Pocono: Winning team press conference, part 1

Pocono 500 Post-Race Transcript An Interview With: DARIAN GRUBB - Crew chief TONY STEWART - 1st, Owner JOE CUSTER - Team vice president THE MODERATOR: First, owner/driver victory NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since Ricky Rudd did it at...

Pocono 500 Post-Race Transcript

An Interview With:
DARIAN GRUBB - Crew chief
TONY STEWART - 1st, Owner
JOE CUSTER - Team vice president

THE MODERATOR: First, owner/driver victory NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since Ricky Rudd did it at Martinsville in 1998, still at the top of the points standing. Tell us about your day.

TONY STEWART: We were in here Friday talking about how good of a weekend it started off being by getting a pole due to the rainout. But I found a way to screw that up on Saturday and just lost it off of 2, and because of that, we had to start last today and we just had a great race car.

I'm so proud of our guys, the Old Spice team, and I've got to thank guys from Hendrick Motorsports from Jimmie Johnson's team and Jeff Gordon's team that helped out today. We only missed out on five minutes of happy hour. Gary and our guys did such a good job.

We went out there, it was like we had not missed a beat and just thankful we got a good group of guys like that and good partners that were willing to help out when we needed a hand.

Had an awesome day. Darian said we were not going to try to be fancy and not going to do anything tricky trying to get track position. Just going to stick to our game plan and we did that. We never tried to take two tires to get track position or anything. We were able to get through the first half of the pack pretty quick, and once we got there finally started getting in better air and just had a really good car all day.

We had a car that we were consistently in the top three I think speed wise all day, and we were able to run guys down. We were able to stay out a couple of laps longer than everybody it seemed like all day. But the tradeoff to that was they would get fresh tires and two or three seconds on us and you had to widdle that back down after we would make our stop.

So it was fun, though, knowing that you had a car that you could do that with. And there at the end there, we had an awesome pit stop. And their guys have been doing such a great job all year, coming in second and coming out with a lead like that. That was really the turning point there for us at the end.

And once we got that lead and we were able to hold Carl off, they went into the fuel mode and tried to conserve and as soon as we got a little bit of a lead we were able to do the same thing. It's just at that point listening to Darian and he knows what pace we need to run. And he just kept backing me down when I would get going too hard or too quick. He would tell me he needed more and we would slow down a little more. You hate to be in that situation but that's a theme here when we come to Pocono; it being such a long track like this, fuel mileage is going to be important. And seems like the weather always becomes a factor in these races and actually we got enough laps under caution in rain that was right on the edge or window of making it. It was just a matter of running hard enough to stay in the lead but slow enough to save fuel in case we had a green and white checkered at the end.

DARIAN GRUBB: That was a very interesting weekend all the way around; to come up here and sit in the rain and get the pole because we earned it; we had the points lead and guys have been working really hard, the entire Stewart Haas organization to get that. And just to be able to get it last week and to take the benefits of it this week by being able to start on the pole was a great thing.

Having to go to the backup car, it was great to see everybody just keep their heads about 'em, stay calm and stay cool. Made all the changes we needed to between the two cars, and I think we actually made the second car better when we went out and started happy hour.

So it's a testament to how hard they work and how they all pull together as a team to do this. Tony said before the race that he felt bad; he felt like he gave that car away and he was going to go out there and earn something for us. And I told him: This is a team and what we are all here for and luckily at the end we were able to show him what kind of team we are and get him out of the pits in first and it was great from there.

The double file restarts were great show all day, and Tony being able to start on the outside and keep Carl and just driving away frm him and star driving in fuel conservation mode it was pretty cool to watch.

THE MODERATOR: We are also joined by Stewart Haas Racing vice president Joe Custer. Joe, tell us about your thoughts on today and really this historic win.

JOE CUSTER: Very historic. Thrilled. I think Darian touched on all the points. I think from my perspective and probably from Tony's, an owner's perspective, it's been really easy, Darian and the guys have worked really hard, prepared well, come together and gelled quicker than probably most teams. I always felt they would, the talent was clearly there, but it's obvious that you give people some time to work things out.

But for them to be able to work through a weekend like, this a complex weekend like Darian explained and then execute, the 39 car as well, recovering, I really was proud of the whole organization, overcoming adversity and looking like a team that's been working together for years.

Q: Tony, which is more difficult, becoming co owner of a Cup team and transforming it into a winning organization in probably less than six months, or starting dead last in this race with your backup car and winning?

TONY STEWART: I don't know. Both of them seem pretty easy. (Laughter) But I know it's not. I mean, neither one of them are easy and they are both difficult and they both are because of hard work.

It's easy when you've got the tools in place and that's something that Joe has given us from the start is anything that we needed, and the tools were there when I got there. It's just a matter of finding some key people to help tie up the loose ends so to speak. Then when you've got a car like we had today, I mean, you know that you've got a shot at. It's just going to be a long day and that it's going to take a long time to get there, but a 500 mile race like, this you are going to get that time and eventually going to get that opportunity.

Q: You're a fiery, intense guy, how hard is it at the end of the race to let off that throttle and not want to keep it down the whole way?

TONY STEWART: It's miserable. I mean, it's 180 degrees of what you are trained to do and taught to do and what you thrive for.

You know, at this level, this level of racing, that's part of it. I mean, this is the I guess we really only won one fuel mileage race where we actually were not a leading a leader, and ended up winning it because we took a gamble. But we were a car that was leading the race in a way, and it would have been a shame to lose because of fuel mileage. It's nice to I don't know how much we had left, and I saved enough; whether I needed to or not, it remains to be seen.

But just to know that you can if you have to, that's half the battle. But I think a lot of that, we have to give credit to the Hendrick engine department making great power, but at the same time giving us good fuel mileage, too. Without those guys, we couldn't do this.

Q: You messed up in qualifying at the All Star Race and won it, you had a crash in practice before this one; do we detect a pattern?

TONY STEWART: Somebody take Monny's mic away from him, please. (Laughter). Good God, I'd hate to think that I have to screw up every week to win a race, but only you would think of that, Monny. I hope not. I hope that's not how it works out. I screwed up qualifying and we won there; but here I didn't screw up qualifying, I screwed up happy hour. I don't know, I think it's just sheer coincidence at this point, so hopefully that's not a pattern that we have to go through.

Q: Darian, how do you manage the closing 30 or 40 miles of a race like this? You're in a situation where you know the 99 is doing sort of the same thing you are, trying to go fast, but not really fast. Are you sort of timing that car every lap and then trying to match Tony's next lap speed to what they are doing, or how does that balance work?

DARIAN GRUBB: Yeah, absolutely. The whole time you're sitting there we knew he started out in the lead and we are just fight to go stay there. We knew we had a car fast enough to go out there and run and win it, but we would probably run out of fuel if we try to run wide open the whole time. You have to judge your competitors; no matter whoever gets there first, no matter how it happens, is the winner. Just a matter of Tony backing off and saving as much as fuel as we can.

If the caution came out and went to a green and white checker, it would have been very fiery, but a lot of guys in that same position and you're racing against those guys and you have to play the strategy against them. We knew we had a fast car; we went from 43rd to 20th, so he did get to do his racing. He earned getting all the way up to the top three and then getting out in the lead and then being able to take off and being able to manage your fuel mileage, we are going to work everything, just thinking about trying to do everything you can to save all the fuel you can and use all the lessons we've learned and it's just been great.

TONY STEWART: Over and over, just because we had to get out of the backup car, but it was no fault of his own, we had the car a little bit too loose and he spun down over there, and got down in the track. With the shape of the track, he hit the road course access rode and just sprayed the whole front of the car. So there was really nothing we could have done any different from that. If it would have been paved, we would have walked away and put four tires back on and gone back racing, but we might not have had the car today. But we actually think the car we have today is a little better because of the lessons we learned there.

Q: How concerned were you at the end of the race for the gas?

TONY STEWART: I didn't know how close we really were. I mean, I just you know you've just got to save. All you can do is just listen to the intervals every lap when we come down the front straightaway and try to give yourself enough cushion that if they take off on one lap, that's what happened. Two laps to go, it went from a four and a half second gap to a little over a two second gap.

So you give yourself that cushion to where when we even on the last lap with the two second lead we could afford to give up some time and still was saving fuel going into the tunnel. And Darian said just run hard from the tunnel or through 3 there to make sure we had enough momentum so that if we had a hiccup in it and had to slosh to pick up fuel, that we still had the mile an hour to carry us down the straightaway.

You know you just kind of we were in that mode for a long time there and there's nothing you can do about it. You can worry all you want, but all you can do is the best job you can do as a driver behind the steering wheel to keep from getting in a bad position with that, knowing that you've got Darian on the box and he's watching the lap times and knows what the pace you really need to run probably is half the battle. So you know when he doesn't get when he's on the radio and when he's calling that interval out, unless he starts getting wound up there was not any reason for me to get wound up.

Yeah, you have to trust him, that's the way it is for every driver, crew chief here, you have to trust the guy that's on that box making the calls for you.

Q: You talked about the difficulties of wanting to drive fast but having to slow down to save gas. Is it easier to conserve fuel if you're the guy leading the race, and if Carl had been on your bumper, say, for the last lap, do you race him or do you let him go and hope he runs out?

TONY STEWART: Well, you know, I think the big thing for us was to try to keep the lead, and it is an advantage to be in front.

Obviously when you're in a fuel mileage deal like that, but like Darian said we were able to dictate our pace off Carl's pace. Once he realized he cannot get in front us and went to saving fuel to try to win, it gave us the opportunity to do the same thing, and you know, we got out in a couple of laps to a second lead and that gave us that buffer to start pedaling and playing that part of the game.

It's a chess match at that point. You don't know if you need to run that slow, but you know, like Darian said, you don't have to run any harder than that if everybody else is in the same boat you are. When they start backing it down, you back it down, too, and make sure that you are doing everything you can to not take yourself out of an opportunity to win.

Q: Whoever wants to take it, a lot has been made of the personnel that was put in place, Darian, Tony Gibson, Bobby Hutchins, tell us about the rest of the personnel, the guys that made the difference this weekend getting the car ready to run in this race and then getting you out so quick on that last pit stop. How did you put that team together, those guys?

TONY STEWART: That's the guy to ask right there. That's his personalty.

DARIAN GRUBB: The majority of those guys were the old 66 team Haas crew. We work with those guys and I feel like they are one much best pit crews on pit rode they have worked so hard this year getting faster and faster. The jack man, Mike Casto (ph) was here, he got hurt a few weeks ago back at the stop just during practice blew his knee out, and we had a fill in guy that stepped in for us just to take over that role and has not missed a beat. And Casto being here with his brace pumping up the team, he is the best cheerleader we could have. He's still a very, very strong leader on this team.

And every one of those guys has worked so hard, they work out six days a week at the shop, they get basically half a day off and that's all they get. And even if they are off most of the time they are back there hitting lugnuts, hanging tires, doing everything they can do to get better and they definitely have shown that improvement, and I consider them one of the best on pit road.

Q: Tony, you make it sound like in the past few months, that starting a team has been easy; that you just kind of walked into great resources there, and that you're the beneficiary of this great team that appeared. Are you short selling yourself? Was it more or maybe it's a better question for Joe or Darian. Is he making it sound easier than it really is or has he really busted to get this thing going?

JOE CUSTER: He's busted to get going. There's been no this didn't just, you know, happen over a weekend. It's been a year of difficult negotiations not difficult; I mean, hard work, and Tony is the type of person from my perspective, I haven't actually known him that long, but I worked hard with his group. He's got a group of guys that are very sharp business people, and we put together what we thought would work, the building blocks, and you know, it has not been easy at all.

But, I'm not surprised; I'll tell you that. I'll be honest, I'm a little surprised that we are leading the points at this point in the season. I thought we would be a team that built and built and built, and by the Chase, we were capable of doing what we are executing, now.

I've got to tell you, people like Jabo (ph) and some of the key people that Darian has put together, I think that had a bigger impact than we think, and the Matt Borlands of the world and Bobby Hutchins of the world, there's a whole group of people that work real hard. And it has made it easy on Tony's group and my group, but only from the standpoint of, we have confidence in them.

DARIAN GRUBB: There's something to be said when Tony walks into the shop and he has that confidence. He pats everybody on the back. They know he's back and putting everything he's got into it. And same thing with Ryan Newman, they know they have two of the best drivers out there and they come through and pat each other on the back, and they know they are part of this team and they are in it for the long haul; that makes everybody want to work that much harder to go out there and give them what they need to win.

TONY STEWART: I don't want to downplay it either. The hardest part for me was last fall. That was the most stressful part of it for me. You know, and that was getting these key people in place. That part was not easy and has not been easy from my standpoint this year. Last year, not so much. Last year as a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of headaches going to bed. It's hard to get it all together but once you get it together and you get a good group like this and you've got a group that's as hungry as this group is, they feed off of each other, and you know, it makes it to where all I have to do is walk in there and pat those guys on the back, because they are all a lot smarter people than I am.

So my hard part was like I said in the fall, and it does make this year seem a lot easier, because these guys are the guys doing the work every day. You know, I've just got to spend the time being the cheerleader during the week and I've got great race cars and a great team behind me on the weekends.

Q: Kind of along the same lines when you crossed the finish line, you said, 'you guys are making me look like a genius.' I know you've always had great teams around you but are you having a better appreciation of team work now that you're the owner?

TONY STEWART: Well, I've been racing for 29 years now, so I mean, you've always known that all along. But it's fun when it's a new group. I mean, society is always scared of change, and everybody assumes that you're always set up for failure when you make a change.

It's just fun to watch a young group like this that so many people from so many different organizations come together and have success like this. I mean, that's what makes it fun and that's what makes it different from where I was at. I was with a group of guys that when I won 33 races they won 33 races, too, and I still miss those guys. I was there this morning after the drivers meeting talking to them about the dirt race model race that we ran, and I still have that relationship with those guys. But it's fun to have a new group of guys, too, and change isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes you just need a change to get that little shot in the arm that you need, and doesn't mean that you were not happy with what you were doing before. Sometimes it just means that you need a fresh start and a change.

Q: If I could get back to the race itself, the 29 was interesting because I've been covering NASCAR races for 29 years, if you would comment on the extremely long stretch, almost a hundred laps at the beginning of the race, to watch it was a little mind numbing, but what was it like during that stretch, and how did your final win, how did that play into it, what you did and didn't do at that time, if you could, please.

TONY STEWART: Everybody thinks to have good racing you have to be side by side all the time, and that's not the case.

You know, part of it is the strategy that goes into. It part of it is performances when you see somebody like Carl that goes out and can dominate. That's something special. You don't get dominating performances like that very often, and to have a 100 lap run, that shows you the caliber of competition that you have, not having cars against the wall and not having mechanical failures causing cautions.

But it's a part of our sport that's always been there, and it's kind of fun. There is an element that's fun for the drivers, especially when you have a good car, and you know, for me, Darian cannot give me an arrow (ph) on everybody I am out there racing, but the front straightaway is so long. The back straightaway to the tunnel turn is long, and you can gauge where you are at by guys that are ahead of you. And when they go off in the corner and where you are at on the straightaway and you lose them, eventually they start backing up, so it's kind of like you have your own gauge of what's going on.

It is fun. You don't have to always be side by side with somebody to have a fun race, and to sit there and know that we are able to I don't know, there was one point in the race there where in six laps we gained three seconds on the leader. I mean, that's a half second a lap. That's pretty cool for us.

There were fun parts of it, even though the field was strung out a little bit, you are still battling the stop watch and battling those guys, trying to knock down deficits and close in on guys, and at the same time trying to pull away from others.

You know, it's pretty neat to have those green flag stops like that. That makes those pit stops even that much more crucial because you have cars that speed, and if they have a hiccup that's a second; it's a bigger penalty under green than it is under caution, so really puts the pressure on the pet crews at the same time.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson
Teams Hendrick Motorsports