TONY STEWART KEEPS CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE TIGHT WITH THIRD PLACE FINISH AT PHOENIX
AVONDALE, AZ - (November 13, 2011) - It is down to two drivers in the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup following today's race at Phoenix International Raceway. Tony Stewart powered his No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet to a third place finish to remain just three points out of the lead as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway next week for the season finale.
The two-time NSCS champion captured the very valuable bonus point for most laps led after starting the 312-lap/312-mile/500K Kobalt Tools 500 from the eight place on the 43-car grid.
Jeff Burton, No. 31 Caterpillar Global Mining Chevrolet, finished fourth followed by Ryan Newman in fifth behind the wheel of the U.S. Army Veteran's Day Chevrolet.
Paul Menard, No. 27 Peak/Menards Chevrolet, and Clint Bowyer, No. 33 USO/Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet, finished ninth and 10th respectively to give Team Chevy five of the top-10 finishing positions in today's race.
All remaining 10 drivers who qualified for this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup have been mathematically eliminated from a chance at the championship after today's race.
Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet, remains third in the standings after battling handling issues today that netted him a 19th place finish.
Five-time defending NSCS champion Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, moved up to fifth in the standings with a very hard-fought 14th place finish today.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 88 Retro Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, remains seventh in points. He too fought handling issues to take the checkered flag in 24th position.
Newman's strong run today moved him three places in the standings to ninth place.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, battled brake issues for the majority of the race to settle for a disappointing 32nd place finish. He is now 11th in the standings heading to South Florida.
Kasey Kahne was the race winner followed by point's leader Carl Edwards to complete the top-five finishers
The 36th and final round of the 2011 season will be November 20, 2011.
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 MOBIL 1/OFFICE DEPOT CHEVROLET – FINISHED 3RD:
YOUR CREW CHIEF, DARIAN GRUBB, APOLOGIZED FOR AN ADJUSTMENT; WHAT HAPPENED? “Well, he shouldn’t apologize for it. We just made another air pressure change and we finally got too far on it. So, we had an awesome Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevy today and the Coca-Cola program, we’re proud of that; and Sprint and everybody; it was just an awesome day. We did almost everything we needed to do. We led a lap; led the most laps, and just came up two spots shy. But it was just a little bit too loose on entry the last two runs there. I thought Darian made a really good call there with just gas only at the end and we were able to run Jeff (Burton) down there and get back to third. So, we’re keeping him (Carl Edwards, point leader) honest.”
TALK ABOUT THAT FINAL PASS WITH NINE LAPS TO GO WHEN YOU RAN JEFF BURTON DOWN AND MADE THE PASS. HOW IMPORTANT WAS THAT? “Well, we’ll see next week. It could come down to that. Every point counts right now. That’s why we raced Carl (Edwards) so hard and Kasey (Kahne) so hard. We led enough laps to lead the most laps today so we’re going for every single point we can get right now.”
THREE POINTS AWAY, HOW DO YOU WIN IT AT HOMESTEAD NEXT WEEK? “We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing. We have a third and two wins in the last three races so we’re going to keep the pressure on him (Carl Edwards) and we’ll make him sweat it out.”
ON THE RACE: “Oh, we had a great day. We led the most laps and did everything we could do. So, we missed it by two spots but it was still an awesome day for the Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevy.”
HOW HARD DID YOU WORK TO MAKE THAT LAST LAP PASS ON JEFF BURTON? “I over-drove it in two corners before that but it just looked like he got a little tight and I was able to get rotated in the center and get underneath him. But I don’t think he pushed the issue really hard; I think he raced us with respect there and so I appreciate that.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET – FINISHED 14TH:
YOU HAVE BEEN MATHEMATICALLY ELIMINATED FROM THE DRIVER’S CHAMPIONSHIP, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON WHAT YOU ACCOMPLISHED THIS YEAR? “Yeah, I’m definitely disappointed that we won’t be able to go to Homestead and race for our sixth (consecutive driver’s championship) but that’s motorsports. It’s a very tough business. What we did over the last five years was absolutely spectacular and I’ve just got to thank Lowe’s. I’ve got to thank Hendrick Motorsports, Chad Knaus (crew chief), and this whole race team for giving me everything they’ve had these 10 years. Even though we’re not in position to win the championship now, we’re going to go to Homestead and try to have our best race down there that we can and finish as high as we can in the points.”
A LOT OF PEOPLE SAY YOU ARE GOING TO COME BACK EVEN STRONGER NEXT YEAR. WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE ONE THING YOU WANT TO TAKE FROM THIS AS YOU MOVE FORWARD? “We’ll definitely learn. To a certain degree being on top for as long as we have been takes a lot of effort to maintain that. It just takes a lot out of you. So this winter will be a nice winter to unplug and relax and really look internally and dissect the different areas of the race team and what we do and come back stronger. I’ve always learned more from tougher moments and by no means is this a tough moment. Yes, the streak is gone but we’ve still got a shot at a top-five in points and that would be a big year still.”
WILL YOU HAVE A LITTLE MORE FUN AT HOMESTEAD THIS TIME THAN YOU’VE HAD IN THE PAST FIVE YEARS? “Yeah, I’ll definitely have more fun and get a lot of sleep going in there. I’ll bet you the No. 99 (Carl Edwards) and the No. 14 (Tony Stewart) won’t. I’ll have fun watching from the sidelines.”
WAS THIS A CHALLENGING RACE LIKE EVERYONE THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO BE? “Yeah, we were really, really far off. We kind of had that in practice and throughout different points of the weekend. Unfortunately we just couldn’t get the car balanced right. As a whole, if you look at our Hendrick cars, unfortunately we all struggled. The only Hendrick affiliated car that did any good was the No. 14 (Tony Stewart) and the rest of us looked like mid-packers all weekend long.”
WILL TONIGHT BE THE NIGHT YOU REFLECT ON WHAT YOU’VE ACCOMPLISHED? “It might be. There’s definitely disappointment. I think that will be the emotion I deal with first. And then over the off-season, I’m sure it will kick-in some and reflect. I’ll reflect then, but still; in order for us to be where we want to be next year, we’ve got to work very, very hard during this off-season to understand what’s up and that’s not going to make it all that relaxed. So, I’m up for the challenge. This team is. My guys work so hard and we’ll learn and grow from this.”
IS IT GOING TO SEEM WEIRD THAT YOU’RE NOT THE CHAMPION? “”I’ve been racing 30 years; shoot, 31 years and I’ve won probably two other big championship along the way. So, seven out of 31 years; this is normal. What we did over the last five years is abnormal. And then now we’ll get a taste of normalcy.”
RYAN NEWMAN, NO. 39 U.S. ARMY VETERANS DAY CHEVROLET – FINISHED 5TH:
“The guys on the U.S. Army Chevrolet with the Veteran’s Day special paint scheme; that was an amazing comeback for us to come from 30th to fifth. I’m really proud of that. Tony (Stewart) kept himself in the hunt and we’re just doing all we can. That was a good run for us today. We had a good day on pit road. We’ve had some struggles here during the championship Chase on pit road, but to come back from what we did and start from where we did and end up talking to you (media) now is a good day.”
FROM 30TH TO 5TH ON THE TRACK, GOOD RUN: "It was interesting. The back stretch was the most interesting part the race track today. The guys did a good job on the US Army Chevrolet and this special Veteran's Day paint scheme. I don't think we hurt anybody on the car (smiles). Just proud of the No. 14 to do what they did. Thanks to all the fans for coming out. Hope it was an interesting race. For us to come from 30th to fifth, I'm proud of the effort. Wish we could have picked up four more."
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 RETRO DIET MOUNTAIN DEW/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET, FINISHED 24TH:
NOT THE DAY YOU WERE HOPING FOR TODAY: “No. We pitted there and got caught with the caution out there and lost a couple of laps and just never got a chance to get it back. We had an ok car. Maybe a top-20 car. But, we changed the whole set-up last night. We put the No. 14 (Tony Stewart) setup in; we didn’t even practice it and we missed it. We didn’t hit it. The car was laying all over the race track. We just spent all day long trying to fix that. We should have just stuck with what we working with in practice and made the best of that and I think we could have done ok.”
HOW WAS THE TRACK? “It was alright. It’s too smooth. There’s not enough rocks in the asphalt, it’s too smooth. It’s all tar. It is really smooth. Hopefully it will age pretty quick though. But they need more rocks in the race track.”
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET, FINISHED 32ND:
PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR DAY, THIS PLACE ON BRAKES IS SO CRITICAL: “Yes. You know, I’m questioning what we had going on there because it seems like something contributed to that. I don’t know. Disappointing day. Disappointing weekend. We weren’t good here in the test. We weren’t good when we got here. We made a little of gains there and worked our way up there a little bit, but the restarts were hurting us really bad. It’s really slick out there and we were fighting and battling but then the brake problem happening and that pretty much ruined our day.”
DID YOU SEE ANYTHING PHYSICALLY WRONG WITH THE BRAKES? “Nope.”
YOU HAD SUCH HIGH HOPES COMING INTO THIS CHASE; THIS HAS TO BE DISAPPOINTING THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS. “We knew we were out of it, but you want to close the season out on a positive note and carry some momentum into the off season as well as more as high in the points as you can. It hasn’t been our Chase at all and not the kind of year we wanted or the way we wanted to close out the year. This is a very good team and we’ve got a lot to look forward to in the future.”
CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT IT IS LIKE TO RUN THIS TRACK WITHOUT BRAKES? “I had brakes, I just didn’t’ have enough to go fast. Every time I tried a little faster and use a little more brakes, then all of a sudden the pedal would start going to the floor and then I’d just have to back off and cool them back down. Just something we have to look into because we had a lot of opening to cool them. It shouldn’t have gotten hot.”
CAN YOU GIVE US YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE TRACK? “I think the corners are not bad; but that dogleg in the back is ridiculous. It’s almost dangerous. I’m not a fan of that. But I think they are going to have a really nice race track here. The surface I liked as it moved into a wider groove. As it wears, Goodyear will be able to build a tire than can wear and have a little more grip so that we can race a little bit better.”
JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR GLOBAL MINING CHEVROLET, FINISHED 4TH:
“We got really tight there at the end and he (Tony Stewart) had a lot of momentum. I didn’t slam into him or anything, but I wasn’t going to give him the spot. He earned it and he got it. The Caterpillar Chevrolet was good, really, all day. Real proud of everybody. When things are tough, you find out what people are made. My group has just kept digging and kept their heads up. Real proud of everybody. Nobody has quit on this team, not once. I’m real proud of that.”
WHAT HAS TURNED IT AROUND FOR YOU GUYS? “We have always worked hard and we didn’t get in this hole because of one person. We were just looking at things wrong. We’ve started changing how we are looking at things. I’ve gotten a little more involved in trying to understand exactly what is in the cars because that is really a departure for me not to be involved. So, I’ve become a little more involved. But that hasn’t had much to do with it other than me understanding what is in the car. I think that does matter. So, just a lot of work; a lot of effort and just everybody is just hitting the right buttons right now.”
VERY SOLID DAY: “We ran well all day. This is just a difficult race track. It is hard to pass and we did a nice job today. We played our cards right. You can always look back and think you could have done something different. We weren’t quite as good as one or two cars on the average of the total run, it would get a little tighter than we wanted. It was a good day for us. It was what we needed and what makes me comfortable. We’ve run really well the last month and hopefully we will build some momentum going into next year.”
CAN YOU CARRY THAT MOMENTUM OVER TO NEXT YEAR? “Well I hope so. I think we are learning. I know this sounds silly but we learned an awful lot of what not to do about what not to do earlier in the year and it just took us forever to recover from it. We started working on things that just weren’t the right things to work on and not we’re starting to work on stuff that is making a difference. This sport is hard. It wasn’t one person’s fault. We collectively weren’t doing a good job as a team but real proud of everybody with the Caterpillar Chevrolet and real proud of all of sponsors. Caterpillar, Chevrolet, SKF, Menards…everybody…Coca Cola for sticking with us. This has been very difficult for us and them too. But they’ve all stuck with us and real excited and proud of that. Makes me want to work harder for them.”
KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 29 BUDWEISER CHEVROLET, FINISHED 19TH:
ON HIS DAY: "It was a tough day for the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet team. We didn't quite know what to expect with the new surface and the weather this weekend. We took some gambles today and it didn't work out in the end. We'll head to Homestead next weekend and try to end the season on a better note."