Doug Duchardt, NASCAR group manager of GM Racing, and Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), announced today that Gibbs' two NASCAR Winston Cup Series teams of Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte will switch from Pontiac to Chevrolet for the 2003 ...
Doug Duchardt, NASCAR group manager of GM Racing, and Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), announced today that Gibbs' two NASCAR Winston Cup Series teams of Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte will switch from Pontiac to Chevrolet for the 2003 Winston Cup season.
Joe Gibbs Racing fielded a Chevrolet from its inception in 1992 through the 1996 Winston
Cup season with Dale Jarrett and then Bobby Labonte as its drivers. It started running a Pontiac in 1997 with Labonte, and then two Pontiacs in 1999 when Stewart joined the organization as a rookie. Of the 35 Winston Cup victories and the 26 Winston Cup pole positions earned by JGR in its 10-year history, 29 wins and 20 poles have been won with a Pontiac.]
THOUGHTS FROM JOE GIBBS, TEAM OWNER, JOE GIBBS RACING:
ON THE DECISION TO SWITCH FROM PONTIAC TO CHEVROLET:
"I'd like to start by saying that Pontiac has been a great partner for us. Of course, I still think back to GM when I first went into the meeting with Herb Fishel (in 1991), I don't think I had a driver, I don't think I had anything. But, these guys were willing to gamble and go with us, so we've got a strong allegiance to GM. We've been in Chevrolet before.
"Here is a little bit of our thought process: Pontiac has been a great partner. We finished second twice, I think, with them in the championship race. We won a championship with them, so it's been everything we thought it would be when we went over there. I don't think they could have done anything more to help us. They've been a great partner.
"Really, our thought process was really - and again, I want to say when we make a decision on our race team, a critical component to that would be our drivers, our crew chiefs and everybody that sits in our front office. We all make a decision together. This is one that we've been thinking about for a while and our feeling is this. We feel like starting next year, we'll be in a better position as a race team, where we can benchmark our cars against a lot of other good cars. It's just pure numbers for us and we feel like we'll be better off in that situation. So, that is really the reason for the change.
"We'll be testing tomorrow at Indy. We'll be testing two Pontiacs and two Chevrolets. Then, it will depend on how our testing goes -- for the rest of the year we'll continue to do that some - and if we feel like at any one point that we would be better off racing them (Chevrolets), we may race the Chevrolet at the end of the year. But, only if we think it tests better."
THOUGHTS FROM DOUG DUCHARDT, NASCAR GROUP MANAGER, GM RACING:
ON THE FUTURE OF PONTIAC IN NASCAR:
"Along with this, obviously there are going to be some questions about the Pontiac lineup and the situation for Pontiac. The first thing that I need to clear up is that Pontiac will be racing in 2003.
"As you all know, the Pontiac was approved in late June for competition for 2003 - the new Pontiac was approved. We're very excited about the new car. We're working on some new teams. We're in negotiations with some teams. I've been contacted by quite a few teams about potentially becoming Pontiacs. We're quite confident that we'll have a good lineup next year to campaign for the Pontiacs and there is really no question that we're going to be there. I know there has been speculation about that. But, with the new Grand Prix and the new production car, we're excited about next year."
IF YOU ARE SWITCHING BRANDS, WHY DID YOUR TEAM HELP DEVELOP THE NEW GRAND PRIX?
"We felt like in the partnership that we've bee in with Pontiac - and, of course, we just came to this conclusion anyway - we were actively involved in developing the new Pontiac. We think it's a great car. At the same time, earlier in the year we had built a Chevrolet, just to test for our own guys, for our own information, so really I would say it is just a timing issue. Certainly, as part of being in the partnership, as one of the key partners in Pontiac, we wanted to make sure that we do our part. We think Pontiac has a great car there."
WHAT WAS GM'S REACTION WHEN YOU FIRST BROUGHT THIS UP?
"I think as you go through the years, the good thing about GM and Pontiac is that they're right there with you. They hear all the discussions. They hear the drivers. They hear what they say. And, of course, it's been an evolution. When we went to Pontiac, there were quite a few more Pontiacs and a lot of those guys left and went on. It's an evolution-type thing. It was just a process and they've been very helpful in it - have always been strong partners for us. We always go to them for good counsel on everything. But, I think it was just a process. They've heard our drivers - what our drivers talked about. They heard our crew chiefs. We just felt like to position ourselves for the future that this was the best decision for us.
"I appreciate GM because they've been a great partner and they do work with you on things like this. Like I said, we've got some good existing relationships there inside Chevrolet. We've been over there, worked with those guys and the car owners, so we think it's going to be a natural for us just to go back."
ARE YOU CONFIDENT THAT THE 2003 MONTE CARLO WILL BE JUST AS GOOD AS THE 2003 PONTIAC?
"Yes, and we've also been working on that, so we've been very busy in our shop. But, we've been one of the partners helping develop that and work on some aspects of it. Obviously, going to common template, for us as a race team, we think that is going to be good for all of us. What it does, it does bring the cars closer together and that's what we want. They still look like the Pontiac and Chevrolets and Dodges and Fords. But, anything we can do to bring the cars closer together so we make sure that everybody is racing the same potential car and then the teams make the difference, so we feel very confident about it."
WHAT WAS THE TIMETABLE OF YOUR PROCESS?
"Obviously, you've got concerns with your drivers, trying to benchmark our cars. How good are they? So, as a process to try and answer some of that, we built this year's Chevrolet, took it to Dallas, Texas and tested it. Off of that, we were still lobbying NASCAR, trying to get something for the Pontiac. At that point, when we eventually did get something for the Pontiac, then we had a chance to race it at a mile-and-a-half and what-have-you, it was an on-going process. So, my answer to that is that it has kind of been a process that we've been working on for probably four months. We just kept working on it and saying, 'What is best for us?' Like I said, I'm strongly persuaded by our drivers and our crew chiefs, so that was just the process we went through."
IF PONTIAC HAD BROUGHT IN ANOTHER HIGH-QUALITY TEAM, MIGHT THAT HAVE KEPT YOU FROM SWITCHING?
"I don't think that had anything to do with it. It was more or less - we're talking about numbers (total team numbers). Right now, Pontiac numbers are not going to be where the Chevrolet is. I think having the past relationship there, having been over there, seeing our involvement as a race team, where we are today - so, it really didn't have to do with getting a team or two over there."
WILL YOU BE STARTING OVER WITH NEW CARS OR RE-SKINNING YOUR CURRENT CARS?
"With crew chiefs, what do you think? I keep wondering what we're doing here. We've got 40 cars and we never sell one. They're stacking them up in back now. It will be up to the crew chiefs. But, in general, because everybody is going to be going common template with the GM stuff, I think there will be more new cars brought on line. Basically, at any one time, we're probably building one on one plate and repairing one on the other. It will be some combination of that."
ARE YOU CONCERNED WITH WHERE YOU'LL BE IN THE PECKING ORDER AT CHEVROLET?
"Actually, we feel like we've always had a great relationship with GM. We know that they're full-fledged behind us. They're going to help us every way they can. We know that we're going to be in a bigger group now. We feel like the advantage for us is, like I said, we can benchmark ourselves. But, we're not worried about that. At any one time, we're just looking at what is best for us to race and what group is best for us to be in. We're GM anyway."
DID ANY OF THE PERCEIVED PONTIAC AERO DISADVANTAGES INFLUENCE YOUR DECISION?
"The key reason is what I said - more cars for us to benchmark ourselves against. I think every manufacturer is looking to get more stuff for their car. Obviously, we've just been given stuff for ours - the Pontiac. We did come last in line, I think, but everybody here is always arguing to try and get the best thing you can get for your car from NASCAR. But, really I don't think that was a key influence in this."
WHAT DID THE DRIVERS THINK ABOUT THE SWITCH?
"If you think about a driver's makeup, what they're wanting to do is just make sure that they have absolutely the best motor, the best crew chief, the best crew and the best car because they've got only a certain number of years to do this. Certainly, our two guys, you can kind of see it in their eyes.
"First of all, I think they were kind of impressed with the fact that GM is a willing partner like this and is willing to step and say, 'Look, we're going to do whatever it takes to make our drivers happy.' So, having the freedom to go build a Chevrolet and test it, I think they appreciate it. All we want to do is get answers. We want to stack it up there and see what happens. Those guys, that's all they want. That's what they're after, and of course, that is what we're after, too."
WAS THERE EVER A TIME THAT GM THOUGHT ABOUT ELIMINATING THE PONTIAC BRAND AND GOING WITH ONLY ONE BRAND IN NASCAR WINSTON CUP?
"No, there really wasn't. Pontiac was always very strongly supporting NASCAR. If you look at what the Pontiac division is about, it's about excitement. So they have always felt that racing is a natural tie for them. And that, I guess, is the unique thing in GM: that with the many divisions we have that we have two divisions to race. So sometimes it cause situations like this. But for General Motors, we think it's the best thing to do. This is the right place to be for Pontiac to touch a large audience and improve their image. And with a brand new production car coming out, there really wasn't any discussion about that.
"If I could follow up on something Lee (Spencer) asked about - pecking order. If you look at any stable of teams, it's a cyclical thing. You look at your group of teams and you're going to have a year where one team is stronger than another. But we try to put an equal amount of emphasis on our teams so that individually they will excel. The one thing with Joe is, if you think about it in '97, when he came over there was one car and that group was starting to come on. That really allowed us when he came over to Pontiac and showed that the car was good - and we asked him to do that - it allowed us to put a little more resource to Joe at that time, I feel. And since that time he's added Tony (Stewart), and Joe Gibbs Racing has really blossomed in the last four or five years into a powerhouse winning 10 races in 2000 and the championship. And so, we're at a different time in Joe's (development) point, in his team's point, in their cycle. He approached us and we're supportive. He sat in Herb's (Fishel, executive director of GM Racing) office 11 years ago as he said, and front that point on we've been committed to each other.
YOU ARE A VERY STRONG GENERAL MOTORS MAN. WAS THERE ANY THOUGHT OF GOING OVER TO FORD OR DODGE?
"No. I think it's a partnership for me as I look it.
"When you go back (and look) at partnerships the loyalty goes back over the years. As everybody in here would know, over an 11 or 12-year period you're going to have a lot of downs. What happens when you hit the bottom? And we've certainly had that happen at Joe Gibbs Racing. We've had years where we didn't want to race, we had years where we had drivers wanting to leave...almost everything that could happen to a race team has happened to ours. And every single time we've contacted GM, or I did as a partner, these guys stepped up and said, 'Hey, here's what we think, what do you need from us?' Certainly going to Pontiac was the key part of, we feel, winning the championship and getting more resources and stuff at that point. They've been a great partner for us. Now all of sudden, if you are being successful, where do your loyalties belong? I kind of look back on the past each time. It probably means more to me (to see the support) of when you're in the down times then even when you're I the good times.
IF THE DRIVERS ARE HAPPIER WITH THE CHEVY AT THE TEST THIS WEEK, MIGHT YOU RUN A CHEVY AT THE BRICKYARD 400?
"Yes, that was our reason for it, and really it's for our drivers and crew chiefs as much as anything. I'm as excited about that as anything, because I want to see what we've got. I want to thank GM, because they are going to let us run what we think is the best car."
HOW DO YOU KEEP ALL OF YOUR TEAMS (I.E., CHEVY TEAMS) IN A UNIFORM FRONT FOR DISCUSSIONS WITH NASCAR?
"Rick (Hendrick), Richard (Childress) and Joe were together in Chevrolet before. I don't think there is going to be any sort of problem getting those guys together. From a technical standpoint, we have been working together - if you think about engine-wise, it's a common engine between Pontiac and Chevrolet. Right about the time, maybe a year or two before Joe switched to Pontiac, he started his engine shop. And we brought them into our engine development group, which helps us work on future engine parts and current development. So we've been doing engine development work as a group for seven years, and we added Joe after he got his engine shop. From a chassis standpoint, an aero standpoint, when you get into chassis and specifics teams are gong to do individual things. Working on the new car has been fantastic. Working on the Monte Carlo, the first discussion was held in Joe's shop with the Pontiac sitting right there (as a development example.) All the things we learned on that Pontiac was shared by Joe's guys.
"And also don't forget a key part of the Pontiac development was MV2/MBV and James Ince and his crew. They did a very good job with that and I think there is a very good report there. If you ask James, he would say unequivocally that they are going to have a good car next year.
"On the Chevy side, when you talk about common pieces that you need to campaign for, it's easy to get people to work together. When you talk about things you're racing today, then there's always a little "all the cards are on the table.
"But that's understandable because they're racers. We don't go down and show each team each other's cylinder heads obviously, but we can discuss future cylinder heads.
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT ON THE TEAM TO MAKE THIS TRANSITION? AND SECOND, ARE YOU CHANGING YOUR BUSCH PROGRAM TO CHEVY AS WELL?
"Yes, we'll be going with our Busch program also. I think our guys are all geared to competitiveness and we're fortunate enough in our shop that we do have some flexibility because we only have two cars there. I think when it came up that we could build a Chevrolet they were all excited about it. The guys back at the shop are all paid a bonus. I've found that people are highly motivated by money. (laughing) If they can get something that gets them two spots further up the grid, then they're all for it. We don't have a real problem with that. You know how people are in almost all sports, if you change the day, change the time, change things on them they get excited. They enjoy the challenge.
IS THERE A POSSIBILITY OF SEEING YOUR DRIVERS SPLIT BETWEEN A CHEVY AND PONTIAC ON THE SAME WEEKEND DEPENDING ON PERSONAL PREFERENCE?
"No, I don't know that we've gotten that far. I kind of feel like that what we're going to test tomorrow (two Pontiacs and two Chevrolets) are pretty much both the same, (and) our guys are pretty close in almost everything. There is a little difference in driving style but not much. And not much I terms of the cars (current setup). I don't anticipate that we'll be at opposite ends of the spectrum. I haven't even thought about that."