PAST WINNERS SHINE AGAIN ON ROAD COURSE
SONOMA, CA – June 24, 2012 – Three former winners of the Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sonoma showed their expertise again when Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, and Jimmie Johnson finished today’s race in second, third, and fifth-place, respectively; giving Team Chevy three of the Top-5 spots in today’s finishing order. The 110-lap race was extended two laps (112) when a late-race caution caused the event to end with a green-white-checkered finish.
Late in the11-turn road course race, Busch clipped a tire barrier in Turn 11 with his No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet, which ultimately allowed Stewart to pass him and capture the runner-up finish in his No. 14 Office Depot/ Mobil 1 Chevrolet. Remarkably, with a broken suspension and real panel bar due to the tire incident, Busch still managed to bring his Chevy home in third place. Stewart, the current NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, has two victories at Sonoma (’01 and ’05), and Busch was the defending winner (2011). Five-time title holder Jimmie Johnson, who also has one win at Sonoma (2010), powered his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet home in fifth place, giving the Bowtie Brigade three of the Top-5 finishing spots.
Jeff Gordon, who boasts five victories here (’98, ’99, ’00, ’04, & ’06) appeared to be the one to beat in his No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet; but ran out of fuel near the two-thirds mark of the race. Gordon’s Chevy was fast enough to battle back with a strong sixth place finish overall.
Jeff Burton finished 11th in the No. 31 Wheaties Chevrolet, Kasey Kahne was 14th in his No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevy, and Kevin Harvick, who also had a gas issue during the race in his No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet, took the 16th place finish. Jamie McMurry, who was involved in a multi-car accident in his No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet finished 19th, and Paul Menard was 20th in his No. 27 Menards/Moen Chevrolet. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was last week’s race winner in Michigan, was caught in a multi-car wreck in the final green-white-checkered run; which ultimately regulated him to a 23rd place finish in the popular No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet.
It was a tough day for Regan Smith in the No. 78 Furniture Row/Farm American Chevrolet who finished 32nd due to handling issues; and also for Juan Pablo Montoya, who’s No. 42 Target Chevy had electrical problems which caused him to finish 34th place in the final order.
The series travels next to Kentucky Speedway to race under the lights on Saturday evening, June 30th.
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT/MOBIL 1 CHEVROLET – FINISHED 2ND
KURT BUSCH, NO. 51 PHOENIX CONSTRUCTION SERVICES CHEVY – FINISHED 3RD
THE MODERATOR: We now welcome Tony Stewart driver of the No. 14 Office Depot Mobil1 Chevrolet who finished second in today’s race. This is Tony’s ninth Top 10 finish in 14 races here at Sonoma, his eighth Top 10 finish in 2012. Talk about your run out there today.
TONY STEWART: I was really pleased with it to be honest. The last two days we have not been real happy with our balance and just couldn’t seem to get the speed that a lot of the guys that were putting up big numbers at the top of the board were able to run. We couldn’t even run within a second of them the last two days.
To end up running second like this is just a really good effort for all of our guys. Really proud of Steve Addington, never gave up this weekend. Nobody ever gave up on trying to find something that was going to be a little bit better. So him and Jeff Meendering and Greg Zipadelli and all of these guys on the team, just really proud of the effort they put forward this weekend.
Q. I didn’t hear you on tape, but could you take us through the last restart and how you passed Kurt?
TONY STEWART: He had something break in the rear end which made it really difficult for him. I was watching him, and it was honestly, I don’t know how he kept it on the racetrack with how much the rear end was moving around on that car. I thought he did a really phenomenal job of just hanging on to what he had.
So we just you know, every time he would go in the corner, the rear end would shift, and it was running him to the outside of the track on entry and it was screwing his corner up. So you know, kind of got it by default there to a certain degree. Once we got by there, we just were not close enough in that last lap to get to Clint.
Q. Are you surprised at all about Clint winning this race, and when you think of road course guys, do you consider him one of the top road course racers in among y’all?
TONY STEWART: I don’t think anybody had in the past. But all weekend he had had good speed. So it didn’t surprise me to see him up there leading the race, and I don’t know how many laps he led. I think led the majority, didn’t he?
Q. Probably 70.
TONY STEWART: 70 laps; that’s pretty impressive to see him have the run that he’s had. I don’t think any of us are really road course racers, per se, but we do it twice a year and somebody has got to be good at it and somebody is going to win the race each time.
He didn’t make any mistakes, and you know, we kind of had a little misfortune that turned out to be fortunate at the end when we had our last scheduled pit stop and didn’t get all the fuel in it.
So we ran I think eight or ten laps there and the caution came out and we came in for fuel and tires, and you know, watching him and Kurt have the battle they had was pretty fun to watch; even we were trying to catch them all obviously, but every time we would go into 11, it was fun to be watching ahead and seeing what was happening. I don’t think there was a lap somebody didn’t lock up a front tire or something.
So I thought they had a pretty good battle. It was fun to watch. But honestly, when you have an opportunity like that, you can force yourself into mistakes, and I thought Clint did a good job because of that; didn’t make any.
Q. Could you imagine, all of the talk coming in, how rough this race was going to be; could you have predicted that there was only going to be two cautions and no real temper tantrums out there?
TONY STEWART: No, but I was happy about it. (Laughter).
It was a fun race because you weren’t just having to the restarts, the field is typically so tight, and there are so many corners that you go from high speed to really low speed on entry that once you’re about the fourth or fifth row back on a restart, if you can just find an empty spot on the racetrack, you can gain some easy spots.
Unfortunately that’s what leads to guys trying to take advantage of that, and it puts a lot of guys in bad positions. But you know, even though it gets aggressive, it’s not necessarily because guys are trying to be aggressive physically with each other as much as it’s just easy to over commit to a corner and then once you get there, and if somebody moves, you have no ability to back out of the situation.
So you know, not having all of those cautions made it fun because you could actually race guys one on one a lot today versus, you know, having to worry about getting those big packs and big groups and having to worry about whether you’re going to get run over or not.
Q. Bowyer finished third or fourth three times here before, so he sort of broke through today. You and Jeff, when you got your first win on a road course, it was the first of many for both of you; is there something to that once you break through on a place like this, you get more confidence and start winning more?
TONY STEWART: Well, I mean, obviously, what you’ve said there, he’s shown consistency, so it was a matter of time before he would get one. I don’t know. I think once you get the feel of it, it makes it a little easier. It seems like guys that have not won, it’s a harder time of trying to figure it out and trying get accomplished on that. But it seems like once you get that first win, you get a lot of confidence.
Q. As a team owner, can you talk a little about what Michael Waltrip Racing has done this year and the huge strides they have made? You came in and were successful quickly as a team owner but took them quite a while. Talk about what they have done this year and how they have done it.
TONY STEWART: It’s impressive. Michael started that organization from scratch and every year they just get better and better. This year, they have been solid everywhere they have gone.
Obviously their off season, they were very productive and gained more than a lot of the other teams I think from that standpoint. You know, it’s cool to see a guy like Michael get results like this finally. They have been knocking on the door and been so close so many times; to have a day like today, and he had two cars well, three cars, that were just phenomenal all day long.
Aside from the win, all three of his cars were fast. It speaks volumes for his organization.
THE MODERATOR: Tony, congratulations and thanks very much for your time this afternoon.
Now joining us is Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet who finished third in today’s Toyota Save Mart 350. This was his fifth Top 10 finish in 12 races here at Sonoma and Kurt also placed eighth in the Road America race yesterday and has had a full weekend of racing in road courses, so we welcome Kurt to the stage and we’ll go ahead and get his opening comments and we’ll do similar as we did to Tony.
Kurt, if you’ll talk a little about your run out there today and if you will, brief mention to your run yesterday at Road America as well.
KURT BUSCH: It was just a full weekend of road racing. It was a solid day yesterday and even better day today.
You know, to have a nice, steady pace, and to have a smooth pit strategy for my Phoenix Racing guys, I thought I could deliver for them. We were in contention. We made it all the way to the final restart, and today with all of those long green flag runs, I thought the race would play into our favor. Our car is a little better on longer runs than Bowyer, but he did a great job. I just kept thinking, “He’s a dirt late model racer from the Midwest; there’s no way he’s going to be able to run the road course.” And he did. He did great. That car and our car, I think we separated ourselves from the pack today.
Thanks to Kyle and KPM yesterday; to get me back and forth on a nice, private jet that allowed me to rest up and be prepared for today. Yesterday was not quite the day we needed. We needed one more car with the Monster Energy car to get up there with the nix and get that Top 5 finish or even battle with Nelson Piquet, who is a friend of mine. It’s amazing to see a Formula 1 guy come in and win right away in a Nationwide car. The Nationwide race was stacked yesterday. And of course, everybody wants to be in Cup, because this is where the best racers race.
Today we came home third. Chevrolet and Monster Energy and tag his or her, our three big brands with us this year I’m a bit choked up. I just made a little mistake there in turn 11. Those tires have never been bolted down, ever and I clipped a set of tires and it broke the front suspension and the rear panel bar and I couldn’t compete for the win after that; so a mistake there. Our guys, but if we pulled it into victory lane with all red car and no sponsor, here in California, I thought it was Team Tiger Blood with Charlie Sheen around (laughter).
Q. Why are you so emotional about this effort?
KURT BUSCH: When you show up and you’re on a third of the budget and you almost bring it to victory lane, you can’t say that one guy does it out here. It takes a full team effort. But I really want to deliver for my guys today, and being that close, and make one mistake, it’s a tough game. That’s why it’s Sprint Cup.
Q. Did you have any plans to make any Bonsai moves, win or finish tenth? Is there a big difference between that?
KURT BUSCH: The final restart with 20 something to go, 25 to go, I was patient. I was very patient with Bowyer. I got to his rear bumper, three, four times in turn 11 and bumped him.
No Bonsai moves here. There’s a lot of respect that I was trying to give.
Q. Considering you won last year and how well you’ve done this year, it looks like it’s got to be the driver.
KURT BUSCH: It’s definitely not the driver. You know, a lot of thanks has to go to Penske Racing and the commitment that they gave to me to help me on road courses and all of the testing we did to arrive at this point; I can’t pat myself on the back too much. But there was a car on the front row with my setup from last year, and there was a 48 car out there with my setup.
Hendrick Motorsports is a great organization. They give us engines and chassis. This weekend we wanted to help them with a bit of set up notes.
Q. You’ve won races and big championships, but you took a crippled car home to third. Does that fit anywhere in your feeling of accomplishments?
KURT BUSCH: Thanks, it does. You’re that close you and want to deliver. To have a wounded car like that, I had to yield to Tony. I didn’t want to get up into the loose gravel and lose a bunch of spots.
So it’s a great day for Phoenix Racing and James Finch who gave me this opportunity; he’s like, “The hell with that road racing stuff, I ain’t even going out to California” (speaking in cranky tone of voice).
So it’s great to surprise him with a nice top three finish out here.
Q. What can you say about the guys at Phoenix Racing? Because Nick Harrison is so in your corner and the kind of support a driver has to feel that and a driver has to be able to feel when guys are behind him as opposed to where there’s kind of, I don’t know, dissension in the ranks. But it just seems like these guys propel you.
KURT BUSCH: They bring the best out in me. This is a no nonsense group for a bunch of racers. The way this program feels is we are a bunch of boy scouts where we have to support each other and teach each other things and everybody has three jobs on this team.
Yeah, the closest family atmosphere I’ve ever had to racing with Kyle and my dad. We are not blood brothers or anything and cut fingers and touch and go Team Tiger Blood or anything, but it’s really a neat group. Nick’s leadership is just so much fun just to follow him and be a part of.
Q. Two weeks ago you were almost not in the car; what does this mean to run like you did today?
KURT BUSCH: If I can get my head on straight here and after the race, then I’m able to race every weekend and go for victories.
Q. We are used to a lot more skirmishes and crashes and cautions here. Why do you suppose there were so few in this race?
KURT BUSCH: It’s hard to say. The only thing I can think of is the tire was different this year. It was a tire designed to give you speed in the beginning and then drop off. You have speed in the beginning, you have control over your car, and cars can get separated. Maybe that helped us all get strung out. Felt like a genuine gentleman’s road race today, but I wasn’t in the back. (Laughter).
Q. When did you hit the tires, and if you had not done that, did you have any doubt that you would have or could have won the race?
KURT BUSCH: I hit those tires in turn 11 with about eight to go. Without a doubt I thought I could have pressured Bowyer into a mistake.
He was there for the taking on coming to the white, and I couldn’t do it when my panel bar broke. The rear end was too unstable under braking. So I just look back at that one moment, and it’s just tough. But, solid top three.
Q. On the radio you asked the guys when you were going to pit, 70 laps, 71 laps, pit on 72; were you having radio transmission problems during the race or did they correct themselves or what happened?
KURT BUSCH: We had radio problems. My helmet blower stopped blowing about halfway. We were running 280 degrees water temp all day. So just battles everywhere today inside the car.
Just tried to ignore it the best I could, and I just wanted a commitment lap on when we were going to make it on fuel in case we got disconnected with radio.
You’ve just got to do all you can inside the car when you’re disconnected from guys, so I expected them to lean over the pit wall with a chalkboard: “Pit now, 51.” (Laughter). It all worked out.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations on both of your runs this weekend. Thank you for your time.
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