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November 19, 2016
THE MODERATOR: We are joined now by the champion crew chief, Scott Graves. Obviously, Scott, exciting. You've been here before with a different driver. Tell us a little bit about the difference between your championship last year with Chris Buescher and what you had here today with Daniel Suarez.
SCOTT GRAVES: I mean, I guess this one is a lot different. Last year I came in with a points cushion, totally different mentality of how to run the race, and this year we knew we had to be fast from the get‑go, had to get track position up front to start the race, had to stay there, really felt like we had to win the race to walk out of here with the championship. Like I say, a lot different.
THE MODERATOR: Tell us a little bit about how the Chase format impacted the race today compared to last year's championship.
SCOTT GRAVES: I mean, I feel like it's pretty exciting. I know from my point it was, pretty stressful to sit there and go through that. I mean, all four cars were right there for so much of the race, so it was close. It really just came down to I feel like having the set of stickers there at the end when a lot of others had to put some scuffs on, and a lot of that just comes down to luck at that point. But pretty exciting from my end to be part of it.
Q. Can you just talk about coming into this race this year and last year, like what David said about the championship format, did you sleep at all? Were you thinking about all the possible scenarios this time around, knowing that your driver had to win, or possibly win the race to win the championship this year?
SCOTT GRAVES: Yeah, I was a little nervous for sure coming into the weekend. Last weekend was nervous because we knew we had to get through that race to be here, and then knowing what we were going to have to do here today, you know, just the unknown, I guess, of not knowing how it's going to turn out definitely makes you think about it a lot. I thought about yesterday last night what we wanted to do and where we needed to be in the race. Definitely I'd say it's more stressful this way than the other.
Q. Daniel has obviously improved a lot this year. Would there have been a point this season where you maybe wouldn't have had the confidence he could hold people off like he did tonight?
SCOTT GRAVES: I mean, early on in the year, that was some of our struggles really was starting the race where we needed to be, and a lot of times you'd see us fall back and kind of struggle throughout a case and then get it right and come back. What he showed tonight I thought was really impressive. We didn't have the best long‑run car, had a really good short‑run car, so he would use that and get out front, but he was holding them off when he had to.
You know, the thing that we talked about is his strength is just remaining calm, taking care of the car, and you looked a lot of those times we were up front, and those guys were pressing up behind. Well, they kept hitting the wall, and he just kept driving his line and didn't hit the wall. That's really what he focused on was running his race, taking care of it, and made sure we were there at the end.
Q. What were you thinking when you saw the 14 car stay out at the end of the race?
SCOTT GRAVES: I don't know. I mean, everyone has got to have a shot to win the race and try to get there however they need to do it. Yeah, I mean, a tough situation, but that's part of racing. There was 40 cars trying to win a race, not just the four trying to win the championship, and that's the unique part about this format is it's not just the four cars going against each other. There's a whole field, and they all want to win a race. I can't fault them for it.
Q. It really seemed not only that the performance kind of got better as the season went on, but can you talk a little bit about Daniel's development as a driver while you worked with him this season?
SCOTT GRAVES: Yeah, I mean, it's‑‑ when you look at the start of the year, he might struggle on restarts at times. He really worked on that. It's really‑‑ it's amazing to work with him because he's always wanting to learn. He knows he's relatively new to the sport, and that he has a lot to learn, so he takes that feedback very well. So we talked about restarts early in the year. We've got to get better on restarts. That's affecting us. So he got that and got the restarts, and then we moved on to, all right, now we've got to get our starting balance at the beginning of the race right so that we're not falling back throughout a race and having to work on it and get our way back. We knew to win races you've got to be able to stay up front, maintain that track position, so we worked really hard on that and made a lot of progress there, as well.
Like I said, he likes to learn, he soaks it up, and he's showing a lot of improvement.
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the owner‑driver champion, Joe Gibbs, from Joe Gibbs Racing, as well.
Q. Scott, did you see Daniel's confidence pick up after the Michigan win? Did that make any difference whatsoever in his approach and demeanor at the track?
SCOTT GRAVES: Oh, definitely. I even felt like before that, we'd been so close in a lot of weekends, shown so much speed, and something would happen during the race, and we didn't get there. It almost felt like before that, he was starting to question a little bit. So when he won at Michigan and the way he did it, definitely I think that was kind of a good‑‑ it was a turning point, and then you saw through the rest of the year a lot more consistent, a lot stronger races. So I definitely think that helped.
Q. Coach, this team has accomplished a lot of milestones with Daniel, but you have a chance to accomplish one that's pretty special tomorrow I would say, and that's to win two championships with the same sponsor possibly, and one that's relatively new. What would that mean to the organization?
JOE GIBBS: I've got to tell you, like I said yesterday when we were talking and we were in here, our sport, what's really different, and I can't emphasize this enough, is our sponsors, because other sports you're going to play them, you don't have to have a sponsor, but over here we know we do.
To think that we sat down really two years ago with ARRIS, one of the most accomplished businesses, Bob Stanzione, Bruce was here tonight, Peter, the whole group was here, and for them to have a chance to be a part of this I think is‑‑ that's really what's special about this sport and what I love about it. It's those relationships, and it's‑‑ you sit down and meet with them and you think about it, I met with Bob at the Atlanta airport, and we sat in a room in there and talked over things, and for him to be willing to step out with their company and support us with the resources that they have, just a huge step for him, and then for us to be able to have a night like tonight for them is just really special.
And then tomorrow we'll be back out there with Carl and have a chance, but I can't really, I guess, express how important that is for us, because that's what we survive on. So they're really a partner and an integral part of this. I called Norm Eller tonight. He was on that car. We had Stanley, Black & Decker, FLEXVOLT was on that car for the race, Juniper, another technology company, was on that car, and for all of them, they were all here so that's so important for us. I can't emphasize it enough.
Daniel is a great representative. I think the thing about drivers here, the athletes we have here in NASCAR, what's special about them, is they represent corporations, and when you stop and think about that, huge corporations have a lot at stake, and for them to represent them in the right way is so important for us, and so I think that's a unique bond, and Daniel is so good with them and all the things that he does and interacts with them and their employees. So I appreciate you mentioning that because it is so important to us.
THE MODERATOR: We are of course joined by our champion, Daniel Suarez.
Q. Coach, I was wondering if you could talk about your first time that you heard about Daniel Suarez and what made you want to bring him to Joe Gibbs Racing.
JOE GIBBS: Well, what happens in our sport, as everybody knows, you start out in the smaller series. Daniel started out in go‑karts. I didn't know anything about him but obviously he raced in the Mexican series down there and had a big supporter in Carlos. They came up, K&N Series, and I'll always remember I was at my office, and I got a phone call one day and it was from FedEx, and they obviously did a lot of work with Carlos Slim, and they said, would you host a meeting, they want to have a meeting, and I said, who's that, they said Carlos Slim, and I went, what? And you Google that, and you go, oh, my gosh, what's he want to meet with me for.
We had a great discussion, went down and visited him, and then that's one of the great things about our sport, the people you get to meet, and just it's been an awesome thing. I thought, that's two years ago, and for us to be here tonight.
But anyway, Daniel came up through the Mexican series, then K&N, and then of course some truck, and we saw him coming out of that, and Jimmy Morales and Carlos were so sold on him and his talent that they made a big impression on us. So we started with the Truck Series, and obviously it showed up right away, and now we go to XFINITY, and then the next step obviously will be Cup.
Q. Daniel, three years ago you finished third in the K&N East series points, and today you're a NASCAR XFINITY Series champion. Could you have imagined that looking back?
DANIEL SUAREZ: It's hard to believe. It's hard to believe, but when you are part of an organization like Joe Gibbs Racing and you have a group of guys that let by Scott Graves, that obviously he's a great champion, just two years in a row. He's just really good.
I'm just very proud to be part of this family, of this team. They've been like my family in the U.S. as you guys know, I don't have any real family and my mom and dad in the U.S., so they are part of my American family. I just live a few miles from the shop, and I go there almost every day because I really enjoy to be there, and I learn a lot being there, learning about the car, learning about everything with Scott, and you know, just being more connected and building that chemistry.
I feel like Scott and I, we have come a long ways. In the first half of the year, we were good, and in the second half of the year, we were great. That's something really good. I'm really looking forward for our future, but for now, I think I'm just very proud of the performance that Scott and the guys and Joe Gibbs Racing, they brought to this race. They brought my favorite car, and that's the car that I won Michigan with. That's just my baby, and we've got it here, and we won a championship. We're just very proud of everyone in the shop. All the guys that don't get to travel in Joe Gibbs Racing, everyone that travels every weekend with us, all the hard work definitely paid off tonight.
Q. Talk about how important this was for you, not only to win this XFINITY Series championship but also to win it here at Homestead where there's a significant amount of Mexican population down here.
DANIEL SUAREZ: Yeah, that definitely is something really good. To win here in Homestead and to have a lot of fans and people from Latin America, Mexicans, all over Latin America, it's something great for me. And on the side of that, I have my mom, my dad, my family from Houston, my friends from Mexico, my friend Coco over there that I used to race cars with him when I was 13 years old. A lot of friends were here. More than 30 people were here just to have fun with me, to enjoy this weekend, and what a better way to finish this way. I'm just very proud of my team, very proud of everyone that has been helping me to be in this position, and it's still hard to believe this. It's still hard to believe this. But we worked hard, and this team really deserves these results.
Q. Coach Gibbs, did you guys have a specific plan laid out for Daniel as far as we want you to run in the XFINITY Series this many years and doing this and doing that, and does the fact that he's already a champion, does that impact those plans any at all, because I know you've got four guys that don't appear to be going anywhere. Can we expect to see him back in the XFINITY Series next year?
JOE GIBBS: Well, I think we definitely had the plan, but I'm never quite sure how fast it goes, and so we laid it out, talked it over with Daniel and Carlos and Jimmie and everybody, and we kind of laid it out and said our next step was going to be to XFINITY. We're in there now, and I think we're‑‑ it's going to be pretty quick we'll be going to Cup. I think it's in Daniel's hands, but obviously he's performed so well.
I think it'll just be, as everybody knows, it's hard to get all that organized, but we're working‑‑ that's going to be our end game. That's what we're going to be working for.
Q. Did it help you tonight to run the truck race yesterday?
DANIEL SUAREZ: Definitely. Definitely helped me. And actually it did help me to race the truck race. That was one of the races for sure I wanted to do because I knew that I was going to be tired. I went to bed last night at 12:30 in the morning, and it was pretty late, and then I had to wake up at 7:30. So I didn't have a lot of hours of sleep, but I had some good information, some good information that I shared with my crew chief, Scott, and with the guys, with my engineers, and I feel like that information helped us for tonight's race. Definitely was something good.
Someone else that I really want to thank, as well, is Ron Hornaday. He helped me early in this year on my restarts. I was horrible at it. I was the worst ever out there on my restarts. One day I got the opportunity to talk to him. I went to his house. He started teaching me some good advice, and after that I really felt like I was a different driver, and tonight, we won a championship and a race because of restarts. I want to thank Ron Hornaday big time for all his help.
Q. You talked about when you first came to the U.S. your main goal was to learn English. What was the most difficult thing about learning English, and was it more difficult than learning how to restart?
DANIEL SUAREZ: Well, definitely the biggest‑‑ my biggest problem in the beginning when I moved to the U.S. just five years ago, four years ago, it was the language because I didn't speak any English. A lot of people in Mexico really do speak English, but I didn't have the opportunity to learn English when I was young, so when I moved to the U.S., I was more focused in the beginning to learn how to communicate with everyone than to learn how to drive. In the first year it was very, very tough because I just felt like as a driver I wasn't going anywhere, but I really was learning slowly how to communicate.
It was a very tough transition. My family was a huge part of it. My friends. I was by myself without a lot of support, honestly, without money, without a sponsor at the time, and then I had the opportunity with the Drive 4 Diversity.
I feel like‑‑ I really feel like this moment doesn't feel very real right now, but I really feel like we came a long ways in a short period of time. Very proud of everyone that has been part of this process. A lot of friends, a lot of sponsors, obviously Coach Gibbs, Joe Gibbs Racing, Scott Graves and the guys, and it's been great. Hopefully we can keep this up for whatever it's going to be in our future next year.
Q. And does winning an XFINITY title make the possibility of racing Cup for you kind of more of a reality?
DANIEL SUAREZ: Well, at the end of the day, that's the goal, to move with the big guys and to learn from the big guys. XFINITY obviously is a great series where you get to race with some of the big guys and most of the time with the most important drivers from Cup, but you never race with all of them. So I'm pretty sure that the Cup car is going to be different, and to race with all those guys at the same time is going to be even more difficult.
But who knows; we have to, like I said before, in the last months and early today, we have to focus on today, and tomorrow is going to take care of itself.
Q. The sign behind you says, "Names are made here." You were part of the D4D prom, the Drive 4 Diversity program. How important was that program, and what in that program for other drivers in Mexico and across all diversities proves that where you are right now?
DANIEL SUAREZ: Listen, five years ago when I moved to the U.S. for the very first time, I tried to do everything by myself. I had a couple of sponsors from Mexico, and really I wanted to race and to be successful, and I went to the K&N Series, and I didn't speak English, and I tried to do it by myself, and it just didn't work out. I was learning English but I wasn't going anywhere. I was very, very close to going back to Mexico, to my country, because I just didn't feel like I was good enough.
The second year, I gave myself another shot with the NASCAR Drive 4 Diversity program. The first year was a lot about adaptation, a lot of keep learning English, and by the second part of the year, we were winning races. We finished top three like seven times in a row, and we finished third in the championship. Everything started to get much, much better.
I was part, as well, of the NASCAR Next Nine program, and that right now is called the NASCAR Next program, and I just had a huge‑‑ I started to have a huge support from NASCAR. In the second year in the Drive 4 Diversity program, we won in Daytona, we won in New Smyrna, which I think was huge for myself and for the team, and after that I just felt like a lot of support started to come, and a lot of people in Mexico that didn't believe a lot in a Latin American driver was able to do here in the U.S., they started to look to NASCAR in the U.S. as an option.
A lot of drivers are coming now. A lot of drivers are trying to go to apply to Drive 4 Diversity program. They are racing in the K&N Series, which I think is something really good. A lot of drivers tried to do that in the past, and they did a really good job, but for one or another reason things just didn't work out, and it right now it seems like that path is going to the right direction with us and with some other young drivers that are following what we are doing through the Drive 4 Diversity program.
Q. There are about 58 million Hispanics in the U.S., nearly one in five of the population of the entire country. As a role model of high‑performance and perseverance, what's your message to the U.S. Hispanic population, in particular the young people who would see you as a role model?
DANIEL SUAREZ: Well, I just feel very lucky. I feel very lucky to be in this position and to be with a team like Joe Gibbs Racing in the 19 group with Scott and the guys. I just feel very lucky.
The very first time that I was going to move to the States, a lot of people told me it was going to be difficult because I was a Mexican driver, and nobody else made it happen in the past. Right now, honestly, I can tell that to be a Mexican driver, Latin American driver, is something positive. I really feel like a lot of sponsors have a lot of support on me. They've been very interested to help me and to work with me, and that's something just great for me.
Like I said, in the second year that I was here and that I become part of the Drive 4 Diversity, I was part of the NASCAR Next Nine program, and I didn't feel like I was good enough to race‑‑ at the time it was Chase Elliott, Darrell Wallace, Ryan Blaney, all those guys. I didn't feel like I was good enough, but NASCAR gave me a shot.
So I feel like being a driver from Mexico, from Latin America, has given me more opportunities than what I was expecting in the beginning.
Q. Coach, could you answer that question, as well, from a role model perspective, what you think about Daniel?
JOE GIBBS: The thing I'd say about Daniel for all young people out there, he probably‑‑ he mentioned being part of a family. He actually obeys me more than my two boys do, J.D. and Coy. If you tell Daniel to be in the weight room, and Jimmy is tough on him sometimes and tells him what he needs to do and the sponsors, even if it's another sponsor that's not even on his car, he will show up at the events we have, whether it's bowling or anything else. So I just say to young people out there, if you have that kind of work ethic and that kind of a person and that kind of character‑‑ and he just mentioned he taught himself English; how do you do that, and how do you go to a country and not really have support there, don't speak the language? It tells you what kind of guts he's got.
So I say to young people out there, if they have a dream and they're totally committed to it, that's the path, and that's what I think Daniel is a perfect example of somebody that can be a role model, and I think that's what's neat about our sport is that young people can actually look at him, he can become a start for them, knowing that he's not going to embarrass them, his sponsor or anybody else, because he's that kind of a person.
Q. Daniel, you've talked a lot about a lot of the struggles and difficulties you've had to get where you are today. I'm just curious, what is it about the NASCAR competition of wanting to compete in NASCAR that enticed you to go through all that you had to in order to be here? What was it about this that drives you to continue to make those sacrifices to do this?
DANIEL SUAREZ: Well, I love the challenge of everything, and when I had the opportunity to move to the U.S. to drive NASCAR, for me it was a big challenge, maybe the biggest challenge of my life. And NASCAR, I can say that this is the most difficult racing sport in the world. Just the competition is super, super tight. I have had the opportunity to race in Europe in karts, and to race in some other ports of the world, and in NASCAR it's just unbelievable. It's just super, super close with everything in the competition. It's just something that you don't see in other series.
I love the big challenge, I really do, and I like to do things to put goals on myself, and obviously NASCAR was one of them, and when my dad and Jimmy Morales, they told me about NASCAR and they gave me that option in my racing career, I didn't think about it twice. We took it, and we started working stock car racing. In the beginning I wasn't sure, but the first time ever that I raced in the U.S., I said, man, this is the real deal. This is tough. To race inches from the wall, to race in the middle, to race in the bottom, to race in the top, to have a spotter and to have able to have that chemistry with all the people in your team and your spotter, it's tough, and NASCAR is difficult, and I like that. I think that's one of the biggest parts why I'm here, obviously with a great team and with a great group of guys working hard.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports