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July 7, 2018
Daytona Beach, Florida
THE MODERATOR: We will start with our race‑winning team in tonight's 60th annual Coke Zero Sugar 400. We're joined now by crew chief Chris Gayle, the No. 20 BuyaToyota.com Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Q. Erik said last year he really felt like you guys could get the win and was kind of bummed that you didn't. How have you seen him handle that over the last year and how has he matured as a driver?
CHRIS GAYLE: Yeah, it's a great question. It was a real big letdown leaving Bristol last year. It's all Bristol. That's the one where we led the most laps, thought we had a shot to win it, and then Kyle nipped up there at the end. That was the one we thought, okay, this one just got away from us.
He was down for a little bit, but you've kind of got to ‑‑ this racing thing you've got to move on really quickly, have a short‑term memory, move on. We talked about it a lot in the off‑season about the things he needs to do to grow and to win races. I mean, it's tough to win races. It is at this level. He's got immense talent, but there are 15 other people, 20 other people with his same story at some point in time in their career, and they have experience on him.
So you know, he's just got to move past that. He's done a good job of really focusing on the things he needs to do better. I would tell you the last three weeks I've really noticed a change in him. Sonoma was a turning point for us. We went to Sonoma and we were just awful last year at Sonoma. It was terrible. He didn't feel like he knew what he needed to do, I didn't feel like I could help him. He went to work. We did some racing school stuff there for Sonoma. We went into that weekend knowing it was going to be tough and we were going to have to battle, and the first 10 laps of that race were pretty tough. It could have gone either way. I thought we were going to slip back and have a bad weekend, and he kind of dug a little deeper, found something different, stopped kind of complaining, focused more on what he could do better, and we get a seventh‑place finish out of that, and I think that confidence carried over to Chicago.
So I'm really expecting even bigger things from him. You get a little confidence in him, we all know we can do it at this level; it just kind of helps you once you kind of get the first win. Everyone in the entire team knows that. So I'm looking for big things. It's cool.
Q. You mentioned the off‑season; what were those conversations like?
CHRIS GAYLE: Just a little bit of kind of where we went wrong last year. Last year was odd, right, because you had a lot of winners behind us in points. Like at one point during last year we thought we were going to points our way into it and you may not have to win a race, and then you have so many winners that are behind you in points kind of sneak in to where we kind of got clipped and didn't have a shot to get in that way. Some of it was about just maximizing our finishes. When we've got a 10th place car, let's bring that thing home 10th place. Don't try to do more than is necessary and wind up bringing it home 25th because we tried to do more than what the car could do. And I think he's done a great job at that.
Some of that was on me, too, though. There were four races last year where we didn't qualify. That's me being too aggressive, so I've got to take some of my same advice that I gave him about just doing what we can do and getting out there and qualifying and not necessarily pushing so hard that I don't get to qualify and put him behind and then he feels like he needs to work hard to overcome that mistake.
Q. Joe, do you feel Erik was feeling a lot of pressure? You don't replace Matt Kenseth and not win.
JOE GIBBS: I think drivers are like quarterbacks; I say if you don't like pressure, you need to get out of your profession, because it just comes with it. I think there's always pressure, particularly in this sport because, what, you're the guy with the wheel. It's a huge deal. We know in our sport right now there's a huge amount of young talent, which is really great, I think, for our fans. We've got a lot of good‑‑ very, very good young drivers coming up.
And so I think, I know that Erik kind of measures himself against those other guys and went through last year with him and Chris and this year, coming into this year, I think Chris is probably right. I think that's our third straight top 10 for him, and then for him to win tonight, I think he kept his poise, did a very good job of staying calm.
And the other thing that I think about tonight, I think back to the young drivers for their first win. I remember Bobby Labonte, everybody was crying at Charlotte to get his first win; Tony Stewart, I remember that first win; Dale Jarrett's was his second but it was Daytona 500. Those are just emotional times, and you really appreciate them because it means so much to him and the family. I talked to Carol, his mom, and obviously with losing his dad, just a huge deal. He was a tremendous supporter for him. It's a great story. I think it's a great night, and it's a huge deal, and we're going to celebrate it.
CHRIS GAYLE: Yeah, I don't think he was‑‑ we've never had conversations about him following in Matt's shadow and replacing the car. I think he's more a guy of knowing what his capabilities are, knowing what he thinks he should be capable of doing and measuring into what he thinks he should be doing and not necessarily measuring to the guy before. I think there have been plenty of conversations we've had where he's been upset with how he ran and just thought he was better than that, but nothing that we've ever had comparing to previous drivers or anything.
Q. Coach, I remember hearing about a conversation that you had with David Wilson and Alan Miller at Homestead right after Erik had won his first truck race, where basically they were trying to pit you on Erik's long‑term success. What do you remember about that conversation, and what did it take for you to be sold on Erik?
JOE GIBBS: I think, first of all, there's quite a few people that had a huge impact on Erik in his career. If you go all the way back, Kyle Busch has a great eye for talent. I think that's where we first hear about Erik the first time. I think it was a Snowball Derby or whatever it was. So you got Kyle, then all of a sudden Toyota has had a huge effort on their part working with us; David Wilson, Ed Laukes, Bob, everybody there at Toyota has really been all in on Erik, and it took a lot. There's been a lot of work, hard work to get Erik in this position.
So I think he's got a lot of people there that have really made a huge effort.
So the first part of the conversation‑‑ I talked so much, I forgot what it was.
Q. What did it take to be able to sell you, each of those guys‑‑
JOE GIBBS: Yeah, I think what happens with us is our whole team‑‑ I know Coy and when J.D. was here and our whole group, the family, we all talk a lot. We always see the young guys coming up. I think Toyota has a big input, and we've got quite a few young guys right now on our board, and you're talking about Xfinity, and you're trying to guess and look at and see where you think the next young talent is coming.
And so those are just kind of everybody talks about it. I don't think anybody can take one‑‑ no one person had a lot to do with this; it was everybody. And in particular Toyota, because they're a big part of supporting Erik with us.
Q. Chris, you've had an opportunity to work with a lot of the top Toyota and JGR guys. In what ways is Erik similar to each of those guys, to Kyle and Denny, and in which ways is he different, and what stands out about Erik?
CHRIS GAYLE: You know, he's similar to Kyle, being aggressive. He's similar to a young Kyle being aggressive. I was around when Kyle first came to JGR and Toyota so I was a part of a lot of seeing how aggressive Kyle was, how even he'd over drive a little bit at that point. Erik has a lot of those tendencies. But Erik I think has a little more patience than Kyle did at that point in his career.
He's most similar to Kyle in just about everything. Denny is way different, except I would say their personalities away from the track, away from the race car are totally different. Erik is as laid‑back as you will be around, but behind the wheel, very aggressive.
And for me, just to talk about the first interaction I had with Erik was 2015. When Kyle was hurt, got injured here at Daytona in the beginning of the season, I was the crew chief on the 54 then. Erik got to sub for seven races for me that year, and I can vividly remember it was the second Chicago race, he didn't get to practice because he was running trucks somewhere and we had Drew Herring practice for us. Erik showed up, qualified that car, and we had the car too loose, we had it set up for Drew, it was too loose, so he qualified 11th and he was bummed about it, down. He got over that really quickly. He drove that car from 11th to the lead and led the rest of the race, and that was what solidified it for me was like, he can not practice this thing, get here, show up and run with everybody. That's kind of where I knew he had the ability to do it. It's just a matter of continued learning and progressing.
Q. Coach, I saw you at the care center a couple times tonight. You had three guys that ended up there. Talk about that emotional roller coaster and how it ended for you.
JOE GIBBS: Yeah, I spent most of my night running back and forth to the hospital. That's not a lot of fun. But thank goodness all of our guys are okay. But it's just a heartbreak when you see them for them and how much everybody puts into it, and then to have wrecks like that. So it was a real downer for us.
And then we came back, Erik was down a lap. So nothing had gone our way. And it's a real tribute, I think, to Chris and Erik and Rick, our spotter, just did a fantastic job tonight, the pit crew, everybody worked hard. We did some repairs to the car.
And it's typical in our sport because it's a team sport, and Erik will be the first to tell you that. Everybody working extremely hard and did a fantastic job, and I was going to piggy‑back on Chris. We put him in that car at Kansas when he substituted for Kyle, and we were all looking that first lap, our crew chief said, you bet he comes off that throttle that first lap because that place is so fast. And that practice, very first lap, he went to the top of the board and didn't come down.
I think Erik is fast. He's got‑‑ that's one thing about him. I think wherever he goes, he's not afraid to push it.
Q. Now you have two of your four drivers who have made it to Victory Lane this year, so that's half of them. Are you the believer in success breeds success and maybe this will open the door to get Daniel and Denny there? Are they both likely to get a win in your opinion from here the rest of the way this year?
JOE GIBBS: Well, it's just this year has been extremely hard because we've had really four people winning all the races, and so it doesn't leave room for anybody else. I think tonight was a huge deal as a restrictor plate and Erik was able to get this and fought hard all night.
I think certainly Daniel and Denny‑‑ I know Denny is in a good spot with the points and everything, but we need to‑‑ and he knows we need to win races for FedEx. We need to get that done. And I think Daniel is a young guy that has a huge desire to try and get in the playoffs. I know he said two weeks ago, I think, to everybody here that he's going to get in one way or the other.
Yeah, I think what it does is it to our group says we've got good stuff, and so I think everybody kind of says, hey, I've got the stuff here to get it done, I need to get it done.
Q. Coach, with the win tonight, do you think that this will actually make Erik a better driver, got the monkey off his back?
JOE GIBBS: I think any‑‑ I think the first wins are always huge because‑‑ Chris has been a part of this. For any young guy, when you get that first win, it's just a big deal, and there is, as somebody said here, there's a lot of pressure up here. There's only 40 guys getting to drive these things, and you've got to earn your way when you get a chance. You need to get it done. I think they all know that, so there's a lot of pressure that goes with this.
So I think you make a good point. As soon as you get that first win, at least you say, okay, now I'm ready to go. And really he started I'd say a real upswing for us three weeks ago, and I think Chris is right. Road racing, when you have a great finish at a place that you would say is your toughest challenge, I think that really helped, and we've had‑‑ he's been in the top 10 since then.
Q. You hinted a little bit at Erik's relationship with his dad, and he said the same when he got out of the car. Just what was their relationship like a little bit, how much of an impact did Dave have on Erik, and what sort of emotions do you think are going through his head in that regard?
JOE GIBBS: I think it was a real father‑son, and we all know what that's like for us that have kids. You hurt so much for them, you want them to do great, and then you're so proud of them. He was always in the background, but he was always‑‑ he was talking to me, he was talking to everybody. He wanted to know the plan going forward. He knew how much it meant to Erik. He really was heavily involved. You know, he had his own‑‑ he had a car parts company for Corvettes and what have you, so he loved cars. I asked him one time if he raced. He said, no, Erik just said, I want to do this, and he was so supportive, and it was just a horrible thing. It was just terrible. So that's a part of Erik, I think, winning tonight. I think obviously it's an emotional thing for him because his dad would have absolutely loved it.
THE MODERATOR: And speaking of Erik, we are now joined by the winning driver, and that's Erik Jones in the No.20 BuyaToyota.com Toyota.
Q. Erik, it was 2044 days ago when you won the 2012 Snowball Derby; that's when everybody said you would win a Cup race. I'm curious, did you think it would take that long from that point to get to this point, and has it seemed like it has been that long, or has it seemed like a whirlwind?
ERIK JONES: I would have thought it would have took longer. When I won the Snowball Derby in 2012 I was 16 years old, and I didn't have any opportunities in NASCAR at that point, so I kind of thought I was going to find something else to do pretty soon.
But I thought at that point I was going to get maybe some smaller opportunities for other teams, but that kind of changed everything for me, so really these last six years have flown by. It hasn't‑‑ it doesn't seem like, what was it, 2044 days ago? It doesn't seem like that. It's definitely went by quickly, and I never would have thought six years would have went by so quick, but looking back right now over the six years and what all has happened, places I've been, things I've done, it's flown by.
Q. Chris was sitting in here kind of singing your praises of how you've grown since last year, especially putting aside the disappointment of not getting that win, and he even mentioned some off‑season conversations of things you can do to get better. What has this year been like of you growing as a Cup driver?
ERIK JONES: Well, I think coming into the year, my work ethic has been quite a bit higher overall. I think I've really put myself to the task and went on a grind to figure out what it's going to take to win these races, you know, from a lot of different angles.
To see it pay off, and we had a rough stretch there the last month and a half, but these last two weeks, Sonoma and Chicago we had really good runs and then coming here and capping it off with a win has sure felt good. We just need to keep that momentum rolling.
But overall from last year, I think a year in the Cup Series you grow a lot. You learn so much. I never learned as much in any other series in any other year racing as I did last year, and things that I learned last year are things that I'll take with me probably for the rest of my career in NASCAR.
It's definitely been a journey, but Chris has done a good job of helping me out with that. I'm still only 22 years old, but definitely I would say a slightly calmer 22 year old than I was 21 year old. We're still working to sand the edges a little bit, but we're definitely getting there.
Q. Erik, at the start‑finish line, you let out this crazy inner Erik that I haven't seen before; you must have been on some massive adrenaline high. What was that moment like, and where did that yell out to the crowd come from?
ERIK JONES: I don't know. I was really excited, I guess. But I really‑‑ you expect‑‑ you want to win every race, and I didn't‑‑ today was not a day that I necessarily thought was going to be our day. I just didn't. Coming into it, we were going to do everything we could to win the race, but we had to be fairly conservative, and we were. We were laying back and dropping back and at one point we had to repair quite a bit of damage and went a lap down. I didn't give up at that point, but thought, okay, we've really got to do our best to salvage a solid day, but as the race started winding down, we just kind of kept bumping up. We were 15th and then we were 12th and then we were seventh and then we were fourth and then we were second, and it kind of kept inching forward, and on the last restart, I was like, we've got a legitimate shot at this point.
It was just one of those days when you don't think you have a shot to win and you end up winning, the excitement level is just 100 times higher than the days where you have dominated and feel like you should win the race. That's why that excitement was so high.
Q. Erik, I just told the story before you came in about a meeting that Dave Wilson and Alan Miller had with the coach to basically try to sell you to them. I'm curious, at what point were you a part of that conversation, and when did you finally sit down and talk to Coach, and how did you sell yourself to be a part of this program?
ERIK JONES: Oh, wow. So the first time I met Coach was at the banquet in 2013. It was the Truck and Xfinity banquet, and Coach came up to me and my dad at the time. We had both went down there for it. Kyle had won the owner's championship in the Truck Series with the 51 truck at the time, and Coach came over and introduced himself and was really excited, and we were excited to meet Coach, and he said, we're going to try to do what it takes to get you in one of our cars, and we were just going along with it, and then we walked away, and my dad is like, well, that was pretty cool. And I was like, yeah, that was pretty cool.
So later the next year we ended up getting a few Xfinity races, and from there it grew into a full‑time season a couple years later. It was just a cool, really cool progression of things to see kind of how it all happened.
Q. I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about Tuesday and going back to Slinger and a lot of momentum winning at Daytona. Last time you were there you got roughed up by Matt if I recall, and he's not there to steal one from you.
ERIK JONES: Yeah, it's going to be fun going back and going from a two‑and‑a‑half‑mile to a quarter mile, so a little bit of adjustment when we get up there. Yeah, it's going to be fun. It's a track I really enjoy going to, and hopefully we can get Slinger Nationals knocked off the bucket list. That would be pretty sweet.
Q. What's it like to replace Matt Kenseth and replace a guy who was a Cup champion? I assume if you don't win in this spot, it doesn't look like a very good decision by Coach.
ERIK JONES: Well, you feel the pressure for sure, and coming into the year taking over and working with almost the same group that was with Matt last year, you feel that, and you want to go out and perform and run really well, and I definitely feel like this race, this win has lifted a lot of weight off my shoulders for sure, and I feel like Coach has been very committed to me and very supportive of everything that we've done this year and over the last few years that I've been with Joe Gibbs Racing.
But you still feel that pressure. You still want to win. And myself as a competitor, regardless of who I'm replacing or where I'm driving, you want to win races, and you want to be a winner. You don't want to be riding around. It's good to get top 10s and top 5s but at the end of the day you want to win races and you want to be competitive, and you want to be a contender.
Q. A lot of the talk coming into all this was young drivers winning races. The pressure is off your shoulders now, I guess, but did that get in your head at all?
ERIK JONES: Not really. It's just a‑‑ it's a matter of time. You know, it's‑‑ it's great to get our first win knocked out, and I hope and I'm sure we're going to have opportunities to win some of these next nine before the playoffs, and hopefully have a nice little championship run here coming up.
You know, all of these young guys, myself, Chase, Ryan, Daniel, are going to all win races. It just takes time to learn and grow. We're racing guys that are 10‑, 15‑year veterans of the sport, and they're pretty good at it. It takes time to catch up, but I feel like we've all done a pretty good job, and we're getting closer every week.
Q. Erik, to the team as a whole, will your race strategy change now with the win in the pocket in regard to maybe going for stage wins, trying and build some playoff points between now and the end of the year?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, it's going to change some. There's definitely a lot of races I would say over the last month or so, we've really raced for the finish. We haven't really necessarily raced for stage points as much. I mean, that focus is for sure changed. We have to race for stage points now to try to just build that points buffer for these first couple rounds of the playoffs. We want to get as much as we can now. That's going to be kind of the ultimate goal.
As far as racing and risk taking, that kind of thing, I mean, we're trying to win every week before this. But there's going to be opportunities maybe to take a few more chances, but it sure worked out good being conservative tonight, so maybe that's a strategy for going forward. I don't know, but it does give us more opportunities to go for stage points.
Q. Erik, you get that push on the last lap from Chris Buescher; at what point did you know you were going to win the race, and can you just talk about those emotions as you were approaching the line?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, shoot, I kind of thought we were out of it for a minute, when the 95 got up in front of us and started racing with the 78. But I saw the 37 getting a big run, and I was thinking, man, I sure hope he sticks with me because he could have just as easily split to the bottom and probably made a run to make it three wide on everybody. When we got clear of the 78, I knew we were in a pretty good spot because he didn't have a lot of help after that. Everybody had strung out a little bit from what I could see from my seat and watching it back. You know, once we got off Turn 4, I felt like there was‑‑ it was highly unlikely unless we had a pretty severe failure that we were going to get passed, so that was pretty exciting at that moment and pretty cool to come down and close it out.
Q. Looking forward to next week at Kentucky, what is it about that track that suits your driving style?
ERIK JONES: You know, Kentucky before the repave was one of my favorite places to go. We ran really well in Trucks and Xfinity. I never ran the old surface with the Cup car. But last year getting there, it was just somewhere I was just pretty comfortable. I don't know, it feels like somewhat similar to the old surface. Obviously a lot faster and smoother, but there's a lot of things that you do from my seat that are very similar. We had a really good car there last year, and I hope we can continue to stay on that path. But really overall just the momentum from this win is going to carry us a long ways. I'm a pretty big believer in that, that when you get that momentum rolling and everybody is on the same page and rolling in the right direction that it's going to carry you a long ways.
You look at the 78 and the 4 and the 18 and that's what they've really had going is that momentum. They never stop. They keep it rolling every week. Hopefully we can get that ball rolling in our court, as well.
Q. When you crossed the finish line, the commentators recounted a story about your father selling a Corvette. This might be familiar a lot in this room. Do you mind sharing that story?
ERIK JONES: Yeah, so I was, I don't know, maybe 12 or 13. We were just trying to get into late model racing around that time, whenever it was, and my dad was in the car business, specifically Corvettes at the time or selling reproduction parts and doing restoration, and he had bought a Corvette of his own when I was maybe five or six years old. One day he came home, and he had sold the car, and I was like, man, why did you do that, and he's like, well, we've got to fund the racing somehow.
So there was a lot of sacrifices taken from my family to get to a point to have an opportunity. That wasn't the only thing that was sold along the way, and things that were‑‑ chances that were taken financially to get me to this point. But I was able to buy that car back actually about a year and a half ago, and that was pretty cool, same car, so that was pretty neat to get that back. I always wanted to give it back to him, but it sure feels good to have it in my hands now. But yeah, that was a neat story. I definitely wish he could have been here to see this one.
Q. What does all that kind of mean to you ultimately, just the sacrifices?
ERIK JONES: Well, that was one of the first things I thought about crossing the finish line. I mean, number one, my mom and my dad‑‑ my mom isn't here tonight so I wish she could have been here to celebrate with us and the sacrifices she's made not only the last couple of years to support my racing and helping me out on that side of things, but my whole life, obviously, raising me up and being supportive of my racing from the time I was seven years old.
And then thinking of my dad, just wishing he could be here to see it. This was step one of the ultimate goal. I mean, the ultimate goal, obviously Cup championship, and the first step in that is winning a race, and then you win multiple races and hopefully contend for a championship at some point. It would have sure been special to see his reaction to that last lap and his excitement because it would have been probably off the charts. I think he would have exceeded me on my excitement crossing the start‑finish line.
JOE GIBBS: I think Erik's dad, I was talking to him about that, and I said, when did you start him in late models, and he goes, we cheated; I started him when he was 13. Anyway, just to get that up front. But I think he took a lot of pride in that.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports