NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
EMORY HEALTHCARE 500
ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY
TEAM CHEVY POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
SEPTEMBER 5, 2010
Tony Stewart Wins at Atlanta and Locks Spot in 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup; Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Burton Also Locked with Third and Fourth Place Finishes
Hampton, Georgia (September 5, 2010) - Tony Stewart scored a dominating win in the Emory Healthcare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway AMS) to lock the No. 14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet team into the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) champion led eight times for a total of 176 laps on the way to his third win at AMS and the 38th victory of his career.
Four-time defending NSCS champion Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's/KOBALT Tools, locked himself into his seventh consecutive Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with a third place finish in tonight's race. Johnson is the only driver to qualify for every Chase since its inauguration in 2004.
Jeff Burton, No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, finished fourth tonight and also secured a place in the stellar 12-car field that will compete for the 2010 championship.
With his seventh-place finish in the 25th race of the season, Clint Bowyer, No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet, remains 12th in points with a 117-point lead over 13th place Ryan Newman, No. 39 US Army Reserve Chevrolet who finished eighth in tonight's race.
Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Huggies/Target Chevrolet finished ninth to give Team Chevy six of the top-10 finishers.
Series point leader Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet, had a strong car but a blown left-front tire and subsequent damage to the car relegated him to the 33rd finishing position. Harvick was the first driver to secure a spot in the Chase.
Four-time NSCS champion Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont/Jeff Gordon Foundation Chevrolet, battled handling issues tonight and finished in 13th place. Gordon was also locked into the Chase heading into tonight's AMS race.
Carl Edwards (Ford) and Kyle Busch (Toyota) completed the top-five finishers.
Eight more drivers clinched positions in the Chase tonight bringing the total to 10 drivers secured in the 2010 run for the NSCS title.
The Series now heads into the 26th and final race of the "regular" season next Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.
TONY STEWART AND DARIAN GRUBB, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT/OLD SPICE CHEVROLET – RACE WINNER'S PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: Our race winner for tonight's in the Atlanta Emory Healthcare 500, Tony Stewart. He drives the No. 14 Office Depot Old Spice Chevrolet for Stewart Haas Racing. He is joined by crew chief Darian Grubb. It's Tony's win 2010, but his 38th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race victory, his first win since last year at Kansas. He clinches a spot in the Chase.
Tony, congratulations, you have to feel really, really good about this win here tonight, 50th anniversary season at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
TONY STEWART: It's always cool to win on anniversaries like that. It's been a long time since we have been in victory lane. So it's something we are not used to; luckily, we have had the good fortune to not normally go this long without a win.
But we had an awesome race car tonight. This thing, it was balanced off the start of the race, and you know, I knew the first run when we were a little bit off, and the leaders were not getting away from us, I thought, we have probably got a shot at this thing tonight and a shot at a solid Top 5 or Top 3, but once we got a couple of runs in there, and it was Denny and I trading spots back and forth.
It was fun racing with him like that. We gave each other room. Whoever got caught in traffic, the other guy got the lead back. It was fun switching the lead. We struggled on restarts or I struggled on restarts, Darian wasn't driving the car, so I can't blame it on him. I struggled on restarts all night. Finally the last two, I hit it a lot closer and kept them from spinning quite as bad.
The pit crew is who we have got to give all the credit to tonight. They had an awesome pit stop the last time we came in that got us that track position that I lost on the previous restart. So you know, without that, I don't think we would have a shot to be here tonight.
THE MODERATOR: Darian Grubb, great job by the pit crew tonight. Your thoughts.
DARIAN GRUBB: It was just a really good night overall for the entire Stewart Haas organization, just a lot of hard work we have put in over the last few months just trying to get back to where we feel like we could win a race. We had good Top 5, Top 10 cars but just we were not able to get to victory lane. Tonight we had all the pieces together. We unloaded fast this weekend and Tony did an incredible job qualifying, starting up front makes all the difference in the world and good pit stalls and being able to help the guys out, all things combined, it was a good effort.
Q. You said just about as soon as you got out of the car, it's the happiest you've ever felt to win in your life, and Ryan Newman said a similar thing when he won earlier this year at Phoenix and broke a long winning streak; explain that exultation, that statement is pretty mighty considering the trophies you have in your case.
TONY STEWART: This place, you know, I came from an organization where I was out for ten years and where the winningest driver in the modern era came from that organization with Bobby Labonte; I think he won seven races. This is a place that we always felt like we had a good shot to win at when we came, and I was only able to get one win for him in the ten years I was there.
And I know what it felt like to win that night, too. But this is, by far, the best car that I've ever had here. Tonight was so much fun on the race car, because we could run the bottom, we could run the top, and I told Darian yesterday, there were times in practice where I have run higher than I have ever run here, and I told him, normally I don't have the confidence to put myself in that position to not have room to the right of me to give myself that buffer.
And I told him, I said, I felt comfortable, and a couple races ago or last year when we came here, we struggled betting the balance and getting comfortable and just shows how hard Darian and these guys have worked. We had a hard first half the year where we struggled a lot but we have got a motto that when we get down, we don't give up; we get up.
So you know, these guys have done such a great job. This thing, it's a track that's so momentum driven that if your car is not balanced and doesn't feel good or isn't exactly perfect, I mean, you have a hard time making that up, and a little bit of a deficit ends up being a huge deficit on a momentum track like this.
It was fun. Tonight is probably the only time that I can ever remember being at Atlanta and being able to take off and have the beginning of the run speed that we had.
We had to be the fastest car all night at the beginning of the run; if we got track position and we got anywhere close to clean air, we were able to just take off. Once we get two or three laps in, I didn't have to run as hard as the guys behind me or to try to pass me I was able to take care of the tires and after five more laps we with are able to drive away from those guys and open up a huge gap. For a driver, that's a nice benefit to have, because you can get out there and you're making those guys have to chase you down. And there were times we were not the fastest car the last half of the run but we were able to stretch a big enough lead up the first half of the run, those guys were not able to make that deficit up.
Q. In one of the cautions, you radioed to your team that you had a trick you can pull out of the hat for the restart. Can you give me more details about that?
TONY STEWART: I didn't do it. But it's like I told Darian, the whole night I kept trying different things because I was struggling to get the grip on the restart I needed. I just struggled spinning the tires and I tried everything from shifting early to everything, the only thing I didn't do was like I told Darian, I was almost embarrassed to talk about it, but it's just an old sprint car trick that you do. They have got a lot of rear brake and don't really have much front brake and you can drag the brake pedal and keeps you from spinning the tires. I'm not sure it would have worked but I didn't have enough confidence to take the brake balance and just run it to the back like that and drag the brake to help the wheel spin. I was afraid I would get going through the gears and get going and not count my rounds back and get myself in a problem at the end of the straightaway.
So that was about the only thing I didn't try. I tried everything that I knew and everything I've learned over 31 years of many I career, and just couldn't figure it out. But Darian kept asking what he could do to help and there wasn't anything they could do from the pits set up wise to help. When you have a fast enough car like that, every time we lost the spots, we could get the majority of them back within a lap or two laps. That's stout.
And when you have a car that's that good, it's not good to lose those spots like that, because we got caught back there one time, seventh, and really, we struggled getting that track position back. But when you have a car that that's fast, it's nice, you don't feel like you're in too much trouble when you lose a couple of spots on a restart like that.
Q. I was going to ask you about when you restarted seventh, but not only are you concerned about the fact that you don't have the clean air like you did when you're up front, but is there also a concern that back in there, that's typically where if something is going to happen, that's where it happens at?
TONY STEWART: I wasn't worried about something happening really. We never got back there. We had good track position. The beginning of the race we started fifth and I think that's as far back as we started, you know, for the majority of the race except for that one restart where we started seventh there. The big thing was just the difference in balance of the race car. My car really likes clean air, and even when we got down to a battle head to head with somebody, we were good head to head with them; but with five or six guys in front of us, it really, you know, took the balance away.
I told Darian, we were behind that much traffic; we were tight in the center and loose off, and that's basically a matter of just losing total grip on the car. You would think if you're already tight in the center of the corner you would not ask to be tightened up, but you I knew as we got going and got swerved out, the balance got back to what I had been accustomed to during the race. The tire just has to be a little tighter on that last change. And like he had done all night, he kept making perfect changes and really had a car that was so balanced that the stuff I was asking him to tweak on, I mean, he was able to do that every stop. It was fun on the car to sit there and smile and sit there and know that every third of the corner, I had something different, I think every time that I was asking for, and he was able to give me a change that was able to make the car respond, and that's when you have fun at a place like this, when you've got a car that that's responsive.
Q. How big of a deal was it to get back in the win column before the Chase, and with what you guys have done over the past ten to 12 races, are you peaking at the right time and are you guys confident now that you'll definitely be in the thick of it for the final ten?
DARIAN GRUBB: It's definitely huge for us to be able to get the win right before we go into the Chase. The momentum is a big thing, but it's one of those things we wanted to have all along. It's not like we weren't trying to get to victory lane every week. It was a tough battle. We learned a lot of things in the last few months that have given Tony a lot more comfort in the racetrack and keep speed in it, as well. The more week keep doing that, the more lessons we can learn, the more we can apply it and going into the Chase it makes us feel that much better.
TONY STEWART: I don't know if we have peaked. I mean, how do you know what you've peaked? I guess if you're winning every week, you feel like you're peaking to a certain degree. The thing I guess I've been really excited about, especially the last two months, we have been kind of silent every weekend and we are gaining on it. And it's not been in one week increments where we've had a big change and all of the sudden everybody goes, wow, they are starting to figure it out.
It's been a lot of little steps in the last ten to 12 races, I would say, that nobody's really noticed it, but we have noticed it internally. It's a much better feeling right now this time of year than it was a year ago. I mean, we were on such a high leading the points, and had one races already.
But at this stage, we were pointing downhill and this year, I feel like we are pointing uphill. I don't know if we are I hope we are not as high as we are going to get on the thing. I think we got room to be better and I think we got guys right now that nights like tonight are what keep these guys excited about the long hours they are putting in and the hard work they are putting in. When you can help deliver some results like this, it makes those guys work that much harder to keep doing that every week.
Q. Are more teams doing a better job with the COT tests and making mid race adjustments and is that making it tougher to win races?
DARIAN GRUBB: I'm not sure anybody is doing a better job it's just now we are starting to learn more and more and actually able to use the tools more effectively. It changes so much. I did different adjustments this week than we did the last mile and a half track we went to.
But that all keys off of Tony's feedback. That's the biggest thing I think we have gotten gain of lately is we have got the feel he likes, and it's something he can read; if he needs something different, we have found a few things that we can tune to hit those certain spots. And it seems to be a little more consistent now that we have a consistent baseline that we want to use. This is the first year we have been actually to come back with a notebook. Last year we had our two races here, spring we had tire issues, so now so now we were able to come in and say, these things are better, this is what worked the last three times, we are just building up our own database. A lot of other teams have already had that for a while.
TONY STEWART: I don't know how to add to that.
Q. You had the faster pit crew lately, can you talk about how you've shaped that group a bit, and in what it means to have those type of pressure stops like that last one and perform like that as you near the Chase and head into situations you'll face in the next ten weeks?
DARIAN GRUBB: The best part about those guys is they don't really take a lot of coaching. There's a very good strong, cohesive team. They work very well. Joe Piette does a great job with them in the pit shop with their pit training. They work very hard at it. They go through their film every day and do live pit stops every day and do a very good, strong workout program and their diets and everything else they do.
Sometimes I feel like we need to keep up with that on the race team side just so we can keep up our performance as well. Tony might not want to do that.
But they do a great job. If they have a down, like our next to last stop, we had just a little bit of a fumble there but we lost a few spots. It wasn't a big deal. Those guys stepped backup the next stop and were able to pick it up and went from fifth to second and got Tony out in front and that's what they have to do.
Q. (No mic).
DARIAN GRUBB: You have to be able to because if you continue to get down you're just going to go back in a hurry because everybody else is so close on the competition level, you're talking about three tenths of a second at most between the best and the worst guys and you've got to be at the top of that game in order to be able to keep up.
Q. Seemed on a lot of restarts guys were going three wide right at start finish line, is that because you were having fishes or is that the nature of the beast here at Atlanta?
TONY STEWART: I was the root of that problem. I was the guy normally in the middle of the three wide because I couldn't get going and guys, it's a wide enough track that guys could get around and go where I wasn't. It wasn't a product of the track. It's that I was really struggling on it. The good thing is I probably could have got run over a lot more time and given a lot more opportunity to get run over but these guys were able to find ways around it.
It wasn't good for me that they found ways around but it was good that they didn't run me over in the process. It's not fun to lose spots like that, especially when you work so hard to get them; and to lose them at the start/finish line, or before we get to turn one, it's kind of disheartening. But like we mentioned earlier, when you have a car that that's fast and is really good off the bat on the restart and you can get those spots back, it's easier to not get as discouraged when it's happening and know that we have a good shot at getting those spots back within a lap or two.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations, you put on a great show tonight. Good luck at Richmond.