Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet, captured his second career NASCAR Nextel Cup Series title with a 15th place finish in The Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. J.D. Gibbs, JGR Team President, Greg Zipadelli, Crew Chief,...
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet, captured his second career NASCAR Nextel Cup Series title with a 15th place finish in The Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
J.D. Gibbs, JGR Team President, Greg Zipadelli, Crew Chief, and Tony Stewart, Driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet
J.D. GIBBS: "It's kind of interesting for me growing up with football and not racing, you'd think eventually somewhere you'd get used to being in the run at the end of the day and in the championship hunt and it becomes easy. But every time, it's a stressful situation. Just today, I was thinking halfway through the race that I can't even enjoy it until it's over with. So we're just thankful we were blessed here and had a good run. I appreciate Zippy and Tony together and their leadership that enabled us to do things that we wouldn't have been able to do otherwise."
IS THIS WIN REALLY THAT MUCH BETTER FOR YOU THAN THE WIN IN 2002?
GREG ZIPADELLI: "To me, it's meaningful because we did it as a group. We improved on all the things we needed to improve on from years past -- from finishing laps and leading laps and winning races all in the same year. And we did it with a whole lot more fun. And I think that's a lot to Tony's maturity in him showing up and relaxing and wanting to be part of this team and actually taking some ownership of it this year. It obviously makes my job and everybody else's a little easier and a little bit more fun."
REGARDING THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF TAKING OVER THE LEADERSHIP OF THE TEAM FROM JOE GIBBS, AND HAVE YOU SPOKEN WITH HIM?
GIBBS: "For us and for me, looking back, we were struggling in a lot of areas. I felt we had the best group of guys you could put together, but it just wasn't showing up on the track. When week in and week out, you're struggling and you go through a lot of hard times. Obviously, that's when you find out what your guys are made of and what Tony and Zippy are made of and what the crew is made of.
"As far as my dad, he had a tough day today -- discouraging for him. The good news is that at least we can break even this year. For him, he takes great pride. It's a family business. He'll be back here in three years with us. For him to see what we built together - and for him to be able to leave and for us to still be successful means a lot to him. I'm sure he's proud of me and what I've been through and I'm proud of him for putting together the group of guys he put together -- they're still together 14 years later. It's a huge deal for our family."
WHEN YOU CAME OUT OF THAT TEAM MEETING, DID YOU THINK IT WOULD BE SO IMPORTANT?
TONY STEWART: "The impact of it was pretty big. And we don't have to go into the details of what it was about. Sometimes bad things have to happen for good things to come out of it. This was something that was definitely an eye-opening experience for me. It was a meeting that Zippy wasn't in. He had always been the in-between guy. When the guys would complain about something I did, they'd complain to Zippy. And if I was going to complain about something the guys did, I'd complain to Zippy about it. He was the go-to guy in all that. That's why 2002 was such a year of turmoil for all of us.
"That's why this year means so much more to win it for him without all that turmoil where we can enjoy the year instead of just being glad the year is over because of all the garbage that went on. All the guys and me sat down and we talked and everybody got to air everything out. It was probably the most stressful meeting I've ever gone into in my life. I didn't know what the outcome of the meeting was going to be. I didn't even know if I was going to have a job. The best thing about it was I knew where everybody stood. That was something that hadn't happened with our race team the entire time I'd been there. So after the amount of years we were all together, you would have never thought it would get to that. The fact that it did, and through Zippy and J.D.'s leadership, we talked about it and then made a decision, shows the leadership we have in our organization and the people we have on this race team.
"This year versus 2002 -- we've had fun all year. Even when we weren't running good, we were having fun. We got back to why we started racing in the first place and that's because we love being a part of race teams and we love racing and we love competing. That attitude carried us through the slow times and when the good times happened, it just made it that much better for us. That's what created a string of 18 out of 20 top 10 runs. Once that happened, it's not a big shock to me to know that we're here and to realize why we're here. We were a stronger team this year than the entire time I've been with Joe Gibbs Racing."
RE: HOW YOU APPROACHED THE RACE
ZIPADELLI: You know, we started a little bit more conservative than we needed to, and were probably that way for the first couple of adjustments. We had gotten a lot better at the end, but at that point we had given up so much track position. But, it was all about coming in here and doing what we needed to do. I hate to say, but we had to play it safe. We didn't need to take any chances in any areas. I don't think we did. We probably could have gone a little bit more aggressively from the start to the end. The bottom line is that we're here because we did what we needed to do.
STEWART: In all honesty, nobody needs to blame him for the car that we have. If anything you can blame me for Friday, when I spun that car out. It kind of got us, I'm not going to say in thrash mode, but it had broke my confidence not knowing why I spun. I knew I was a little bit free but I didn't think I was going to lose a car like that. You know, we started the day conservative just to get the confidence back and just work from there. I think knowing the situation and knowing what happened with Friday, knowing we didn't have mock qualifying run before Saturday. We qualified 20th and didn't know that the changes we made on Friday were going to be good enough for today. I think we had an awesome weekend in all reality. In all reality it wasn't a stellar #20 car team weekend, but to do the things we had to do with the pressure we had on us, all in all after what I did to us on Friday, it turned out to be a pretty good weekend.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE LOW POINT OF THE SEASON?
STEWART: The low point? Probably the first how many races were the low point. It wasn't really one particular race. It was just our whole season, really, from the start, other than Daytona. We ran great at Daytona. Once we got away from Daytona we were really just behind until we got to Michigan. That was pretty much the low point of the season. Obviously the high point of the season was the day we won at Indy and today, so that's a lot easier than the whole side.
ARE YOU A BETTER DRIVER OR JUST SMARTER THAN YOU WERE IN 2002?
STEWART: Nobody is ever going to accuse me of being smarter. And I'm not going to say I'm a better driver. I think that we're just a better team. Our organization has grown and grown stronger. You know, I feel I'm just a piece of the puzzle. I feel we all compliment each other well. The greatest strength of Joe Gibbs has been assembling the right people to do the right jobs. And the great thing with that is that when we were behind early in the season, we didn't know which area was going to get us caught up. So, the motor department dug in, the fab shop dug in. Zippy and the guys on the pit stops dug in. I dug in.
"We all tried to get that extra half percent or percent that we all thought we needed to be where the Roush and Hendrick teams were, so it just makes me so proud of this whole organization and how much it's all grown to get us here. I'm just a piece of the puzzle. I'm not the guy that won us this championship-this race team won us this championship. I wasn't driving the car any different the first three or four months of the year than we did the last remaining part of the season, so obviously the equation part of the championship was the whole team.
HOW CLOSE WERE YOU TO CHANGING ENGINES AND HOW CLOSE OF A DECISION WAS THAT?
ZIPADELLI: We looked at it, obviously, and talked about it. We did everything that we would have done if it was Martinsville or Daytona. The guys in the motor department were very confident with what we saw, that it was okay. We talked to Mark. I called him back the next morning and if he was comfortable with it, I was comfortable. That's what got us where we were-they do our job, we do our job. You know, everybody else does theirs. They didn't feel there was anything wrong it or that we were taking any chances. So, we decided to leave it in. We figured we had just as many chances of putting something in and maybe having a problem as we did looking at it and making a decision with things that we could do, and obviously they were right.
AT WHAT POINT DURING THE SEASON DID YOU THINK MAYBE YOU COULD REALLY WIN THIS THING?
STEWART: "I'll be honest. The streak started really at Michigan, the week before Sonoma. Our l.5-mile and two-mile stuff wasn't really exactly where it needed to be. We just had not caught on to what the Roush and Hendrick organizations had figured out at that point. To be able to run as good as we did that day really got us started. It's a different mindset from what we were doing on the 1.5-mile and two-mile tracks. That was a good jump-start there. And then going to Daytona, where we had run so good early in the year and have a dominating day like that was an off-deal because it was a restrictor plate. But it was probably the two races in a row after that when we felt we were consistent with our l.5-mile and two-mile package when we felt we were really on to something here. The wins just helped the morale of the team and our performance just carried it that much further."
WERE YOU GIVEN A LUCKY CHARM THIS WEEKEND?
STEWART: "I have it in my pocket as we speak. It was actually something that Patty Petty gave me. It was an item from Adam (Petty). It says John 3:16 on it. That was definitely going to be put in the race car. So I put it in my pocket with me and it was good luck today."
WHAT IS YOUR NEXT BIG GOAL? THE DAYTONA 500? ANOTHER CHAMPIONSHIP?
GIBBS: "The immediate goal is just to enjoy this one. Always in sports, you're only as good as your last race; only as good as your last game. So we're just going to enjoy this one for a while. And yeah, our goal is consistently to compete for championships and win."
ZIPADELLI: "We want to be competitive and put ourselves in a position to hopefully win races and a championship. But probably to get the other two teams to the level that we are is probably one of the most important things we're going to work on this winter. It was a lot of fun when the No. 18 and the No. 20 could race for positions. Everyone could get on the plane and be proud of what we accomplished. It's not because of people's lack of effort. Its just circumstance. I think we're just going to do a better job of getting things organized and having three strong teams next year."
HOW MUCH DID YOUR HEART SKIP WHEN KYLE BUSCH SPUN IN FRONT OF YOU?
STEWART: "It wasn't exactly what I wanted to see that early in the race by any means. I could stand for that not to happen again the rest of the night. The good thing is he stayed up by the wall and we were able to get by. The hard part was that it was coming off the corner and we were facing straight into the sun. When we got through that, it felt like you'd used up one of your nine lives right there."
Continued in part 2