Tony Stewart challenges Brian France on approach
CHARLOTTE – Tony Stewart said Thursday he was reprimanded by NASCAR Chairman Brian France last August at Pocono Raceway for speaking his mind too often.
That ordinarily might have turned off the mercurial three-time series champion, but he said France needs to do more of it – in part, because Stewart wants his peers to stand up to the man running the show more often.
“I want to see Brian France at the track more,” Stewart told “Sirius Speedway” host Dave Moody during an appearance on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s NASCAR channel as part of the Sprint Cup Media Tour.
“I want to see him walking through the garage more. I want to see him being more active than just showing up and patting the sponsors on the back and going up in the suite. I want to see him down there in the trenches with everybody and understanding what’s truly going on. I think that’s where he needs to be for a while.”
Stewart referenced the Pocono meeting several times Thursday during multiple sessions with reporters, once noting that “Brian France gave me a message at Pocono last year that just because I didn’t like something didn’t mean I was right.” He brought it up unprompted when asked about how he had encouraged a dirt track to water its surface.
“Sometimes, they need a little help with making decisions; sometimes, they don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said. “Brian France cautioned me on making too many suggestions last year. So I’m going to try to keep my ideas to myself a little bit. There are some places that welcome our ideas.”
As a member of the newly formed driver council that began meeting with NASCAR officials last year, Stewart does have the chance to voice his opinion to the sanctioning body.
But he believes other stars should be more candid – particularly in meetings with Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR’s vice president of innovation.
Asked by Moody how many other drivers were willing to tell France that he was wrong, Stewart said no one.
“That’s the problem,” Stewart said. “The problem for us, which is getting better, it’s much, much better.
“I know they’re going to freak out about this, but it’s got a lot better to where we have the driver council now. Now we meet with NASCAR more frequently. Gene’s been a part of those meetings. The whole demeanor of the meetings are different than when Gene started and had his idea of going one way, and all the rest of us were telling him we needed to go in a different direction.”
Asked if he received “adequate hearing” from NASCAR, Stewart told Moody, “I didn’t last year” and again mentioned a debate over last year’s rules package with France, who apparently took the side of Stefanyshyn, a former GM executive with no racing experience before joining NASCAR.
After a disappointing start to the season, NASCAR experimented with a high-drag rules package favored by Stefanyshyn and a low-downforce approached favored by drivers such as Stewart, who was outspoken about his preference
“I had a disagreement with Brian France, he came up to me at Pocono and gave me a hard time saying just because it was my idea doesn’t mean it was right,” Stewart said. “And I sat there, in my head was saying, ‘Wait a minute. You’re standing up for a guy who’s never worked on a race car, never been a part of a race team that now is making decisions on what the rules package is going to be vs. guys who have been driving race cars for 20 or 30 years? So you’re telling us that that guy’s smarter than what we all are?’
“And that’s where Brian France and I tend to disagree a lot.”
Asked whether he had discussed it further with the NASCAR chairman, Stewart laughed and said, “No. You never see Brian France. He shows up at the drivers meeting, and you never see him after that.
“I picked up what Brian was putting down, and he’s right. It’s their series. They’ve got to make the decisions. Just because it’s my idea doesn’t mean it’s the right idea, but I’d like to think in the 37 years I’ve been in racing that I’ve learned a thing or two.”
France has said he has stayed away from the driver council meetings because he wants drivers to speak their minds.
“And he might be right, because a lot of guys won’t call a spade a spade, but I’d like for him to be there because I want to make sure the stuff I’m talking about, I want to make sure before I leave that room, he understands,” Stewart said. “I want to see he cares enough to be there. Not sit there and get a report from somebody. When it comes to me dealing with the All Star Series (a sprint car series he owns), I’m there. I’m listening to people. I want to know what they’re doing.”
“I’m saying it because I care. I’m not trying to pick a fight with him.”
Stewart said too many other drivers are worried about clashing with France.
“That’s why I’m saying he needs to be (in the meetings),” he said. “But nobody wants to disrupt the apple cart. No one wants to make Brian mad. But we’re all in it together. If it doesn’t work for one, it doesn’t work for all of us.
“Brian’s got a lot invested in this. He’s emotionally invested. It’s what his family has built. I know Brian France cares. But I think there’s a lot of things that got lost in translation from a driver talking to somebody in the trailer to when it gets to him. Who knows what it sounds like by the time it gets up there, or if it even gets up there. So that’s why a lot of us would like to see him there. Even if he doesn’t say anything. We just want to know that he’s hearing what we’re saying.”