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Q&A with Kyle Busch Crew Chief Adam Stevens

Ahead of Bristol Race
Saturday, May 30, 2020

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Kyle Busch and Adam Stevens
Kyle Busch and Adam Stevens
Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Adam Stevens was made available to media via videoconference prior to Sunday’s race: 

ADAM STEVENS, Crew Chief, No. 18 Skittles Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing  

What are the challenges in getting a race car setup for Bristol?

“It’s a long list, my friend. The biggest thing with Bristol is how much the track changes through the weekend. Now, all of that is going to be consolidated to just to race. Normally you end up, or start your sims and setup very close to how you ended the race, and with the track being green and not much rubber down, and the PJ1 being generally slick until it gets warmed up, you need to do a couple things to get through that part of the weekend and kind of undo them as the weekend goes. But, we’re not going to have the luxury of the track changing the 30, 40 or 50% it would from the start of practice to the end of practice and then starting the race from there. We’re going to go through that whole entire swing just in the race only. It’s going to be an absolute handful probably the first 50 or 100 laps of the race. To be your best at the end of the race, you’re going to have to find a way to navigate through that.”

How would evaluate your team in the first stretch of races back?

“In general, I would say we’re not as competitive as we’d want to be. We haven’t executed like we’ve wanted to. We’ve managed to get a couple good finishes in there, managed to get a couple poor finishes – the poor finishes were probably more poor than what they needed to be because of mistakes or circumstances we fell into during the race. The first Darlington we started in the back when I failed tech then went to the back fixing damage, hand the jack bleed down on a stop and then we weren’t very fast on top of that. All of that adds up to a pretty poor finish. Second Darlington was okay, not good enough to win, but in the mix there at the end. The first Charlotte was okay, felt like we didn’t have enough to win and really wanted to try to move the needle and work on the things that were holding us back. We attempted to work on all those things and just found a whole new set of problems to hold us back instead of fixing the old problems. Didn’t really, once we had the flat tire we got stuck laps down and that was the end of the day with no opportunity to get back on the lead lap. Only one wave around opportunity and then no real lucky dog chances. The car was also damaged at that point, too. Overall, it’s been a disappointing start, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. You have stretches like that and I think we need to get our program a little better and then internally as a team we have to do better.”

How pivotal do you view Bristol given Kyle Busch’s success there?

“I wouldn’t say it’s pivotal. If we don’t go to Bristol at all it’s not going to change the potential to win the championship or have a good run – it doesn’t really change anything. If we go there and underperform, that will be disappointing because it is a strong track for us. Last year, we weren’t great with that package and I don’t remember where we finished in the spring, in the fall we weren’t very good – we won in the spring, didn’t we? They all run together. In the fall, we weren’t as good as we wanted to be, and I think we still finished in the top five or somewhere. It is a good track. Not having practice and having to survive that track swing and not having that ability to work on our car, which none of us do, just seems like it’s been a bigger determent for our team than it has for others.”

What has the work load been like these last few weeks?

“I’ll start with the track – the track is the easy part. We don’t have a full roster, but we’re not practicing. We’re not even setting up scales. You are just fixing whatever tech issues you have and putting it on the line. There’s really not a lot to do other than push the car through tech and glue up lug nuts and things like that. We have the full pit crew obviously. The big change has been behind the wall. We’re down three or four guys, so everybody who is at the track has to do something behind the wall with the exception of myself. Some teams the crew chief is coming off the box to do something. That’s been taking some getting used to, but not something the fans would really notice. With no practice and no qualifying other than the one race, there’s not much work to do. The track has been the easiest adjustment. In the shop, running twice a week is a lot, even with no practice. When you threw in Charlotte there where we qualified, everybody had to prepare a backup car. You’re doing a lot of work in a very short amount of time. The shop is on restricted hours. I won’t get into the intimate details of all the restrictions we’re under. We’re separating people, we’re separating groups. I have my team split in two. For guys who go to the track and those that don’t. They are sanitizing every night, and everybody has to be out at a certain time where before you just work until you are done. Now you’re having to really micromanage the time. We have to get here at a certain time to checking and be screened and we have to leave at a certain time so they can clean the shop and make sure everybody stays healthy. It’s quite an adjustment, and then to throw in another race each week, with half the staff working on the car at any one time roughly, it’s a lot. You’re asking people to do more for one, you’re asking people to do jobs they don’t normally do when you split your road crew in half. There’s a lot of checking and double checking to make sure all the details are right, and it has been quite a burden. I think you will hear that from a lot of crew chiefs and teams, and an adjustment we hadn’t been planning for when the year started.”

Do you like the mid-week race for the long term?

“I think if you’re going to have a weeknight race, this makes it a little bit more bearable from a car prep standpoint because you’re not worried about qualifying, you’re not worried about making mock runs in practice, you’re not making a practice plan and you’re not preparing a backup car. To shoehorn a race in midweek, I think this format is okay. Personally, do I like it or not like it – I haven’t put much thought into it really. I understand why we’re in this situation because we have to get these races in. That’s important for all of us. I do like the opportunity to work on my car and make it better in practice. I’m missing that right now, especially with some of the races we’ve had. If that’s the direction the sport goes, then we’ll just have to adapt.”

Will it be good to have breathing room once the series gets past Bristol?

“Yes, for sure. There’s quite a few of my crew guys who have been worn out here and spread pretty thin. They could really use a day or two off for sure, and they’re going to get that early in the week. We have a race in Atlanta with no practice, so the prep is down, but no midweek race in there is what you’re alluding to. That will make it a lot more palatable next week. Next week will probably be a week to get caught back up and assess where we’re at and maybe do a little bit more leg work on some of the future races so we can be a little bit more ahead. For certain there’s a large group of guys who need a day off.”

How has Kyle Busch been with racing so much since the series return to racing?

“I think it’s pretty normal, really if you think back at the history of his career. He tends to run about every race he can get in. That list has gotten shorter through the years with all the restrictions. It is pretty normal. More seat time is probably generally better for him. If it’s more laps on the track that makes him happy, it makes me happy.”

Has the attention Kyle Busch has received from running so many races had any carryover on your program?

“That’s hard to say from my seat. I don’t know, that’s a better question for him. I don’t know how it can’t have some. He’s just a human, a man with a brain so some of that stuff has to linger somewhere in there. There’s a potential for that, for sure. Whether I sense that or notice that, I can’t say that I do. It’s a possibility.”

Is it a blessing in disguise having condensed schedules with racing’s return?

“No, it doesn’t really make much difference. A lot of the things we think we need to work on, they take time to fix. Some of them are just purely setup issues which don’t take anytime, it’s just a matter of making a different decision. Every time you go to the track it’s a new set of circumstances. The track conditions are always different. The starting position might be different, time of day is different. Everything is a little bit different. It is nice to always get back to the race track. All of us road guys, travel guys, that’s where we feel most comfortable anyway. Like I said, it’s such an adjustment not having practice and not having an opportunity to prove your concepts and refine your concepts – it’s really taken some getting used to.”

Is Kyle Busch anxious to get back to the track?

“One thing that’s different about this deal, drivers aren’t coming into the shop. All of our contact is limited to text, email and phone calls. Normally I’d spend an hour or two after each race and break things down, and we’re still doing that, but we’re doing that remotely. You lose something in that exchange. A lot of the ancillary stuff you might talk about like the question that was just asked is not something I could get a feel for or haven’t thought to ask because we are just trading facts and figures and thoughts, we’re not really spending much time on any of the ancillary stuff.”

Does anything change for the team and Kyle Busch going to Bristol this weekend?

“What makes Kyle (Busch) good at Bristol doesn’t change. He’s just so good at adapting what he’s doing behind the wheel to suit how the track is changing. Hopefully he’ll get to showcase more of that this weekend. This package is a lot like the 2018 package. There are quite a few differences to 2018, too. They really changed the aero balance and what you’re going to have to do with the mechanical balance to sort that back out. No different than 2019, it was completely different than ’18 and still he found his way to the front. It’s the track and the nuances of the track and how that changes and the fact that it changes is what makes KB shine there. He can make time on the bottom, in the PJ1, he can make time around the top when that’s the place to be and he’s not scared to move around and really is exceptional at getting through the lapped traffic as well. If you had to circle a place to get your mojo back, this would probably be it.”

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