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May 20, 2017
Concord, North Carolina
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and continue into our post‑race media availability for the Monster Energy All‑Star Race.
We've been joined by our race‑winning crew chief of the No.18, which is Adam Stevens. We'll go ahead and start with you a little bit on the strategy of the night. I know tonight was a big win. Kyle has never won here at Charlotte in a Monster Energy race. I know he showed a lot of excitement at the end of the race. Tell us a little bit what that vantage point was like from your seat tonight.
ADAM STEVENS: The big unknown coming into this deal was the option set of tires, how that was going to affect the race. Obviously most of us put them on in practice to get a read on the speed difference. For some teams it was bigger, some teams it was smaller. It just didn't seem to be as big with our car and setup as it was with other teams.
As it cooled off tonight, it seemed like that discrepancy was a little bit less. It was really a game to see who was going to put them on, if it was going to improve their position, who was going to save them, restart behind the other guys for the shootout at the end.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Adam.
Q. Are you surprised at all that this race, there was so much talk about tires, but came down to pit stops?
ADAM STEVENS: Am I surprised? A little bit. Like I mentioned, there was a fair amount of speed difference, lap time difference, between the sets in practice. But everybody's cars weren't dialed in yet, and the track temps was way up. As it cooled off, it seemed like the discrepancy just got smaller and smaller.
The groove didn't open up very much. Guys that tried to move up to the middle or the top, there just wasn't the grip up there that there was on the bottom. You really couldn't race two‑wide, three‑wide as much as maybe you can after halfway on the long race here.
It comes down to track position at that point. You had to have good pit stops to get out front.
Q. Adam, as good as Kyle is, why do you think it took so long for him to win in a Cup car here at Charlotte?
ADAM STEVENS: I have no earthly idea. This place is tough. This place changes probably more with track temperature than about anyplace we go. And it doesn't necessarily reward driving hard. Maybe it does certain times of the day or certain laps on your tires or certain aero packages that we bring here, or certain tire combinations, and sometimes it doesn't.
You really have to move around, and you really have to change the way that you drive the car. Kyle has gotten better and better at that through the years obviously. Now I would say he's probably one of the best.
But you have to catch the setup, too. I think years past, at least him and I, we haven't had the winning setup here. We've been fast on occasion, but to put that together for a whole race, it's tough.
You know, another wrench in the works, too, is we generally practice in the heat of the day, and don't always race in those conditions. I think it's just a matter of time of him figuring it out. No different than Kansas, some of these other places he's struggled at in the past. Wouldn't say here has been a struggle, but it's just been hard to finish it off.
Hopefully this is a little bit of momentum, a little bit of wind in our sails, something we can build on for next week.
Q. What do you think Kyle saw in that restart? What made him go low and what did you think of it?
ADAM STEVENS: I haven't seen a replay from his vantage point. Obviously the 2 was on old tires. He knew he wasn't going to have the momentum into one that the rest of us on tires were going to have.
I don't know if he spun him a little. Looked like he got rolling okay. To keep up with the rest of us, he was going to have to drive it in pretty deep. I was pretty surprised that Kyle was able to find a car width underneath him as soon as he did without going too much in the grass. I think he hung a tire over there, but he didn't have to drive through it.
But I wasn't seeing that one coming. You know, I wouldn't take anybody else but Kyle Busch on a restart if I had my choice.
Q. With the option tire tonight, if NASCAR and Goodyear decide to do something similar to this in the future, in points races, how much of a strategy issue, as a crew chief, would you have trying to make those calls?
ADAM STEVENS: It's just all about experience and practicing on it, seeing what the grip difference is, assessing how many lanes there are in the racetrack, can you pass people, how important track position is. It's all the steps we went through this week. Like I said, we practiced in the day and raced at night. It seemed like that discrepancy closed up a little bit.
I don't know if they will do that on points races. It's certainly possible, I guess.
THE MODERATOR: We've now been joined by our race winner, driver of the No.18 M&M Carmel Toyota, Kyle Busch, and the race‑winning team owner Joe Gibbs.
Coach Gibbs, we'll start with you. It's always nice to win a race, but I know it's especially nice to win a race when they're giving away $1 million. Talk about taking home that big win tonight for your team.
JOE GIBBS: Well, we've had such a time this year. I told everybody I forgot where winner's circle was here, it's been so long since we won a race (smiling).
No, it's a huge deal. I would say on this race, this has probably been the hardest race that we've run. In 25 years we've won twice. That's it.
This couldn't come at a better time for us. As we all know, we got off to a slow start. Huge deal for all of us. Everybody that works back at the shop, J.D., the front office, everybody over there, everybody working on the cars, our engineering group, everybody, it's a total victory for us.
We had a meeting last week. We talked about all of us sticking together, how hard to work, go after it. Appreciate Kyle and Adam, our pit crew, everybody tonight. Did a great job.
It's hard to win this race. We're a good example of how hard it is.
THE MODERATOR: Kyle, we talked last night before you left here about how much it would mean for you to finally be able to win a race here at Charlotte in the Monster Energy Series. Talk a little bit about those final 10 laps, just what it means to come home the race winner.
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah, it means a lot, first of all to finally win at Charlotte for one, then to win the All‑Star Race. It's an exciting race. This race was kind of born off of exciting events that were in the race, bold moves, things like that. We did one of those tonight to win the race.
Thirdly, taking home a million bucks, that's not such a bad payday. I know Joe gets to keep most of it (smiling). That is always good for the owner. But more importantly to get the team into Victory Lane finally. My guys have been here with me for a long, long time. I'm sure they feel the same goose egg that I do. It's extra special to finally get rid of that.
Man, a good night for us overall. We were second, second again, third, something like that, third. Then the third segment kind of got crazy for us. We kind of got shifted out of line a little bit. Lost our momentum a little bit with some of those slower guys in front of us. We lost some spots in that segment. But still had a third average. We were able to come down pit road. My guys gave me a great pit stop that got us out where we needed to be in prime position, I guess.
I thought Jimmie was actually in prime position. But we got a really good restart there, made a bold move on Brad. I knew just to tuck out as soon as I could if I got that run on him, and I did. He left me just enough room before the second kink to get my car through there. Once I heard 'clear' in turn one, I was looking in my mirror to make sure the 48 didn't have a run on the top side, to get up in front of him, and just kind of set sail from there.
We didn't quite have the fastest car on a short run, but I felt like our long run speed was as good as most. That certainly helped us when the race got to its closing laps there, when we were able to inch away.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Kyle, Adam or Coach Gibbs.
Q. Kyle, you mentioned twice you thought it was a bold move. I asked Adam about that restart. From your vantage point, what did you see? How low did you know you could get away with going?
KYLE BUSCH: I just basically, you know, concentrated on getting a good launch for myself. I wasn't really worried about how well of a launch Brad was going to get. He surprised me, he got a better launch than I expected him to. Once we got to start/finish, I started closing the gap on him, knew I needed to cut out as soon as I could, make a move.
Brad had one of two options: block me low and leave me in the middle, or block the middle and leave me the low side. I had just enough room on the bottom that I got through there. You're always susceptible to getting close to the grass, running in the grass, when a guy in front of you wants to block a little bit. Once I got alongside, he was smart enough to know soon enough that I was there and gave me that room.
It was pretty cool. Once I got that opportunity to get there, I knew it was going to be now or never. Take advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself.
Q. You mentioned several times this event is based on memorable moments. Do you think that qualifies?
KYLE BUSCH: I think my move here a few years ago was probably a little bit more crazy when I restarted fourth, got through the middle of the front row. I don't remember what happened after that. I probably wrecked. That's most times what I do in this race.
I think I went between Jeff Gordon and somebody else. It was kind of a three‑wide thing. I thought that was exciting. But it wasn't a winning move. Tonight's kind of was.
I could have just sat there in the line, I could have pushed Brad, faded in the corner, watched the outside lane go by. You kind of got to do what you got to do. Maybe it's not one of the top‑five moments, but top‑10 maybe, 15 probably.
Q. Kyle Larson looked so dominant for the first 40 laps. He was also on the pole, got good restarts. Did you feel if you got out front, you'd be just as dominant?
KYLE BUSCH: No, I didn't feel that way. Like I said, I didn't feel like our car was quite as strong as we needed it to be on a short run. Larson was really fast on a short run. He could really buzz out there for about eight or ten laps, then it sort of stayed the same gap from there, I felt like. Maybe he was a little faster.
The way I kind of saw it there in stage three when we were on the soft compounds is everybody was kind of coming back to us. I felt like our car stayed longer and we had a better long run car. Those guys were kind of coming back to me a little bit.
It's just so tough here at Charlotte. The groove is right around the bottom of the racetrack. There really isn't a middle unfortunately. I'm not sure why. The track, there's room there for a middle and a top. But it just doesn't work. There's just not enough speed to prevail in some of those different grooves in order to make any time.
Q. Kyle, you mentioned the now‑or‑never move. Did you feel like if you did not make the pass then, you would have another really good shot the rest of the way?
KYLE BUSCH: Oh, for sure. No question. It seemed like that was kind of the theme of the night: once a guy kind of got out front, that was it.
It's frustrating and unfortunate that we didn't see a whole lot of passes for the lead in green flag conditions. That's some of Charlotte and that's some of what we got.
Q. When you won 15 races in two other series, not in this one, is that anything but a strange coincidence?
KYLE BUSCH: About what?
Q. The fact you have been so successful in two series, and unsuccessful in the other one. Is there anything other than the fact it's the damnedest thing you ever heard?
KYLE BUSCH: Pretty much. That's kind of the way I felt about it for a long, long time. It was very, very frustrating to be that good in XFINITY and be that good in the Truck Series here.
Yeah, you can talk about competition and all the rest of that stuff. When you race against eight or ten other Cup guys in the XFINITY Series, you win that many times here, you know that you can do it because you're racing against the same guys you're going to be racing against on Sunday.
The Cup car just never is put together the whole way it needs to be. You just never get to Victory Lane.
Finally we're able to kind of close the chapter on that one. Now it's time to go get a points win here.
Q. Kyle, when you got out of the car awhile ago, lots of cheers for you winning this race, believe it or not. Does that surprise you at all? How does it make you feel?
KYLE BUSCH: They're happy I finally won a Cup race, and not winning in a truck or XFINITY car.
I don't know. Certainly maybe they're just excited because they knew how excited I was, that they've never seen me win a Cup race here. I was a first‑time winner for them essentially, if you think about it that way. They were pretty excited about seeing somebody else here in Victory Lane at Charlotte other than, I don't know who has won here the most, Jimmie Johnson, and who other else, so...
Q. Mostly just Jimmie.
KYLE BUSCH: Mostly just Jimmie, yeah (smiling). Maybe they were happy that I just beat Jimmie and he finished second, and he didn't get another million bucks, right?
Q. Coach, can you believe that he had never won a Cup race here? Kyle, now that you have won this event, what would it mean to win a points race here in a Cup car?
JOE GIBBS: To tell you the truth, I thought he had won here. I'm so used to him winning races. I know this is a huge deal for him.
KYLE BUSCH: Thanks, Joe.
JOE GIBBS: I'm telling you, we feel like Kyle can win anywhere. Certainly this year he's really been in position a bunch, the top five at the end of the races, not been able to win one.
I think it tells you how hard this sport is. I think a lot of people improved in the off‑season, we were off a little bit, and it makes it hard. It tells you how hard pro sports is. The best people in the world are doing this.
It's a thrill for him, a thrill for us, obviously a big deal. I mentioned how hard this race is to win. So really proud of all of our people.
KYLE BUSCH: What would it mean to win a points race? It would mean a lot still. It would certainly kind of I guess close the next chapter, as I said a little earlier, about getting that next victory here. Hopefully we can sweep it. It would be nice to be added to that list of drivers that have been able to do that.
We've got a little bit of work to do in order to get ourselves in position to be able to do that. 600 miles is a long race. Starts in the day, ends at night. There are a lot of things that can happen in that race.
Certainly it's probably a heck of a lot more fun to do it the way Martin Truex did last year. If we have another one of those, it would be a bad thing. Hopefully we can lead the last lap, the one that matters most, and score that points win here.
Q. Kyle, with the complexion of this race changing whenever people were on the option tires, how would that have changed, in your opinion?
KYLE BUSCH: I don't know. It's interesting because I saw a couple guys kind of faded on the option tire. Our car actually kind of kept going, was pretty fast on the long run with the option tire.
I was a fan of it. I thought it was pretty good, pretty fun, gave my car a better sense of feel that I was looking for throughout that run that we had it on the car.
We weren't quite able to make the powerful moves that maybe some of the other guys did on that tire there to fire off in that third segment. Our car kind of stayed with us a little bit better.
It would be interesting, I heard Adam talking about it when I got in here, if they would utilize that option at points events, throughout different races, whatever, let us kind of have maybe warmup or two sets, use them when we wanted to or whatnot.
That's for down the road. So we'll see.
Q. Kyle, I heard you talking about tires. I asked Kyle and Jimmie about this, that maybe the difference between the primes and the options wasn't quite what it could have been to put on a better show. Thoughts on maybe Goodyear exploring different compound to give the options more speed compared to the primes? It seemed like tonight with the extra grip and cooler temperatures, it didn't make that much of a difference.
KYLE BUSCH: I would agree with that assessment, that there's a chance we could probably go a little bit softer, utilize a little bit more grip in order to be faster, have more split between the two tires.
As you mentioned, it seemed like as the nighttime kind of progressed there, the tires equalized more than maybe some would have hoped for. But it was just a guess. They didn't necessarily pull a tire test here. I thought they did a good job testing. They tried to make sure they were on the safe side in order to have a good tire here that would last. All that's fine.
We ran both in practice. We saw a little bit of speed difference, but probably not as much as what the advertised split was going to be.
Q. Out of curiosity, donuts to the right?
ADAM STEVENS: Yeah, donuts to the right.
KYLE BUSCH: I never even heard that.
THE MODERATOR: On that note, congratulations, guys. We wish you the best of luck next weekend as well.
JOE GIBBS: I want to say a big thanks to our partners Toyota, huge deal for them. Appreciate their partnership. Normal Miller at Interstate Batteries, also our founding sponsors, a big deal for us. He's watching in Dallas. Want to say a big thanks.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports