By Joe Gibbs Racing
Stewart Takes Joe Gibbs Racing Down New Road
2001 Victory at Infineon Raceway Gave JGR First Road Course Win
Editor’s Note: In honor of Interstate Batteries’ and Joe Gibbs Racing’s 20th anniversary together in NASCAR, a series of press releases highlighting 20 big moments will be distributed throughout 2011. This is the seventh of the 20 releases.
By the 2001 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) had built an impressive trophy collection in just 10 years as an organization competing in America’s premier form of motorsports.
Dale Jarrett drove the No. 18 Interstate Batteries car to victory lane in the 1993 Daytona 500, and when Bobby Labonte took over for Jarrett in 1995, he won the prestigious Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
However, one minor victory was missing from the team’s résumé – a win at a road course event in Sprint Cup competition.
Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International have been the two road course circuits on the Sprint Cup schedule since JGR entered the sport 20 years ago. Jarrett managed an 11th-place finish in 1994 at Sonoma during his last season with the Interstate Batteries team. From there, Labonte finished fifth at Watkins Glen in 1996 and 2000 while notching fourth-place results at Infineon in 1998 and 2000.
But it was former JGR driver Tony Stewart who finally gave JGR its first road course win as he drove the No. 20 Home Depot car to victory at Infineon on June 24, 2001. Stewart held off Robby Gordon by 1.746 seconds, while Labonte brought the Interstate Batteries machine home with a solid seventh-place result.
Stewart led only once, but it was for the final 11 laps around the 1.99-mile, 10-turn circuit.
“That was a big victory for not only me, but also for JGR,” Stewart said. “That was obviously my first win on a road course and because those two races (Infineon and Watkins Glen) are so different from the other 34 we compete at throughout the year, it’s a pretty special feeling when you win one. And by 2001, JGR had won just about everything except a road course race, so it was neat for me to get them their first one.”
JGR was already well on its way as establishing itself as one of the premier organizations in NASCAR, but the elusive road course victory proved it was a contender at every track the Sprint Cup Series visited.
“I think, for us, it was a big win and it showed we could be a threat at every type of track on the schedule,” said J.D. Gibbs, president of JGR. “Obviously, it was a big day for Tony and Home Depot, but Bobby and the Interstate Batteries car finished seventh. So, to put both of our cars in the top-10 was huge for the team. I know all of our employees were really proud of what we had accomplished.”
Since that day 10 years ago, JGR has become a road course powerhouse as Stewart scored another victory with JGR at Infineon in 2005, as well as victories at Watkins Glen in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2007 before leaving the organization after the 2008 season to become a driver-owner at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Kyle Busch, who currently pilots the No. 18 Toyota for JGR, swept the Sprint Cup road course races in 2008, winning at Infineon and Watkins Glen, while also capturing the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the 2.518-mile Autodromo Hermanos Rodriquez course in Mexico City that same season. Denny Hamlin, who joined JGR in 2005, won the Mexico City Nationwide Series event in 2006.
None of those victories would have been possible, however, had it not been for the chance Norm Miller took in 1991 by having Interstate Batteries sign on to sponsor JGR in its inaugural season in 1992.
“Being a team owner now, I know the challenges that come with obtaining sponsorship,” Stewart said. “It was a huge risk for Norm to sign with JGR. Joe (Gibbs, owner of JGR) always jokes that Norm signed on even though Joe didn’t have a driver, team, building or racing experience. They laugh about it now, but Norm took a huge leap of faith and it’s amazing how well it paid off for him and for Joe.
“Obviously when I was with JGR, I was the Home Depot driver, but I certainly got to know Norm during my 10 years there and he’s one of the best people I’ve ever met. Even though Interstate wasn’t the sponsor on the 20 car, he’d always be one of the first guys to call and congratulate me after we won a race. I still see him around the track and he always makes it a point to come over and say hello and ask how things are going. He’s just a great guy and the fact he and Joe have been together for 20 years is amazing. They’ve got one of the best and one of the longest relationships in the sport, and it was neat to be a small part of that.”