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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
June 11, 2016
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by Mr. Scott Graves, crew chief of the No.19 Joe Gibbs Racing car; Daniel Suarez; and to his right, Steve deSouza, president of XFINITY development for Joe Gibbs Racing.
A little bit of history today. Daniel accomplished his first career XFINITY Series NASCAR win, becoming the first Mexican‑born driver to capture a NASCAR national series victory. As many of you know, Daniel is a graduate of both the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program as well as the NASCAR Next program. He's accomplished a long list of accolades since joining NASCAR in 2011.
He was the first Mexican driver to win the NASCAR XFINITY Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year award. He is the first foreign‑born driver to lead the points in any of the three NASCAR national series, topping the NASCAR XFINITY Series for six consecutive weeks. As you know, he is the current points leader in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. This win locks him into the Chase.
I will start first with Mr. Scott Graves. We saw an amazing last few laps. I'd like you to walk us through what was going through your mind and what you thought your driver was going to do, given his interest in winning today's race.
SCOTT GRAVES: I knew he was motivated. We knew we had a really good car all day coming back through the field the way we did. I wasn't sure looking at 10 to go. Kyle had such a big lead out front. I knew we had to get by the 2 and the 20 and all those guys quickly.
I think the way he set them up, went by, got them both in one sweep there on the frontstretch, that move there probably set him up to be able to get to the 18 and actually get there at the end.
Pretty impressive drive, for sure. It was fun to watch, fun to be a part of. Just really proud of what he did there.
THE MODERATOR: Steve, I know you're answering 75 texts, but I was wondering what overall you're feeling right now given the historical moment in front of us.
STEVE deSOUZA: First, what a list of accomplishments. We just thought he was a driver (laughter).
We saw this in Daniel. Obviously we're so excited. To have Scott come on, we were hoping he would bring the maturity he has brought. Daniel has really grown to that form of racing and mentorship. Today was a long time coming, but we expected it would happen at some point.
Again, this was such a great run for a whole lot of reasons. He had some mechanical problems he had to fight through, got that penalty. Then to pass Kyle, one of the best drivers in NASCAR, on the last lap to get it done, makes a big statement for him.
We're proud obviously of all of our three teams. They work so closely together. For today to come out the way he did, we're very proud of him, all the accomplishments, all the people that support him, Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing, Juniper, all the people that got behind Daniel that wanted to help him in his dream. He's pursuing it with a passion and checking some big boxes here.
THE MODERATOR: I'll open it up to the media now for questions.
Q. Daniel, we talked to you in this room about how many times you felt you were so close to winning, so close to winning. How did you keep coming back? How did you compartmentalize that? What went through your mind the minute you realized you won the race today?
DANIEL SUAREZ: I want to thank everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing, Scott Graves, for all their support. Steve, since I moved to this family, he's been a huge support, not just in the race. And Scott, he's been super helpful to me this year. I think I've been getting more mature in the last races, understanding a little bit more about how to close the deal. He help me a lot to make that last step.
We had one of the best racecars out there. After that pit road penalty, I was just mad. I don't think I talked on the radio for 30 minutes or more time. I was just disappointed with myself.
I just feel like we went through too many challenge through the race. We had some issues with the clutch. It was very difficult for me to leave my box when we were doing the pit stops. Actually on the green flag pit stop, the car shut off. I had to restart the car. They helped me to push the car.
We went through so many different things, problems, to overcome in the race. Pretty much everything was thanks to all these guys for never give up and for unbelievable race car.
When I was able to went through the field, all the way till fifth in that way, I say, Man, we can have a shot there. Then the clutch happened. Seemed like it was a lot of little details that were saying, Man, maybe today is not the day. But I was just disappointed, I was pushing hard. Thanks God and all these guys, we made it happen.
Q. Daniel, just like to know what you were thinking on those last 10 laps after you passed Elliott for second place, chasing Kyle. At one point about five or six to go, you hit traffic. Did you still at that point think you were going to be able to catch him before the finish? Also, what has Kyle meant to you in terms of the conversations that you've had with him on a fairly regular basis in terms of his mentoring and his help in getting you to this point?
DANIEL SUAREZ: Well, definitely Kyle has been super helpful to me, not just in the XFINITY Series but as well in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Since last year, he started to support me a lot, to give me information, advice, so many different kind of information just to try to be a little bit more prepare.
Last year I went to more than 80% of the racetracks for first time. He was super helpful. This year hasn't been the exception. He been super helpful as well. We share a lot of information. He just been a good friend. I can call like that. I can call a good friend.
So for me to be able to do that with him and race him hard, he went to Victory Lane and he told me he was very proud the way I did it, clean and aggressive. I knew that I was going to be able to have a shot. I finished second to him already a couple times.
Honestly, I wasn't great in the corner one and two, but I was unbelievable good in the three and four. So I knew I needed to risk a little bit more. I went sideways a few times when I was in fifth in the corner one and two. When I was behind the 18, I was just driving that thing as hard as I could. It was either finish first or finish in the wall, I guess (laughter).
I don't know. The car was unbelievable. The car was really, really strong. We were able to make it happen.
Q. Daniel, you talk about closing the deal. How much of it is getting the car to be able to close the deal and how much of it is having the mentality of either winning or running into the wall? How much of it is will and how much of it is mechanical?
DANIEL SUAREZ: I think a lot is to pull all the pieces together. I feel like in so many different races, we've been super strong. For one or another reason, it doesn't happen in the end. We finish close or we miss an adjustment or something like that happen.
But today I felt like a lot of different things went our way. Even with that, we were able to be super strong. I feel that made me a little bit more strong on my mind. That help me a lot, for sure.
But the racecar, like I said, the racecar was unbelievable. All this is thanks to everyone in Joe Gibbs Racing, for all the hard work they do back in the shop, Coach Gibbs for all the support in and out of the racetrack, J.D. Gibbs, Coy Gibbs, a friend of mine as well, little guy Ty Gibbs, I have a lot of fun working with him on the go‑karts and stuff. Just a great group of people, a family that I can call a family, that has been helping me get to this point right now.
Q. With you being the first Mexican‑born driver to win a national series race in NASCAR, what do you think that will mean for the sport going forward and for young drivers like you with diverse backgrounds who want to make it in racing?
DANIEL SUAREZ: Honestly, I haven't think about that yet. But, you know, for me is great to be here. Definitely is a great opportunity that Joe Gibbs Racing gave me, Driving For Diversity, NASCAR, when I move to the U.S. five years ago without an opportunity. For me to now drive to help some of the young drivers from Latin America, not just from Mexico, but from everywhere in Latin America, to come to this sport is great. To be able to be an example, something that we can help to bring more people, for me is great.
I'm very proud to be Latin American driver. I'm very proud to be with Joe Gibbs Racing. A great family and great organization.
Q. Scott, how did winning the championship last year help prepare you for this run with Daniel?
SCOTT GRAVES: Last year we learned a lot about consistency, finishing races first, having to deal with adversity. There were a lot of situations we were in last year where we'd get ourselves in trouble in a race, have to battle our way back.
Things like that, working with Daniel this year, I think you've seen a lot of consistency from our team, getting the points lead. He listens to everything and soaks it all in and learns and does it immediately.
Like I say, it's great to work with him. I can say what I feel like I've learned in the past, and we're able to put it out there, make it work on track. Like I say, with what we did today, I know it's pretty big for the sport. Definitely got to thank everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing, and Steve for giving me the opportunity. The discussions we had off‑season to come over and do this, it's a big deal.
Q. Were you the one on the radio that said, Just be calm?
SCOTT GRAVES: Yes (laughter).
Q. Daniel, we hear a lot about the NASCAR Next program, the Drive for Diversity. Without those types of programs, could you imagine yourself sitting here today?
DANIEL SUAREZ: Definitely maybe not. It was pretty much everything, between the NASCAR Next program, the Drive for Diversity program that was supported by Toyota. Actually something funny is that I have had support from Toyota since I was in Mexico. I want to thank David Wilson for all the great support, to believe in me. Is just great to be here and to be part of this family.
Like I said, I think without all the support from the Drive for Diversity, Toyota, NASCAR Next, maybe I wouldn't be right here right now. At that point I didn't know which way, how to find the way to made it to the national series. It was definitely maybe one of the most difficult steps in my racing career. But all these programs help me to made it to this point, for sure.
Q. What did you give up to go down that route?
DANIEL SUAREZ: Well, I'm not sure. I'm not sure what I give up. Actually, the first year I race here in the U.S. I was with an independent team. That wasn't good at all. I learned some stuff, but so many different mistakes. I feel like the people was trying to help me were doing the right thing, but maybe I wasn't learning the right way.
As soon as I moved to all these programs, everything start changing. Like I said, I'm super proud to have all the support and to be able to made it to this point.
Q. Daniel, you've been dreaming about this for a long time. A lot of buzz for a long time. Is the win everything you thought it would be, everything you dreamed it would be? Have you talked to any members of your family?
DANIEL SUAREZ: No, I haven't talked to anyone. I'm sure they are just like me, without a voice. I can't wait to talk to them for sure.
But definitely is the way I dream it, that I was expect it to be. It was a little bit more dramatic with the last‑lap pass. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to make it honestly. Kyle drove me very clean. He didn't give me a hard time. He did a little bit, but not a lot. So he gave me a little break there because maybe he knew I was a little faster. Who knows, maybe if he went to try to be aggressive, maybe we were going to finish in the wall. Who knows.
But I want to thank him for driving me clean and smart. Just very proud of everyone. I have no words to describe what I am feeling right now.
Q. Daniel, you mentioned Kyle. He's played a large role in your career up till now. You also know from experience how good a driver he is, particularly how strong he is in the XFINITY Series. Did it mean something a little extra special to get your first win by beating him this time?
DANIEL SUAREZ: Honestly I have had a lot of things going through my mind right now. I haven't think about that a lot.
But definitely it means a lot. At the same time a lot is the help that he's been bringing to the table, to this program. Really, he's been super helpful to make this program better in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Really, we all work to go the same direction. With the experience he has, with the laps he has in every single racetrack, really he brings a lot to the table.
We are at this point thanks to a lot of the help that he's been bringing to the table, for sure.
Q. You talk about coming here five years ago, coming to the United States. What were your goals, your dreams, when you made that move?
DANIEL SUAREZ: My first goal was to learn English, then move from there. I wasn't able to communicate with anyone. After that, I start to learn how to be a little fast on the racecar. Everything that I came from in Mexico is a little different. Even when I race NASCAR for a few years down in Mexico, the style of driving is just very different. The racetracks are from a different world. It definitely help me to learn the rules and all that stuff.
But the real deal is here. So I start to learn a lot of new things once I move to the U.S. one of the my dreams was to made it to the national series. I was a huge fan of Joe Gibbs Racing, I'm not joking. I was dream to be part of this organization one day. Three years and a half later, here we are.
Q. Daniel, next week the series heads to Iowa Speedway. What is your outlook? Scott, did you have anything to say to Daniel after that pit road penalty?
SCOTT GRAVES: On the penalty, it happens. You're pushing pit road pretty hard. Everybody is. I don't know. It's not the time, to me, to get on the driver, tell him, What are you doing, anything like that.
I tell him, Look, it happened, it's over. Let's not do it again. We got a lot of time left in the race. We got a really good car. Let's keep that in mind and get going.
The next time he comes down pit road, you remind him, Don't go too fast this time.
You could see, like he said, he went for 30 laps, didn't talk. I knew he was mad. He was obviously driving really fast at that point. You make up for it. If things had gone the other way, we hadn't won, maybe we'd have more discussion (laughter).
It's all learning experience. You see everybody do it. You got to learn somehow. To me you get critical times when it happens, you don't want it to happen, but it's all part of the learning process.
DANIEL SUAREZ: Definitely I'm excited about Iowa. Iowa is one of the few racetracks that I've been racing for a few years now, since my K&N days. I think it's definitely a good racetrack for me. I believe that I have my first pole‑‑ no, my first pole was in Daytona. Maybe my second pole was in Iowa. It's been a good racetrack for me.
We're going to do double duty, in the trucks as well. Really looking forward for next weekend, to have another solid run, to be strong running in the front. Hopefully we can carry this momentum for another victory.
Q. Daniel, can you talk a little bit about what happened with the clutch, when it happened during the course of the race.
DANIEL SUAREZ: We had little issues during the practice, the first practice. We fixed it actually. After that, the clutch was fine for the second practice. We just thought that we fixed it and that was it.
Once we started the race, it was fine. I feel like when I was pumping the clutch, it was slowly coming to me. In the second half of the race, the clutch was gone. I didn't have any clutch. I knew once I was on the racetrack, it was going to be fine, but I was a little concerned about my pit stops because really to leave the box, you need a clutch.
My pit crew, they did a really good job helping me to push the car. I think somehow I figure out a way to just go high in the rpm, throw the gear in there, try to make the car go.
Luckily we had just two pit stops after that problem, and we were able to figure it out. Who knows, maybe with another caution right there at the end, I'm not sure if I was going to be able to pit because I knew if I was pitting, it was going to be for sure we were going to lose some positions.
I just think that the entire race work out pretty well for us and help us a little bit to be here.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports