THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Adam Stevens, crew chief of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with driver Christopher Bell.
Adam, why don’t you take us quickly through your session out there.
ADAM STEVENS: Okay. Yeah, we unloaded pretty close this time. That was good. Had decent short-run speed, decent long-run speed. We made a couple of changes and they both seemed to improve the car.
It was a good practice for us.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Your driver has never led a lap here in a Cup race. Was it more important for you to have a good practice session and be atop the chart than for others?
ADAM STEVENS: I mean, it was very important. I don’t know if it was more important because we’ve never led a lap. I don’t think we’re going to win this thing if we don’t lead laps.
We just started so far off last time that we had a lot of ground to cover to even get in the mix. Starting closer just puts you in a lot better position. We don’t have to make big changes, we think, to be balanced, fast on Sunday. Starting a lot closer this time.
Q. Last year was so terrible, the morning of. You guys still went out and raced. How much different will it be this year?
ADAM STEVENS: Yeah, it will be a lot different. I don’t remember the time of day that we were (loss of audio).
I mean, that went all the way up until the drivers were riding around the racetrack in the trucks. It was awful. Not just for me and my team, obviously. So that will be a big relief to kind of have a calendar year in between that and this weekend, have a little bit of healing for the Gibbs family. Hopefully we can bring the trophy home.
Q. (No microphone.)
ADAM STEVENS: That’s a good question for Christopher. I know that it did. I would assume that it did, as it did me prior to the race. But once we got racing, I wasn’t thinking about it. There’s not a lot of space between my two little ears to cram much more in there.
I know once he gets his helmet on that he’s super focused on the task at hand. I don’t know how it couldn’t weigh on you when somebody you’re so close to passes so suddenly like that.
Q. Before that, you were the first guy to come in here with a smile, so…
ADAM STEVENS: Really?
Q. It’s probably all the years that you’ve come and run the Championship 4. This isn’t your first rodeo. You come in here with confidence. Bell yesterday was probably the most animated of the four drivers, appearing confident. All of that plays into this. What is your level of confidence? How cathartic would it be to win a championship after such a dark year last year?
ADAM STEVENS: Yeah, confidence level is just super high. I mean, I know the equipment that we have. I know the progress we’ve made through the year. I know the potential that Bell has and my team in general.
I know if we do what we’re capable of doing that it’s right there in front of us. I don’t know how you couldn’t feel ecstatic about that, and I do.
I think we’ve gotten off on a good foot here this weekend. I feel wonderful. I just can’t wait to get back out there and cut some more laps, to be honest with you.
Yeah, cathartic question, that would be amazing. I remember the 11 winning the Daytona 500, racing us actually, the 18. What year was that? A few years ago. After J.D. passed. That was just a huge deal. Huge for coach, huge for the Gibbs family, huge for us.
For myself to have a part in that, ’cause we were racing them, we worked on some restarts to make sure we didn’t lose track position because the Fords were really fast that day. That was big for the company.
I would absolutely love, love, love to be a part of that for coach.
Q. This is old hat for you; you’ve been here many times. A lot of people in this situation, it’s a lot to deal with first time. For you it’s no big deal, you’ve been here, done that. Do you know how to handle everything that’s thrown at you certainly this weekend?
ADAM STEVENS: There’s some comfort level that comes with doing it. Whether we know how to handle everything, well, I don’t know what’s going to be thrown at me quite yet (smiling).
As far as what I expect to be thrown at me, yeah. It’s a different weekend. There’s a whole different level of distraction, enormity, gravity on the situation. You also have to think, too, every day of every year we work to put ourselves to be in this position that we’re in right here today. That’s true on races that we’re winning, and that’s true when we’re getting our asses kicked. We’re trying to make it to race for a championship.
How could you not enjoy yourself when you get here is the question I would ask.
Q. Christopher has been here, second time. He’s still young, learning this. Does it help that you just have this wisdom and the veteran presence to guide him through it?
ADAM STEVENS: I mean, I hope it helps. I’m sure it helps a lot of the guys on the team that haven’t maybe been in a situation like this.
Yeah, at the end of the day, 2015, my rookie year, we won the championship. I didn’t have any of that experience, right? I felt more prepared the next year and we got our asses kicked.
Does it help? I’m sure it helps. But it could probably be overstated a little bit, too.
Q. Christopher said that you guys have made gains every time you have come here with this Next Gen car. What is it about the work that has gone into prepping this car for this weekend, and where do you feel this 20 team is at?
ADAM STEVENS: I think we’re right in the mix. This is a tough place to get around. It’s not exactly like any of the other short tracks. We’ve had good runs at all of ’em. Had a good run here in the spring. We didn’t have the best finish, but we were certainly in the mix late in the race before that final caution.
It’s just about the feedback, quite honestly. What also helps is having teammates that are fast. You are learning from them. You’re learning from things that work for them. You’re learning from things that don’t work. Sprinkle a little bit of that into your car every time you come back, and figuring out what Christopher needs.
The biggest part about figuring out what Christopher needs is him figuring out what he needs and communicating that to us so we can give it to him.
That’s maybe where we’ve made strides this year. Maybe it hasn’t shown completely in the results, but it’s shown a lot in the speed, I think. When we do our jobs, we keep him up front.
Q. Two things that Bell said yesterday is he feels more relaxed this time, and he feels more prepared. Does that play into why you feel like you maybe unloaded today better than last year? Do you feel more prepared instead of the last-minute walk-off at Martinsville? Bell said you didn’t mention Phoenix till that night.
ADAM STEVENS: Yeah, for sure. The earlier you know you’re going to be there, the more you can put a little bit more focus on it. We certainly did Martinsville week. We went through all the same motions we would go through to prepare for Martinsville, but we just condensed it down big-time.
We didn’t reiterate, we didn’t go back, we didn’t stew over any decisions. We just kind of let it rip. We could have been better at Martinsville had we spent more time it. It probably would have cost us being prepared here.
Late last week, our sim sessions were going really well. I just felt really at peace with what we had going on as late as probably Thursday last week. We refined on it, got better through the weekend, into early this week. I mean, honestly, we were ready to load quite early in the week because we felt like we knew where we wanted to be.
Q. Jason Ratcliff, how big has he been in your development as a crew chief?
ADAM STEVENS: Really big. Yeah, I mean, Jason has been a part of Joe Gibbs Racing for a long time. Extremely successful. What he does, how he operates to be successful immensely affected how I prepare and approach a weekend and prepare the race car.
When they asked me to come crew chief in the Xfinity shop, I guess that would have been 2011 with Joey, I came from race engineering on the Cup side. It’s a lot different job. There’s a lot more to it. He was always there to guide and help. Just the level of detail that he pours into his program was not something I was prepared for.
I’ll tell you a little story here. I remember when Joey and I were racing in 2011, and we weren’t going that well. My car, we had a lot of drivers in my car, Ryan Truex, Drew Herring, some others. Joey and I probably weren’t having the success that maybe we thought we should be having.
He actually ran some races with Jason and his car. They were good. Just watching him communicate with Joey and the questions he asked him, how he pulled information out of him, had a big effect on me just watching him take my driver and cars that I know how they’re prepared and do a better job than what I was doing.
Jason’s door was always open. He always would answer a question. Extremely thankful for his influence.
THE MODERATOR: Adam, thanks for joining us today. Good luck on Sunday.
ADAM STEVENS: Thank you.
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