When Tony Stewart agreed to show up for Joe Gibbs Racing's 20th anniversary media event on Thursday, he probably figured his former boss would throw around a few funny stories from their 12-year partnership.
But when Gibbs began to recall how he recruited Stewart to join JGR, Stewart quickly realized he was getting more than he bargained for.
"I didn't sign up for this part," he said helplessly as Gibbs launched into the story.
To hear Gibbs tell it, recruiting Stewart to join JGR was much more difficult than anything the coach experienced while recruiting college football players.
"This," Gibbs said, "was a flaming nightmare."
Before Gibbs could track down Stewart to get him to sign the papers, he had to work out a deal with then-owner Harry Ranier.
"Harry goes, 'I've got two other partners, and this is the amount of cash it's going to take to get Tony out of his deal,'" Gibbs recalled. "So I go to meet Harry over there and I walk in there and I've got the check, and as I go to hand him the check, he goes, 'Are you sure you want to do this?'"
Gibbs, brushing aside Stewart's reputation for being difficult, did the deal with Ranier anyway – then set out to find Stewart.
In trying to track Stewart down, Gibbs figured the best way to find the driver would be to contact his girlfriend. But Stewart didn't have just one, Gibbs said.
"The best (part) was, he had three girlfriends, OK?" Gibbs said, laughing. "So I'm trying to figure out which girlfriend is he with? I would literally call the house, and I'd always know if I hit it right, because they'd be real friendly: 'Oh yeah, I'm with Tony, I can get Tony.'
"Then the next time after that I'd call and they'd go, 'Don't call this number again!' So I guess he broke up with that one!"
Gibbs said Stewart was worth the trouble, though, calling it "one of the best deals we ever made." But he laughed as he recalled the many headaches Stewart caused over the years.
On that note, he couldn't help but point out how much Stewart has changed since becoming a team owner (aside from the Australia incident two week ago, of course).
"He becomes an owner and – you guys know – he doesn't have one ripple, he doesn't call Goodyear names," Gibbs said. "I'm kind of going like this: 'Did he have a lobotomy?'
"And then (the old Tony) came back, two weeks ago."
This prompted much laughter from the assembled media, and Stewart seemed OK with being the target of Gibbs' ribbing. But the man they call 'Smoke' usually gets the last word.
Asked the most important lesson Gibbs has taught him, Stewart replied, "Don't come back to the 20-year reunion."
He added: "I'm just hoping (Gibbs) still remembers a couple of those girls' numbers, because I don't remember where I put them."