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February 15, 2020

Marty Gaunt

Joe Gibbs

Ed Laukes

Bob Leavine

third and final availability of the weekend with our manufacturers and team owners, previewing the Daytona 500 and the 2020 season.
We're joined now by Ed Laukes, group vice president marketing for Toyota Motor North America; Joe Gibbs, Joe Gibbs Racing; Bob Leavine, Leavine Family Racing; and Marty Gaunt, from Gaunt Brothers Racing.
Ed, I'll start with you. Toyota teams won more races than any other manufacturers last season, took home the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series championship and had three of the four Championship 4 drivers. How does that success resonate with Toyota team members building vehicles across the U.S.?
ED LAUKES: Yeah, that's a really good question, and I could probably talk about that for about 25 or 30 minutes easily, but I'll keep it short and sweet. Having three drivers in the finals really was an unbelievable accomplishment thanks to everybody's work at TRD and at Joe Gibbs Racing.
I think it goes well, well beyond just our assembly plants. It is our dealers, our suppliers. It took us a long time going from 2007 when we went Cup racing to get to the point where now we've won three championships in the last five years, and it's really, really just a big deal for the company overall. Everyone is rallying around it. The dealers are really rallying around it and the folks in the dealerships, too, so it's really huge for our company.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, you're returning this season after arguably one of the most rewarding and emotionally charged seasons a team has had recently, and Bob and Marty, you both have new highly anticipated drivers beginning in 2020. What are your expectations for the 2020 season, and how do you exceed the success that Toyota teams experienced last year?
JOE GIBBS: Well, I'll start by saying that the hardest thing in pro sports is to stay up there because there's so many obviously great teams, competitors, and so for our team, like tomorrow we'll be the smallest group out there, and so we really need to work together. I appreciate Bob and Marty and the fact that we're going to work as teammates and try and do the best job we can of protecting ourselves and doing a good job in the race tomorrow. It's a huge deal for us.
Last year was phenomenal. I have learned that for sure in pro sports when you start the next year, last year didn't buy you anything, and so we're going to be going after it as hard as we can. It was a thrill last year, but we realize the challenge in front of us.
We love this race. We love starting out with our Super Bowl, and certainly for our race team, the three that we've been able to win, when you think about that, we've been here 29 years, and we've won three. It's hard to do.
BOB LEAVINE: How do we compete with these guys? We really can't. We want to be part of and add to the Toyota success. When somebody puts a standard of 19 wins in one season, that's really tough to compete with. But we're really tickled about Christopher being in our car this year. He's an exciting young talent, one of the most driven young men that I've seen in years. We watched him closely the last two years. Even from practice on Friday and then Saturday, to watch him grow, and then in the Duels following Thursday, it's exciting.
When I walked in the trailer this morning, he was in watching those films, and we had correlated the spotter's voice and SMT and the video where he could look at it because he texted me after the Duels and said, "I can do better." I made some mistakes, and I can do better. I really like that. So that's the type of young man that we went because that's been LFR's‑‑ we want to do better, continue to do better. We want to help contribute to Toyota winning another manufacturer championship.
Do we want to contribute the wins? Absolutely. I don't predict those things. We're going to be competitive. He's excited about the cars he got when we qualified. We were in the middle of our other Toyota teammates, and that was exciting to him and exciting to us. So you know, that's our expectations, to help be there, help in the superspeedway races with JGR and those four cars, us being the fifth, and so being a good partner is what we anticipate doing this year.
MARTY GAUNT: Well, for us, we're at the other end of the spectrum. To live up to a gold standard of Joe Gibbs Racing, not only in the Toyota camp but within the garage, that's the team that you need to beat each and every week. So for us getting started, arguably our expectations are to get better every week.
Obviously we did not plan to come to Daytona and not qualify for the race, but those things happen, and we now start looking forward to Las Vegas.
You know, to have Daniel Suárez on board and Toyota and TRD as partners is a huge step for us. It's just literally kind of getting out of the box and getting going, and figuring out, learning how to run the top 25, how to run the top 20 is going to be a week‑in, week‑out challenge for us going forward, but it's something that our partners have told us that they're with us, and again, we look down the other end of the garage and we look at Bob's team and obviously Joe Gibbs, and that's exactly where we want to end up one day.

Q. How much of a setback is it not to have made this race, and I know you guys put this deal together late, and Daniel has come from two of the higher‑end teams, so how much of an adjustment is this for everyone?
MARTY GAUNT: Yeah, so good question. I don't know if there's a proper answer. It's definitely a setback because again, we did not plan to come down here and miss this race. We've been fortunate to make it the last three years. But when we were putting the deal together, we all understood the risk was Daytona. This is the one that's going to be the hardest race of the year and it's our Super Bowl, so it's a disappointment. As every hour goes by, I can say it gets a little bit better, but I think tomorrow when they start the race it'll get worse for us because we're not in it.
But having Daniel on board, he did everything he was supposed to do during the race. We were running 10th, 12th during the race, we were in good shape, the car had good speed. We were drafting with our Toyota teammates. Everything was looking good. We had to get through the pit stop. That happened, and then unfortunately, it's racing.
So it's a setback. But like I say, as every hour goes by, it gets better. I flew home Thursday night, spent the day in the shop with the guys on Friday and then flew back this morning. But right now we're focusing on getting to Las Vegas, and we've got to get out of the gate. We thought here we'd get out of the gate and build some momentum and get into Vegas, but it's a huge learning experience, and it's just something that we're just going to have to work through.

Q. Ed, does it hurt you guys from a numbers standpoint to be down that car? You guys already have the least amount of cars out there.
ED LAUKES: I mean, I would say based on last year's performance, it doesn't hurt us. But we really like Daniel, we like Marty. He's worked with us for many, many years. We're disappointed, but I don't think it's going to hurt us.

Q. This is a question concerning dealerships, Ed. How do you support the dealerships now that online retailing is getting bigger and bigger and we're selling more cars online and people‑‑ they're talking about you don't even have to leave your house. What challenges do you think‑‑ if I was one of your dealers, how would you kind of support that?
ED LAUKES: Yeah, we have many, many initiatives that are going on that are helping with the digital retailing process right now. We have pilots all across the country at different Toyota stores as well as in Lexus stores because the shopping and buying experience is different for everybody. Some people still like bricks and mortar, some people want to buy online. I just came from Chicago where they have a Chicago Auto Show. They get 1.2 to 1.3 million people that come into that auto show. There still has to be an experience where people still like to touch and feel, so I don't think the Amazon model really is big yet, but we're working our way through it.

Q. Bob, you've spoken the last couple years about wanting to get to this point where you had an alliance, you were one of the stronger teams, getting to be a contender. Does it feel different than this year walking through the gate where you have all of that? Do you feel like a big‑time team owner now in this series?
BOB LEAVINE: Not yet. We hope to. It's been progressing because this is our first year for full‑time, and we have gradually progressed, and last year with Toyota and TRD and Coach Gibbs, we raised our level with Matt driving the car, and this year we feel like we've done it again. So you know, expectations I don't like to put out there, but yeah, we do have higher expectations, and it's enjoyable.
Probably my internal feelings, last year I kind of hoped our car was going to be good enough, and a lot of times it was. A lot of times bad things happened.
This year, I expect our cars to be good enough. You know, you never know what's going to happen here, but I also know our guys are great in the shop over the five years or more we put them together, and we really just got two adds this year, Christopher and Jason. Everybody else remained the same, and they did a great job last year. So I have confidence in those guys. We've raised our level of performance and expectations and information and cars, so that will help. So knowing when we get to the track what we ought to expect, and then if we don't get that when we arrive, I know these guys in the front of the lounge will get us there, and that's a little different feeling.
Big‑time, no. We're just a single‑car team, and we like that underdog role. It's enjoyable doing that because it's tough on him when he wins 19 races, because where can you go. Winning 19 is tough. So it's a lot of stress there. We haven't won yet, so when we get that one with Christopher, I'm sure we'll start adding up, but I welcome that stress.

Q. The second part of that is the hauler is parked on the front end of the garage this year. Has it ever been on the front side of the garage, and how does that feel?
MARTY GAUNT: He's inside the garage.
BOB LEAVINE: Exactly right, Marty. I can remember I think our first race at Bristol we parked outside because ‑‑ we didn't have a tent over us, and the most thing I was excited about when I looked at the map that NASCAR sent us is we were next to the restrooms. I'm just like, that's pretty cool. When you're way over here, you've got a long way to go. Some of us are getting a little older and use it more often, so that was a plus. And in fact, I think Jeremy, our president, called me; did you look where our hauler is? Yeah, isn't that cool? Next to the restroom. No, that isn't what I meant. Yeah, it's kind of nice to be on that side because we can get out quicker to the track.
It's a good feeling. I can remember last year, year before last when Case was with us, he was used to a lot of people coming around his hauler, and we were in the back of the garage, and he was sitting outside of me, and he said, man, I really like this, nobody is bothering me. I'm like, dude, we're trying to get people to bother you. We're not trying to run people away.
So we like that‑‑ we like our drivers to be popular and like guys to know, and it's a good feeling. Yes, it is.

Q. Marty, I know you touched on it a little bit in your earlier answer, but if you can elaborate, just now as a team, what do you guys have to do to really come together, rally, bounce back from this so that it doesn't become a long‑term hole, so that you can go to Vegas here next week and be right back at the top of your game and be hopefully where you need to be?
MARTY GAUNT: Yeah, so you learn a lot about yourself when you get into situations like this. Adversity makes you stronger.
So literally when it happens, you've literally got to collect your thoughts and go, what now. So we've already had a lot of conversations deep in the night Thursday night, yesterday at the shop with all the guys, literally picking them up off the floor, and start talking about Las Vegas.
You know, it's a team sport. There's no other sport like NASCAR racing and how it works. I can tell you one of the first calls I got, people reached out, was the folks from Toyota, and this is a long‑term vision for us, and when you have great partners like that in CommScope and Coca‑Cola and talked to the folks over there and said, this is what happened. I don't mind telling you, I picked up the phone to call the CEO of CommScope and I thought, what am I going to say to him. Well, guess what; he answers the phone, you just start talking. And he understood. These guys run very large companies, and things go wrong, and you have bumps in the road, and you've got to figure out how to get through them.
So we're lucky enough that we have great partners. We've got great teammates. Daniel is being outstanding. You know, he was depressed, as bummed out as we were, but literally Friday morning the tone of the texts started changing and the tone of the conversations, and we're looking forward to how do we get to Vegas, and what's our plan for Las Vegas.

Q. Coach, considering the relative advanced age of some of your drivers and the relative youth of some other of your drivers, give us your driver lineup for five years from now.
JOE GIBBS: That is a challenge; let me put it that way.
But really, gosh, you can't even, I think, guess what's going to happen. We've got so many young guys that are coming on right now in our sport, which is exciting. As everybody here knows, we love our Xfinity program today. We're going to have three young guys out there, and they're all excited about being a part of NASCAR. We all think they've got great futures. We work together with Toyota and all of our guys there to try and pick young people.
But at the same time, you've got guys that are in their prime really of their career. They'll tell you that. Right now they're winning a bunch of races. So it is an issue and a problem going forward. You've got four spots. And we've got three Xfinity cars right now. We've got two ARCA cars.
So we love our sport. We love every aspect of it. I'll tell you, projecting going forward, what you try and do is just get the strongest field of young guys coming, and then you just try and work things out, and you've got to make common‑sense decisions. But right now we've got a real strong group that we're excited about, and that's a big deal for us.
I was going to mention one thing about these guys talking about being where they are, a single‑car team. I always think back to when we started, we missed the Daytona our first year with Dale Jarrett.
You love the sport, but I think one of the reasons why we love it, it's so hard. This is a hard deal. It's one of the most competitive things in the world, the best people in the world racing cars, best manufacturers, and we love the competition, and I think that's why everybody here loves watching it.
So I think back to those first years, like Bob is making his progress and going forward, and I think the thrill of that is that you can continue to add and climb and get better and better, and so that's a thrill. I admire these guys because‑‑ Bob and Marty, because it is hard. But at the same time it's probably one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.

Q. Joe, following up on that a little bit, I was wondering if you'd talk about Erik. Very strong start for him to Speedweeks, winning the Clash. How important is it for him to get off to a strong start in 2020, and when you have three teams that are performing at a high level and then Erik struggled last year, to get that team up to speed in the off‑season without reducing your efforts on the other three teams?
JOE GIBBS: Well, I would say definitely for our drivers, Erik is the one that it meant the most to. I think if you look back at Erik, and it tells you a little bit about how hard the Cup Series is, because he did everything he could do in Xfinity, and you see other drivers out there, young guys that take a step up, man, this thing is tough, it's hard. It's the Cup thing, and it reminds me going back to football, you've got college and pro, and taking that step is a huge step.
But I think also if you look at what Erik did last year towards the end of the year, I mean, to win that Darlington race, and then he was up there I think pretty much every week after that, and so I think he's taken that step up. But it is‑‑ I can't emphasize enough how hard it is I feel like, when you keep watching some of these real talented young guys step up, and it is a hard series to break into and to really be competitive and win at.

Q. Coach and anybody else that wants to weigh in, for lack of a better term, we may see some slam drafting tomorrow. How do you feel the Toyotas are in terms of getting that heavy contact from the back to move everybody forward?
JOE GIBBS: I think the guys, you're really not sure until you get in the packs. Pretty much if you've watched us, we've stayed pretty much by ourselves, and you're not making contact‑‑ honestly, we were so worried about being in packs in practice, if you go back to other years, we've wrecked a lot of cars in practice. And so you're leery of that, and so I think tomorrow, a lot of our drivers, and I hear the crew chiefs, we're not quite sure until you get in that pack and you start moving around what's going to happen. I think that's the reason why part of it, that this race is so unpredictable and exciting.
I think we're not going to really know until we get in there, but we feel like our cars are pretty good. We qualified decent, wasn't great, and so we'll kind of see once we get going.
We've been totally surprised in the past. The best we ever qualified for this race, when we got to the race, we were not very good. And so it shows you you're never quite sure, I think, until we get in a big pack and get moving out there.

Q. Joe, since you have the experience of mixing older talent with younger talent, how beneficial is it for you to keep some of your older talent to bring along the younger talent that you have now in this business?
JOE GIBBS: I think that's a great point. We were asking the question about young guys coming along. In our competition meetings, I've got to tell you, it's one of the most rewarding things. We don't hold anything back, and we've got three veteran guys in there, and then you have Erik. What happens in that competition meeting, they share everything. I think it is a huge learning curve for Erik. To sit in there, listen to those other guys, now we're going to have Christopher in there. I think for both Christopher and Erik, it's a great learning curve, and I'll say this, they share everything. They talk about every single aspect of the racetrack, what they thought about it, and the other thing that's really amazing to me, you would think driving a racetrack would be pretty much similar. They're totally different, and racing cars on different racetracks.
Denny will sometimes approach a track totally different than Kyle, Martin. And to hear all that, I think it's a big deal for the young guys.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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