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Q&A from Stewart-Haas Racing stop

ThatsRacin.com Report
Monday, Jan. 24, 2011

The following is a transcript from Stewart-Haas Racing of the Q&A session at the team's headquarters on Monday's stop during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Taking part were Tony Stewart, owner/driver, No. 14 Chevrolet; Ryan Newman, driver, No. 39 Chevrolet; Bobby Hutchens, director of competition; Darian Grubb, crew chief, No. 14 Chevrolet; and Tony Gibson. crew chief, No. 39 Chevrolet.

The organization's Mike Arning was the moderator.

MODERATOR: “Want to thank everyone at the Speedway. Always great to be the first bus stop on the tour and very honored to be part of the first day. “Just to give you a lay of the land for what we have here today, obviously the more time you can spend with our folks, the better. We’ll go ahead and introduce these familiar faces. Obviously, Tony Stewart, the driver-owner here at Stewart-Haas Racing and the pilot of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet; his crew chief Darian Grubb; and Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army/Tornados/Haas Automation Chevrolet; his crew chief Tony Gibson; and director of competition Bobby Hutchens.             “Tony, it’s Stewart-Haas Racing’s junior year of operation, a phenomenal freshman year, a sophomore year that also had some strong points, as well. What do you envision for the junior year of Stewart-Haas Racing?” TONY STEWART: “Hopefully, we just keep building on that momentum. Obviously, the first year was a learning year and a building year but, this past year, I think we all started the season a lot more comfortable in knowing what to expect. It’s definitely not easy, for sure. “But that’s what having this group of people on stage is all about, and having Bobby (Hutchens) lead this for us, and two great chew chiefs and teammates, that’s the key ingredient you have to have. Really excited about getting the 2011 season underway. And, obviously, we have some great partners here with Mobil 1 coming on board this year, and Office Depot, who was the very first company to ever contact us wanting to be a part of this once we joined Stewart-Haas Racing. And, obviously, great partners with the U.S. Army and Tornados and Haas Automation, which really is the group that helped make all this possible. We have some great partners – Burger King, as well. There are great companies – Coca‑Cola, Chevrolet – that have really helped us as a family and made us a part of their family. So we are looking forward to getting going again.” MODERATOR: “And Ryan, if you could add to that, specifically, to you and the No. 39 team.” RYAN NEWMAN: “Just continue to go build on the relationships with the team, the communication that we have, and working on our racecars and taking everything to that ‘nth’ degree of performance. Had a good year last year, and look forward to this year. I look forward to starting strong. That’s one thing we have not done as a team on the 39 side is start the season off with a good Daytona 500, so we look forward to that opportunity again this year. Had some fun testing down there with the new pavement, and look forward to the entire Speedweeks.” MODERATOR: “Darian and Tony, if you guys could add, from a technical perspective, new nose on our Chevy Impalas, new asphalt at Daytona and even a new fuel with ethanol. If you could talk about 2011 from a technical perspective. Darian, if you could talk about 2011 from a technical perspective.” DARIAN GRUBB: “It’s an exciting time for us. A few changes coming from NASCAR with the rules and new body style with the nose with Chevrolet, done a nice job on that. Excited working with Chevrolet in its 100th year of operation and being a part of its motorsports program, which has gotten so strong. The competition level is so high, we feel like we have got a leg up with our Windshear wind tunnel program, our new technical partner with Mobil 1. We feel like we have a leg up on the competition and trying to take that technology edge to the racetrack.” MODERATOR: “Tony (Gibson) if you can add from the 39 team’s perspective.” TONY GIBSON: “I think one of the biggest things we have been working on is our aero department. Chevrolet has done a great job on the new noses and spending time in the tunnel and Chevrolet does well in giving us time in the tunnel and Windshear has been a huge benefit for us. On the aero side, it’s been big and we’ve been trying to pay attention to get most out of it. And keeping the nose down with the least amount of traffic is pretty big, and working on a fuel deal. Hendrick (Motorsports) has been doing a good job and making sure we get good mileage and performance out of the engines going to the new E‑15 fuel, and getting that in a bag so when you get down there, you’ve got to work with all of it. So you’ve got to dibble in all of that stuff to make sure that you’re on top of it. You can’t leave one thing unturned. So everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing has done a great job – all the engineering staff, they have done a great job staying on top of that and making sure we are getting as much as we can out of each bag.” MODERATOR: “And Bobby Hutchens, our director of competition. If you are to look at this from a holistic standpoint, last year at Homestead and beginning of this year at Daytona – not much off to our offseason – can you talk about the logistics of planning for a season?”             BOBBY HUTCHENS: “Our engineering department led by Matt Borland has worked hard to get us ready for 2011. They have been out working on our speedway program and up in Michigan this weekend at a GM facility working on drivetrain parts and pieces, and then with our new sponsor, Mobil 1 and WIX Filters, technical partners, hope that helps us over the offseason to make our end product better on Sundays. As these guys said, this shop here has worked really hard to make sure our third season is our most successful season, yet.”

Q: Tony, you’ve had a chance to test at Daytona – new asphalt and everything. Sounds like the guys think the wind tunnel work has been good and cars are good. Hendrick engines, can you see any difference? Can they come with a little more horsepower this year?

TONY STEWART: “The hard part is, we have a smaller (restrictor) plate than we’ve had at Daytona – than we have had for a while – so it’s hard to really feel it. I know they have worked hard over the offseason and I know they are excited about our package. I know we never really got in a group of more than five cars. So it was hard to compare car-to-car and that’s the only way you can really tell. They always feel like they are lazy with the restrictor plate on them, but when you get around other cars is when you notice that Hendrick horsepower. Seems like when we were able to get around some other cars, I felt like we had really good horsepower.”

Q. You were able to land an important new sponsor this year with Mobil 1. Is the economy starting to turn for you guys, making the sponsorship opportunities maybe a little easier than they were in 2008, 2009? And number two, does your affiliation with your outside affiliations, the open‑wheel team, make you guys more attractive to potential partners?

TONY STEWART:

“I hope it does. Obviously, with our open‑wheel teams and the (Sprint) Cup teams, I feel like we have the opportunity, especially with somebody like Mobil 1 coming on board. I know that something that was very interesting to them was the aspect of not only, ‘What we can help them develop on the Cup side, but also how does that transfer down to the grassroots racers?’ Hopefully, that does make it more appealing.

“I don’t think that we’ve turned the corner on the economy side, yet. It’s very competitive. The work off the racetrack, between the car owners and sponsors right now, it’s probably more competitive than I ever imagined it would be. And, especially nowadays, I think it’s probably harder than it’s been in the past 15 or 20 years. The good thing is, you don’t see a lot of sponsors really leaving the sport. They just have been moving around a little bit. So I think it’s a very hard time for car owners trying to figure out how they can make an attractive program and package for these sponsors to want to come over and be a part of your organization. I really feel fortunate to have somebody like Office Depot, that was here from day one, and that was when the economy started turning. They were one of the first people who wanted to be on board with us. And we had a great run with Old Spice, but having Mobil 1 on board now and having them come over in this economy is something we are really proud of.”

Q. I wanted to ask Tony Gibson: you were at DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) when they dominated the restrictor-plate tracks, and now you go with new nose and new asphalt. How much of an adjustment is it? Is the nose mainly cosmetic, or is the asphalt a big deal? What did you find and how big of an adjustment is it for you?

TONY GIBSON: “The racetrack has a ton of grip. The old Daytona – me and Darian were talking earlier – you would run 15, 20 laps and the grip would go away and it would come down to handling and guys would get single-file. Now there’s so much grip in the racetrack, there’s some different characteristics in track to track versus Talladega, but I think it’s, for us set up‑wise, it’s really, really close to Talladega. Get as much speed out of it as you can because handling doesn’t seem to be a big issue right now. I think it’s going to come down to raw speed and, if these guys can stay nose-to-tail and push each other, that will be the key. I think you’ll see a lot more side‑by‑side racing than you’ve seen in the last few years at Daytona, just based off so much grip in the racetrack.”

Q. Looks like you’ve (Stewart) lost some weight. If you’re in a program, could you describe that program and any other comments on fitness for the job that you do? TONY STEWART: “I’m definitely not the guy to be adding a lot to the fitness comments. (Laughter) I can tell you that my left hand controls the volume and the right hand controls the channel. That’s about the best workout regimen I’ve got. But I did start working out a little bit before the end of the year and changing how I eat a little bit. Actually, I wasn’t eating enough, believe it or not, and eating two meals a day.” RYAN NEWMAN: “We don’t believe it.”             TONY STEWART: “I know. I know. (Laughter). Let me rephrase that – I wasn’t eating frequently enough. Went from eating two meals a day to five meals a day, a lot smaller, obviously, and now Ryan is the guy you have to ask about fitness. But no, we have lost quite a bit of weight. Haven’t lost a lot, pound‑wise, but we lost a lot of fat percentage.” Q. For Darian – how will the elimination of the catch-can man affect pit stops and the responsibilities of the remainder of the over‑the‑wall guys?

DARIAN GRUBB: “I think that’s something we are all still going to learn as we go along as we get to Daytona and see what the teams have done as a pit stop scenario. We are only going to be allowed the six guys over the wall but I think you’ll be allowed to be creative in how you do that. You’ll probably see guys having multiple gas men and see some guys change the way they work with the tire carriers and the tire changers and the coordination of the pit stop. So far, the fueling process is a little bit slower than it was in the past, so that obviously changes our timing a little bit. But we are still in the learning process with that, now that we have all of the new equipment in.” Q. The motorcoach lot has changed quite a bit. It seems like the youngsters have come along frequently. Do you guys talk about that? Do the other drivers talk about this whole kids (thing) and what you’re going through? Because your lifestyle is very unique compared to anyone else in the world with the travel and the motorcoaches and everything. Do you share stuff and talk about the kids when you’re hanging out? RYAN NEWMAN: “We have, more recently. Just like testing last week, (I) talked to Jimmie (Johnson) about it. He’s further ahead, so I can learn from him. Jamie McMurray and myself were about the same time going through the same thing, so we can compare what’s right and wrong and women and kids and everything else. (Laughter). “I guess, ultimately, you might see some more trailers behind golf carts in the motorcoach lot. That’s about it. We are just adapting to it. It’s a big change for us and I think it’s weird if you look back at the history of the sport. I’ve heard the stories of the Petty’s and all that stuff back in the day. It’s like it skipped two or three generations, it seemed, and now there’s a big influx of mass production of kids, it seems. (Laughter). There are guys who are doubling up quicker than we ever thought. So it’s different, for sure. It changes the conversation from set-ups to baby cribs and things like that.”

Q. Darian, can you talk about how finding speed is more of a nuance or an “Ah-hah” moment?

DARIAN GRUBB: “I think that just comes as a property of the NASCAR rule book now. Everything has gotten to be such a tight box that we are all competing in. The performance level of every team is very high. It’s all about the fine details, now, and the hours that you put in at the shop. The detail work is where you’re going to find the speed, now. If somebody could find that big ‘aha’ moment, they will win two or three races, but everybody will be right back on top of them. It’s pretty easy to figure out when they are working two or three feet away from you in the garage. It’s hard to keep a secret when it works that tightly, the whole network. But it’s something we are really happy about because it gives us a chance to go through and show that detail and the expertise of the Stewart-Haas employees and be able to show that at the racetrack.” Q. With all of the years you’ve (Hutchens) spent going from one season to the next, how can you compare what it’s like now to transition and look forward to the next year versus the way it might have been all those years ago?

BOBBY HUTCHENS: “Many years ago, we might spend 20 or 30 days (testing) between Talladega and Daytona. Of course, the last few years, we have not been there at all. Going back there three days this year brought back memories of years gone by. But the way we have it now, at least the folks in the shop and especially the guys who travel on the road, have a bit of a life in the offseason where, before, we were gone probably more back in those days during the offseason than we were even when we traveled normally to the races. So from my perspective, I like to see the no-testing during the offseason.” Q. I guess for Darian – as the changes are going more toward “green” fuels, is there much difference in the performance of the vehicle, and does it create any ‑‑ what kind of work do you have to put in to make any kind of adjustments? Or do you notice much of anything in the way of difference?

DARIAN GRUBB: “It’s more of the fueling system that’s come into play, since there’s no more catch can. The biofuel addition – that we think is something very good for NASCAR. We are all looking forward to taking that next step and going all the way to E‑85 at some point. Partners like Chevrolet and Mobil 1, everybody is on the edge of that green initiative and we are proud to be a part of that. “So far, we have not really seen that much of a performance change. It’s a little bit more power but a little bit less as far as the fuel mileage goes. So it’s going to be something that’s even through the entire field and not going to make a major change. We have had a lot of testing in‑house and also with outside suppliers, determining how the material compatibility is with the alcohol content and the fuels and those things. Everybody has pretty much done the homework. We don’t think there are going to be any hiccups and we are ready to go to the racetrack with it.” Q. Down there in testing, was there any noticeable characteristic of the new nose that jumped out at you right away, or was it pretty much business as usual?

TONY STEWART: “I think, for the most part, it was still business as usual. It didn’t seem to be a big balance change and, like Tony Gibson mentioned earlier, there’s so much grip on the racetrack that I’m not sure we know how much change in aero balance it will be. It seems like, with the smaller plate, it was real easy. It was hard to get to the back of guys’ bumpers, and the only way you could do that was to get the guy in front to actually back up to you, and he either had to lift down the throttle or drag the brake pedal while he was still on the gas to back up to a guy to get in that push situation. That was the only noticeable change, I felt like. It seemed like opposite polarized magnets. When you would get so close, finally it would just push you away before you could get to the guy’s bumper. It took more effort to actually get the two cars hooked up together.” RYAN NEWMAN: “And I don’t think that we’ll see all of the things that are different in the nose until we get to a different track that’s the same. So, for instance, Phoenix, our second race, mostly from a bump standpoint, the way the splitter touched the racetrack, it’s going to be different this year in how we control that because this nose here seems to be more of a direct connect from the body to the racetrack than with the old splitter stays that we had that were a little bit more forgiving, I think.” Q. We hear all sorts of crazy stories about Daytona cars, the insane level of detail and preparation that goes into them, bolts being ground off the bottom and decals painted instead of stickered. How much work goes into a Daytona 500 versus a regular-downforce car?

BOBBY HUTCHENS: “Our cars were started in the August and September (2010) timeframe, and there’s been somebody working here pretty much every day on those cars. And most of the things you alluded to, those are things that we do and, like Darian mentioned earlier, you’re going to get down there and the small details that we are taking care of here by the body shop, by our fab shops, those guys taking possession and ownership of their particular area and rubbing on it a little harder than the next guy is going to make the difference when you get to Daytona. So that is a big, big thing that is going to happen because the cars, and the rules, as Darian stated, are so even.” Q. NASCAR is discussing setting qualifying order based on your fastest practice times. Is that going to change your strategy of how you attack a race weekend? Are you going to come more focused on your qualifying practice speed to make sure you get that good qualifying draw?

DARIAN GRUBB: “I think, for myself, what Tony and I have been through the last two years, we learned a lot about each other and the styles of the racetrack and what we need to have. We have done better, personally, as a 14 team by starting out in race trim, letting Tony go out and get a feel for the track and tires. We have had a lot of changes happen between races and tires and aero setups between the wings and the spoilers and all those things. “Now, we are going to be settling into a new change, once we get that comfort level of where we know we need to be. We might be able to go and spend more time on qualifying. But we personally like to spend a little more time in race trim, get a feel and lay of the land and make sure everything is comfortable and right, and then we know a set change we can make to the qualifying trim that usually puts us higher on the board when we do that. If you’re not close with your race set-up, you are not going to be close at all with your qualifying set-up. So the more we can know the shift and balance we can have, we feel like we can be stronger doing that.” Q. As a follow‑up on that, one of the other things we are seeing is Saturday-morning qualifying sessions. Talk about how that plays into it, whether it’s just how that plays into it on those weekends. Or, it looks like we are going to be back and forth on it, how that plays into your attack of practice sessions.

DARIAN GRUBB: “As the schedule comes out, it’s definitely going to change a few things, the way we approach the practice sessions, we have two sessions on Friday at a couple of the racetracks, already, and then a Saturday qualifying. It’s going to be a little tougher from the driver’s standpoint more than it is the crew because we are still going to go in and do everything we can do to make the car as fast as possible for both scenarios. It will be up to Eddie (Jarvis, business manager) and Mike (Arning, director of public relations) to get Tony there on time for qualifying and out of bed and get the sleep out of his eyes. That’s going to be probably a big change on a lot of those guys. I don’t think it’s going to give us an advantage because we have the veteran drivers who can be able to step into the car and make the same lap they made yesterday and trying to figure it out and have an hour break before they go qualify. I think we will be really good at that.”

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