Commentary

Stewart insists he's ready to put in the hours being an owner takes

Tony Stewart is a sleep in kind of guy. After unveiling his new number, cars and sponsors Friday, even he admits that's something that will have to change, writes David Newton.

Updated: July 26, 2008, 3:07 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Funny that Tony Stewart scheduled Friday's news conference to officially announce his car numbers and sponsors for next season at 11 a.m.

Not 10:30 a.m.

Not 9 a.m.

But exactly the time fellow Sprint Cup driver/owner Robby Gordon said the two-time Cup champion usually rises -- something that will change for him to be successful with his new venture at Stewart Haas Racing.

"He's going to be mad at me, but I'm going to have to say he's going to have to get out of bed before 11 o'clock if he's going to do it,'' said Gordon, who has been a driver/owner since 2006.

Stewart wasn't mad. He understands his days of staying in bed until the middle of the day are over now that he has added Cup owner to his résumé. He understands that off days will be few and far between and that it will be essential that he spend most of his time in the Charlotte, N.C., area near his race team instead of his home near Columbus.

But first he has to get out of bed on time.

"I'm going to start with 10:30 and try to get acclimated to that,'' Stewart said with a smile after unveiling two No. 14 cars with Office Depot and Old Spice as his sponsors. "It's going to be like an eight-step process in trying to get down to a reasonable time in the morning.

"Believe it or not, the last two weeks I've been up between 8:30 and 9 o'clock every morning, and that was even on vacation. You realize and obviously budget your time better.''

That's easier said than done. Stewart will spend more time than ever dealing with sponsor appearances and driver contracts and budget meetings and all the other things that drove former driver/owner Bill Elliott crazy.

Stewart doesn't believe it will be a problem as it has been for other driver/owners. He says he's prepared for the grind.

"I still have to take personal time,'' Stewart said. "If you don't you'll make yourself miserable. I want this to be successful and I want it to be successful right off the bat. To do that, the work has to start now. I'm ready for that.

"I'm ready to spend as much time between the Gibbs and Haas shops as I have to.''

That he's already attracted top sponsors to split the 36-race schedule, with Office Depot getting 60 percent of the races and Old Spice 40, is a good start. He's also close to naming a second driver, saying the list is down to three, "realistically two.''

The general consensus in the garage is that will be Ryan Newman, who already has announced he will not return to Penske Racing next season. Having another top name in the stable would ease the pressure of finding sponsors for the second car, which will wear No. 4 because that was on Stewart's first go-kart as a kid.

Top sponsors Burger King, UPS and Jack Daniels, even though it has a year left on its contract with Richard Childress Racing, have been mentioned as potential candidates.

So on the surface, the first two weeks of Stewart being a Cup owner have gone smoothly.

Of course, the first two weeks of Michael Waltrip Racing appeared to go incredibly well two years ago when he was wrapping up deals with UPS, Burger King, Domino's and Aaron's as sponsors for his three-car team and Dale Jarrett as a driver.

Stewart can ill afford to have MWR performance if he hopes to move forward.

And he doesn't plan to. He was almost offended when it was suggested that he was lowering expectations in hopes of not being competitive when the team arrives in Florida for the 2009 Daytona 500.

"Are you nuts?'' he said. "Trust me, I have every expectation of going out and winning races next year. They [sponsors] want to win races as we do. When it comes to the marketing side, wins are as important as what we do on the marketing side.

"You obviously get more exposure when you're sitting in Victory Lane.''

Stewart likens himself a lot to his childhood hero, A.J. Foyt, who also drove the No. 14. He jokingly tells how they are so similar, from their temper to their girth, that they're like twins "born 20 years apart.''

"Somebody was giving me a hard time the other day,'' Stewart said. "I was telling them about three weeks ago I was on my tractor for seven hours on my property. He said, 'You sound just like the old man.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'Don't you remember? He rolled the bulldozer over.'

"I'm like, 'Oh, my God. I am starting to become more like him.' ''

Foyt called Stewart on Friday to congratulate him on getting the No. 14 and promised to be in his pit stall for the Daytona 500. Stewart hopes to keep the legend busy running back and forth to the concession stand for hotdogs like he used to do at O'Reilly Raceway Park.

"We'd send him back to the concession stand to make the changes we needed to make instead of the changes he made,'' Stewart said. "Then after the race he was, 'Hey son, I got you dialed in today.' ''

Stewart can ill afford to be like Foyt was as a Cup owner. In 194 races Foyt had no wins, eight top-5s, 16 top-10s and one pole.

Tony Stewart

When it comes to the marketing side, wins are as important as what we do on the marketing side. You obviously get more exposure when you're sitting in Victory Lane.

-- Tony Stewart

Do that and Stewart Haas Racing will be out of business by the time the contracts with Office Depot and Old Spice have expired.

Or at least not be the second- to first-tier organization Stewart envisions.

Stewart also has to lose some of his Foyt temperament. He got into an "altercation'' with a USAC official Thursday night while arguing, among other things, why the official wouldn't let one of his cars back on the track after an accident.

He expects a fine.

You never hear Cup owners such as Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress or Joe Gibbs shoving officials.

To Stewart's credit, he admitted he should have handled the situation differently. He knows that sort of thing can't happen in the Cup garage where image is second to wins when it comes to attracting top sponsor dollars.

So as polished as Stewart looked Friday, he still has a long way to go to prove he can be a successful owner/driver. He can't simply hire people to do the job.

"It's going to be a fulltime job for him,'' Gordon said. "I'm sure he's going to surround himself with some very good people. I wish him all the luck to do it. He can wheel the s--- out of a racecar. He says the same thing about me.''

But first things first, and that is getting Stewart out of bed before the noon news.

"Whether Mike [Arning, PR rep] has to try to get me up at 8 o'clock or noon, they still have to try to get me up,'' he said with a laugh. "That part won't change very much.''

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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