Stewart/Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas joined Darian Grubb – who knew from the outset of the Chase that he would not return as the team's crew chief in 2012 – at the postrace press conference.
Q: Gene, congratulations on this championship. How do you feel?
GENE HAAS: It's an awesome day. It's really hard to get to this point and it kind of leaves you speechless.
Q: This is a team that was struggling to be in the top 35 just a few years ago, but, enter Tony and his people, and now you've got a Sprint Cup Series championship. Can you talk a little about that transition and what it's meant to you?
GENE HAAS: Well, you know, I've been doing it for 10 years. It's hard. I think when you enter it, you have these expectations that you can run with the big dogs and that's a lot harder to do than you think.
But like any organization, you really do have to pay your dues. You have to spend your time – talked to an awful lot of people when we first started. You know, Tony was very thoughtful about what he told me. His words were, "I don't know why you want to get in this sport, but if you want to be in this sport, I tell you what, I'm going to help you lose as little money as possible." Those were his words of wisdom. So he partnered up with us and we went forward from there.
In racing, things don't always work. There's changes. When we first started out, it wasn't a great time to enter the sport because it was kind of somewhat in the height of its popularity – drivers were at a premium, most people in the garage don't put a lot of faith in a new team, so you have to spend your time just earning their respect.
And even that doesn't cut it. So many teams fail. People spend huge amounts of money to try to get to this point. And we just kept plugging away. I think we weren't doing that well as you pointed out. We had two cars – it's tough when you're in that bottom 35 range.
So you just make changes. And you know, thanks to Chevrolet, and Tony was ready to go beyond being a driver, and so that's how it was all born.
Q: What did you think when your people said, "We have this idea, we want Tony Stewart to own half and go from there"?
GENE HAAS: You know, Tony Stewart is a superstar, we knew that. And I had, basically as we said, back at our shop, I had the jack stands and Tony Stewart was the driver of the car and he could do that. Unfortunately, you need a wheel man. You could have the best equipment in the world but without a good wheel man, you really don't have a whole lot.
Just seemed like an opportunity. I thought Tony was a little crazy for doing it, but Tony is a little bit smarter than you think sometimes. He obviously saw some potential in what we did. He has a lot of great relationships. Like we had a lot of great relationships with Hendrick, so we had good equipment. Tony had good people. And like everything else, I mean, you know, today proves all of that right.
Q: Darian, just a terrific run you guys had in the Chase, winning five of the 10 races, and I don't think there's been a better performance under clutch circumstances than it was by the 14 team here tonight. Your thoughts about winning the championship.
DARIAN GRUBB: Five out of 10, that's pretty damn impressive, don't you think? It was just fun, honestly. We had our ups and downs with Dover and Kansas and some of the others. But the team rallied around when we had bad days and never gave up, and then Tony never gave up either. And just what he's done driving a racecar has been just extremely impressive to me. He's been the one to go three and four wide and everyone else is just scared and lifts. I think he went out and earned this championship.
Q: How does a guy who wins a championship, pulls five races out of 10 – just everything you accomplished – find himself without a job at the end of the year? The whole thing seems baffling.
DARIAN GRUBB: It is to me, honestly. I'm not sure what's going to happen. But I was told early in the Chase before Charlotte that next year I was not going to be here. We just kept fighting and doing everything we had to do every week. It did not change anything, what the outcome was going to be. We fought as if we were going to fight to win this championship, and we did it, and now we'll just see in this coming week how things change.
Q: So again, have you had any conversations with anyone else since you were given that news, and obviously, so the door is still open to remain with the Stewart-Haas organization?
DARIAN GRUBB: As far as the latter part, I'm not sure. I had a lot of conversations with a lot of people, telling them, please give me the courtesy of waiting until tonight to see what we could accomplish. And now that we have done that, I guess we'll start talking – but we'll do a little celebrating first.
Q: Along that same lines, are you going to start talking tomorrow? And what are your personal feelings? Do you want to stay within the organization?
DARIAN GRUBB: Originally, I always wanted to stay within the organization. That's the reason I came here was to help build something special. I think we have done that. We made the Chase all three years and had a shot at winning the championship all three years, and now this year, being able to pull it off, we accomplished our goals and that's what we wanted to do.
As far as time line, I'll let you know later. We are just going to plan to celebrate, talk, see what happens from there.
Q: You said that Tony has been the one to go three and four wide while other people are scared and they lift. He really drove that way all night it seemed tonight, and maybe the last five, six weeks, he's been like that. Did he turn it up to another level? Had you seen him drive this way before?
DARIAN GRUBB: He did it before the Chase even started, if you look back to Atlanta. I think he was talking about how good we made the car there, and he drove from 20th to third, and we didn't tell him until after the race, we didn't make a single change to the car the last three stops, just four tires and go. He went out there and did that, drove from 20th to third and I think that's one of those true moments that we realized that we can do it.
The cars are good, everyone behind him at Stewart-Haas Racing is incredible. We had really strong people behind us and we all go out there and put all of the things we have worked on all year, all three years, that's in our arsenal, Matt, all of those guys they have built speed in these cars; and the Hendrick chassis and engine has been really good, but what we do to it after we get it is even better. So we are really looking forward to thanking everybody, celebrating and enjoying it.
Q: What did you feel was the key for your organization to come back after the performances at Dover and Kansas? And then, also, can you talk about what – do you know exactly what happened to cause the damage at the start of the race to the grill?
DARIAN GRUBB: Yeah, as far as the damage at the start of the race, we are not really sure. I know the 22 lost transmission and driveshafts. So evidently some piece of that, he was in front of there, went in and just went through the grill and luckily did not get the radiator. There was no debris or anything in the duct work, but Jeff and the guys did a really good job putting it back together.
And the next restart, Tony hit the double zero just because of how aggressive he was being, the double zero checked up and ripped the left side of the nose open. So he had to come in the next stop there and fix that after he got back into the top 20 again.
So just keeping fighting with all of those small things, it was just a true team effort all night to be able to fight our way back up through there. That's the true Tony everybody knows and loves – we all know he can go out there and be a champion and he did that for the third time tonight.
Q: There were times this season where Tony was obviously frustrated with the way he ran, with the way the car ran, and then these last couple of weeks, he was just dynamite and I think Jenna said during the race, how come he doesn't drive like this all the time.
DARIAN GRUBB: Everybody has that in them at some point. I was frustrated many times this year, as well. You have to dig down deep and fight. If you are going to do this 38 weeks a year, you'd better be able to take the lows and highs and not get too upset, and just keep a nice even keel and just keep fighting against what you are fighting against. Luckily this week we got to where we were just fighting against the 99 [Carl Edwards] and beat all 42 competitors to the win and guaranteed that championship.
Q: You said at New Hampshire after you had won two out of two there, that the moment back in August at Michigan where Tony said, it doesn't matter whether we make the Chase or not, lit a fire and people redoubled their efforts. Looking back on that now with the way you have performed, might that sort of slap at the team, might that have been the key moment that detonated all of this? And how would you describe your emotions at the time? Mad at him?
DARIAN GRUBB: Honestly, I'm not sure. About half the team took that as disappointment and half of them took it as just being mad. Because we do fight hard every week. We try to build winning racecars. It's a tough competition out there now and you are not going to have a winning car every week and it's very frustrating to all of us.
After the middle of the season, we just kept having things stack up against us and we didn't have those good weeks. It got the best of all of us. We all had just sour attitudes and that was probably the time whether we just – we didn't really dig in any harder but it just turned the attitude around. So there's no reason for us to have this sour attitude and let's just keep doing what we know we can do and get fast racecars on the racetrack under Tony and get better and that's what we did.
Q: Do you think that one little media moment was the trigger moment?
DARIAN GRUBB: Could be. There's multiple ones that's happened behind closed doors, too, at the shop. I can't say there's any one moment but that's about the time frame where everybody just started turning things around if you look at what the 39 team did and the 14 team as well. We are just a strong organization and everyone enjoys what they do for a living and that's why we are here.
Q: Does winning the championship, do you think that might make the team change its mind and allow you to stay – and if they offered you a chance to stay, would you take it?
DARIAN GRUBB: It all depends. We'll just have to do those talks this week and see what happens. Obviously, this is what I came in to do as a goal, and now I've done that with this team. It's not anything that I did specifically. It's not anything that Tony did. It's not anything that Gene did. It's the whole group as a whole. We went out and earned this championship. Now we'll just see what comes out of that.
Q: Obviously, your team knows the situation, Tony knows the situation; how did you hold it all together for the past 10 races, and make it work, especially the past five after they notified you? Did you have to meet with the team or Tony? What was the relationship like?
DARIAN GRUBB: Definitely it was a little tough and strained but it honestly probably made the guys rally around a little more just because we all felt like we were a team to beat, and we wanted to prove that.
So we just did it. Everybody went out there and kept doing their jobs, kept their heads up and didn't crack anybody down. We may have even gotten closer as a team after that. We had a couple of excursions where we went out as a team and did some activities and had a lot of fun and really enjoyed it.
Q: How would you describe what it's like to work with Tony?
GENE HAAS: Tony has taken on a hat of being an owner and, unfortunately, there's a lot of responsibilities that come with that as far as personnel changes and personnel problems, human resources and paying paychecks and all that stuff. So, you know, Tony takes that to heart and I think it can upset the way he races.
So, you know, myself and all of the management at Stewart-Haas Racing, what we really tried to do in the last year or so was just isolate him from that; make sure that Tony just concentrated on the driving part. Tony works really hard at driving. He also works really hard at working with sponsors. I mean, I've never seen a guy who spends every single day, either driving the car, or going to sponsors, or dealing with his other businesses.
Now, you know, like I say, like Joe and Brett, we all really tried to isolate Tony from that stuff and let Tony drive the car, we think that's what he does and that's what he does best. But he's also pretty good to work with, sometimes.