Tony, growing up in the Daytona Beach area, how special was it to win the pole for the Daytona 500 earlier this year, and what are your goals heading into this weekend’s Coke Zero 400?
TONY GIBSON: Well, it was obviously extremely gratifying to go down there and run well. To go to your hometown where I grew up and all your friends and family, and to go there and to do something that is pretty amazing, to make history, to just be a part of that is incredible. It was something that obviously will never be done again, and I feel real fortunate to be a part of that.
I’ve got to thank Go Daddy, Danica and Stewart-Haas Racing and all my guys for sticking through the testing and the building of cars and going and doing all the things it takes to go down there and put those two laps together and make history. It was pretty crazy, too, with all the media and all the hype going into it, and actually the pressure of actually testing well and going down there and repeating and making it happen, it was a huge relief, but it was also very gratifying and probably ranks up there as probably one of the greatest things I’ve accomplished in my career.
Goals for July are the same as they were in February when we went to Daytona: We want to go down there and we want to make a statement. We want to try to sit on the pole again, obviously, and this time come up a few spots further up. We felt like we had a shot to win it, ran in the top three or four all day and had a fast car, and it came down to the last lap and kind of got snookered a little bit there at the end. But we felt like we were definitely in contention to win it, so we’re going back there with the same mindset, to try to be the fastest car in qualifying and try to close the deal at the end of this thing.
Q. With all the spotlight being on you, when you get a good result like a pole and you go through the season and you still have more than average attention being directed to you with Danica, could you kind of explain what that’s like with your team? Your team gets a little bit more of a microscope than a lot of other teams.
TONY GIBSON: Yeah, we do, and we knew that going into it. Most of us on the 10 car, most of my guys were with me when we were with Dale Jr. at DEI, and we’ve been through some of the microscope deal with a high-profile driver. So we were kind of used to it. At least we thought we were.
But obviously it’s a little bit more than that with Danica. The fan base is a little more spread out. There’s kids and little girls and boys and women and men, and she has a huge fan base now. You’re dealing with a lot of different folks at the racetrack and talking to different people and things like that.
It’s a little different than what we’ve experienced in the past. So moving forward you want to please everybody. You want your performance to be good because you don’t want to let your fans down. You don’t want to let her fans down. When you’ve got to look a little girl in the eye and she asks you what happened last week or why didn’t Danica win, it’s pretty hard to come up with an answer that’s going to satisfy a little girl.
But it’s crazy. It’s different. But we approach every week the same. We want to go in, and we set goals, and we want to do the best we can every week as a team, and we want to build a stronger team and a relationship with Danica because it’s only going to help us down the road.
But the demands to perform and run better and to do things like that seem to be a little higher than they were because of the expectations she puts on herself and that the fans want to see her do good. So that’s a little bit different for us.
That’s been a little bit of a struggle for us to get our hands wrapped around and absorbing that and trying to make things – try to justify each thing we do and keep ourselves in check, you know.
Q. And being from the Daytona area, do you believe that there’s anything of a home-field advantage for a NASCAR team?
TONY GIBSON: Well, I think there is. I think for me I have a lot of family down there, a lot of friends, and a lot of history at that place. And I think it’s kind of like going and playing football or baseball or basketball in your hometown. You always feel like you’ve got that little – you’ve got the eighth man there, and it’s a little bit of a pump-up and a boost, and knowing that your friends and family are there and rooting for you. Yeah, I think it’s different, and I think it’s a plus.
Q. Just want to ask you a couple different things about the organization and such. Obviously you documented about the early season struggles, but certainly there have been better performances, much more so in the last month or so. How have things changed? I know the results maybe at Kentucky weren’t what you guys hoped, but how have things changed and how are things – how do you guys feel moving forward compared to maybe earlier in the season?
TONY GIBSON: Well, I think we’ve definitely made some gains as a company. We’re nowhere near where we want to be or where we need to be each and every week on every level, from the 39, the 14 or the 10. I mean, our goals are a little bit less than the other two guys, at least the goals we set for ourselves are a little lower but reachable. But we have struggled as a company and with the Gen-6 car, and we’ve worked really hard. We’ve done a lot of testing here lately, and I think the testing that we’ve done has definitely paid off in her performance.
Has it taken us from a 15th-place organization to a winning organization? Well, not really. Dover was a good day and it was a good race for the 14 to win it, but they weren’t the dominant car all day. They put themselves in a good position. They were a top-10 car and put themselves in position to win it and did so. But the performances have been better, but our expectations and where we need to be is not there yet.
But I think the reason that we have been running better is because of the testing and the developing we’ve been trying to do on our 7 posts, our future rigs, and our engineering staff has been working around the clock trying to come up with a solution to what we’ve been fighting with this Gen-6 car with all three drivers.
So I think it’s paid off. But the bad thing about this is when you pick up two to three steps, they’re still working two, so they’re picking up another one. So you have to make gains twice as much, twice as fast as your competition just to stay caught up to them like the Gibbs guys seem to be rolling pretty good, so we’re working double time to try to get caught up to them, not so much pass them but just stay caught up.
Q. And I know you talked about the testing, I know you guys have done three team tests so far this season, the New Hampshire test most recently. When you’re testing with Danica, is it any different from what you might have done with another driver because of her – she doesn’t have as much experience at some of these tracks, and how valuable has that proved to be to have that testing brought back to where you can test at least a few of these Cup tracks for somebody like her?
TONY GIBSON: Yeah, it’s huge. Any time that we can get to go do a test at the right racetrack on the right tire, even if you’re not on the right tire, but to be at that racetrack that you’re going to compete on is huge. Any lap behind the wheel of this Gen-6 car for her is a plus. You know, it’s definitely been a plus for the seat time side of it.
You know, the tests that we have done have been huge, and the biggest thing that’s really helped her is having the data from the other two drivers, the EFI data from the other two drivers as far as breaking traces and throttle traces and steering traces and those things that we really – that we can sit down and look at, and she can talk to Stewart or Newman and they can help her if she’s struggling and they can kind of go to some of these racetracks where she hasn’t been. Some of these tracks she’s never been to in any kind of car. Having those two guys at a test when we go has been huge for us.
And it shows. I know it doesn’t make us run top 10, but it makes us run 15th to 20th. That has been huge for her. That’s been the biggest thing I’d say for us is going to those tests and being able to do that, and if we could do it more, we would, and we go to VIR, we go to Road Atlanta, we go to Nashville, we go to Greenville Pickens, we go anywhere we can go to make laps and learn. And a lot of these tracks we have – even when we go to Nashville, all of our drivers have been there and the Hendrick guys have been there obviously, so we have a lot of data we can look at that helps her on the driving side as well as on the setup side, too.
Q. You all did the tire test down there at Daytona. I know they’ve changed the tire setup compared to February. Do you have any sense of whether that will change in any way the way they race?
TONY GIBSON: No, it’s not going to make any difference. Actually the tire when we were on it, we did a lot of drafting. We did some 20-lap drafting runs and put the car in several different compromising positions, and everything was good. But I don’t think any driver there could tell the difference in the tire, and I think that’s what Goodyear wanted to hear. They didn’t want to hear that they could feel a difference.
When we left there, we would have never known that it was a different tire or anything. I think it’s just a more durable tire, and it’s supposed to be a little bit better for punctures and things like that.
I think it’s a plus, and like I said, the good thing is it didn’t change the way the cars drove at all, so I don’t think it’ll change the racing.
Q. As far as restarts go, we’ve seen a lot of controversy this year on restarts and when people are starting and if people are kind of braking either before or after the zone. I’m curious as crew chiefs, do you guys look at your own EFI data after a race to see what it says, how fast maybe y’all were going at times prior to restarts to try and figure out what is the best strategy on those?
TONY GIBSON: We do. We look at our shifting things that we can do with our transmissions, which is not a whole lot. NASCAR regulates that pretty good, but there is a few little things we can do ratio-wise to help that.
But on these restarts it depends on — these tires sometimes are a little harder than others, and the racetrack, the pavement is different. So a lot of times you’ll have wheels spin more so than anything to do with the shifting or where the driver fires. But I think we do work on that when we go test places, we do simulate restarts, but most of that’s working on transmission ratios.
The drop from third to fourth, if it needs to be larger or smaller, we work on that for certain tracks. Dover is one of those odd tracks that has a first-gear pit road deal and a second-gear restart gear, so that’s an odd animal, and a lot of guys – we’ve always seen it with Jimmie there, that had the issue there at Dover.
So we do work on that, and we look at it each and every week. In our debriefs we talk to the drivers on restarts, how they thought their car did and is there anything we can do to make it better. So we look at speeds and we look at accelerations and things like that so we can maximize our performance in that area for sure.
Q. I had a quick question for you here. This entire season there have been dramatic changes in the weather say from Thursday to Friday and Friday to Saturday and then race day. How difficult does that make your life getting the cars ready on race day?
TONY GIBSON: It’s a little bit challenging because the weather is kind of crazy. Like in Kentucky there, obviously we were supposed to run at night, and everybody was prepared to start in the daytime and the track be tight and then go into the night and it gets freer. So I think everybody kind of put some adjustability in the car for that, and obviously that didn’t happen.
But again, on Sunday the sun would pop in and out and would change the balance of the race car a lot, so that was quite challenging. But it is; the weather really dictates how our cars drive, not only from the tire side, but the racetrack I think is the biggest player in this deal because obviously what type of asphalt it is. Like our new paves, it’s a different asphalt mixture than what we’ve seen like at Kentucky when it was paved; it’s a totally different type of asphalt, so the weather affects those tracks differently.
So I think when you go to these tracks, whether it’s a new pave or an old surface, the way you approach it are a little bit different. So it makes a pretty good – it’s a balance changer for sure, and it makes it a little more difficult, especially when you’re supposed to run at night and you end up running in the day. You pull your hair out trying to get it figured out, figure out where you need to be. It’s a game changer for sure.
Q. I wondered if you could talk a little bit, I know that with a rookie driver there is a big learning curve, especially early in the season. How big a boost is it for you guys morale-wise to return to Daytona where you did have such a high and things did go so well?
TONY GIBSON: Well, I think it’s obviously a track that we feel like we can win at. I feel like that’s right in Danica’s wheelhouse there. She likes the drafting. She likes the high speeds, and I think most of that comes from the IndyCar side of it.
So yeah, it’s exciting for us. We went to Daytona – and before when she was running the Nationwide car, she was really good at the restrictor plate stuff with the drafting and the air and that kind of deal. So we were pretty excited for going into this year, and then when we went to Daytona and tested, we knew that we were going to be fairly strong down there.
So it’s exciting for us, and we’re working really hard. We work hard every week, but when it comes to the restrictor plate racing, especially going to Daytona, we go all out. We put every little thing we can into those cars, because we know that that’s a track that we can win at and we can really do some damage, on the good side.
But we’re pretty excited about going to these restrictor plate races.
Q. Is it something you can even feel the excitement in the shop as you get ready to head down here?
TONY GIBSON: Yeah, you can feel the excitement in the shop. The guys are just rubbing and detailing and they’re pumped up and they’re excited. We have our trophy from Daytona for the pole down here, and so that stuff we bring out – we brought it out this week just to remind everybody of what we can do when we get down there. It’s a little bit of a morale booster.
The vibe is different. When we get ready to go here, everybody gets jacked up, and we know we can go here and we can do really well.