By David Morgan, Associate Editor
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The career paths of Joe Gibbs and Tony Stewart will forever be intertwined as the two were instrumental in making each other a success in the NASCAR Cup Series.
While they have gone the separate ways, with both running world-class teams in NASCAR’s upper echelon, the two remain close, even as Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Martin Truex, Jr. from Joe Gibbs Racing and Kevin Harvick from Stewart-Haas Racing get ready to duke it out for the championship on Sunday afternoon.
When Stewart came onto the NASCAR scene in the late 90’s, it was Gibbs that provided him the ride that eventually propelled him into the Cup Series and onto greatness. Together the two won 33 races and two Cup Series championships between 1999 and 2008 before Stewart partnered up with Gene Haas in 2009 to form Stewart-Haas Racing.
Gibbs and Stewart were full of stories from their time together, but after talking about how Gibbs had to give Denny Hamlin a tongue lashing at Daytona earlier this year, they dovetailed into a story about Stewart’s penchant for destruction, with the exchange between them being absolutely gold.
GIBBS: I don’t think I’ve ever penalized anybody for anything, but I threaten them every now and then.
STEWART: That’s not true. (Laughter.)
GIBBS: On second thought, there is a driver I’ve worked with where we…
STEWART: I had to pay for two TVs in the lounge of the trailer that I broke.
GIBBS: I used to try and get to the hauler as fast as I could if he had a bad night because he was going to tear up the inside of the hauler.
STEWART: I feel like I got pretty good odds out of it because I think I broke five TVs where he said if you break another one this one is coming out of your paycheck.
GIBBS: I got him at Richmond one time, and I beat him in there real quick, and you were ticked off and he’s in there all flustered and everything, and he goes like, they usually turn to me after tearing stuff up, he goes, I’m going to go out there and kick his ass and I went like this, I started to go, Okay, I think you should. (Laughter.) Hoping somebody will put a lump on you.
STEWART: See, as a good owner you should have thought of that first and I would have saved the trailer. (Laughter.)
“I learned a lot from this guy in the years I was there,” Stewart went on to say. “And I’ve said it a million times, if I didn’t work for him, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now. I wouldn’t be the things that I’m doing now. I wouldn’t be in debt like I am now. And I blame all of it on Joe. (Laughter.)
“But it’s great to have worked with somebody like him because he has, he’s worked with so many great people. It’s not things that you always see just that show up at the racetrack. A lot of it pertains to everyday life, too, and when you get a chance to sit with him long enough and when you shut your mouth and listen, spend more time listening than talking, you can learn a lot from this guy, and I promise you, it helps.”
Stewart continued by talking about how intense he was as a driver and how he had to change his mentality when he became an owner.
“I think a lot of it’s there are two different levels of intensity for sure, when you’re a driver versus an owner,” Stewart said. “And Joe used to harp at me, he’s like, you’re like a quarterback, your emotion trickles down through the entire system, and Lord knows he had to manage that emotion quite a bit. As an owner it’s a lot different because it took a little longer than I’m sure Joe anticipated that it was going to sink in, but it finally sank in, and you realize everybody is feeding off of what we do.
“Everybody is feeding off of our emotion. If we’re upset about it, the whole organization gets upset. I mean, you can be mad and walk through the whole shop and by the end of the day everybody is mad at the shop. You walk through and we’ve had a bad weekend and you walk through and you’re positive and upbeat. By the end of the day everybody is positive and upbeat and looking forward to the next weekend.
“I think it’s just, like Joe said, with time guys grow up. It took me a lot longer. I’m not even sure I’m there yet. I’m still a work in progress. But when you’ve been around good people you learn good lessons and then you realize how you apply it to what you’re doing with your organization, as well.”
With both racking up wins and championships on their own and together, it is only fitting that the two are the only two owners in this year’s Championship 4 before they get inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame together next year.
“It means a lot to me,” Stewart said. “Like I say, at the beginning of the season you don’t know who you’re going to be sitting up here with. It could be three other owners and this year it’s unique and it’s one guy that I’ve spent a lot of time with and I think the world of. To be able to compete against him for a championship is a really cool deal.
“This whole year and everything with the Hall of Fame, all of it’s really special to be doing a lot of this with Joe. Every week we want to go out and beat his guys as much as anybody else, but at the end of the year to be battling it out and think where it was, what, 25 years ago.
“It does make it more special when it’s somebody that you have worked with firsthand and have a lot of respect for to be here in this kind of scenario with him.”
Though Gibbs has a 3 to 1 chance of bringing home the championship hardware on Sunday, he was quick to give props to Kevin Harvick for being a serious threat to overcome the odds and secure the title for himself.
Of course, Stewart had to needle him about it, generating even more laughs between the old friends.
“We’ve been whipped up by these guys to know,” said Gibbs
Stewart rebutted: “Not enough, we’ve got two more days.”
“But honestly, we have great respect,” Gibbs added. “I think everybody in the garage area does for them. So, it’s got us scared and worried, I’ll tell you that.
“I think that’s it. You can’t — if you look at Kevin and what Tony and his group have done, Gene, it’s just they’re there a bunch and they can win championships, and we know it. And it’s just like we talked about. If they hit this thing, okay, then we’re going to be in trouble. So that’s kind of what you’re looking at.”