Right Sides Only: Notes from the Ford Ecoboost 400 and Monster Energy Cup Series Winning Crew Chief, Adam Stevens

by Stacey Owens

It's been a long season, and now that the No. 18 team led by Kyle Busch has won the race and the series championship, Adam Stevens has joined a small, elite group of just 15 crew chiefs who have won multiple championships. 

The week leading up to the final race of the season can be challenging and lead to anxiety and worry, but Stevens didn't experience any of that. He talked a bit about how he looked at the week.

"It felt a lot like 2015 to me, aside from the broken leg, obviously. But in 2015, Kyle came back, we got off to a pretty hot start, won a few races, we won Indy, and then we didn't win again until we got to Homestead. 

"But we weren't running poorly. We were competitive. We were leading laps. We were toward the front. And it takes a lot of things to go your way to win a race. One of those things that has to go your way is you can't make any mistakes. 

"This year it was kind of similar. We won some races early. We tied the record for a top 10 streak or something I'm told early in the year and had a couple races get away from us. But it wasn't because we weren't fast. It wasn't because we weren't prepared. They just didn't go our way. And there were some things that we could have done better and some circumstances that happened. It's just the way that racing is.

"It felt a little bit like that. We had to claw our way through the rounds, and we got in by virtue of points, which we've done three out of the five times we've made it, and you know, it's about showing up and being your best when it matters the most, and tonight it mattered the most," Stevens said. 

Stevens also talked about his relationship with Busch. Despite their not being the favorite going into the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, they worked well, led the most laps, and persevered for the win.

"You have to be able to rely on each other and lean on each other, and through the good times and the bad times we're able to do that. You know, these races are hard to win. There's not one of them that I've won that's been easy. It takes the hard work and dedication of all 550 JGR employees. We don't employ all those people because they're not doing something that needs to be done; it takes every single one of them to come out here and win these races. 

"I think you've seen that with 19 wins that JGR had this year, that we're competitive. And through the dry spell that we had, we were competitive. 

"Kyle and I felt like to come through here tonight it was going to take a near perfect night to come out here and win. We expressed those views to the pit crew and to each other and to the team, and it was about being your best when it matters the most. 

"It's a Game 7 situation, and you can't afford to be back on your heels or holding back. You have to run the race that's in front of you and judge off of what's the circumstances that everybody else is having.

"It's just a tremendous belief in each other that I know even through his worst day that he's doing everything he can do as a human. We're all human, and we all make mistakes, but it's just a tremendous belief in each other, I think, and that trickles down to the rest of the team," Stevens explained.

Did Stevens go into the race knowing what Busch thought about the team's odds for success?  

"Oh, sure. Kyle has never wavered on the fact that when we put the car in the truck that we have what we need to win. And that's what makes it frustrating because as a company we are winning races and as a team we are elite and we do prepare to win, and we do execute to win. When you don't win, it's frustrating.
"I told somebody earlier today that there's not a number of wins that makes your season successful.  What makes your season successful is winning the championship. Unless you win every single race, you left something on the table because we have the tools at our disposal to go out and win on any given weekend.
"You have to keep that kind of stuff in stride or in mind that it's not always going to go your way, and it might go for a stretch and make it seem easy, kind of like it did at the beginning of the year, and it might go for a stretch and make it seem hard. And it's not the first time we've been through a stretch like this.
"I think '16 into '17 maybe we went an entire calendar year without winning a race, and it wasn't because we didn't know how to do our jobs, it wasn't because we gave up or weren't working hard enough, it was because things didn't go our way. And some of the things that didn't go our way were of our own doing, obviously, but some of them weren't.
"That's the way it is in professional sports. You have to keep your eyes on the prize and establish what the goals are and keep your nose to the grindstone and get after it," Stevens said.
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On track, Kyle Busch isn't typically considered an underdog. This past week, however, many thought of him in just that light. Denny Hamlin was the sentimental favorite, and Martin Truex Jr. was considered the strongest contender. Kevin Harvick, well, he's "The Closer" for a reason. Stevens talked about the underdog moniker.

"Well, I don't really watch any shows or anything, so I didn't get that vibe. I could understand why people would have that vibe, certainly, because the other guys came in on wins and we came in on points.
"But you've got to understand, too, that for my team and my guys and Kyle Busch driving, our goal is to win the championship. And when we shoved that car in the box last year at Homestead and we didn't perform the way we wanted to, our goal was to win the championship this year.
"Everything we did from the time that tailgate shut until we got down here to race this race was to win the championship. To do that, we know for a fact there's going to be one team get in on points.  There might be two teams. There could be three teams, it could be all four that make it through the final round into Homestead. We know there's going to be one, so you'd better be that guy, right. So the only material goal between the start of the season and the championship is to win the regular season points championship to give yourself the most points and be the guy, right. We also won the most stages, which added to the points, and unless we won every single race, there's no amount of race wins that were going to be enough because we have every tool at our disposal to win every single weekend.
"Did I feel like an underdog? No. Would I have rather come in here on some kind of heat or five-race win streak? Sure. But I saw some stuff out of the team that told me that we were really getting our ducks in a row and that we were performing at a high level, and I knew the guys were hungry. I knew Kyle was hungry, and I knew that we could have a mistake-free weekend, and that was going to be what it took," Stevens explained.

In recent years, as drivers have crossed the finish line at Homestead, knowing they had just secured the championship, they have expressed their excitement over the radio and for the cameras. Busch was slightly more subdued. Stevens explained.

"I think it's just a matter of being that focused. We've been through this rodeo before, and like I said earlier, the goal is to win the championship. Not that achieving your goals is anti-climactic, because it's not, and it is a big deal, but I think the intense amount of focus and preparation and hard work that he put into it, it was probably more of a relief that it was over aside from the fact that we actually accomplished our goal." 

Tune in to watch both Stevens and Busch honored for those accomplished goals on Thursday, December 5 when the Monster Energy Cup Series holds its annual awards banquet. For the first time, that event will be held in Nashville, Tennessee.

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. 
   This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves country music, though she can't carry a tune; Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life; and her husband who's supportive of her NASCAR obsession... as long as she allows him to obsess over UT college football every fall.

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Ford Ecoboost 400 and Monster Energy Cup Series Winning Crew Chief, Adam Stevens Right Sides Only: Notes from the Ford Ecoboost 400 and Monster Energy Cup Series Winning Crew Chief, Adam Stevens Reviewed by Stacey Owens on Monday, November 18, 2019 Rating: 5

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