Adam Stevens had a tough job during the 2015 season, his first as a NASCAR Sprint Cup crew chief. Stevens’ driver, Kyle Busch, was seriously injured before the season even began, when he broke a leg and foot in a crash during the season-opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
After missing 11 races (and with David Ragan and Erik Jones substituting), Busch returned and would eventually win the Cup championship for Stevens and Joe Gibbs Racing, capping the season with a title-clinching victory Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Stevens spoke with reporters and the Observer’s David Scott after the race at Homestead:
Q. So how does it feel to win a title in your first season as a Cup crew chief?
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A. I’d be lying if I said I had any idea what we’ve even accomplished this year. It’s just been such a whirlwind year. It was very compressed from the time that Joe (Gibbs) and (team president) J.D. (Gibbs) said, ‘Hey, we need you to crew chief a Cup car,’ maybe 16 or 18 months ago. So much work went into building the right team and getting the right guys together. A lot more work went into that than went into thinking about race cars.
Kyle had his accident and the wind was certainly taken out of our sails. I was just terrified that he was really, really in bad shape, but he saw his way back through that and got us on the right track. So that’s a testament to his hard work and dedication, and got us to where we’re at today.
Q. How did you deal with Kyle’s injury?
A. When we saw him get out and sit on the door at Daytona in the Xfinity race, I didn’t know what kind of shape his legs were in. I didn’t know if it was going to be this year or next year or if he would walk again. I had no idea. I’m not a doctor and I wasn’t there, and I spent five or six hours in the hospital with (Joe Gibbs) and coach and (senior vice president of racing operations) Jimmy (Makar) and everybody trying to put a plan together and couldn’t even get in to see him. I had no idea how bad a shape he was in.
But it was pretty clear a couple days later that he was on the road to recovery mentally, even if he wasn’t physically yet.”
Q. What was your strategy getting the car and team ready for when he would come back?
A. I don’t know that you put quite that much thought into it. I’m not real big on team meetings, but we did have one, and Joe called one. I just told them to look at it as an opportunity.
We still have to advance, and we still have to make our program go forward, and we have to contribute to the success of JGR as a whole. The guys and (Ragan and Jones) … just did a tremendous job. We didn’t have the most top 10s or top 5s to show for it, but we had a few, and we learned something every weekend we went to the track, based off their feedback and their experience, so that was huge for us to move forward and be ready.
Then the Chase started, and it’s about accumulating points and keeping your average finish up. We weren’t going to pass an opportunity for a win, but we were going to make sure we had the finishes and scored the points. You kind of piece your way through the championship like that, making sure you get yourself in this position, and then you get to release the beast at Homestead, and that’s what we got to do.
Q. Was there any concern for you going into the Chase that if you guys had a bad race early that it was going to be a struggle because of everything Kyle had gone through?
A. Absolutely not. I haven’t seen that out of him. Whatever situation you put him in, he delivers. You know, the more I ask out of him, the more he gives me, and I knew if I had a plan, and I gave him a good car, we could always make it work. It is important to approach each weekend as a clean slate. It’s my responsibility to look a little bit further down the line and it’s his responsibility to focus on what’s in front of him, and I think he did that perfectly.