn't matter why or what was going on. The end result was the same. No matter what was said, it was still a tragic accident. I just know in my heart that it was a hundred percent an accident; that detail didn't mean anything to me personally.

Q. You mentioned earlier the awkward feeling that's come over you the past several weeks. Can you explain that a little more? Also, talk about will that ever go away given that Kevin Ward has passed away and that will not change?

TONY STEWART: It's just been awkward because I know what a typical day was like for me and the things that were on my agenda for each day and what I thought about you kind of get in that pattern. This was something that obviously changed that pattern drastically. Everything you thought about, everything you worked on, you stop thinking about. You stopped working on, and this is all you thought about. Ask me the second part again.

Q. Do you think that will eventually go away?

TONY STEWART: I think it will. The reason I say that is I've had other people that I've known for years that have come to me and told me personal stories of tragedies that have happened in their life that a lot of us don't know about. Their experiences and their advice really has hit home for me. I do believe as time goes on it will be different every day. It may. I don't know if it will ever get back to normal, but it will get better.

Q. Since getting back in a car, rate your performance as a driver?

TONY STEWART: I could rate a before and after almost the same. My year hasn't been a stellar year by any means. When we came back, we had a decent day started in Atlanta, and had an incident that derailed it. But I think yesterday was probably the best overall race from start to finish that we've run. Probably one of the best ones this year that we've actually run. I struggled on restarts. I couldn't get going very good the first three or four laps, but it seemed like after ten laps or 15 laps we were settling into a pace that was a top 5 race car. So we didn't have any major dramas on either side during the whole race. We actually put a whole race together. I know the 14th or 15th place finish isn't anything to brag about, but considering where our season has been, we finally put together a whole day that was consistent, and that meant a lot to us.

Q. Tony, it's kind of a follow-up, Doug asked you about your NASCAR involvement with Stewart-Haas Racing. Your short track industry, your empire with Eldora and your USAC teams, and the World of Outlaw teams, what's that been like for you over the last seven weeks?

TONY STEWART: I've watched and paid attention to what was going on, but I haven't been engaged in it. I've watched our races that we had online at Eldora. I've watched the Sprint Car races online and listened to them online, but haven't been engaged with the teams, haven't been engaged with the drivers. Just kind of been an non-deal.

Q. I don't know quite how to phrase this, but racing inherently is a dangerous sport. You've seen guys get killed in accidents over the years. If this would have been a situation where you guys were racing and he crashed, and he perished in the crash, would it be something you would feel different about? Or does the nature of him coming out on the track, did that change at all for you? Does that make sense?

TONY STEWART: Yeah, it does. For me, I don't think it would change anything. I've worked really hard, especially when I got hurt last year, while I was healing, I spent all that time trying to defend Sprint Car racing and help -- try to help other drivers through the off-season. I do it because I'm passionate about it and I love it. We all know what can happen every time we get in a race car, whether it's an IndyCar, Stock Car, Sprint Car. Anybody that races anything knows what that is and what that danger is and what can happen. I've had close friends die in race cars. I've had teammates die in race cars, and there is nothing easy about it. Like I said, the racing community is a very close-knit family. Anytime you lose somebody in that family, there are drivers and team owners and crew members from other sports that may not have ever met that driver but feel for that family and that driver in their tragedy. So no matter what the circumstances, the end result is something that nobody ever wants to see. Like I said, I've spent a lot of time trying to defend it and try to help promote the sport, and none of us want that to happen to anybody under any circumstances.

Q. This is a secondary thing, but it will be important if it hasn't been already, how are you dealing with sponsors? How are you talking to sponsors about moving forward and what kind of concerns do you have about them being loyal to the team after this?

TONY STEWART: It's a legitimate question, for sure. Our organization has stayed in close contact with the sponsors through this whole ordeal, and I've been able to talk to a couple of them as well. Johnny Morris was one of the people that came to my house to see me while I was in Indiana. We spoke to people from Mobil 1, and they came to see us the last couple weeks at the racetrack. The support from them has been amazing. It's obviously a tough circumstance for anybody to be a part of it, for a corporation to be part of it as well, but they've been very supportive through this whole process. I can't speak to what the future will be for them. They've been supportive to this point and that's something I've been very grateful for.

Q. First of all, welcome back. Glad to see you. Following up a little on what Steven said. You own Sprint Car teams and own tracks and specifically Eldora. It was almost a therapy for you to get to go up and ride around on a four-wheeler and get the shoes dirty and the hands dirty. Has this incident taken away from the cleansing properties of that therapy? Do you think you'll ever be able to ride Eldora in the four wheeler and feel the same again?

TONY STEWART: I'm sure I will. It's just not right now. That's an important aspect of my life and something that's very important to me. Right now at this moment today there are other things that are important to me right now, and they still are. But I'm not ready to go do that yet. Going around in a Cup car right now is important to me, and the great thing Eldora and the dirt track teams and our drivers that do great things there, and that's given me -- afforded me the time to think about what I need to do right now.

Q. You talked briefly about your race yesterday. It's been the best race you've had in your five back. Is there any correlation personally in how you performed yesterday to being able to move forward in the decision Wednesday?

TONY STEWART: I really don't know if it does or not, to be honest. Honestly, at the racetrack on Friday and Saturday we struggled. Our qualifying effort was the best that I qualified at Dover in a long time, but we really struggled in practice leading up to that, and Saturday all day we struggled. I thought Chad and the engineers did a good job Saturday night of taking all the information they learned on both days, and I could tell right off the bat on Sunday that the car was quite a bit different than the rest of the weekend. I don't think it had anything to do with that, honestly. I think getting back in the car every time I've gotten in there, it's given me a chance to focus again, and that's something that I've needed as a diversion. But I think from the time that I went back to Atlanta, the first session there the car felt really good, and we had a good weekend in Atlanta until it got derailed. But I think at this point in my career as a driver, when you make that decision to put the helmet on you have to know in your heart that you're ready to go, you're ready to do it, and I felt comfortable in the car from day one.

Q. You're a championship level driver on the track, and sort of a larger-than-life figure off of it, which is responsible for all of this. Can you get back to that person that you were, that gregarious, likeable sort of guy, or is it going to be a while that you're that personality that fans have been drawn to all these years?

TONY STEWART: I think the support we've had from our fans, I don't know if they even care if we get back to that. They're just happy that we're back right now, and that's been very comforting for us and for me. I've really appreciated their support and how they've helped welcome me back to the track. It's hard to say to be honest. I appreciate the fact that you said I was a nice guy. This is a process that's day-to-day. You take it one day at a time. Before the accident happened, a day would fly by, and now a day seems like two or three days. The clock seems like the batteries are running low on the clock. I honestly think every day things will get better, and things will get easier, and I think it will for Kevin's family as well. Time heals. Like I said, I don't know that it will ever be normal again, but we'll find a place to settle into and we'll do the best we can like we have to this point. Whether I ever get back to that or not, hopefully through this I will somehow be a better person. That's all I can hope for.

Q. Until last Wednesday, there was the very real possibility of facing charges, which seems very scary. In your grief or in getting over what happened in the accident, were you able to separate that part? Were you fearful of charges, and how did you deal with that aspect of it?

TONY STEWART: I think you said it best yourself right there. Anytime you're facing something like that and your fate is in someone else's hands, it's natural to be fearful. But all along I knew what the facts are. I knew what had happened, and I know what happened. I think through the process of the sheriff's department and the district attorney and going to a 23-person grand injury, all the facts were presented and their decision spoke. It was what I knew. So I can't say that -- I would be lying if I said there wasn't a piece of relief, but that was very short lived in my heart. Because as quickly as it was relief in my heart, it was at the same time it went right back to the fact that we lost Kevin. We lost a young driver that had a lot of talent.

Q. You discussed the early days and not wanting to do anything but being secluded. What thought have you given to hanging it up all together and being done driving?

TONY STEWART: You know, even with the decision right now, I don't know if and when I'll ever get back in a Sprint Car. I said the support from the fans and the support from peers and people that were around every day, I've had drivers I've raced with every week and drivers that I haven't raced with for months that said don't let this keep you from doing what you love. This is what I've done all my life. This is what I've done for 36 years, and I wouldn't change anything about it. I love what I do. I love driving race cars, but I think it might change right now as far as how much of it and what I do, but there was never a thought in my head about stopping. That would take the life out of me.

Q. Along the lines of what Marty just said, one, how often do you think about the events of what happened? How often do you replay it in your mind? And for a guy that's passionate about this sport, did it wane at all for the sport?

TONY STEWART: I don't think your passion ever goes away. Probably more than anything over (no audio), and I wish I could say it was once a day, but it's not. I think about it a lot every day. That's the great thing about getting back in the race car because it gives me time to forget about it for a minute and to stop thinking about it. After you get done at the end of the day, you start thinking about it again. It's not something that goes away. It will never go away. It's always going to be part of my life the rest of my life. That's the unfortunate part. It's going to be a part of my life. It's going to be a part of Kevin's families life, and it's never going to go away for any of us, but hopefully it will get easier for all of us.

Q. You mentioned replaying what happened in your mind. Have you watched the video of what happened?

TONY STEWART: I've seen the video of it, yes.

Q. You said you were disappointed by some of the reaction, but are you hurt by what's been said about you and your role in this tragedy? Since it's a sponsor-driven sport, do you feel you need to do or can do anything to repair your reputation?

TONY STEWART: Ask me the first part again. The two part things, I've got a short mind.

Q. You said you were disappointed by some of the reaction, but were you hurt by it?

TONY STEWART: Initially, yes. Initially I was hurt by some of the things I read. But then I looked at who they were from, and it's people that never met me, never spent time with me, don't know me, and they're making a judgment off of either what they -- either what was presented or what the facts were that they had, and they were people that didn't like me to begin with and it didn't matter what the facts were. I really stopped wasting my time worrying about it. Like I said, I know what happened. I know what the facts are and that's all that matters.

Q. A lot of these press conferences that have happened throughout the past few weeks, a lot of your fellow drivers asked about this situation. Some of them saying they attempted to reach out to you and talk to you. Some saying they haven't heard back and that kind of thing. Have there been certain ones that have leaned on and talked to you and helped you get through this?

TONY STEWART: There have. It's been done behind closed doors and that's the way I want to keep it on their behalf and my behalf. Yes, there's been a lot of support, especially when the accident happened. Like I said, I didn't want to do anything. So there were a lot of text messages and people that have reached out that I'm now starting the process of getting in touch with them and thanking them for their support and explaining why I didn't get back to them. That's probably been one of the hardest parts. The hardest part for me is not having that contact with my friends and my peers, and going to the racetrack was the first step in reconnecting with a lot of those people and being able to thank them for their kind words and their advice. There's been so much that I've learned from my peers, my friends through this whether it's been through personal experiences or just kind words that they've said. That is the advice that they've given us that's really meant a lot. And that's something that the rest of my life I don't think I could spend the rest of my life and accurately thank everybody for what they've done to help us get through this.

Q. Would you say it's people inside NASCAR or outside NASCAR?

TONY STEWART: Both. It's been all across the racing community. Inside NASCAR, outside NASCAR, people I've met along the way that aren't involved in racing at all but are people that understand. So that's been a huge, huge part for me.

Q. I imagine a substantial moment of vulnerability for you must have been that introduction in Atlanta. First time you've been in public, you don't know what people are thinking. What was it like to walk up there and hear what you heard from the grand stands?

TONY STEWART: At first I thought I accidentally walked out in Dale Jr.'s spot, but it was very overwhelming. I'm glad I had sunglasses on. But it was probably the most flattering and humbling part of my career was to walk out there and have that kind of reception. Riding around in the back of the pick-up truck and seeing people against the fence that were cheering for us and they had Jeff Gordon shirts on and Carl Edwards shirts and Matt Kenseth shirts. Didn't matter what they had on, it really showed the support. Hearing about at Bristol how something that I was really happy with was the fact that on the 13th lap, people held up 13 for Kevin, and on the 14th lap held it up for us. And I think it shows the kind of bond that race fans and the racing community have with each other. It was very flattering in Atlanta for sure. I'll never forget that moment.

Q. You talked about in the article with the Associated Press last week about how (No Audio)?

TONY STEWART: I think our whole life I don't think any of us ever read anything in a book at school or read anything on how to deal with a tragedy like this. To have somebody there that could help us through that and help us be able to make forward progress was very important, and it's still -- we're still using them. It's not something that gets back to normal overnight. It's something we'll deal with a for a long time, but it's nice to have that kind of support and that kind of guidance that will help you learn how to cope with it, deal with it, and start moving on.

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