NASCAR Transcript: Adam Stevens, Joe Gibbs, and David Wilson – Press Conference – 03.10.24

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We’ll kick off our press conference here with the winning team owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Adam Stevens.

Can you walk us through the win.

JOE GIBBS: Yeah, I think Adam needs to do that. I was standing praying. That’s all I did (laughter).

ADAM STEVENS: I was doing the same thing, except I was sitting.

Yeah, it was a little nerve-wracking at the end. You don’t want to see a late-race caution and jumble the running orders, get some different pit strategies. I didn’t want to see it. Thankfully it stayed green.

Yeah, just a great weekend really. We had a great practice. Didn’t qualify well. Just had him too tight. Started the race a little bit too tight. Once we got the balance close, man, he just drove it straight to the front. He did such a good job of getting all the speed out of the car and giving us good feedback to make changes. The race played out pretty straightforward and the best car won.

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. Adam, obviously you guys didn’t get a full race in to see where you would have stacked up in November. Practice showed you had long-run speed. Was that a good enough starting point for this weekend, to capitalize this time around? Doesn’t ease the loss of last fall, but what’s the emotion after today’s win?

ADAM STEVENS: It’s a little bit cathartic. We felt like we were going to be really competitive in the race last time. We again started just missing the balance a little bit. Had one attempt to fix it, then blew that rotor just a few laps later.

If anything, we built off that this weekend. We were definitely, definitely better this week. But everything is so new, new tire combination. We were fortunate enough to be part of that test in December. It’s a new aero package for the field. A new body for Toyota. There’s just a lot of ‘new’ in there. It took a lot different setup to really get the balance back.

Credit to my guys, my new engineer, William really dug in there along with myself and Bell, came up with something we thought was going to work, and it did. We’re pretty pleased.

Q. Toyota as a whole had a lot of speed today. Is that based on what you as a team has found? Where did that speed come from? Can it apply in November?

ADAM STEVENS: It’s definitely going to apply when we come back in November, no question. We have the best notebook to build off of. All of our teammates had moments of being really good. Not just the Toyotas, everybody’s got a list of how they can be better.

It’s too early to tell if there is some kind of gap to the field. I don’t think that. I don’t feel that. I just think that we hit it better than everybody else did today.

Q. Adam, why could Christopher seem to do things nobody else seemed to be able to do today?

ADAM STEVENS: That’s a great question.

I think we focused on some very specific things with our setup, with this package, and he was able to really tell us how he wanted to run this race, the line he wanted to run. We optimized to it.

I think that we just hit it better than everybody, and that made that gap to the field today. But he’s really, really good everywhere we go. He’s an exceptional short track racer. He showed that today.

Really thankful that we were able to put it all together for him.

Q. Coach, how do you feel about Toyota introduced a new body this year, after the last two races, how would you analyze that change?

JOE GIBBS: Yeah, everybody knows in our sport it just takes a lot of people and everybody working together. It does start with Toyota, all the support and help they give us…

I’m just so pleased with the effort at the race shop, all of our guys. Everybody knows how important Phoenix is. So I think there was a great effort. There was a lot of ‘new’ to it, the new package and all that.

I couldn’t be happier with the way today went. I think all of our cars, like Adam said, at some point showed strength and were up there. That’s a good feeling.

Everybody’s going to be working on this, so you can’t sit back. When we come back, it’s going to be racing for a championship. Hopefully we’re in it. I just appreciate everybody.

I was really happy with William Sawalich winning on Friday, then Chandler yesterday. It was a big weekend for us. Really appreciate all of our teams and everybody, the way they worked together.

Q. Adam, when you took four tires on the last stop, any debate in your mind?

ADAM STEVENS: Well, we didn’t want to see that caution right on the edge of the fuel window. A couple guys had pit on the previous caution that was just outside the fuel window. You knew they weren’t coming back down. At that point I knew that two tires wasn’t going to get us the lead. It didn’t make much sense to restart eighth or ninth with two tires with a balance that was, if anything, a little bit on the tight side. It was just tightening us up more. We weren’t going to get the lead with it.

At that point we had to take our lumps. Not the ideal time for a caution. Thankfully the green flag laps on the back end made the difference.

Q. (No microphone.)

ADAM STEVENS: I mean, we restarted 20th. I was not too worried that we would get stuck. I was worried that we would go a short period and then catch the next caution. If we only went 15 or 20 or 25, have to follow 15 cars down pit road, you don’t have that tire advantage to anybody in front of you anymore, it’s going to be a lot harder to come through the field at that point.

Q. You talked about the test. What from the test helped you continue to work on the car, get the balance right?

ADAM STEVENS: Yeah, well, it was less than a month or about a month after Phoenix. It was very fresh. We got to start with the 2023 package. We got to take all of our notes and say, Man, if we would have done this, this and this, we would be that much better.

Obviously we unloaded like we thought would have raced the best and it was really good. That was the best data point for us. Then we spent a really long time changing a bunch of aero stuff that didn’t add any value to us. Then we did get to spend some time on the tire that we raced here today. We all did that were participating in the test.

Just that little bit of notes, that little bit of leg-up on everyone that didn’t get to participate is a big deal.

Q. What more do you need to keep up in November?

ADAM STEVENS: Well, I mean, as fast as we were, we probably still took off too tight. We haven’t figured out how to qualify here to save our souls. We’re going to have to figure that out.

We missed the balance too free in the fall and missed it too tight this time. Obviously our teammates had speed. They were up there on the front row.

We have to start a little bit closer to the front to protect that track position at the start of the race and also help the pit stall selection, for sure.

Q. Adam, I know you had one little slower pit stop, a lot of guys stayed out and had mixed strategies. How do you calm yourself down in that moment, calm down Christopher?

ADAM STEVENS: I mean, we had a dominant car. Losing a few spots on pit road at that point in time wasn’t going to be a deal breaker. Unless there’s a wreck on the restart in front of you, which we’ve seen, it’s just a matter of time before you can claw your way back up there.

Kudos to him for staying focused and not letting that get to him. Kudos to the guys for bouncing back. You’re not going to do eight-and-a-half second pit stops without making a mistake every once in a while. They bounced back just fine after that. That’s just part of it.

THE MODERATOR: We are now also joined by David Wilson, president of TRD USA.

David, would you like to give an opening statement for us.

DAVID WILSON: I’ll start by congratulating Christopher and Adam. I find it really special, the relationship that they’ve developed. Adam is such a good leader. Truly was a team effort to get to the finish line.

For Toyota, this was a momentous win. This was the first win with our new Camry body. I was clear to say at the beginning of the year that we have struggled here recently. I didn’t realize this statistic until it was brought to my attention, but the four previous Phoenix races, Toyota’s led a combined 15 laps.

JOE GIBBS: Is that good (smiling)?

DAVID WILSON: Today we led everything but 16 laps or 14 laps. That’s a credit to the Joe Gibbs organization, TRD USA, Calty Design, who helped us with this new Camry body.

At the same time I will say that the secret to longevity in sports, in motorsports, is never get too high when the day goes your way, and never get too low when it doesn’t because we’re going to be racing again next week. Phoenix will be in our rearview mirror.

THE MODERATOR: We’ll continue with questions.

Q. Adam, you obviously were fast the whole weekend on the longer runs. Last fall you were fast. In some ways it seems it was a carryover even though it’s a different car, body. What were you able to do to continue that? What did you have to do differently because of the different body?

ADAM STEVENS: Yeah, it’s just a completely different balance, especially with the rules package, too. It’s harder for me to tell you how much of the balance difference is from the new body and how much is from this rules package honestly here. It’s wildly different.

The setup it takes to optimize it is wildly different than what we ran. The things you focus on, the tools you use to get there are the same. I think a big part of the reason we’re going on the long run is the way that Christopher manages his inputs and what he does with the car to protect the tires.

He’s really good at making speed without slipping the tires if his car is decent. He showed that today. He’s really good at making micro adjustments to his line to chase that little bit of grip as rubber goes down and the track changes.

I think what you saw today is just his skill set and a car that was up to the task.

Q. How much did you feel like you could make moves and move around the traffic? Last fall you got stuck behind the 17. Today you were able to make moves.

ADAM STEVENS: Yeah, that’s a good question.

One data point, that’s the one we have, we’ll talk about it for sure. But we had a good car. When we were tight at the start, we weren’t going forward. We barely held our ground. When we got the balance close, he was able to make moves and get up there.

I think, if anything, you would say that there was an improvement there. You have to ask some of the other competitors really to get a better feel for that. But I thought when we had a run, we could get close, closer than we could, and we could make a move.

The other thing I liked was the tire and the track conditions and the reduced downforce overall kind of widened the racetrack out a little bit. You could run two-wide on both ends of the racetrack. You could pass high if you had to, pass low if you needed to. It was just overall racier, I would say.

Q. Coach, today was a career-best finish for Ty. What challenges do you face balancing Joe Gibbs the grandfather versus Joe Gibbs the team owner?

JOE GIBBS: I think anybody out there with kids or grandkids knows what I’m talking about, no matter what the sport, baseball, hitting, pitching, or basketball. It’s part of your family. You love them to death. You want ’em to be successful at what they want to do.

This is Ty’s dream. I think from the time he was two, he’s been on something with wheels eight hours a day. Anyway, it’s a very tough climb, tough world. He’s got to really work hard. We’ll see if he can get it done.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you for the time, coach.

JOE GIBBS: Thank y’all.

Q. David, during the pre-season when you had the Zoom call, you said you think this is the best body we’ve ever taken to the track. This is the first time in NASCAR history Toyota had five drivers lead 50 or more laps. First time around it passed with flying colors.

DAVID WILSON: Obviously I was talking about the numbers that we see on paper, right? The wind tunnel, the CFT. I know how much effort, it was unprecedented how much TRD USA and Joe Gibbs Racing worked together on that body. I may have said, because I say this all the time, you don’t race wind tunnels, you don’t race dynos. You could be the best on paper, but unless you have the talent behind the steering wheel and the team and the pit crews to put an entire race together, the rest is meaningless.

Certainly what we’ve seen four races in validates a lot of our optimism, but we have a whole lot of racing to go, more intermediates, more big tracks and short tracks to truly evaluate where we are.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you both for the time and congratulations.