Tony Stewart Wins at New Hampshire; Takes Points Lead with Back-to-Back Wins in First Two Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Races
LOUDON, N.H. (September 25, 2011) – Tony Stewart made a strong statement in his bid for a third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) championship by winning the second race in the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS). It was the second win for the driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet in six days, coming on the heels of Monday’s rain-delayed win at Chicagoland Speedway.
He becomes only the second driver in the history of the Chase to win the first two races of the 10-race playoff for the title. It is his 41st career victory and his third time in Victory Lane at NHMS.
After qualifying 20th in the 43-car starting field for the Sylvania 300, Stewart worked his way up through the field to run consistently in the top-10. Good pit strategy and a car that continued to improve as the race wound down gave him the opportunity to take the lead and charge to the checkered flag.
With the victory, Stewart takes control of the standings by seven points with eight races remaining.
Jeff Gordon brought the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet to the checkered flag of the 300-lap/ 317.4-mile race in fourth position. The four-time NSCS champion led a race-high 78 laps. The strong run moved Gordon up six places in the standings to sixth place, 23 points out of the lead.
Giving Team Chevy four of the top-10 finishers were Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Degree Men Chevrolet in ninth position and Regan Smith, No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet in 10th place.
Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Budweiser Designated Driver Chevrolet, now sits second in the Chase standings after two races with a 12th place finish in today’s race.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, finished 17th after suffering two flat tires during the race. He is 26 points behind Stewart in eighth place in the standings.
Five-time defending NSCS champion Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, battled handling issues throughout the race and had to settle for the 18th finishing position. Johnson is 10th in points, 29 points out of the lead.
Pole sitter Ryan Newman, No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet, was poised for a strong finish but was forced down pit road with a cut right front tire in the waning laps of the race to finish in 25th position and drop to 11th in the standings. He is 34 points behind Stewart.
Brad Keselowski (Dodge), Greg Biffle (Ford) and Brian Vickers (Toyota) completed the top-five finishers.
Chase race number three is set for October 2, 2011 at Dover International Speedway.
September 25, 2011
An interview with:
KERRY THARP: We’re roll right into our post race press conference for today’s race winning team. We’re joined right now by crew chief Darian Grubb.
Darian, talk about the 14 car, two for two so far in the Chase races, coming back to New Hampshire where you had your heart broken earlier, just talk about today’s win and what it means.
DARIAN GRUBB: It’s just a huge day for the entire 14 team and what we’ve done to battle back from all the adversity we had in the middle of the year, like you brought up and reminded me again how we ran out last year with one to go. It’s bittersweet just because we had that last year. But to come out this year, second race of the Chase, win the first two, we feel very honored and very lucky to have had two weeks go our way.
KERRY THARP: We’ll take some questions for Darian.
Q. When y’all were in the doldrums, did you sense this coming or did you have no idea when you were going to climb out of this?
DARIAN GRUBB: It was one of those where we kind of had no idea. We had a really good start to the year, had good race cars, fast race cars, chances to win, strategies to win, got beat over and over and over. It beat us down. Middle of the year we couldn’t hit on anything that made it better. Rode the same, didn’t have feedback or anything that was positive. Everything was just kind of there.
The last few weeks we started getting better. I think it was the same time at Michigan that Tony said we weren’t Chase contenders even if we made the Chase. I think everybody started taking an extra load, working harder, getting faster.
Q. Tony brought this up in Victory Lane. Didn’t make it clear what it was about. He spoke at some length and said, We dropped some dead weight earlier this week and it helped a lot this weekend. Can you explain what he was talking about there?
DARIAN GRUBB: I’ve heard a lot of people talk about it, but I haven’t heard what he was talking about. I know he went and did a lot of dirt racing and had a lot of fun this week, kind of unloaded everything. Maybe it was a lot of dead weight off his mind.
Q. No personnel changes in the team?
DARIAN GRUBB: Not that I know of. Maybe he’s talking about me and I just don’t know it yet (laughter).
Q. Can you speak to the success this team has had here this year. You come here in July, you run 1 2, win the pole, win the pole again and the race. What is it about this place that suits your style here?
DARIAN GRUBB: We’re not really sure. We have fast race cars from the time we started at Stewart-Haas Racing. We had good, consistent weekends. Even crashed a car here at one point in practice, brought out the backup, started on pole, ran top five with it that week.
It’s just a good track for Ryan (Newman) and Tony both. Makes our job a whole lot easier at Stewart-Haas Racing. The drivers know what they need here, what the feel is they’re looking for. If they don’t have it in Happy Hour, or even the times before that, they tell us quick. We make sure we keep them filled in on what the weather is going to do for the race day so we can make sure. Tony was excited when he saw the sun come out today and it got a little slick.
Q. Obviously this became a fuel mileage issue today. Can you tell us where you were in terms of fuel at the end as opposed to a year ago.
DARIAN GRUBB: We actually were two laps to the good at the end this time. I pushed the window from the run before longer than most people and pitted two laps later than the 33 to make sure I had a little bit of a cushion. Had good fuel mileage today. Tony did a great job saving when he needed to. I semi cut him loose, wanted him to hang with the 33 (Clint Bowyer). I didn’t think they could make it. If they did, I wanted to make sure he was close enough to make a run if they ran out. He did a great job on that. Didn’t use any more fuel than we had to. Had two laps left.
Q. Was he instructed to save fuel at any point during the last five to 10 laps?
DARIAN GRUBB: I told him to run fast enough to keep up with the 33 but don’t push any harder than you have to. If there’s a chance you can pass him, go get it, then we’ll go into save mode after that. We weren’t going to give up a good finish to try and beat him, but then again we weren’t going to ride and save fuel to guarantee we had a good finish.
Q. Just the elation this team felt when they saw Clint run out. Did you think he had enough to go to the finish?
DARIAN GRUBB: I thought he was going to be close. He pitted two laps before we did, we knew he was going to be at least closer than we were. If he was going to be pushing it that hard and still think he could make it, we knew we were going to be right there with him at least. Our mileage from what we were doing that window wise before that was a little bit better than what they had.
KERRY THARP: Tony Stewart has joined us. He’s today’s race winner. This is his 41st win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, obviously his second straight win, his third victory here at New Hampshire. This is Tony’s 16th top 10 here at New Hampshire in 26 races. Good track record here. He’s the points leader by seven points over Kevin Harvick.
Tony, just talk about another strong performance today by the 14 team. You’re two for two.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, it was definitely an awesome ending to the day for sure. It was rough getting there. The first two thirds of the race I think we kind of hung around 10th or 12th, not by choice or design. Just seemed like that’s as far as we could get at the time. We were in a lot of traffic. Just seemed like a lot of guys would get stuck in traffic and kind of maintain position. There were only a couple guys you could see that really could make headway and drive through. It seemed like the closer we got to the front, the better our car drove.
We may not have been the best car at the end. Clint was just a tick better than us. I definitely did not know he was in a situation to worry about fuel. So the good thing is Darian told us we were two, three laps to the good. I got to run hard all the way to the end.
Seemed like when we got in the top five or six cars there, we had pretty good lap times. Like I say, we weren’t the fastest car, but we were solid and could maintain that pace the whole last 100 laps.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations again on the victory. We’ll take questions now.
Q. Tony, ever since you were on TV in Victory Lane, the buzz all around the track and Internet is wondering what you meant when you said, We dropped some dead weight earlier this week.
TONY STEWART: We’re just going to leave it at that.
Q. Could we ask if that was
TONY STEWART: You can’t ask anything. It is what it is. That’s all it was is what you said. That’s where we’ll leave it.
Q. Darian said there’s not been any personnel changes on the team.
TONY STEWART: No, there hasn’t.
Q. Can you talk to the success your team has had here this year.
TONY STEWART: Loudon has been awful good to us this year for sure. Ryan did a great job both of races of being fast in practice, getting the pole. I’m not sure exactly how their day shook out, what they fought during the day. But in the spring we started up front and we were able to stay up there all day, just keep working and chiseling away at it.
Today was a lot harder run at it from 20th. We just kind of stuck to the plan. We never tried anything trick to get us up there. We just stuck to the plan. There was the one stop where about half the field came in. That took us from about 10th or 12th up to 7th. May have been four or five guys that pitted there. It just seemed like we got close enough to the front at that point, that’s when we finally got in range when we could do something and make some ground.
We got back there with some cars that we just got stuck behind. We got stuck around the 56, the 31. It’s all ’cause we’re running the same speed. It seemed like once we got up there in a little better air, we were able to take advantage a little bit better.
Q. What kind of momentum do you get from the two wins? You’re a confident guy. Going into next week, what does this do for you?
TONY STEWART: It’s huge. When you talk about momentum, that racecar doesn’t know anything about momentum. It knows what you put in it, it knows how we drive it. It doesn’t know stats, it doesn’t know anything other than just what’s put in it.
Momentum deals with people. It’s not just these first two races of the Chase, it was the two weeks leading before it, too. We haven’t finished outside the top seven now in the last four weeks. That’s huge for us. It’s huge for our guys.
We’ve had one of those seasons up to the Chase where we couldn’t do anything right. I mean, we couldn’t get it clicking. We couldn’t get through all the bad luck. It seems like every week something would happen and we’d have to try to dig ourselves out of a hole the rest of the day.
I’m hoping and praying that we’re through that bad luck string now and things are hopefully going to click the next eight weeks.
Q. Darian touched on this, you said yourself a few weeks back you might be wasting one of the Chase spots. I assume you don’t feel that way now. Did you see that coming, the turnaround, or was it a matter of time?
TONY STEWART: It happened in a week. We went from five laps down at Bristol to running third at Atlanta the next week. No, you don’t see it coming. It’s not like we say, Okay, this is what happened, this is what’s wrong, this is what you have to do to fix it. Like I said, we just had really weird luck this year. There’s been races where we just missed it, couldn’t get it happy, get the car happy. There’s been races where we’ve been a top five, top three car or winning car, something stupid happened, you finish 15th or 20th, you leave going, We missed an opportunity.
The potential’s been there all year. You wonder when the bad luck string is going to stop. You hope, like I said, it happens another eight weeks now. We hope we’re through it and we can keep clicking off top fives, 10s. If we could get a couple more wins, that would be awesome.
The thing about this sport is things change week to week. The one thing I think our organization is really good at is taking what we’re doing day to day. I mean, we don’t lose sight of where we’re at today worrying about two weeks down the road. We focus one day at a time. Obviously, stuff like the chassis that we’re going to run through the end of the year, Darian has those planned out, but we really just focus on the day that we’re on, what we can do to make the most of that day.
Q. You talk about the bad luck you suffered. You had some here last year in this race. Given the bad karma, you’re reaping good karma from the stuff you went through. Can you speak to the irony of running this race, Clint running out of gas after you ran out last year.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, it’s amazing that it’s happened like that. But Clint was one of the first guys that called last year and, as happy as he was he won the race, he knew how disappointing it was for us. He was one of the first guys that called and said, I’m sorry about what happened. You don’t want to win them that way and you don’t want to see guys lose them that way. This is a sport that guys have a high level of respect for what happens and how it happens in this sport. To have a win get away from you that way, it’s disappointing for anybody.
Sitting up here right now, we definitely know what it was like last year for him and can sympathize about it. It shows the character he has. He was one of the first guys on pit road to get to me and congratulate me. He was laughing about it. He’s thinking about the same thing of what we’re talking about, a how ironic it was that last year the roles were reversed. Shows what character he has, he’s a great guy. Like I say, you hate to see somebody losing races that way. You love winning, but you hate to see somebody lose a race that way.
Q. Tony, on the front straightaway where you look the lead, what was the technique behind that? When did you decide that was the point to make your move?
TONY STEWART: I mean, I planned it for 280 some odd laps. I knew he was going to run out of fuel right at that moment versus just driving through him and running over him, seems like it might be an easier option to turn left and run around him (laughter). That was the strategy all along. Just had to wait for that opportunity.
KERRY THARP: No follow up for that. We’ll go ahead.
TONY STEWART: Wow (laughter). And we were doing so good in here today.
Q. The comment you made going into Chicago about your Chase chances. Stunning turnaround going from feeling like you don’t have a chance, and now you have a pretty good chance. Can you talk about that stunning reversal of fortune for you.
TONY STEWART: I wish I could say you could predict it. I wish you could see it coming in the future. The hard thing is, as much as it turned for us, you never know what’s going to happen. Like I say, we hope the next eight weeks go this way.
The reality of it is you look at guys that are in the back half of the Chase right now, they’re guys that a lot of people expected to be in the top five, top three in the points right now. It shows that one or two bad days can put you in a bad spot pretty quick.
As much as we want to sit here and beat our chest and be proud of what we’ve done, and we are proud of what we’ve done these first two weeks, we got eight hard weeks to go here.
The celebrating isn’t going to last long. We got a lot of work to do. I’m proud of our group. I’m confident that we’ve got a group of guys that are very, very focused right now. Like we said, the cars don’t know anything about momentum, but the people do. This is the perfect scenario to go into these last eight weeks, for sure.
KERRY THARP: This is Tony’s eighth win in the Chase, ties for second with Carl Edwards.
Tony, Darian, congratulations. Thank you.
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