Monday, April 27, 2015

Right Sides Only: Richmond Winning Crew Chief, Tony Gibson

Redemption. It was claimed at Richmond International Raceway as the No. 41 Haas Automation team won the Toyota Owners 400 in dominating fashion. 

After leading a race-high and career-high 291 laps, the No. 41 team led by driver Kurt Busch and crew chief Tony Gibson scored the third win of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing. 

Busch started the season under suspension, missing the first three races. How did he feel about the win on Sunday? 

"Well, today is a great day of total team execution... it starts with building a fast race car back at the shop and coming to the racetrack and fine tuning it, and really a great effort from team communication because we felt like we were a fifth-place car after practice, and the way that the team looked at things, we even qualified better than what we thought, and there was still this realization of, 'Hey, let's continue to fine tune it, let's not ignore the lack of speed that we don't have. Let's go for it all.'
             
"And that's what Tony Gibson did, along with Johnny Klausmeier, our engineer. Everybody chipped in. The tire guy had some health problems this weekend, and we had to bring in a backup tire guy, but then Jet made it back to the track to enjoy victory lane with us today.
             
"And why I tell that long story is it's all about team, people, and chemistry within the organization.  For us the last few weeks, we've not given away wins, but we've made some small mistakes and we've had some things go against us that it made us stronger. It really put a bond between all of us to go, 'You know what? This 41 Haas Automation Chevy has got some speed. The wins will come. We don't need to force it, and let's just settle in for the long run.' And so here we are. We're winners in April. It feels good."
His crew chief feels the same way.

"Well, I think like Kurt said, it's about having depth in our team, and we have a lot of depth and we believe in one another," he said. "When I had to bail there after the drivers' meeting at Bristol, normally I can fight through the pain on those things, but this one put me down." 

Gibson missed the Bristol race because of an issue with kidney stones. Engineer Johnny Klausmeier called the race from atop the pit box.
 
"I called Kurt on the phone before the race started and told him, 'Look, I'm not going to make it, so it's up to you and Johnny and Zippy to make this deal happen,'" Gibson said. "Johnny did a fantastic job. He's going to be a crew chief one day. I'm getting old, and he's going to be moving in pretty soon. He's going to be a crew chief. Kurt did a great job communicating with Johnny last week, and it's a race that got away from us, and we didn't win.
             
Credit: Carol D'Agostino/Skirts and Scuffs
"So we came into this week and if we could stay focused and execute a little better ... It's like Kurt said, we really not so much gave them away, but we just didn't execute on a few races we should have won. We knew we had to get better at that as a team. The depth of our team is incredible, whether it's the tire guy or me going down. We have enough depth in our organization and in our team to overcome. That's pretty cool going in to win and know you've got a shot to go for a championship, knowing you've got those kind of people that are working on your race team is pretty cool."

After missing those early races this season, Busch said that he felt he has over-driven after getting back in the car. Gibson doesn't necessarily agree.

"I don't think he drives too hard. I know he beats himself up. I think the thing that we missed early is we didn't execute as far as our practice stuff. Should have had a little bit better practice plan of making longer runs and making sure we had long run speed. I know he goes out and he gives you 150 percent every lap, every practice, and I force some of that on him. I said, 'Man, let's just go out there and while we got 'em down, just kick 'em while they're down, try to win every --  set fast time and win every practice. 

"I don't think he overdrove at all. I know he takes a lot of blame on himself and puts a lot of pressure on himself, but as a team we didn't execute on those races. He needs to drive as hard as he needs to drive. It's our job to put a car underneath of him that he can run that hard with. Today was proof of that."

Crew chief and driver weren't paired until near the end of last season, but they've quickly formed a tight bond and a similar mindset when it comes to how to approach a race.

"It's still four tires and a hunk of steel that's got to meet the racetrack. And I know Kurt, he feels the same way. You know, me and Jimmy Fennig have a lot in common. We're great friends, and I lean on him now, too. We talk every weekend. He's a big influence on my career and where I go. And I know Kurt, he's driven that same way. He believes in engineering just like I do, but sometimes you've got to go with your gut, and you've got to go old school, and I think that's why me and him, me and Kurt hit it off so well. We share the same passion of racing. We don't want to run second. We're hard on ourselves when we've got to be to be better, and I think we both have that same mindset.
         
"I think he makes me be better, if that sounds right, and hopefully I make him be better. Moving forward, I think if we push one another and believe in one another like we're doing right now and our team, we've got a shot to win the championship just as well as anybody." 

Gibson used to work with Alan Kulwicki and said that Busch reminds him of the legendary driver.

"I worked with Alan for a long time, and the desire and the enthusiasm and the want-to is incredible, and the only reason that he wants to know about the race car, because he feels like between his input and our input, we can make a really good product.
            
"I think that's huge.  You have to have a driver that's involved. You have to have a driver that's engaged, and we talked about this last year when they asked me over the winter what did I like about him. He's an engaged driver. He's there early before every practice. We talk on the phone at night or we text back and forth. He looks over data. He's 100 percent involved in this, and he's committed.
             
Credit: Carol D'Agostino/Skirts and Scuffs
"And that's the part that I love about him. I'd rather have a guy like him than a guy who just shows up every once in a while to the shop or just shows up five minutes before practice and climbs in. The more we can be involved and work together, we're going to make a better product."

Was there any time during that three-race suspension that Gibson feared that perhaps Busch wouldn't be able to jump back in upon his reinstatement?

"No, I don't believe that at all. I think we went and did a Vegas tire test there, and we had a tremendous amount of speed at the test, and we felt really good and positive. You're not dealing with a rookie. It's a guy who's won championships and a ton of races. He knows what he's got to do. It's just a matter of we knew we were going to get him back, it was just a matter of when, and he hit the ground running. We weren't fearing for that at all. We knew whenever we got him back, whenever that was, that we were going to put ourselves in position to win races and be fast, so pretty cool."

And that kidney stone? Gibson was asked which he enjoyed more: passing cars or passing kidney stones.

"That's a good question, but passing cars. I had one at Vegas when we landed out there, and I was able to make it through a couple weeks carrying that thing before I got it blasted out, and normally I can overcome the pain just from being at the racetrack and the love of it, but this last one I couldn't do it. But passing cars is the most important thing. The health will come later. I can rest later." 

That rest won't come until November since the No. 41 team has likely secured its place in The Chase and will spend the final 10 weeks of the season trying to win another Sprint Cup championship. 

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    Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend. 
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far. 
    Her other interests include country music, though she can't carry a tune; collegiate football, though she needs a lot of work on her spiral; and Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life.


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