Tony Stewart had high expectations when he created Stewart-Haas Racing this year, but nobody expected him to be the leader of the Sprint Cup Series standings at midseason.
He heads into this week's race at Pocono Raceway with a 192-point lead, built by 16 top-10 finishes in 20 starts. Stewart talked about being a car owner and the satisfaction he's felt by running his own race team recently. Here is an excerpt of that interview:
Q: What were your goals when you started this team?
A: You know, honestly this was a project that was so big that I'm not sure that we really actually set goals other than what I had instilled in Bobby Hutchens and Darian Grubb and Tony Gibson and Ryan (Newman). I wanted us to go to the race track each week and give 100 percent. I wanted us to go back on Mondays and sit down and discuss everything that happened during the weekend; talk about the things we did right, talk about the things we did wrong, and talk on both of those sides how we can make things better. You know, the success that we've had up to this point of the season has come much quicker than any of us I think would have dreamed.
Q: Do you approach races any differently as a car owner than you do as a driver?
A: No, honestly you can't. But it's kind of the same that you do what got you to the dance. You hear people talk about it when it goes to playoff time or anything like that in any other sport. You pretty much stick to what you've been doing and what's working for you. You don't come here and try to do anything any different. It's hard to play the owner role and the driver role on the weekends. I mean, I don't want to sit there and worry about what the tire bill is for the weekend. I want to worry about making sure I know what I need to do as a driver. You know, we've worked really hard to establish that system before we ever got to Daytona, and it's worked to this point, so we won't change it when we come here.
Q: What's been your biggest challenge?
A: It's been a very easy part. I mean, we worked really hard before we ever left to go to Daytona to have that separation to where and I was really emphatic about when I spoke to Darian Grubb with the fact that I work for him on the weekends, and I'm not his boss, he's my boss on the weekends. But there really hasn't been that one hard thing or that one thing that has surprised me yet. It's been so smooth right now that it's the whole process has gone much better than I think we all could have expected. There's definitely challenges that we have each week that we're trying to overcome.
Q: There has been a lot of follow-the-leader racing with these new cars. Why can't they run any closer together?
A: Technology. I mean, technology advances, aerodynamics advance, packages get so close, you're going to have that. That's just evolution. You can't stop that. There's no way. NASCAR does the best job I think that it can at putting a rules package in place that makes that possible. You look at how close Jimmie (Johnson) and Mark (Martin) ran at the end of the (Allstate 400) there. You don't see that close of racing in any other division that races here. I'm scared that everybody's going to write, Nobody can pass. We all made it full fuel runs. Nobody had tire problems today. There was good racing out there. I mean, you aren't going to see the days where guys are swapping positions all the time left and right. The competition has got so tough in Indy-car racing, Formula One, NASCAR. All the series that have serious technology involved, that's what you're going to have. Somebody's going to figure it out. If you're a little bit off, you're not going to be able to make up that deficit.
Q: Has the secret to your success this year come from surrounding yourself with good people?
A: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the one thing that, being with somebody like Joe Gibbs for the last 12 years, you learn a lot about how to organize people. And I can promise you, Joe doesn't know anything about those race cars. He doesn't know how they work, but he knows how to hire the right people to do the right jobs in the organization, and that's what has made him successful in the NFL, it's what's made him successful in NHRA and NASCAR. He's extremely successful at hiring the right people to do the right jobs. Part of that process is being able to take five résumés that can be identical and being able to pick which guy is going to work with everybody else in the organization and has the right mindset, no matter whether there's eight more guys that have the same skills they have. That's something that I feel like I was able to bring from Gibbs Racing and apply it to Stewart-Haas.