An interview with: Tony Stewart and Darian Grubb
KERRY THARP: Let's go ahead and hear from the crew chief from today's winning race team, Darian Grubb.
Darian is a native of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Floyd, Virginia. I'm told this is your first Sprint Cup win here in your native state. Congratulations on that. Talk about the ebb and flow of the race, some of the things maybe that y'all had to do on pit road, strategy.
DARIAN GRUBB: It's a really tough race, especially the way the weekend went with the rainout, not a lot of practice. We had to do a lot of practice in that little bit of short time to figure the car out. Once we did that, started the race off, the car was pretty good to start. As the rubber was laid down, we got handling issues. We played with that. The ebb and flow of the track position strategy here is tough because if you're the guy that stays out, we went from the front to the back two or three times, major adjustments on the car, ended up being well and being in the right spot at the right time at the end.
KERRY THARP: Questions for Darian.
Q. With all the crashes that were going on, what was your game plan? How can you figure out what sequence you wanted to be on?
DARIAN GRUBB: It really didn't happen until right at the very end. We were playing our sequence to make our car right. It's easier to make those calls when you're in the front because you can decide, the strategy is going to play out, we'll be back at the front when it matters. Mid race we made some major changes, long pit stops, guys did an awesome job of getting everything done. When we got up there and got the lead, he thought he had a left rear tire going flat. Pitted. Took four tires to be safe. We thought that was going to kill us. But the way the strategy played out after that with a few more cautions, we were able to stay out, pit when we needed to. And at the end being able to take those two tires was a big deal for us. We were in the right position to be able to do that. Restarting on the inside with that the first time, that let us march forward. It was tough to start on the outside, and Tony figured out what he needed to do to pass the 48.
Q. Did you have any help from the 39 with the setup today?
DARIAN GRUBB: We started out with the exact same baseline when we came here and unloaded Friday morning. We evolved to quite a different setup between the two teams. We take a lot of each other's notes from each other. It's always a learning experience when you have a teammate with another strategy, setup and driver's input. That helped. They're really good teammates for that.
Q. Multiple times after the race Tony was forthright about challenging Carl Edwards, saying he should be worried, not going to sleep for the next three weeks. What have you seen from Tony today? Seems he was in a good mood all weekend, maybe he has a different outlook on the season.
DARIAN GRUBB: He does. We all have the attitude that we feel we should be leading right now. We made the mistakes that gave up those points there in the third, fourth and fifth race. We're ready to get back in this game and show everybody what we've got left.
Q. You have gone from Tony upset, not really focused on entering the Chase, saying, If we're not going to compete for wins, we shouldn't be in the Chase. Now you have three wins in seven races. Where did things get turned around to get you this confidence?
DARIAN GRUBB: It was way before those comments in Michigan. That just put a little bit more fire in everybody, I guess. We've been working hard all year. We've had good cars ever since the Daytona 500. We just never got the finishes we needed to get every weekend.
We had some bad strategy calls on my part. We had some cars that weren't the greatest. We had some situations on the racetrack that didn't work out.
We had a good team that just keeps fighting. They dig every week. When those comments were made in Michigan, we all fought just a little bit harder to make sure we got 110% out of every person there, to make sure we're all doing the right things and moving forward. We've been trying not to look back ever since.
KERRY THARP: Let's go ahead and hear from Tony. This is your 42nd career Sprint Cup win, your third win here in 2011, all in the Chase. You now have nine Chase wins in your career, second behind Jimmie Johnson. Congratulations to all that.
Talk about that victory here today being textbook, the pass. Talk about everything that fell your way.
TONY STEWART: It was a long day, for sure. The first 200 laps, Darian was making changes. We just couldn't get the car to respond to anything. He made some good changes the whole last half of the race that got us in the ballpark. He had two awesome pit calls with pit strategy that got us track position.
The first time I screwed up and gave it away thinking I had a flat tire. Then at the end of the day, he got us that track position back with another great call. That is what truly gave us the shot to have that opportunity at the end of the day.
For a guy that grew up 22 miles from here, he had than a All-Star day today. He made the right calls that gave us that opportunity, kept making changes. We have not been good here for probably the last two or three races. I think two races ago we were decent and I messed up and changed lanes before the start/finish line and got us moved back. Today was a fight, for sure.
When you win a race today with the obstacles that we overcame, that's what makes winning races like this so special.
KERRY THARP: We'll continue with questions.
Q. You kind of grabbed everybody's attention winning the first two races of the Chase, then dropped out of the picture. People were starting to say on Friday, Don't forget about the 14. You were excited in Victory Lane. Jeff Gordon was, You guys better pay attention to Tony. Talk about how that feels, Darian, to have people looking your way.
DARIAN GRUBB: It's funny to us because we never lose that feeling that we can win the championship. It's just that the media doesn't pay attention to it. We work as hard every week. We're doing 80-hour weeks every week. Doesn't matter whether we finish 34th or 1st. I'm proud of the guys for doing that. Everybody shows up for work every day with their game face on no matter what circumstances they're going through and get the job done. I'm very proud of everyone at Stewart Haas Racing for doing that.
Q. In New Hampshire you said it was too early to address this. How extra special is it to be able to bookend Jimmie Johnson's reign on this sport?
TONY STEWART: Come check with me in three weeks. We're closer than we were at Loudon. But it's awesome we have that opportunity, to get three races in the Chase like this. It's an awesome feeling sitting here tonight. We got three tracks that we feel are really good to us coming up.
I'm excited about it. It's a great feeling obviously. To be honest, it's really not the fact of beating Jimmie as much as it's just hard to win in this series to begin with. You cherish the opportunities. You make sure that when you have the opportunity, you make the most of it.
This is a tough series. It's been a tough Chase. There's the best Chase field that we've ever had. The cool part will be, the stuff I pay attention to, to have three of those trophies that are different in two different formats, three different sponsors, that would be a cool deal.
Q. Tony, at the beginning of the Chase you made the comment that you hadn't listed your guys as one of the true title contenders. What changed? Were you just using us?
TONY STEWART: I would just use you, Dustin. I'll be honest. You're easy to take advantage of. I don't think anybody cares if we take advantage of you, so it's not like you feel a huge amount of guilt in that process. Sorry, but...
You know, at the point when we talked about that, I mean, I felt like there were some things that were missing. I think our Chase run here, obviously Dover was not what we were looking for. But every race since then, we have been a contender. The result hasn't always shown at some of these races. But we've been pretty solid in this Chase here.
I don't know what changes. The guy beside me is the guy to ask that. He's the guy that's orchestrating it, organizing the people to do the job. It doesn't matter what it is that's changed; the good thing is that it has and it changed at the right time when we need it. That's all you can ask for.
Q. Tony, during that long green-flag run, you were ready to be lapped by Denny Hamlin, how important was it for you to fight him hard on the outside, maintain that lead lap status, and back up the determination you talked about in Victory Lane of your crew members not giving up on you?
TONY STEWART: I was reminded by Darian this morning, I was reminded by my spotter this morning, and I was reminded before the race by many crew members to not be so nice today, which I know sounds odd of me.
You know, this is a tough race. I think right at the end, a perfect example is having Jimmie there racing you, Jeff, Jeff Burton, the guys that we were around at the end of the day. You race these guys with respect and they're going to race you back with respect.
Could Jimmie just hauled it off in the corner, blown the corner to try to take us down? Absolutely. He could have done that to anybody. He didn't do that to us. I think he knows we respect him and have that level of respect. I messed up and got underneath the 43 car, probably the big bonehead move of my race today. Luckily I really only feel like I put myself in a bad spot one time that you couldn't get out of. That was with the 43 car. I got underneath him in a spot where he was already coming down. I screwed up, he got sideways. I just checked up and let him have his spot back. I never saw anybody give anybody a spot back in a situation like that today. It wasn't his fault.
I think later after that I got back by the 43 car and instead of dumping me like the other guys were doing to each other, I think he knew I gave him that spot back because I knew I made a mistake. It just shows the respect that some guys did have for each other even though there was a lot of disrespect amongst a lot of guys out there today.
NASCAR is going to have to at some point make these drivers be responsible for their actions amongst each other and not baby-sit and not protect these guys. Let them get their butt kicked. That's what used to happen in the old days. You didn't have guys dumping each other and taking cheap shots like that.
I used to be as guilty of it and bad as anybody about taking a cheap shot at guys early. But you realize that it's not about the two guys driving the cars out there as much as it's there's a bunch of guys that go back to the shop. There's a car owner that spends a lot of money. There's a bunch of crew guys that spend a lot of hours and put a lot of heart and soul into what we have as a product each week with these racecars. I think at times we all forget about that.
You let a guy get his butt kicked once or twice, he'll quit doing stupid stuff like that. I saw a bunch of it today out there. Luckily we weren't one of the guys that were in the middle of it a lot. I think they ought to get a portable boxing ring. As soon as they get done with the victory celebration, set the boxing ring on the frontstretch, give the fans a real show they paid for. If you want to boost the attendance at Martinsville, have a boxing match with each of the guys that had a beef with each other.
Am I the only one that thinks that way in this room? I thought so.
Q. Has your outlook changed as an owner?
TONY STEWART: Not necessarily. I mean, when Dale Sr. was here and Dale Jarrett, when I started, you just didn't do that because that guy would come grab you, pull you out of the car at the end of the practice session, rip your head off talking to you about it, intimidate you into understanding why you didn't do that.
Now there's nothing. You can go yell at a guy. We watched Biffle and Kevin Harvick yell at each other. What did they accomplish? Did it make anybody understand what the other guy was thinking or saying? They yelled at each other, walked away, nothing was different than before it happened. There's nothing different to make these guys do anything other than what's in their head. There's always two sides to a story.
I don't know. I mean, I guess I thought that way before that a little bit. Even as a car owner now, I remember Joe Gibbs sitting me down and saying, There's other guys working on these things, too. You knock the nose off of it after a race because you're mad as somebody, all of a sudden you created a lot more work for these guys. Maybe the crew guys need to get mad at their drivers when we do something stupid. Maybe the crew guys ought to pull the drivers back in the shop and make them fix it when they do it. I would be screwed because I can't do it. I can barely put something that bolts together together.
Q. You told me after practice yesterday that you weren't sure where you were competitively but you weren't where you needed to be. Were you messing with?
TONY STEWART: Are you and Dustin hanging out, holding hands right now?
Q. We're tight, man.
TONY STEWART: You look a lot alike, too.
Q. You're a good-looking man, Dustin.
TONY STEWART: Well-played.
Q. When did you get your car to the point where you knew you could win?
TONY STEWART: We sat down, went through our normal debrief at the end of the day. Darian brought a report by and we were still texting each other at 10:00 last night, still talking about it.
We were looking at the time sheet. We weren't a strong car the first 12 to 15 laps, but it seemed like we were as good as anybody after that. But the race today seemed to change. I wasn't messing with you. We didn't feel as strong by looking at the sheet as what we wanted to be on the front of a run. We felt 15 laps into it we were solid. We needed to keep working on it.
Like I said, Darian was still working on it at 10:00 last night. That's what you got to do. You got to keep digging. Our guys with the sim programs were working, crunching numbers, running through different changes and scenarios to try to find an answer. I'm glad they do that.
Q. Tony, Jeff Gordon came in here and said he was stunned to see you up in the top five. You really seemed to move through the field fast. What happened to get you back in that position?
TONY STEWART: Honestly, when I thought I cut the tire, it wasn't a down tire. We just had made so many changes, it felt like it was down honestly. After the contact with Harvick, I thought I had a flat, but it wasn't.
It was due to Darian. Like I said, he had two really key calls in the race that gave us that opportunity. We kind of just got stuck during the race. Wherever we restarted, we were kind of stuck there. It was hard to make any ground. We weren't able to make the car do what we were looking for to try to pass guys. We just were stuck.
He kept working on it, kept adjusting on it. We got it better. We still never got it 100%. We got it close enough that when we did get there late in the day, when we had cleaner air, we had a shot. You never think clean air is a big deal here. I think more than the clean air, it was like I told Darian, we could be 22nd and be running within a 10th of what the leader was running. The problem was to do that I had to have the open track to run the way I needed to run the car to run those lap times.
To race a guy for position, have to run and brake different and get on the gas at a different spot to try to pass somebody, I couldn't make the car do what I wanted it to do at that point.
Q. We heard what you said to Carl Edwards a couple times in the Victory Lane interviews. It seems like you're obviously relishing it. Six years since you've been in a championship hunt this deep in the season. You're back in the game and it seems like you're enjoying it.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I don't know anybody that doesn't enjoy being in the middle of it with three weeks to go. It's a great feeling. You work hard all year to try to be in this position. When you start the Chase off with 10 races to go, a lot can happen. There's a lot of variables that you worry about along the way. It doesn't mean we're still not worried about it.
There were guys that may have had their chances taken away today. So to be in a position that we're in right now, sitting here knowing that we're right in the middle of this thing with three weeks to go, it is obviously a great feeling and great position to be in. We just got to go out and keep doing what we're doing here.
It's nice to leave here with the momentum going to three tracks that we like and enjoy.
Q. Two years ago when NASCAR let drivers go out there, so-called 'have at it,' a lot of drivers said they were better able to take care of these things themselves, NASCAR shouldn't police them, it was best left on the track. A lot of drivers said that they were grownups. Are you saying that NASCAR should get back involved or do you think drivers should really take care of themselves?
TONY STEWART: I'm still trying to figure out what 'have at it' meant. I don't know that any of us really knows what's different now than before they said that.
NASCAR has to stay involved. You can't just make it a free-for-all obviously. But when you got guys, Jamie McMurray's car was destroyed, he waited for his opportunity to take out a guy he had a problem with. Whether it was justified or not, he took that opportunity. We got to get away from doing that and let guys settle it in the garage area with guys that have the problem. Don't take it out on everybody that works on these things. If him trying to take that other guy out would have taken a third party out that had nothing to do with it, it shows how big a problem you got, and that didn't happen. I'm not picking on Jamie. There were a lot of instances today where guys were going back and retaliating against each other. There's 43 guys out here. You catch an innocent guy in somebody else's problem...
It's easier for drivers to handle it back here. They'll find a way to sort it out amongst each other if you give them the opportunity. You can't keep your hands over top of each other and protect them. You have to let them handle it their way.
Q. You just mentioned a minute ago that some drivers may have lost their chance today to contend for the championship. The top four are separated by 27, next guy is 36. Are we down to four now?
TONY STEWART: I don't know. You look at how these races have gone. One day one race can change a lot. I don't think it's going to help a guy get back into it, but it sure can eliminate guys from it if you have a bad day. It's hard to say.
There's never been a consistent year in this Chase as far as being able to say at this point this guy with this many points is really out of it. Anything can happen. It's hard to say.
Three weeks ago, the probability of guys up front, to have three or four guys back up to somebody in fifth, it's not very likely that that would happen.
Q. Martinsville fans seem to have a love affair with certain drivers. You're one of those. Couple hundred folks standing at the gate screaming, Climb the fence.
TONY STEWART: Why didn't they climb the fence? If they wanted to climb so much, why didn't they climb the fence?
Q. There were about 20 deputies out there. Talk about how the fans embrace you.
TONY STEWART: There's two places where when you take the lead you absolutely know it. It's Bristol and Martinsville. To pass Jimmie Johnson on the outside with two laps to go and to watch the crowd on the backstretch, then watch them on the frontstretch when we cleared him, you swear people are going to fall onto the racetrack.
You feel that energy. You sense that. That's not that you need extra motivation, but it's cool to know you got that kind of support. It's just that extra drive that gets you the rest of the way that last lap. It's cool.
Q. You mentioned the motivation, adrenaline. You see that in the Victory Lane comments to Carl. Did you really mean it?
TONY STEWART: My adrenaline has worn off and he better not sleep too long the next three weeks. It's no disrespect to him. He's a great competitor, he's a great guy, he's with a great organization that deserves their shot at that championship, too. We've had one of those up-and-down years and we're having a run in this Chase now where we're hungry. We're hungry for this. I feel like our mindset into these next three weeks, we've been nice all year to a lot of guys, given guys a lot of breaks. We're cashing tickets in these next three weeks.
KERRY THARP: Tony, congratulations on the win today. Good luck at Texas.
TONY STEWART: Thanks, guys.