Instead of the three or four owners sitting at the podium for the championship owners press conference, it was only two.
They happened to have a bit of history together, too.
Tony Stewart and Joe Gibbs make up this years Championship 4 team owners. It just so happens the two are going into the NASCAR Hall of Fame together after racing together at Joe Gibbs Racing and as competitors for the past few seasons.
“It means a lot to me,” Stewart said. “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 guy 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 — God, we really are getting old, aren’t we.”
“Yeah,” said Gibbs. “We are.”
“That means you really are old,” Stewart jabbed back. “You were old when I started.”
“I know, I’m in the fourth quarter,” Gibbs said with a laugh.
“Something tells me he’s going to have multiple overtimes in his game for some reason,” Stewart said with a smirk.
The respect the two champions and Hall of Famers have for each other is palpable, but the two friends are never afraid to crack more than a couple jokes.
Denny Hamlin spoke at media day about how this year’s Daytona 500 practice session went awry. He was told to stay in line and draft, but got out of line and crashed. Coach Gibbs gave Hamlin a bit of a tongue lashing, something rarely seen on the outside, but is somewhat of a normality for JGR drivers.
“I was upset with what happened,” Gibbs said. “And then he turned around and won that next race, and I said, okay, you can forget that. I don’t think I’ve ever penalized anybody for anything, but I threaten them every now and then.”
“That’s not true,” Stewart said with a laugh. “I had to pay for two TVs in the lounge of the trailer that I broke.”
The jokesters, back at it again.
“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. I got him at Richmond one time, and I beat him in there real quick, and (Stewart) 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, (motioning to open a door), I started to go, ‘Okay, I think you should,'” Gibbs said with a belly laugh that filled the room.
And in typical Smoke fashion, Stewart had a nice comeback.
“See, as a good owner, you should have thought of that first and I would have saved the trailer,” Stewart chuckled.
Once the two got their heads back in the game, so to speak, Stewart addressed Daniel Suarez‘s departure and Cole Custer‘s arrival to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, citing that although turnover in driver lineup is not necessarily wanted, it’s part of the business.
“You do want to have that opportunity for guys to have time to gel and mesh,” he said. “When you sit down at the end of the day, business is business, and sometimes it doesn’t necessarily work that way. Sometimes, you have to make tough decisions that — sometimes they seem like a bigger leap and stretch than others. But at the end of the day, it’s a group of us that sit down and say is this the right thing for our company right now.”
Stewart also was candid on the stress the playoffs cause on drivers and teams, calling it “the worst 10 weeks of your life.”
“It’s not the greatest thing for the drivers and teams,” he admitted. “But if it makes our sport better, that’s what we do and that’s why we do it. It creates a lot of excitement [..] all it takes is one thing to happen that can eliminate you from your whole year’s work and everything that you’ve done in the off‑season to prepare to try to get to this moment.”
Gibbs pointed to Hamlin’s season, a historical one in his career, that came down to a win-or-go-home scenario last weekend at ISM Raceway, as to what makes the postseason so difficult.
“It’s part of what makes it so gratifying, too,” he said. “If you accomplish your goal, you know that you had to do everything right. Like Joe said in his example, they had to overcome a mistake and had to overcome it by winning a race. I mean, you think back 20 years ago, 30 years ago where you had a whole season to make points up.
“The stress of it wasn’t near like that because by the time you got here, you had one, two, maybe three guys that mathematically were in it. But the level of anxiety you have and the level you have to perform at when you get to this one event is incredible. I mean, that’s what makes this so special if you do win it.”
Still, though, the two know there is business left to take care of. And it’ll be done on Sunday, Nov. 17, in the Ford EcoBoost 400 from Homestead-Miami Speedway at 3:30 p.m. EST on NBC.