TONY STEWART CLAIMS FOURTH VICTORY OF SEASON TO CLOSE-IN ON POINTS LEAD WITH TWO RACES TO GO
FORT WORTH, Texas – (Nov. 6, 2011) –Capping a dominating performance at Texas Motor Speedway when several other drivers tried unsuccessfully to play the fuel mileage game in the AAA Texas 500, Tony Stewart put his No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet in Victory Lane for the 43rd time in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) career. It was Stewart’s fourth win in eight of the 10 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup races, and moved him closer to the leader in the championship hunt as he took his second career victory in the Lone Star State.
While Stewart had the dominant car today, and led seven times for 173 of the 334 laps, Jeff Burton, No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet came on strong and was the race leader during the closing laps of the event. But Burton ran out of gas two laps from the finish and wound up 27th in the finishing order.
Stewart, a two-time NSCS champion, made good on his post-race promise after winning last week at Martinsville, VA, that he was going after the title; and, he now sits just three points behind the series leader, Carl Edwards (Ford) who finished second. There are now just two stops remaining on the 36-race schedule, Phoenix, AZ and Homestead, FL, and Stewart continues to come on strong.
Three other Team Chevy drivers scored Top-10 finishes the 334-lap/501-mile race: Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet came in sixth; Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard by Tradition/AMP Chevrolet came on strong in the end to finish seventh; and recent Talladega race winner, Clint Bowyer brought his No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet home in ninth.
Earnhardt, Jr. moved up two spots in the standings to the seventh position, 79 points behind the leader. While four-time NSCS champion Gordon jumped to eighth in the point order, 81 points down to the top spot.
It was a challenging day for championship contender Kevin Harvick in the No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet, but a hard-fought 13th place race finish was enough to maintain third in the order behind Stewart and Edwards. Harvick sits just 33 points shy of the lead.
Five-time defending NSCS champion Jimmie Johnson, brought his No. 48 mylowe’s Chevrolet across the stripe in 14th position, and now has a deficit of 55 points behind the leader. Paul Menard, No. 27 Quaker State/Menards Chevrolet and Ryan Newman, No. 39 Quicken Loans/Carrier Classic Chevrolet finished the race in 15th and 16th, respectively. Newman remains 12th in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.
The remainder of the top-five finishers behind Stewart and Edwards were Kasey Kahne (Toyota), Matt Kenseth (Ford) and Greg Biffle (Ford).
Next up in the championship battle is Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, November 13, 2011.
November 6, 2011 An interview with:
TONY STEWART DARIAN GRUBB
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined in the media center by tonight’s winning crew chief Darian Grubb. This is four now in the Chase. Talk about the momentum the team has going into the final two races. DARIAN GRUBB: Momentum is huge, just knowing we can get it done. All the guys did a great job on pit road, all the guys in the garage. The car was fast all weekend. Tony gave us great feedback. It was a great weekend all the way around. Hopefully we can take it into the next two weeks. THE MODERATOR: We’ll take questions.
Q. You obviously had a great racecar. There were a couple times during the race Tony hauled it up on his back a little bit. Did you feel at times he was doing a little extra behind the wheel? DARIAN GRUBB: He definitely did. Just like Martinsville when we were getting ready to go a lap down. He keeps fighting, finds that extra 3/10ths in the car. We fell back. You could tell the handling was going away a little bit. The other guys were running up on him a little bit. He got more speed out of the car and started moving forward after those guys fell off a little bit. He did a great job adapting to what the car needed.
Q. Correct me if I’m wrong. Have there been many instances this season where from start to finish of a race weekend you have been as strong as you were here? DARIAN GRUBB: I think if you look back early in the season we kind of had some of those same stats going, we just didn’t get the finishes like we needed at the end. Las Vegas is one we qualified, stayed up front, dominated the race, had bad luck and finished second. Kick myself now, because I wish we did two tires there at the end again to pull off that win instead of Carl. Those are points we knew we gave up early in the season. It’s good to have a weekend like this, give everybody that extra shot of confidence to know they can get it done. The setups we have are working. Knowing we have the mile and a half come up at Homestead, hopefully we’ll take a lot of these things there and have that same speed.
Q. A question about momentum. Four wins in eight weeks. I may have this a little bit wrong, but when you substituted for Chad you had two wins with Jimmie. Does momentum mean anything to you guys? DARIAN GRUBB: Yeah, that was two wins in four weeks. It’s definitely momentum and just the attitude that you carry. You come in with a little bit more of a pep in your step and you’re bouncing around because you know you can get it done. Having that extra confidence means a lot, being able to go in, keep your head up, keep working on everything that you think you need to work on, work through practice plans like you think you need to. When you unload fast, you can afford to work on those things like we did this weekend.
Q. You were around the 99 it seemed like in practice and everything. Talk about the weekend with them. Was it fun? What was it like? DARIAN GRUBB: It’s definitely fun. It’s one of those things where we go out there and have a good time with it. We do the same job week in and week out regardless of what’s going on around us. When everything happened with the 18 car, it seemed like all the media disappeared away from us. Every camera was in our stall for the first practice, but after that everybody kind of disappeared. Bob and I were joking, I’m going to get up in your face and say, What are you having for dinner tonight? It’s fun. We have fun with it. We’re all there to get the job done. We’re not there to do the pomp and circumstance and all these other things. We want to do what we’ve got to do to make fast racecars.
Q. It seems like through the first 26 races of the regular season, it was a struggle. Once the Chase starts it’s like this light bulb moment went off. Was there one indeed once the Chase started? DARIAN GRUBB: I really don’t think so. We had strong cars, we just didn’t get the finishes. We got in a little bit of a slump in the middle of the summer where it seemed like anything we did didn’t go right. We would have a pit call, it would bite us, next week try to do it again. Worked one week, wouldn’t work the next. Just as the Chase started, we got the momentum on our side with the first two wins. Keep it rolling now. It’s been better ever since.
Q. Were you confident all the way there was no way Burton could make it to the finish? DARIAN GRUBB: Pretty confident. Just the lap they pitted on, we knew they were going to have a hard time stretching it that far. At that point we were also gaining on them a second a lap. It was going to pretty much add up we were going to catch them there with one or two to go. We were trying to get everything we could get.
Q. When Burton went into the lead and Tony lost a couple of positions after the last fuel stop, you didn’t get panicked? What did you tell Tony over the radio? DARIAN GRUBB: No, we were pretty confident that they couldn’t make it from that early. If they did, the speed was going to have to be so slow. We thought we could catch them anyway. We told him to worry about the 99 that was behind him. Hopefully it was going to work out. If nothing else, it was going to be a great points day for us and be ahead of Carl. We just have to keep fighting for all those points.
Q. I know the 99 car had a right front tire problem early on. Nobody likes right front tire problems. What were you thinking? Did you see anything at all? DARIAN GRUBB: We had the same issues. Pretty much everybody in the garage that was running those speeds did. The tire is a good tire. That’s the limit of what you can do. I’m sure Goodyear is going to come back with something a little bit different. If not, the race is even more exciting with that. The way the tires fall off the fuel windows were getting shorted anyway. We had to make sure we take care of it. If you got really tight, you had to be even more careful.
Q. Going into Phoenix, do you look forward to something like that, where you don’t have a whole lot of notes, it’s going to be more I don’t want to say seat of your pants? DARIAN GRUBB: We really do because it’s something where we did the tire test there, the open test. We have four full days of data that we’ve been digging through for a month and a half. We’re looking forward to going there and seeing if everything we learned while we were there still applies. The track is going to change while we’re there with all the practice we have. We have to be smart how we adapt to those changes. Hopefully we’re going to have that speed. THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Congratulations. The man next to you doesn’t need any introduction, the winner of tonight’s race, Tony Stewart. It’s his second career win at Texas Motor Speedway and fourth in the Chase. He’s three points back of leader Carl Edwards heading into the final two races. Tony, talk about your run tonight. TONY STEWART: I think it was all right (smiling). It was fair. We probably could have done a better job. I don’t know what we could have done any different. We had a good car to start with and the good thing was it was close enough to where Darian was fine tuning all day. This is a race where the conditions change a bunch from the beginning of the day to the end. I was real proud we were able to adapt all day long. I don’t know that we ever got out of the top five there the whole race. Seemed like we just kind of stayed there, stayed in the top three or four the whole day. Restarts were key obviously. But we got a really good restart that last one, had the lead coming into the pit stop. Our guys did an awesome job in the pits, got us out ahead of him. That was really the difference, was just being able to get that track position and be able to run our pace versus trying to make something happen to catch him. THE MODERATOR: We’ll take questions for Tony.
Q. Coming into this weekend, I think Carl felt like advantage them here at Texas. You come out and you do this. How big of a message is it to them that maybe what they thought was reality isn’t reality? TONY STEWART: We tried to tell them that last week, so… It is what it is. I mean, I still stand firm that we’re not counting on them to make mistakes. We’re controlling our destiny. Today is a perfect example of that. We’re worried about what we’re doing. We’re not worried about what they’re doing. We raced our race today. We didn’t do anything worrying about what they were doing or how they were doing things. We just ran our race. That’s what we intend to do the next two weeks. It’s theirs to lose now. But I don’t know that they have a choice now. I mean, we did what we said we were going to do. We’re going to take it if we want it. Today is a perfect example. We took five points off that deficit today. We have that ability to do that the next two weeks.
Q. Just seems like this championship Chase of yours, you’re having a lot of fun doing it. Has this been the most fun of a championship run you’ve had? TONY STEWART: I think so. The good thing is we’ve been in this position a lot of times and this isn’t the first time we’ve been in this deal. We have that ability. Like I said, I didn’t think we belonged in the Chase to start with, I didn’t think we were a factor. What do we have to lose? We don’t have anything to lose. I don’t care about second or third in the points. After you won it, second doesn’t really matter. To me it’s about going out, getting that championship, doing everything you can to accomplish that goal. We’re not a group that’s going to sit here obviously and say, We’ll take the easy road and settle for second. I’d rather finish sixth or seventh in points knowing that we did everything we can to win. That’s what we’re going to do the next 14 days.
Q. Tony, I know you’re not worried about the 99 and all that. But how cool was it to battle it out with him tonight? TONY STEWART: It shows what this Chase is going to be about. It’s a good battle right now. I mean, this was a good race today. We never really got far away from each other. At the end it was down to the two of us. I don’t know if you’re Brian France right now, I would say he’s giddy. If not, he should be, because this is the perfect scenario. It’s the perfect storm, so to speak, going into these last two weeks. That’s what you want. This is about as exciting as it gets, to have two guys that are down to three points with two weeks ago.
Q. He drew a little bit on your picture out there. TONY STEWART: I saw that. The bad thing is I look really bad to start with. He actually made me look a little better (smiling). I think he was actually a little too infatuated with me to be drawing on me. Kind of scares me he was so concerned about it.
Q. Tony, you talked about this a little bit, but you’ve won a championship before, two of them. Carl has been in the Chase but has not won a title. How much of an advantage, if any at all, is that for your group? How might it be an advantage? TONY STEWART: It’s definitely an advantage. But I’m not going to tell you why ’cause that’s what I’m going to take to the next two weeks with me. We win this thing, I’ll tell you what the advantage is and why. But there’s an advantage.
Q. Tony, this is the second straight week where on restarts you were so strong coming from the outside, not in the preferred line. How gratifying is that? TONY STEWART: Yeah, I mean, it’s very gratifying. I thought we were really strong all day on restarts. I mean, we had the one restart where we took off third there. We were two wide with Matt Kenseth going into one for the lead. We’re aggressive right now. It’s like I said, I’m taking charge and trying to control my own destiny. I think the restarts today showed what our intentions are and what we’re about for these next two weeks.
Q. Does it feel odd at all winning four races in the Chase and still being the chaser and not the guy being chased? TONY STEWART: Not if you look at how bad a race we had at Dover. We had to win four races to make up that deficit of what we got ourselves into at the Dover race. I’m going to be real disappointed if people are trying to make a story out of a guy that’s got four wins isn’t leading the points. It’s about 10 weeks. You got to be good for 10 weeks. You can’t just sit there and say, You can throw it all away to try to win a race and get there. We have had to have those four wins to make up for Kansas that we missed an opportunity there, Dover that we just were bad. We’ve had to rebound from that. The good news is our four wins have carried us within three points of the lead. So I’m proud that we’ve been able to fight our way back up to it.
Q. Tony, can you remember the last time you had such a strong weekend from start to finish? You were very confident coming here. You must have felt some reinforcement getting out on the track Friday and being fast in practice and qualifying well. TONY STEWART: We joke around about the Matt Kenseth syndrome. If he qualifies well, you know he’s going to be good in the race. That was proved today. He qualified well and he was a factor. We’re kind of in that same boat. We’re not known for qualifying. For us to qualify fifth, start that far forward, you got a sense it’s going to be a decent weekend. The thing that we saw on the lap speeds in practice, we didn’t have that raw speed at the front of a run, but it seemed like after 10 laps we matched those guys that did have the raw speed. It seemed like by lap 15 it was kind of going the other way. You know that this race most likely is going to be decided in a relatively long run most of the time. The good thing is it did today. Other than the traffic we struggled with at the end, we had a really good long run car and that’s what you need.
Q. Four wins in eight weeks in any Cup season is spectacular. Are you a believer in momentum? TONY STEWART: It would be hard to not believe in it right now, to be honest. But still when we get to Phoenix next week, what happened this week and last week are over, and you still got to start that weekend from scratch. I think our group is really good at that. But I think where the momentum carries isn’t when you start on Friday, it’s tonight through Thursday night. It’s the demeanor of the guys, the guys at the shop, how excited they are, knowing these guys are pumped up about what we got going on. When you got them working on your racecar, you want them pumped up and excited about how things are going. But it’s back to business on Friday. The good thing at the test there, like Darian mentioned, we were really fast at the test. I’m looking forward to getting there.
Q. Last week you told Carl he better worry. He was a little more subdued in here today than last week. Any more words of wisdom for Carl Edwards? TONY STEWART: I’m pretty sure what we did on the racetrack said everything we needed to tell him today. I mean, I don’t know how you top that. He knows. Trust me, he knows. If he’s out there drawing on me, he knows. The fun thing is I don’t feel like I have to say anything. I feel like I already got it done.
Q. Clean, professional race today. Is that a function of the track or some guys more sobering reality this week? When you get that kind of race for you, is it a pleasure? TONY STEWART: We’re not on a half mile anymore. You’re ripping around here, like Darian mentioned. The speeds we were running today, unbelievable how fast we run here at Texas. You’re not going to get guys doing what they did last week. Guys don’t have to get in that position of trying to take chances and put themselves in bad positions to get to the bottom of the racetrack like they had to do last week. I think you kind of throw last week out of the equation. That’s not normal for this series. You only see it really twice a year at Martinsville. But that is what makes Martinsville exciting. At the same time that’s why I’m glad we don’t run 10 weeks at Martinsville to decide the championship because it would get ugly. Yeah, it is nice to come here and know you’re not going to have to worry about that. Guys that had dramas last week had clean races today. It just shows that a lot of it’s a product of how fast we’re running here. Guys have a lot more respect for each other here.
Q. Carl said earlier he doesn’t want to count anybody out who is still mathematically alive no matter how far they are. Realistically, he’s the guy you’re worried about? TONY STEWART: I’m not worried about anybody. I’m worried about what we’re doing, and that’s it. I mean, make no mistakes, understand this when you leave here, for the next two weeks, I don’t care what he does. I didn’t care what he did last week. I didn’t care what he did this week. I was worried about the 14 car and that’s all. That’s why we had the result we had today. We’re not worrying about somebody else or something else. You’re crazy, the way the race went last week, guys having engine problems, you never can count anybody out of the equation. But I’m one of those guys, I believe there’s 35% of the things that happen on a race weekend that we can control and 65% that we can’t. All I care about is that 35% that we can control. That’s all we’re going to focus on and worry about. The rest of it we’re not going to worry about what they’re doing. When you got two weekends in a row like we’ve had, we don’t have to do anything different. We just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing, and that’s worrying about our own racecar. Everybody else has to worry about what we’re doing, why and how.
Q. With going into Phoenix and Homestead the next two weeks, it’s been a while since you won at either of those tracks. Do you think you can get back to Victory Lane at either place? TONY STEWART: Been a while since I won here, but we’re here tonight, aren’t we? I don’t know how you count us out. Been a long time since we won at Martinsville and here. We’ve done it two weeks in a row. Yeah, if I ever had confidence that we can do it, yeah, I feel that we can. THE MODERATOR: Congratulations, Tony. TONY STEWART: Thank you.
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