In a wide-ranging interview Wednesday with Motorsport.com, Stewart touched on a number of topics such as the unique circumstances surrounding Sunday’s Indy 500, Roger Penske’s ownership of IndyCar and the success this season of his Stewart-Haas Racing organization and in particular NASCAR Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick.
Stewart, who both competed in the Indy 500 and has attended as a fan, is helping Advance Auto Parts, through its DieHard battery brand, promote an effort to bring fans together virtually to help start Sunday’s race.
DieHard batteries is inviting fans to share their best rendition of the iconic “Start Your Engines” command for a chance to be featured during NBC’s pre-race broadcast as well as at the track. Fans can submit their videos at www.CallingAllDieHards.com.
“I don’t care what day of the year it is, it’s still going to be the Indy 500,” Stewart said. “It’s definitely not going to be the same, but just because it’s not the same doesn’t mean it’s still not big and the importance of it is still there.
“Just because it’s not on Memorial Day weekend and there’s not a couple hundred thousand fans, there’s still 33 great race car drivers driving a 500-mile race there this weekend and somebody’s going to get a trophy that I wish I had in my basement and I don’t have.
“I haven’t heard a single driver say they weren’t going to run this weekend because it’s not in May and there’s not people in the stands. No one has said they are going to pull out because this is not what it’s supposed to be. I got a feeling it’s going to be as intense as it always is. Once they get in the car they aren’t going to notice anything different.”
Q: What’s your take so far on Roger Penske’s ownership of both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series?
Can you imagine sitting there having made a major purchase like this and the first year you have a natural disaster happen for the most part to deal with? From the outside looking in, if you had to have a year like this, you couldn’t ask to have a better guy steering the ship than Roger. He’s smart, he knows what to do. I think he’s made the best of the situation he was dealt and done the right thing and made the right decisions to make all the events happen so far.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Roger will be a great steward of the track and the series. He’s not 100-percent but 1000-percent the right guy. His history speaks for itself. You look at what he’s done in motorsports and what he’s done in the business world. He is absolutely the perfect guy to do this right now.
Q: Do you have a favorite for Sunday’s Indy 500?
I hope and pray that Marco Andretti finishes this off. He’s had a great week so far. He’s a good friend of mine and I would love nothing more than to see him finish this thing off. It’s hard to know what all is going on up there with practice and everything but I hope he can pull this off. He has had the worst luck I’ve ever seen for a race car driver in the last one-and-a-half to two years. It just seems that everything is going really well so far for him and hopefully he can keep that going. If he can win Sunday that would make me happier than you could imagine.
Q: What has been your take on how well the Stewart-Haas Racing organization has operated under the COVID-19 protocols so far in the Cup Series?
There was one thing that I didn’t know what to expect and that was how would our guys – and when I say guys I mean everybody within the organization – react to how we had to restructure, how many people we had in the shop, what times to let them in, not working in big groups together, things like that. There are all these things that we’ve had to change to operate as a business and to see the products we are sending to the race tracks are on par or above par in a lot of cases with the best in the sport – I’m super-proud of those guys. If it didn’t work out and it wasn’t going right, they had every excuse or reason for it not to work out right. I feel like they’ve taken it and figured how to make it work for us. We see that every week when we send the Xfinity and Cup teams to the race track. This is honestly one of those situations where when I say this I actually mean it – I couldn’t be more proud of organization that I am right now. This is not the easiest times to go run a race team from top to bottom, whether it’s the person cleaning at the end of the day or the guy writing the checks at the end of day. This has been extremely difficult and I feel everyone in our organization has risen to the occasion.
Q: Do you think it has been more difficult for those within the organization to enjoy the success that has come on the race track with all the protocols in place?
I believe they all appreciate the result. Obviously, you don’t see each other as much at the shop, there’s smaller groups at the shops so there are no big celebrations. At the end of the day, our guys are smart enough to realize the scenario we’re in and why we’re in it and have made the most of it. We still have a job to do. How do we make great race cars? When we get the result, the celebrations may be on the phone or via text and not in person. But we’re still very proud of what we have accomplished together under difficult circumstances.
Q: Does anything that Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers accomplish surprise you anymore?
Honestly, not at all. It’s just like Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon. Jimmy Fennig and Mark Martin. It’s combinations like that you guard with your life because when you get a marriage of a driver and crew chief like you have, those guys know each other so well. When you see them working at the track, you watch Kevin on the in-car cameras, if things aren’t going right, there isn’t panic, he knows how to get that thing to the next pit stop and let Rodney fix it. They do a great job. They have a great rhythm. They’ve had it for a long time, it’s not different this year, but their confidence in each other becomes more visible when they don’t have two days to work on the car. During the race they do what needs to be done to put themselves in position to win.
Q: At this point, do believe SHR will have the same four drivers in 2021 or could the situation change?
We haven’t discussed making any changes yet. Obviously, we have Chase Briscoe in our system and he’s come a long way in a short amount of time this year and probably progressed faster than we even thought. We’re not in any rush to make any decisions or changes right now. We’re still focused on the four guys we’ve got and giving them the best race cars we can give them. I’m comfortable where we’re at. I wish we could have five Cup teams because I would love to move Chase into one of our Cup teams. But at the same time, I don’t think if he doesn’t get moved to a Cup car it’s bad for him. I think it just gives him another year to get more experience. He’s young enough that he has plenty of time to accomplish his goals and dreams.