Team Chevy Drivers Score Three Top-Five Finishes and Six of the Top-10
FONTANA, Calif. (March 25, 2012) – Three-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) champion Tony Stewart scored his second win of 2012 at Auto Club Speedway, earned second top-10 finish of 2012, and claimed his second career victory at Auto Club Speedway in Round 5 on the series tour.
Stewart took over the lead at lap 85 and in dominating fashion paced the field until rain ended the 200-lap contest at lap 129. The victory moves Stewart and his No. 14 Chevrolet team to fourth in the point standings only 18 markers from the lead spot.
It was a strong day at ACS for Team Chevy drivers. Not only did Stewart walk away with the trophy, but three of the top-five finishing positions and six of the top-10 were claimed by Team Chevy drivers.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet finished in the third position, which marked his second top-five effort of 2012. The run was Earnhardt Jr.’s fifth top-10 finish in 20 races at Auto Club Speedway. Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet finished fourth; and sits second in the point standings just seven spots out of first place. Ryan Newman, No. 39 U.S. Army ROTC Chevrolet finished seventh, followed by Kurt Busch, No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Inc. Chevrolet in ninth, and Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet in 10th.
Other Team Chevy finishers in the top-20 were: Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Quaker State Chevrolet – 14th; Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Target Chevrolet – 17th; Paul Menard, No. 27 Menards/CertainTeed Chevrolet – 19th and Regan Smith, No. 78 Furniture Row/Farm American Chevrolet – 20th.
Stewart, Kyle Busch (Toyota), Earnhardt Jr., Harvick and Carl Edwards (Ford) complete the top-five in today’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
The Series moves to Martinsville Speedway on April 1, 2012.
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT/MOBIL 1 CHEVROLET – RACE WINNER
STEVE ADDINGTON, CREW CHIEF, AND GENE HAAS, OWNER
THE MODERATOR: We welcome our race winner, Tony Stewart.
Tony, talk a little bit about your run out there today.
TONY STEWART: Just really excited about it, obviously. I mean, you hate to have them end with rain like that. But I’ve lost some that way. The good thing is we didn’t back into the lead because we stayed out, the leaders came in. I mean, we were leading the thing and had earned that spot. Proud of that.
I feel bad for Denny and Darian, to have a car that strong. It was a hard call. I know it was hard for Steve and for all the other crew chiefs. We’re kind of sitting on the west edge of the cell, it looked like it was all going to go north. We just kind of caught the edge of it, but you didn’t know if it was going to go away or keep building. You hate to see guys lose spots like that that pitted.
I was proud of our day. I made a mistake in qualifying on Friday. I thought we were going to be a top three car in our qualifying run if I hadn’t got sideways.
Our car drove really, really well in traffic. Felt like it was real maneuverable as far as being able to move to different spots on the racetrack than other guys were at. I felt like we could move around with some of the other guys seemed to be a little more line committed.
Just really proud of this guy sitting to my left. Steve did an awesome job all day of the changes that he made. Every time he changed something, the car really responded well to it. That’s when you know you have a real good racecar under you, when you make little changes and it makes a big difference. He did an awesome job. Each run we got better and better and better.
Even if we went back to green, I still feel like we had a little ways to go to get it perfect, but I was confident Steve was going in the right direction, no doubt. I felt like we still had more we could gain on it, would gain on it as the day went.
Either way, whether it rained or didn’t rain, I felt confident we had a car that was capable of for sure running in the top three and definitely had a great shot at winning, I think.
THE MODERATOR: Joining Tony up here is Steve Addington, crew chief. Talk about the day.
STEVE ADDINGTON: It’s been a real enjoyment in my life to get involved with this race team. Tony and Gene and Eddie and Brett and them guys, what they’ve put in place, really love to come to work and work on racecars, enjoy going to the racetrack.
Thank Hendrick Motorsports for giving us great chassis and engines. Our guys that hang the bodies on them and put them together do an awesome job. It really is nice to be with an organization like this.
THE MODERATOR: Also joining Steve and Tony is Gene Haas, owner of the No. 14. Talk about being here today, winning this race with Tony and Steve.
GENE HAAS: Well, it’s always a lot of fun to win races. I’m really happy with the changes that we made last year at Stewart Haas Racing. I think you’re starting to see the results. Tony is a great driver. I’ve always told everybody on the team that if Tony is not winning, we’re not doing our job, we’re not giving him the car he needs. If the car is right, Tony can win at any track anywhere.
This is just showing the results. We really have a great team now. Tony rolls off the haulers fast. They spend a little bit of time tweaking the cars, getting them right. The result is that we are going to be competitive at every track we go to now.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open it up for questions.
Q. Tony, we know what you can do in the summertime and in the Chase. Have you ever been this strong this early?
TONY STEWART: Not in this series. It’s been nice to get off to a good start this year the way we have. Like you said, the history shows in the last 13 years we have not had the strongest starts the first third of the year. I’m really, really excited about the start that we’ve got going.
We’ve been strong everywhere we’ve been. I mean, Daytona was probably our weakest race, and I know I made decisions trying to make things happen, and didn’t work out, but it wasn’t because our cars weren’t good.
We’ve had top 10 cars and top 5 cars every race this year after that. So really, really proud of what Steve and all of our guys at Stewart Haas Racing have done. Like Steve mentioned, places like California and Michigan, big horsepower tracks. Really proud of the Hendrick engine department. They’ve worked hard and are doing a good job with the EFI system. Proud of that, real appreciative of Gene giving us the confidence to do what we do each week.
Q. Tony, how did the approaching rain affect your strategy pit wise and otherwise on the track? Describe that little move that you made on Denny Hamlin that put him into the pits.
TONY STEWART: I doubt very seriously that we suckered him onto pit road, so to speak. I’m sure him and Darian had their mind before they got there.
Honestly, as far as the strategy with the weather coming, it’s all Steve Addington. He gets the credit for that. It’s hard. I wouldn’t want to have to sit there and guess on when this rain’s coming. But Steve kept me informed of what he was seeing on the radar.
Didn’t really change what I was doing behind the steering wheel. It’s obviously nerve wracking for all the crew chiefs, especially when it starts off as light as it did. It’s a hard call to make. You know if it goes back to green, you might have put yourself in a hole. If you have a scenario like we had today, it’s just hard to know exactly what to do. You got to have that confidence.
Steve said, Stay out. I didn’t question it. We stayed out. The drops kept getting bigger and bigger. Obviously when we pulled on pit road, they had definitely lost the track by that point.
It would be a lot easier for all the crew chiefs today if the cell just came straight at us. If you watched the radar, we were on the west side of that front that was going through. A lot of it was just going north across the west side. We were on the east side of it, I guess. It was so close to not getting us or getting us. It just makes it nerve wracking for guys. That’s why six of them came and pitted. You don’t know a hundred percent what that weather is going to do.
Steve can answer that question better than me. I know I wouldn’t want to be in that position. These crew chiefs, they earn their money, for sure, by having to make these kind of calls. It’s difficult. It’s nice being in the driver’s seat, not having to worry about it, letting somebody else take that responsibility.
Q. Tony, yesterday you and Addington and Ryan Newman were having a deep conversation about tires outside the garage. Before the rain today, how important was the performance of the tires in this race?
TONY STEWART: Well, I mean, in the race, the tire wear, small issues that kind of creep up in practice always seem to go away during the race because you get a lot more rubber on the racetrack. Obviously having the Nationwide race run yesterday helps out with that a lot, too.
The stuff we saw wasn’t severe by any means. We try to work really closely with Goodyear, all the teams do. If there’s something that creeps up like that, you definitely want to make Goodyear aware of it.
Jim Campbell and his guys came over and didn’t think it was going to be an issue. Immediately from the drop of the green flag, what we saw on our tires yesterday, we didn’t see at all today. The history, you know what it’s going to do in the race. You know it’s probably going to be a lot easier on the tires. We didn’t have any of the issues that we had when we were looking at the tire yesterday.
Q. Can you talk about your pass of Kyle as you were coming up on Montoya there.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I mean, we made up a lot of ground on Kyle I think in traffic. Kyle was really, really strong I would say the first 10 laps of a run. It seemed like after that we were able to make up ground on him. At that part of the run, we had caught a lot of lap traffic at that point. I think our car was just a little better in traffic than his was at that point of the race.
My theory has always been, You can’t pass ’em if you’re following ’em. I went behind Juan. My car really liked the outside. I felt like I had a better shot going to the outside than trying to go to the inside. Got a really good run off the corner and got by Juan, too.
Q. Tony, do you feel the lack of cautions helped you out with the car being so good, not allowing your competition to work on the cars to get better?
TONY STEWART: They still had opportunities to work on them just like we did, but I think it was nice not having to deal with any restarts. The restarts can get kind of hairy here. Especially our car wasn’t quite as strong as Denny and Kyle’s cars for the first five or six laps. But it seemed like after that we really settled in and our car was really, really good the last half of a run.
I’m not sure the restarts would have been great for us. But I think that last particular run that we made, I mean, that was the best we had taken off all day, so we were definitely gaining on that side of it and didn’t give up any time to Denny and Kyle after the pit stop.
Felt like we were gaining on that, for sure. But with the draft down the straightaway, as strong as it is, with this track being as wide and so many grooves, there’s so many options for us as drivers to use, it’s nice to not have to be in that situation when you have a strong car and you don’t have to deal with as much traffic that way.
Q. Steve, we heard a lot of people talking that drivers and teams had a philosophy of racing to halfway. Is that a real philosophy? If so, is that one you considered as this day got underway?
STEVE ADDINGTON: Actually, Tony and I talked about that in the lounge before he went out to driver introductions. He was going with the mindset that we were going to run 200 laps today. I said, We’ll stick with that, I’ll keep you updated on the weather. He said, I won’t mention it until you do.
That’s what we did. When we got 35 laps from halfway, I said the likes and stuff was brewing three to five miles out. We were 35 laps from halfway. He was running Kyle down at that time.
We were watching the radar, looking and paying attention to that, looking at the bands we had to deal with that. He did a good job of letting me know what was going on in the backstretch. This place is so big. He let me know it was getting harder. I felt like they wouldn’t get the track dry, or if it ever started raining, from the forecast, it wasn’t going to clear up. It’s great to have that communication and it worked out for us.
Q. Tony, I know you hear a lot here that it’s a wide track. Everything is a plus and minus in life. How is it positive and how much is it a little negative, having that much space?
TONY STEWART: Well, I mean, obviously the bigger the track, the more opportunity you have for cars to get strung out. But the great thing is it’s hard to get racetracks to where they have multiple grooves, to have a bottom lane, a middle lane, all the way from the top to the bottom, have all the room in the middle that is about even as fast depending on what you set your car up for.
We spent a lot of time in race practice yesterday working on the high side. I felt like that’s where our car was the strongest. I told Steve that’s where I felt the most comfortable. I felt like we were going to need to be up there.
I watched the Nationwide race yesterday. It was an awesome race to the end. It’s so easy for cars to get separated here, but they had an awesome finish in their race.
We had great battles with Harvick and a great battle with Denny and Kyle at the same time. Obviously playing the weather, everybody’s trying to get everything they can get toward the midpoint of that race.
It was fun to have that. When you have a car that is so balanced like what we had today, we could move around. A lot of guys, when their cars are a little off, they’re stuck in one particular groove. A plus for us was our car was very maneuverable. We were able to switch lines. I could run in the middle of the racetrack, I could run the top, I could run the bottom, just depending on where the traffic was. I had that flexibility to move around. It’s fun when you have a car that’s balanced like what we had and able to do that.
Q. Tony, as hard as it is to keep things going from one season to the next, really maintain momentum, you look at this stretch that you’ve been on since the Chase last year, how do you think you’ve been able to really maintain it? Talking about having a good car is one thing, but what other things do you see that are working for you right now?
TONY STEWART: I think this guy to my right. Gene Haas is a big factor in that. Gene has always given us the flexibility and the tools to do what we think needs to be done at our shop.
It’s been a hard economic time, obviously, the last three or four years. Not once have we asked for anything and Gene said no. We don’t take advantage of that. We don’t look at it as an empty checkbook by any means. We definitely run it like a business and do the best we can to watch our budgets. But Gene has been awesome of letting us make changes when we felt like we needed to.
There’s been some key pieces that we’ve needed in the shop, and he’s been behind it a hundred percent. That gives all of our guys the confidence that we’re doing everything that we can to give ourselves the best opportunity to be successful.
It’s nice to see those guys go through the off season, especially after the championship, and I’ll be honest, as much as we were all celebrating, it was so impressive to get back to the shop and see how hard they were already working for next year.
It’s easy for teams, when they have success, to kind of slow down a little bit, take a breath, feel like they’re exactly where they need to be. That’s probably the one thing I was most excited about through this winter, was watching our guys, listening to their comments about how excited they were to have the success we had, but how they were looking forward to next year and trying to be able to duplicate that.
It takes that kind of support from guys like Gene, that kind of dedication from our guys. To see somebody like Steve come into the organization through the winter, learn a whole new group of people, a whole pit crew. A lot of times when crew chiefs change race teams, they bring the whole team with them. Steve came by himself to our organization and had to learn a whole different group of guys to work with. I think he’s settled in quickly and really gets along good with our guys, learned our system really quick.
He brings so much to the table. We’ve learned a lot from him. He’s made great adjustments through the off season and those results are showing right now.
It was a long off season. To watch these guys work that hard, it’s nice to end the year on a high note like we did, and to be able to come out of the box and carry that momentum with a new competition director and new crew chief, I think it shows the depth of our program and our group of guys back at our shop.
Q. Steve, I had the impression watching Tony and Ryan’s car that maybe Ryan’s car, especially in traffic, didn’t go the same speed. Is there a big difference between the two cars? When you know in advance that the rain will come and will approach, how is your personal approach? Do you have talks with other crew chiefs from rival teams, exchange experience, or maybe with officials of NASCAR?
STEVE ADDINGTON: I would answer the weather deal. We just got to play that off gut feeling of, you know, what’s approaching each weekend, how you’re going to approach the race. Whether you feel like they can get the track dried again or anything like that situation, we don’t discuss this with other crew chiefs. We’ll joke around with each other about what we think, hope we get it in, because we all want to get it in and go home and see our families.
TONY STEWART: I just have to go home to see my dog. That’s all I got.
STEVE ADDINGTON: Need to work on that (smiling).
To answer your question about Ryan’s car, each driver needs something different and they ask for different things in their setups. Balance wise or anything like that, we have our baseline. The differences in the cars and things like that, I can’t say, I didn’t get to see Ryan’s car a whole lot, when you’re sitting on the pit box on pit road, I didn’t get to pay attention to it, but they had a really fast racecar all weekend. Ryan was real happy with it.
It’s that way with a lot of cars, that when you get back there in dirty air, it changes the car so much. Track position is such a key. That’s what’s cool about this racetrack is our car would work in different grooves and we were able to make ground on people and get by them.
I haven’t had a chance to talk to Tony Gibson about what they saw today, so I can’t answer that question.
Q. Steve, to follow up on the momentum question, are you surprised to the start you guys are off to at all?
STEVE ADDINGTON: No. I’ve said it all along. The group of people they have in place there at Stewart Haas Racing is just unbelievable. I mean, it’s just racers, guys that want to work. There’s a lot of smart people that give you support. You can ask a question and somebody will have you an answer really fast.
Getting in there, getting to know personalities, things like that, you learn how to work and deal with each person.
No, it doesn’t surprise me. I think what they’ve put in place here with bringing Zippy in to work with Tony and myself at the racetrack like that, he sits down with us, even with Tony and Ryan in a debrief, he asks the questions and opens your mind up to different things. That’s really cool that he can sit back and watch the big picture, what’s going on in practice and things, then ask you questions. You go back and look at different areas of the car and your setups and your notes and stuff. That’s brought a lot to the table. I think that’s helped us a ton, too, both teams.
THE MODERATOR: One final stat, significant to Tony. A.J. Foyt scored his second victory at Ontario Speedway just down the road 40 years ago this month. Significant to Tony and somebody that he’s mentored himself under for many, many years.
Guys, thank you and congratulations.
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POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 DIET MOUNTAIN DEW/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET – FINISHED 3RD
THE MODERATOR: We welcome to the driver meeting room Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who finished third in today’s race.
Dale, talk a little bit about your run out there today.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We had a really good car. The car was really quick in practice at the end of the day yesterday. We carried the same car into the race. I was real happy about that. We started off moving forward. Had some really good pit strategies, pitting a little bit earlier than most guys. Steve brought us down pit road and we gained a little bit of time, passed some guys on pit road.
We drove the car up to fifth before the weather came. We had been watching the weather all day. We felt certain if it started to rain it wasn’t going to stop. We made the right choice by staying out and building ourselves into the top three.
Pretty happy. Pretty uneventful weekend. Other than the qualifying miscue we had, we’ve had a really good weekend.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Did you have any doubt you were making the right call? Were you surprised some guys stayed out? How did you feel about your car throughout the race?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: I was surprised that everyone didn’t stay out. I was pretty certain by watching the weather and studying the weather all night long and all day today that once it began to rain, it wasn’t going to stop. I was surprised that some guys came down pit road and gave up track position.
My car was really good. The handle on the car was a little bit tight at the start. We moved the track bar. We put the track bar down a quarter of an inch just to be on the safe side once the race started. That’s something we can adjust. We thought we were a little bit loose in practice, so we wanted to do something we could take out of the car if need be. We ended up putting that back and loosening the car back up on the second run. I thought the car was a little bit too loose. We may have tightened it up for that last little bit.
We weren’t making big changes to the car at all. I liked the speed. There was a couple runs where the 99 car had ran us down, but we were kind of taking it easy and just waiting on things to shake out. Knew we were going to get some yellows once we got past halfway, get an opportunity to race some of them guys.
Q. You’re kind of the torchbearer for the Hendrick crew at Fontana. What is it like this year that you’re kind of leading the garage this time for the Hendrick guys, it’s not always Jimmie and Jeff?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, they outran us all day long. Jeff had a little trouble on pit road. Jimmie had they decided to come down pit road because they thought it was not going to run all day. They’ve been beating us most of the weekend. We’ve really been competitive, though. I like how our season is going so far. If we can keep going like this, we might get some opportunities like we did last year of winning some races and seal the deal eventually.
Q. With the approaching rain, how did that affect your strategy?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, we started short pitting at the beginning of the race. We sort of played our hand early, didn’t have an opportunity to do anything other than what we had planned from the start when we got toward halfway. That really worked in my favor.
We moved up to fifth on all them green flag runs, but we probably wouldn’t have passed all of those cars if we hadn’t short pitted earlier to get out in front of them and get out in clean air.
Q. Junior, can you talk about going to Martinsville. Do either of you think anybody had anything for Tony Stewart today? He looked really stout.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Kyle (Busch) knows probably better than I do. I didn’t get to run around him.
I look forward going to Martinsville. I always have a lot of fun there. I think everybody really enjoys running there. It’s a pretty fun track. We’ve had some good success there. I’m hoping to have a good race like we did last year and maybe have an opportunity to try to be in the battle for the win.
Q. Dale, great start to the season, but how are you feeling within the team? Are you content?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I’m really happy. I’m performing better. Most of the credit has to go to Steve and the team. Those guys did a great job today on pit road. We had some really good stops.
Steve is doing an amazing job. He deserves most of the credit for how well we’re running. He’s giving me really good cars, cars that are fun to drive, relatively easy to drive.
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