NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
CHEEZ-IT 355 AT THE GLEN
WATKINS GLEN INTERNATIONAL
TEAM CHEVY POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPTS
AUGUST 10, 2014
CHEVROLETS AJ ALLMENDINGER RECORDS HIS FIRST CAREER VICTORY AT WATKINS GLEN
Team Chevy Takes Three of Top Five Finishing Positions
WATKINS GLEN, NY – (August 10, 2014) – AJ Allmendinger powered his No. 47 Scott Products Chevrolet SS to victory at the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen, scoring his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win. The 90-lap race around the 2.45-mile Watkins Glen road course was mired with cautions and even halted three times for red flag periods to clean up accident debris and repair damage to the course. In the end Allmendinger out ran Marcos Ambrose (Ford) in a final two-lap dash to the checkered, and all but locked himself into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
“It helped having Roger Penske and the Penske Racing guys and Richard Childress show up (in Victory Lane) and congratulate me, too,” said Allmendinger following his first career win. “That meant the world to me because it means that to me, at least, that I’m still a part of their family, too, and they care about me. As Tad (Geschickter, team owner) was saying, what Richard Childress has done for us between the alliance and ECR motors and what Chevy has done to help us get to this point, we couldn’t do it without them. That was really cool. Everything that just happened in victory lane was something that I’ll never forget.
Kurt Busch finished third in his No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS and Kyle Larson, the highest finishing Rookie-Of-The-Year contender, was fourth in his No. 42 Target Chevrolet SS to give Team Chevy three of the top five positions overall.
A multi-car accident involving Ryan Newman in his No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS and others occurred on lap 55, which damaged a guardrail and stopped the race for one hour and 21 minutes for repairs to the barrier. Newman retired early with a 41st place finish.
In a separate incident, Jimmie Johnson in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy SS and Regan Smith, substitute driver for Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS were involved in an accident on lap 86. Johnson was able to stay in the race, but settled for a 28th place finish, while Smith was sidelined finishing 37th.
Kevin Harvick had a top-10 run in his No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS finishing seventh; while Dale Earnhardt Jr., aboard his No. 88 National Guard Chevy SS ended the day at the challenging 11-turn course, 11th in the order. Jeff Gordon, pole sitter and four-time winner at Watkins Glen, was plagued with power issues in his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS, but rallied to take home a 34th place finish four laps down.
Earnhardt Jr. moved ahead of Gordon in the standings, and now holds a five-point advantage with four races remaining until the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Rounding out the top five finishers were Carl Edwards (Ford) in fourth place and Joey Logano (Ford) in fifth place.
The next race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour will be at Michigan International Speedway on August 17th.
AJ ALLMENDINGER, NO. 47 SCOTTS PRODUCTS CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNER
KERRY THARP: AJ Allmendinger has qualified for the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: We did? Nice. I’m glad I don’t have to run the Showdown anymore in the All‑Star Race at least for one year. That’s awesome.
KERRY THARP: You’re also going to be in the 2015 Sprint All‑Star Race.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I get to practice making a run to pit road now next year, because that scared the heck out of me this year.
KERRY THARP: Talk about this win tonight and the significance of it.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Obviously that goes without saying how big and how important it is to this race team. You know, to be able to share it with Tad and Jodi and Brad and everybody at this whole 47 race team here at the race track, back at the shop, Tad, Jodi and Brad especially, and I’ve said it a million times, and I truly believe it, that they make this team feel like such a family, and like we’re their own. To be able to share that together, that was what to me rolling into victory lane meant, that I was pulling into victory lane with my family because they were there. My parents are here, my girlfriend Tara. She’s been such a great direction in my life.
To be able to share that as a family, you know, my bus driver Skippy, he’s had to endure me breaking cabinets and punching refrigerators in my bus and having to repair stuff, so to be able to share that together, that to me is what it’s all about. That’s a part of family, and that’s the coolest thing that I’ll take from it.
It helped having Roger Penske and the Penske Racing guys and Richard Childress show up and congratulate me, too. That meant the world to me because it means that to me, at least, that I’m still a part of their family, too, and they care about me. As Tad was saying, what Richard Childress has done for us between the alliance and ECR motors and what Chevy has done to help us get to this point, we couldn’t do it without him. That was really cool. Everything that just happened in victory lane was something that I’ll never forget.
Q. Did you ever imagine your first win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to be as dramatic and as tight in the finish as it was today?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I was hoping to make it boring, honestly. I wanted to lead all 90 laps and just have a cruise control. But that’s what makes the Sprint Cup Series so fun. You know you’re not going to get that. And Marcos, I don’t believe he’s one of the best road racers in NASCAR, I don’t believe he’s one of the best in the U.S., I believe he’s one of the best in the world. To be able to have to go with him basically one‑on‑one there, and I felt like ‑‑ I’ve always respected him, but I respect him so much now because he could have easily just wrecked me, and honestly probably moved me out of the way and wrecked me and drove to the win and made the Chase and everything is great, but he didn’t. He moved me out of the way and he leaned on me and I leaned on him back, so to have that but have that mutual respect where we know what the limit is. We’re going to take it right to the edge of that limit but to be able to lean on each other but not wreck each other and have such a great finish for us, for me to be able to have that race be so memorable about how it ended, for the fans, they were so great for staying around through all the red flags, the track workers did such a great job to fix the fence and everything. It’s just a memorable day to go out there and remember everything that just happened, and I hope I win a lot more, but if I don’t, to be able to remember it like this, it’s pretty awesome.
Q. The last two restarts, Marcos passed you and you passed him back. Take us through those last two restarts and what was going on in your head.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Well, I mean, I knew I was going to have to pull every trick out of the bag that I could. He’s so good, and he’s so good about maneuvering his race car, making these big race cars turn and do what they need to do and that first restart, I thought Kurt was close enough behind me that I didn’t need to worry about him cutting under me. I was more worried about him trying to hang the outside of me, so when he turned under me, it surprised me he was still there, and to kind of bounce off each other through the esses which you’re not really supposed to do and then us go flying through the glass, felt like he got some stuff on his tires, so the next couple of corners, he over drove a little bit and I was able to get back under him and have that caution came out, and then that last restart, I was really hoping Carl would make a good restart and slide in between us, but I figured it wasn’t happening.
I got through the bus stop and I got a little loose through there and I knew I kind of checked myself up, and as I said, he could have probably drove through me and cleared me out, but he just moved me enough to get that car on the bottom that he needed, but I was able to hold the outside of him and knew I had the next corner and I kind of leaned on him getting into the left‑hander, just know that if I can make him drive in deep with me, and I can make the corner and he messes it up, if they get racing behind me, and I get a three‑, four‑car‑length gap, you know I have a good shot at this thing. Once I came off the last corner, I looked in my mirrors and saw them side by side and it was like the most perfect sight I had ever seen in my life. I just knew I needed one perfect lap there.
Just a dream come true.
Q. You had such incredible success in CART, and you think about the struggles that you had just getting up to speed, and then with Roger and then coming back with Roger, your guys who were up here earlier, your peers basically said that it took a lot from you to get back to this point. Can you just talk about what that road has been like, and now knowing that you’re going to be in the Chase? It may not be the best opportunity you’ve ever had to be in the Chase, but you’re there. Can you talk about what the last few years have been like?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah. I mean, coming from open‑wheel racing and coming into NASCAR, I watched it my whole life, and I thought, yeah, it looks tough but it can’t be that tough, and then I got in these cars, and I was like, what the heck are these things. These are the toughest things I’ve ever had to learn to drive. It shows, it’s one of the toughest series in the world, and I think sometimes it doesn’t get the respect when it comes to outside the U.S. just because maybe compared to like a Formula 1 it’s not as popular throughout the course of the world. It’s tough. We see all the guys that come over from open‑wheel racing and the ones that ‑‑ obviously Juan had a little success and Tony is probably the biggest success when it comes from open‑wheel racing, but it’s difficult to just really describe how hard it is to come in this, and I probably didn’t come in the best way with a brand new team like that, and it’s just been a struggle the whole time.
You know, when I got with Roger, I knew it was the best opportunity of my life, and I tried to fake it inside and say this is the right time for it. I kept telling myself, yeah, this is the right time for it, but I knew it wasn’t the right time for it. Over the course of what happened, it made me become a better person and just really try to understand what life is all about because unfortunately the sport will take over your life. It will completely ‑‑ when it’s good, it takes over, but when it’s bad, it really takes over because that’s all you can think about.
To be able to go through all that and come out the other side, and I’m so thankful last year for James Finch and Roger Penske and my great friend Michael Shank for all the opportunities they gave me to be in a race car and live some dreams out like racing in the Indy 500 and be able to win for Roger and get my picture on his wall so it looks like I’ve actually been there, but more importantly to come here and have Tad and Jodi and Brad say, you know what, we’re going to take a chance on him, and we think he’s going to make this race team better. I learn every day. I try to get better every day. I’m sure they’ll attest to you, there’s certain days it’s not good. I’m still not where I want to be. There’s other days that I’m happy and I’m where I want to be, but I wouldn’t go back and change the process because I know I am a happier person and I am a more centered person, and I know I need to keep working to get better at that still, but I’m surrounded by family, and to be able to share it together, we’ll never forget this.
I wouldn’t change anything about this.
Q. After what happened last night, did you feel like that kind of cast a shadow over everything that was going on today?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Well, I mean, I think it’s one of those things that you look back at and it’s a tough time for everybody. I said on TV after the race, this NASCAR community, as a whole we’re a family, and when anything like that happens, it’s something that you don’t just kind of erase and you forget about. And all of our thoughts and prayers, and it may not seem like it, or I wish there was more to do, but it goes to the Ward family and what happened. It also goes to Tony because it’s not like he’s sitting there and forgetting about it. It’s a tough scenario.
You just try to come together. That’s all you can do. You try to be thankful every day for the things that we have, the things that we’re able to share together, and you also know that there’s a lot less fortunate out there and there’s a lot of disasters, whether it’s in racing or not.
You just try to keep that in perspective and always have your thoughts and prayers and do whatever you can to help out and be better with it.
Q. Certainly a very lengthy red flag with 34 laps to go. How were you able to stay focused when you got out there for the restart?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: It’s part of the job. You don’t want to sit there and wait for over an hour, but it’s part of the job. It kind of gave us a chance, myself and Brian Burns, my crew chief and everybody to kind of say, okay, what’s going to happen here, what’s the strategy, what are we looking at, what are we going to do next, because once you get back in the car, whether it’s been an hour delay or you’re out there each lap, you go right back into the mode of knowing this is your job, and you’ve got to get right back into it.
I was actually ‑‑ I felt like a lot more guys that had just pitted were going to stay out, so when I saw everybody come down pit road with me and there was only like three or four cars that were restarting in front of me, I knew they were on a lot older tires than I was, it made it a lot easier, so I knew I needed a good restart, if I could get in the lead immediately I could go into fuel saving mode. I got up to second on that restart and got around Carl as quickly as possible and immediately was gapping myself off of Kurt and Marcos while trying to save fuel just in case it went green. We all knew it wasn’t going to go green the whole time, but just in case. From there it’s just about doing everything that I’ve learned in my life to try to hold them off and make no mistakes.
Q. The test here a couple of weeks ago, pretty important, huh?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, with a team like ours, any time we can have a test at any racetrack, it’s important. But we came here last year and tested and it really helped out. We had a shot to win last year. I thought we had a great test with our Scott Products Chevy, and as I said, I was cautiously optimistic, because I didn’t want to get too excited but I really thought we had a good car. We get so much help from Richard Childress and ECR and Chevy with the alliance, but there’s no substitute for our own on‑track testing, and we don’t get a lot of it.
I felt like we maximized that test. We did everything we needed to do during that test to come here and come back and say, okay, this is the little box that we’re going to work in. This is what we know works and what doesn’t work and we’re not going to skew from that. It was definitely huge for us to have that opportunity because without that, you just don’t know.
Half these races we’re testing stuff trying to figure out what direction we need to go. To be able to shorten that box is such a big deal for us.
Q. On Friday before being in the Chase was a reality, you were saying we may get in the Chase, but I don’t know whether we’re ready to contend for a title. I asked Brad (Daugherty) that same question just a few minutes ago. He said, we’ve got a shot. So do you feel the same way?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I mean, we’ve got a shot. I’m not going to disagree with him. Thanks, Brad. No, I mean, honestly, it’s huge to be in the Chase. You know, and I didn’t want to ‑‑ when I was saying that on Friday, I didn’t want to just say, you know, just to be there, we’re happy to be there. I want to go in there and make some noise, but I think more importantly for all the sponsors associated with this team, Scott Products, and Bush’s Beans and Kingsford and Clorox, Charter, Shore Lunch and Hungry Jack and everybody that’s associated with this race team. Kimberly‑Clark signed back up for three more years through 2017, Kingsford and Clorox did that earlier this year. I feel like our sponsors see the right direction, so to be able to give them, our race team, to be able to say we’re a Chase team, to get that exposure when it comes to whether it’s dollars on TV or just to be able to come back to the sponsors and say, see, what you’re putting into this race team, we’re working hard and we’re trying to get it back, and Tad and Jodi and Brad do such a good job with the way they market all of our products together and how they help promote them.
When it comes to the Chase, with the new format it doesn’t mean we can’t show up to Chicago and get hot early. The way the format is laid out, you don’t have to be amazing for 10 races, you just have to be good enough each three sets of races. The next thing you know you get to Homestead, anything can happen.
So Brad, I agree.
Q. How does this win today compare to your wins in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, the CART series and the Rolex 24?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: They’re all so special in different ways. CART at that time and Champ Car was what I had dreamed about my whole life, really, coming up through karting and being Paul Tracy’s go‑kart driver and doing that and having a couple years and the way it worked out there being fired and hired the first race coming back and winning, that was so special. The Rolex 24 was special because I look at Michael Shank just like I look at Tad and Jodi and Brad, as one of my best friends, and we had tried for eight years to try to win that race together, and so many times he tried to say, you need to go to a team like Ganassi and go win this thing, you deserve to man it. I’d say, shut up, we’ll win it together at some point. So to be able to share it with him and great friends that have helped me along in my Oswaldo Negri and John Pew and my ex‑teammate Justin Wilson, that was really special. Last year was so awesome because when I signed with Roger in 2012, his whole shop is laid out of all of the people that have won from Donohue to Mears to Castroneves throughout NASCAR and IndyCar and sports car racing, and I walked in that shop and said, man, I want to be on this wall. I want to be a part of that.
After it all happened, I thought, I’ll never get to be a part of that. I’ll never be able to be on that wall, and to know that if I walk into Penske Racing right now, I’m still on that wall like I was a part of it, that’s really cool. And to have Roger give me that opportunity again was something that he didn’t have to. I didn’t ask for it, but he felt like I earned it with everything I went through and how hard I was working.
To be able to give something back ‑‑ I was hoping to give him the Indy 500 back, but it wasn’t in the plan. To be able to give that back, but honestly, nothing compares to today because I have went through hell in this series, absolute hell, whether it was missing 19 races my first year, wanting to slit my wrists on a weekly basis thinking about what am I doing here, to feel like I had it figured out and to lose my job with Red Bull and to be so close a couple of times with the 43 and then obviously to go through what I went through with the 22 and just to go through hell and back, and to know that this was my dream that I’ve worked so hard for over the last eight years was to win a race here, I mean, you can ask any of my family, Tad, Jodi, my parents, my girlfriend, it’s all I talk about. It’s what I am happy about one day and so hard on myself about the next day.
I don’t have to hear any more, AJ might be that next first‑time winner. I’m tired of that, so I don’t have to hear about it anymore.
Q. You’ve got the sponsor announcement earlier this weekend. You guys come out, you win the race, you’re in the Chase, parents are here, you’ve got Brad ready to call Jimmie Johnson tomorrow morning. How are you going to look back on this weekend?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I’m going to enjoy tonight. I’m going to have fun with everybody, all my family on this race team that deserve to have fun because they are the ones that put the hard work in every day, every weekend. My crew guys, I mean, they show up to the racetrack, they show up Sunday night at whatever time we get home, they show up at 7:00 in the morning to tear the car apart again. All the crew guys back at the shop that spend those extra hours working on this car because we don’t have a lot of people to fine‑tune these cars, share it with them. Having my family here and my parents and everybody, I’m just going to enjoy it. I’m sure I’ll get to Michigan, I’ll be on cloud 9, excited. I’m going to make my first run, I’ll be like, come on, Burns, you suck, let’s make this better, we suck again.
But no, I’m just going to have fun. It’s what it’s all about. I’ve dreamed about this moment, and I’m not going to forget it.
BRAD DAUGHERTY, NO. 47 SCOTTS PRODUCTS CHEVROLET SS TEAM CO-OWNER
TAD GESCHICKTER, NO. 47 SCOTTS PRODUCTS CHEVROLET SS TEAM CO-OWNER
JODI GESCHICKTER, NO. 47 SCOTTS PRODUCTS CHEVROLET SS TEAM CO-OWNER
BRIAN BURNS, CREW CHIEF, NO. 47 SCOTTS PRODUCTS CHEVROLET SS
KERRY THARP: Let’s hear from our race‑winning team here today, the 29th‑annual Cheez‑It 355 at The Glen, and our race winner for the first time in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career is AJ Allmendinger, and AJ is still out in victory lane, but we have his crew chief Brian Burns and team owners Tad and Jodi Geschickter and Brad Daugherty. I’m going to start with Brian Burns. Brian, congratulations on this win. You’re going to be in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Has it sunk in yet?
BRIAN BURNS: I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure by the time I wake up tomorrow it’ll hit me, but right now it’s like watching a movie, and this is the good part.
KERRY THARP: Jodi, you’ve been up here a couple times with the Nationwide races that you guys won.
JODI GESCHICKTER: We’ve been up here with Marcos Ambrose before.
KERRY THARP: That’s right. You’ve won in the Sprint Cup Series, the highest level of motorsports. Congratulations. What does this afternoon and this win and everything mean to you?
JODI GESCHICKTER: This win has been a long time coming. We’ve been in the sport for 20 years, and it’s flown by, but you take it a week at a time and you hope and you pray that this is the week and you prepare, but you never really know what’s going to happen. There’s so many variables, and I try to explain that to some of the younger guys in the sport. You always have to be on your game, you always have to be prepared and be in a position to win.
This week we were. I can’t be any happier to have won here in Watkins Glen with Scott Products on the car and with AJ Allmendinger and our family up here with us. It’s a wonderful place to win. It’s a real blessing.
KERRY THARP: Brad Daugherty, you’ve been in a lot of athletic contests. You’ve been at the top, but this has to feel right up there at the top today. Congratulations, and talk about this win here today.
BRAD DAUGHERTY: Yeah, absolutely. It’s so hard, this business, the racing business. So many talented people once you get to the top. It’s very difficult. We’re a smaller team as everyone continues to talk about, so it’s a little bit harder for us. We felt when we went to Sonoma this year that we were going to win that race, and we did everything that was right and ended up having a bad day. When you’re a smaller race team and you tell people, man, we should have won that race, they’re going to ‑‑ and you haven’t had the success, they discard you. They say, yeah, you’re just dreaming. I’ve been saying all along I thought we were a top‑20 race team, and we haven’t been able to prove it. But with a glimpse of what we saw today, we didn’t back into it, it wasn’t a rain delay, it wasn’t a caution, he got up on the wheel and beat a guy who I think is possibly the best road racer on the planet. Great day for us. We work really hard. A lot of people know Tad, and I’ll tell you, I’ve never been around someone so dedicated to a group of group as Tad and Jodi. Tad spends six or seven days a week on an airplane so we can all come out and do this. He busts his butt. Jodi keeps the office pinned down, and me, I get to talk a lot. We all have our roles, but it’s a great group, and it’s a big day for the little guys, because like I said, we got a chance to kick the big guys in the knees today, and boy, we kicked them square in the chin.
KERRY THARP: When I think of Jodi and Tad, I think of class.
BRAD DAUGHERTY: Absolutely, best people. I’m so fortunate to be in business. I don’t even feel like it’s business. We’re friends. We have a great time. We go racing. Jodi feeds us and makes sure we don’t get too sick and do what we’re supposed to be doing, and Tad hustles his behind, makes sure the lights stay on. We’ve got a true family atmosphere and we’re lucky to have a young man like AJ to have an opportunity to have a driver of his caliber. Our crew chief Brian Burns, unbelievable job this year. He’s coming into his own as a crew chief. He was texting me throughout the race to keep me from having a stroke up because I was questioning his pit strategy and about to lose my mind. He kept assuring me it was going to be okay so I needed the comfort.
Great group of people. We’re not the biggest and not the baddest, but we’re the winners today.
KERRY THARP: Tad, just your comments about today. I see you out at the racetrack every week and know how passionate you are about the sport and how much it means to you.
TAD GESCHICKTER: You know, it’s such a great sport. I’ve got such a belief in it as a marketing platform for brands. I believe in it with all my heart. First person that comes to mind is AJ Allmendinger. I’ve told him since I first got to know him that when he believes in his ability as much as God gave him the ability, he’s going to be hard to beat. I think today he showed everybody just what a great talent he is. Great family, his parents and their support just means the world to me to see him get to this pinnacle of the sport. I think of just the 40 people, we always talk about sometimes the sling and a stone and great faith is enough to slay the giant, and they work together as a team every day and work so hard, and then I think we’re really blessed to have sponsors that have stuck with us for 20 years through thick and thin. There have been some thin times, and I just think of them and what it means to bring them to victory lane. It’s just gratifying.
Q. Brian, you came and tested. Talk about the effects of that on today.
BRIAN BURNS: Yeah, we know this is one of those races we put on our refrigerator on the calendar there that we have a chance to win, a little more than some of the other places we go to. Had a great car at Sears Point and brought that car out here a couple weeks ago. Was fortunate to test with some good cars, as well, to be able to gauge ourselves, the 78 and the 9 and a few others were there. Left that test feeling really good. AJ has been focused all week, showed up here feeling just as good about it. Wanted to make a long run in happy hour just to see where the car was going to go and he pulled off before 10 laps even in to it. And he’s like, I don’t need to go any more, I know we’re good, go ahead and switch over to qualifying trim here, so he was just as confident as we were, and it showed today.
Q. Brad, compare what this victory means to you to a victory that you got as an athlete.
BRAD DAUGHERTY: Yeah, Kerry asked me that earlier, and that’s a great question. The thing that’s different is there’s so much involved in this sport to have a perfect day like we had. Pieces, parts, a lot of different people, and playing pro basketball, if we were playing a team or whatever, I had a lot of control over what I could do, and if I was having a great game or any pro player was having a great game, you’re in control. But this thing is so much ‑‑ just like you saw today at the end of the day today, all the cautions. Man, we were going. I was so excited, we were checking out. Just had to save a little bit of fuel, and boy, I’ll tell you, my heart rate was great, and you’re sitting there and you know the cautions are coming here. It’s totally out of your control. The situation we were in got a little bit out of our control, as well. I think that’s the biggest thing is you just don’t have total control over it. When you have a moment you can seize like he did in those last few laps, you’ve got to dominate that moment. That’s what really, really good professional athletes do, and that’s what you saw AJ do today.
Q. Was there a specific moment in your career as a player that you can compare to today?
BRAD DAUGHERTY: Boy, I’ll tell you, I don’t think so, because as a pro basketball player or a college basketball player, I always knew that ‑‑ we get to win every week. In this business we don’t get to win every week. To have this opportunity is just ‑‑ this is a pinnacle moment for our race team. We’ve had a couple opportunities, should have won Sonoma a few years ago, should have won it this year, but we didn’t, so today is a huge day for this company, this organization, and just shows you what perseverance is all about. We’re little bitty guys, man, and like I say, we got the big guys today.
Q. Brian, you knew what you were up against having had Marcos in the equipment. What’s your strategy at that point because you know you have the best guy going against the best guy. Do you just kind of put it in your driver’s hands?
BRIAN BURNS: Yeah, I think we did our own thing from the test, and I felt like they were watching us more than we were watching them, so I felt like maybe we were a step ahead the whole time. I felt good about that. You could hear them on the radio, what are they doing, where are they at. We had a strategy that we went with that was different than most of the rest of the guys out there. We went with a three‑stop deal, had to catch that caution right after our second stop, and it hit perfectly. We pushed it to the ‑‑ I think it was lap 47 there and only had like a lap on the tires so when the caution came out we were fuel only and good to go after that. Kind of watching from the Nationwide race yesterday.
And just being with AJ, anybody in that field I’d put them up against him, especially on restarts. I think that’s his forte and everybody sees how aggressive he is, and he did that today.
Q. Tad, you had to make a big decision last year to take Bobby out of the car and put AJ in. How hard was that, and what was it about that kid that you just knew that this was the right thing for JTGD?
TAD GESCHICKTER: Bobby is such a great champion and a friend. He had done a lot for where we were at that point in our Sprint Cup development, helping us build out the team. Once he helped us get to that point and was at the end of his career, I did not know AJ Allmendinger until the first time we met in Richmond, but the more time I spent up against him, and Bobby broke his clavicle or whatever and we got to work with him, I knew he was the right guy for this team. We try and run it like a family and he was looking for a home. It’s been a lot of fun.
I consider him a friend, a tremendous talent, but a really great person. That’s what I look for.
Q. Brad and Tad, first of all, congratulations. Four races from now you guys have to change gears. AJ was in here yesterday or two days ago saying he might make the Chase but I’m not sure we’re quite ready to contend for a championship. But now that you’re in, you might as well go for it. What do you do?
BRAD DAUGHERTY: We’re going to have a meeting with Richard Childress first thing in the morning. We need a ton more horsepower. But the reality of it is, it was going to play out today, and it comes down to pit road. That first stop I really was watching because in order to compete with the bigger teams, at this racetrack you’re going to have to have sub‑15‑second pit stops, and when we get back to running the oval tracks we’re going to have to be in the high 12s. Our first stop was 14.4, and I was like, man, our guys have dug in. That’s going to be the biggest thing for us. We go back to the mile‑and‑a‑halfs and start competing, it’s going to be a little bit more difficult because the simulation software for all these race teams but with the ride heights and AJ’s ability, if we can qualify the car well we’re going to race okay. I’m confident in Brian, I’m confident in my pit crew. I think that we have more in us. We go to racetracks like Atlanta, we go to places like Martinsville, Bristol, he’s good at those racetracks, I think we’ve got a chance. If the dominos fall correctly, we’ve got a chance. So we’ve got to put all of our eggs in one basket. We don’t want to just be there as a back marker, we want to make some noise.
TAD GESCHICKTER: For me, the mile‑and‑a‑halfs with a lot of grip, that’s been our Achilles heel. Richard Childress brought the brand‑new approved chassis to Indy, and it showed really well, so we’ve got one of those in the hopper, and if we can shore up those high‑grip, high‑speed places, when you’re slipping and sliding around I’d put AJ against anyone, if we can do our job on pit road, I think we can contend.
Q. Former champion Tony Stewart wasn’t here today because of a tragic event. Brad and Brian, your thoughts? I know the racing community is a fraternity. Your thoughts on this tragic loss?
BRAD DAUGHERTY: Obviously just a catastrophic evening last evening. Our sympathies go out to the family that lost the young man. And it’s been a difficult day for the Stewart‑Haas organization. We all recognize that and we all feel like we’re all family because we travel 36 weeks out of the year it seems like 100 years together. Our hearts go out to Tony, but specifically out to the family. It’s a tremendous loss, and I thought that Stewart‑Haas and Tony and those guys did the right thing by showing the appropriate respect to the situation as well as the family ‑‑ more importantly to the family by not racing today. We’ll see what unfolds of that, but our thoughts and prayers go out to that family.
Q. You guys have been associated with a lot of different organizations. Can you tell me what RCR is bringing to the table for you guys and how you can expect in the next few weeks to build off of that?
TAD GESCHICKTER: You know, there are a lot of these technical alliances out there, but Richard has been a mentor of mine since my first year in the sport and always taking the extra time to show us what everything is about. And the effort they put into the system so this engineering alliance works is second to none. When they said we’d be partners, I believed him, and he’s gone above and beyond.
Instantaneously in the garage if Ryan Newman changes a spring, we know it. He’s put his money where his mouth is, and we appreciate it. We wouldn’t have done it today without him.
KERRY THARP: Thank you very much. Congratulations, and look forward to seeing you here several other times.
KURT BUSCH, NO. 41 HAAS AUTOMATION CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 3RD
KYLE LARSON, NO. 42 TARGET CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 4TH
Top Finishing Rookie of the Year Contender
KERRY THARP: What a race it was here today, the 29th annual Cheez‑It 355 at The Glen. We’re joined in the media center by our third‑place finisher, and that’s Kurt Busch, he drives the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart‑Haas Racing, and our fourth place finisher and our top Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate is Kyle Larson, and he drives the No. 42 Target Chevrolet. Gentlemen, what an outstanding show you put on for us today. It wasn’t easy out there, but Kurt, talk about your bid to win here today. I know you gave it all you could. Talk about the race out here this afternoon.
KURT BUSCH: Man, it was a heck of a race for us on the 41 Haas Automation Chevy. We were in position all day. We ran top 5 and executed well in the pits. I thought our strategy played out well, and the final pit stop was flawless, and that put us in position to race with Ambrose. Earlier in the day I was able to distance myself from the 47 car, and then I realized he was on a different tire sequence, and so he was going to be a force to be reckoned with at the end. He held his serve. Allmendinger deserves this win. He did a tremendous job to race Ambrose, one of the best guys in the world at driving one of these stock cars.
Those two put on a good show. I thought I was sitting in a good spot running third hoping that the two would wipe each other out just enough that we would drive our Chevy into victory lane.
But our team, they executed a nice weekend. In the wake of everything that happened, it was hard to stay focused. The red flag today was an extremely long red flag, even the one at the end. A lot of things to overcome today, and I just tried to put the blinders on, stay focused and deliver for my team.
KERRY THARP: Kyle, another solid finish for you here today as you continue to post these top‑10, top‑5 finishes in your bid to get into that Chase. Just talk about your run out here today at Watkins Glen.
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, I’m super proud of my team and myself. I was extremely down on myself after practice. I was terrible. I was at best maybe a top‑30 car. Just mad at myself but knew I was going to have lots of opportunity to learn in the Nationwide race, and then throughout the Cup race, too.
Just worked really hard all day long. Kind of just tried to stay out of trouble in the beginning. Any time somebody would out‑brake me I’d just let them go, then we had that long red, and I told myself I need to be more aggressive on restarts. I knew we had a pretty good car because I’d get a clear track and then I could catch the guy in front of me, and from then I just had to get better at out‑braking people, hit my marks consistently, and did a good job with that and was able to get a top 5, which is unbelievable because I really thought we’d be lucky to get a top 20 today.
Super proud of my Target team. I had a blast today, and happy for AJ, but in a way it kind of makes it tougher for us to even make the Chase again. Just got to keep having top‑5 runs, top‑10 runs, and hopefully can make squeak out a win soon, but if not we’ve got to be consistent.
Q. Kurt, as hard as those two guys were racing and leaning on each other those last two laps, were you surprised they both made it back to the finish line?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, very surprised. If you have a spot like that on the line to make the Chase and you’re two guys that have never been in it before racing at a road course where they have, not the upper hand, but they have a lot more confidence than they would on an oval, I just watched it all day long. I was like, hey, if I run third there’s almost as good as being able to win this thing because those two are just going to bring back the steering wheel only. I really thought they did a phenomenal job to beat the heck out of each other, maintain a pace that didn’t allow me to get close enough. There was just one moment I had, I wanted to go low on the back straightaway. It would have been three wide, and my right sides would have been in the grass, and I couldn’t quite make it getting into the bus stop to clear those two. It was just a phenomenal show. Those two deserve a lot of credit. Allmendinger brought home the trophy, and he deserves it. Ambrose gave everything he could. I was just hoping that, yes, those two would get a bit overzealous and I’d be able to squeak by them and pick up the win for our team.
Q. How do you get yourself back in focus after like an hour‑and‑20‑minute red flag so when you go back to racing it’s just like you never stopped? How did you get back and focus?
KURT BUSCH: I just always go through a checklist like it’s the start of the race and then your mind transferred into what’s still left to do. You try to paint an image in your mind of a checklist, and you just go through those numbers, and once they drop the green flag you’re back in race routine. That’s what I do.
Q. Kurt, can you just talk about comebacks? You know about making a valiant comeback, what AJ has been able to do, whether getting the ride at Penske, then coming back, climbing back, you know about stuff like that. For him to do what he did, and then win, can you talk about how gratifying that must be to the kid?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I think to answer your question, I’ll start in reverse. He won the race today in a fashion that everyone is proud of him for doing, to beat one of the best in the world at driving these stock cars. He deserves the trophy, and he had to pull from within. He had to dig in deep, and he had to believe in himself all the way through this.
When you’re out there racing and you’re in the groove and you’re doing your thing, it can go week after week where you don’t have opportunities to win, and he was rebuilding, getting himself in position with that team, and the team continued to gain strength, and they believed in him. I mean, I think they were in here on Friday announcing a sponsor agreement, and they’re moving forward with a long‑term contract. That was the first step in helping him understand where his future was going to be, and then for him to deliver today, it’s that confidence that grows when you’re spreading around ‑‑ when you’re spreading around all that, I guess, fertilizer. When you’re cultivating that hard work and now it’s starting to turn around for you, he deserves it. He’s put himself through all those mental challenges, and today he persevered. He didn’t break down and he brought home a victory, so we’re all very proud of him.
Q. We had a tragic event not too far from here last night involving Tony Stewart. I don’t know how aware you are, but a 20‑year old racer died last night. Just wanted to get your thoughts on the event.
KURT BUSCH: Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ward family. It was a tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with everybody involved. It’s a tough situation for the motorsports world. I’m not at liberty really to speak any more of it.
Q. Kyle, you expressed really well that it’s coming down to the wire here. You’ve got four races to go, Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta, Richmond, so if each of you could talk about maybe where you think your best shot is to get there and are you gearing up for one more than the other?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, and I think Michigan is a good track for me as well as Bristol and Atlanta. I have three tracks I’m really confident at. Just go to each track with the same game plan is to shoot for a win, but if not be as far forward as you can.
It’s crazy to think that with a 16‑car Chase it would be harder to make it than it was previously. I’m in the top 12 right now and I’m sweating, trying to get locked in the Chase. But it’s exciting. It’s exciting for all the race teams that got to step up and for the fans to pay attention to it. I think NASCAR did a good job with the change. It’s made everybody step up even more.
Q. You were involved in a tremendous scrap with Brad here a couple years ago, and just viewing that last lap, it looked equally as exciting. At least talk a little bit more about that last lap and maybe you pressuring coming out of the inner loop and getting by AJ and then AJ making an equally good move going into Turn 10. Talk a little bit about that.
KURT BUSCH: It’s what we come to the track for is to put on a good show. I love when you’ve positioned yourself to out‑duel somebody at the end of a race, whether it’s a short track, road course, an intermediate track. You have those moments but they’re not as great. But superspeedways, it’s always a battle when there’s green‑white‑checkers, and it’s what gets the juices flowing. It’s what needs to be documented about the great show that was put on today. It’s why I think we’re near to a sellout crowd the last three years here at Watkins Glen. It puts on a tremendous show. That’s what NASCAR is all about.
Q. Kurt, any thoughts on getting back in the Indy 500 next year, or is this way too premature?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, it’s a bit too early. Right now our focus is the Chase and trying to keep others from punching their ticket to get in, and today Allmendinger got in. We don’t know much news. Let’s see how their season ends, how our season goes. Right now I’m focused on this 41 car to run for the championship.
Q. Would you like to do it, though?
KURT BUSCH: Yeah, I’d like to do it. We’ll see how it pans out.
Q. Kurt, I want to advance you, instead of being a driver I want you to be a teacher right now. What would you tell Marcos Ambrose he needs to do to get that win to definitely be in the Chase?
KURT BUSCH: He should have wrecked Allmendinger. (Laughter).
KYLE LARSON: I was hoping they’d both wreck each other.
KURT BUSCH: It’s putting yourself in position, and they did that today, and it’s what he has to do again at Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta, Richmond. Whether it’s done with pit strategy, whether it’s done with good race cars. I haven’t looked at his point’s situation to know, but I know Larson is on that bubble of guys making it in on points.
You can’t start stretching yourself too thin here, though, at this time of the year. You just keep plugging away and you wish you were in a better position. I know Larson is over there biting his fingernails but he’s in position, where Ambrose wants to attack and jump on those guys. That’s what the Chase is all about. It’s win and you’re in, and I’m sure we’re going to see as the races get closer people doing more dramatic things to have a chance to make a run at the championship.
Q. Kurt, obviously a lot of turns here and a lot of unpredictable stuff happens, a couple caution flags. What changes to your strategy do you make when you’re on a road track versus on an oval course?
KURT BUSCH: A road course, like ovals has its certain points in the race where the first set of tires you run a certain way, the second set of tires, and then at the end you know it’s your last set of tires and it’s all about track position, and it’s a defensive mode, but if you have the offense, use it. Road courses, it’s more of a routine. It’s a checklist type feel where you’re looking for your braking marker, you’re hitting your shift points and you do it lap after lap. It’s just repetition. Oval tracks you kind of go off the feel of how your car is feeling and you dive down into the corner and pick up the gas in certain spots. It’s not the same every lap. Road courses is a lot of mental checklists.
RICK HENDRICK, TEAM OWNER, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET SS –
IS THERE A CONNECTION PROBLEM?
“Yeah, we can’t find it. The car just lost power. Everything is dead. We put the batteries in it, but it’s lost power. It’s some connection somewhere; we just don’t know where it is.”
RYAN NEWMAN, NO. 31 CATERPILLAR CHEVROLET SS – INVOLVED IN A MULTI-CAR ACCIDENT ON LAP 57
WHAT HAPPENED? ARE YOU OKAY?
“I’m okay. It’s just the wrong place at the wrong time. From my standpoint, (Greg) Biffle jumped the curb and hit the splitter or something up on the curb and got out and got across the grass. And I probably could have given him a little bit more, but I tried to time it so I could shoot past but he slowed down when he got back on the race track. It’s really disappointing. We lost John Melvin here in the last couple of weeks and he did a lot of innovations for our sport and it’s really sad that they haven’t adapted any of them here at this race track. The Safer barrier doesn’t exist here, there are no concrete walls; it’s just a very antiquated race track and the safety is not at all up to NASCAR’s standards and it’s a shame that we have to have accidents like that to prove it. Hopefully something will change the next time we come back with our Caterpillar Chevrolet.”
“(Greg) Biffle jumped over the curb there and lost the nose and came back across the race track in the dirt. I tried to time it just right and he was slower than I thought he was going to be. It was disappointing our Caterpillar Chevrolet was running good. We were in good sequence to pit one more time for a splash of fuel and go. Just really sad to see the antiquated walls around this race track and a lack of safety. They have no problems spending 400 million dollars in Daytona, but they could spend a few million dollars here on safety and make a lot of drivers happy.”
ARE YOU OKAY?
“It was violent. My hit into the wall wasn’t that bad, it was the shot that I got from (Michael) McDowell. Thankfully all of us are safe, but not at all where I wanted to be at the end of the day.”
KERRY THARP: Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming in, putting on a great show for us, and we’ll see you at Michigan.