Transcripts: Justin Marks and Darian Grubb - Chicago Street Course
HE MODERATOR: We are going to start with our race-winning team here in today's Chicago street race. We will start with our team owner Justin Marks.
Our crew chief Darian Grubb will join us here soon.
Justin, I'll open it up to you. If you don't mind not only talk about the victory today -- and this was a vision of yours and something you've been behind -- but also you were a fan of doing a street race and something you've been vocal about at times.
Talk a little bit about today, coming to Chicago, and then Trackhouse taking home the win.
JUSTIN MARKS: I'm a huge believer in street races. I've raced in a number of them in my career as a driver, Long Beach and Detroit and a couple of these. I think when they first started -- when racing first started it was cars on streets, and so it's a very, very pure form of the sport, a very pure expression of automobile racing when you do it on streets like this and they shut them down.
I'm a big fan because I think that there's an important -- it's important for racing series to take the product to the fans and to be able to take it into these cities and expose a lot of new fans to it.
I've been a huge fan of the Chicago street race, the concept of NASCAR going street racing from the get-go. A huge supporter of it, and I think that they knocked it out of the park this weekend.
The track was great. Everybody was really -- there was a ton of people there, everybody walking the sidewalks and really excited about it. And even in the industry everybody that I talked to in the garage area was like, man, I had some trepidation about it, but this is unbelievable. This is awesome. Everybody was wide eyed and really excited about it.
Obviously we had challenges with the weather, but really excited that NASCAR was able to get the race in and get it started, and it was a great show. It was a very, very compelling race.
Really, really proud of NASCAR. Really proud of the vision that they have. These street races are a lot of work. I want everybody to understand just how hard it is to do this and working with the municipalities, infrastructure, equipment, ingress, egress, safety, all of that. It's a huge, huge lift.
For NASCAR to have the vision to do it and Ben and everybody to have the vision to do it and to pull it off like they did, I think they deserve a ton of credit for it, and I think it was an amazing event.
With that being said, it's so amazing and important and meaningful for Trackhouse to be the company to win the inaugural street race because obviously it's a huge moment for the sport, and it's incredibly important for the company to be able to be the winners of the inaugural race.
I think we're all just incredibly humbled to be the ones standing in Victory Lane.
Then as far as Project91 goes, this was a shower idea. It was me thinking, I'm a huge fan of all different kinds of motorsports and I've raced in all different kinds of motorsports. I wanted to bring my love of global motorsport to NASCAR and put a brand around it and create sort of a landing spot for the elite talent globally that wanted to come and try NASCAR instead of just putting them in a car and crossing our fingers and watching them do that, but actually building a program that's catered to elite motorsport talent and have a training protocol and preparation protocol so we can be successful. A lot of work went into that.
For us to be in Victory Lane with Project91, it's hard to find the words. It's incredibly, incredibly humbling. Kimi Raikkonen and Chevrolet were a big part of getting this thing going, and for us to be able to grab a guy like Shane, who I'm a huge fan of and have been a fan of for a long time, to put him in this position and watch him do his thing was not just great for our company, but an incredibly compelling thing for the fans and for the industry and for everybody that was here this weekend.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and bring up our race-winning crew chief as well, Darian Grubb, and we'll grab a quick comment here.
Darian, you've had wins, you've had championships, but maybe tell us where this one ranks today.
DARIAN GRUBB: I think this one ranks up there pretty high, just the fact that Justin puts faith in the whole group there at Trackhouse Racing, and being able to put this on as an extra effort and come here, and then just see all those guys get to go to Victory Lane, as the shop foreman, as the car chief, Gary Putnam and those guys. They all poured extra into this. It's outside their normal jobs.
We still had to do those, do the shakedown test that NASCAR allows us. We did a lot of extra work. The engineers did an amazing job in preparation.
And then I have to say Shane just did an amazing job, as well, just in preparing and asking the right questions, being prepared for this event.
Q. Justin, last week at Nashville, you said that that was -- I don't know if you said it was the most important win or the biggest win, but to win a traditional NASCAR race on a mile-and-a-half, you thought that was extremely significant. How does this, your baby car, Project91, inaugural streets of Chicago, how does that compare to Nashville?
JUSTIN MARKS: Well, this is an incredible win for the company. It definitely ranks up there. It's just different. I'm still sort of processing, to be honest, because it's so new right now.
I mean, I think it's important in the sense that it's -- a lot of what we're trying to do at Trackhouse is new and different and exciting for the sport. We're trying to inject something into the sport that it hasn't seen before, that the fans haven't seen before.
So I think it's really important because it comes out of that creativity that we all share and the passion that we have in trying to put something out on the racetrack that's really unique and compelling.
It's kind of a -- it's not a crazy idea. People have done this before. But to put a brand on it and to actually build a group around it that Darian leads and go to the company and say, this is an idea that we want to do, and it's actually like a unit within the company, I mean, to put that into Victory Lane is -- I mean, it's hard to find the words for it because it's so different.
It doesn't put anybody in the playoffs. It doesn't really do any of that. But it's an incredible moment for the fact that we are trying to be a special team that's different and compelling and exciting for the fans. For an idea, a concept that I came to these guys with and said, would you take this on? Would you do the extra work and take this on?
And for them to embrace it and to put it in Victory Lane is really -- it's sort of like anything's possible. If you can dream it, you can do it. That's kind of my emotions.
It's hard because it's a little bit different. Obviously Shane is not a full-time driver. It's his first-ever race. It's not a full-time team. There's no playoff implications, anything like that.
But it's just a great moment for our company and for Chevrolet and for Enhance Health and for us as a group that's excited about just sort of doing unique, different things.
Q. I don't know if we're too far removed from this still being a concept car. How much does this win change your marketing pitch to those drivers, teams, people across the world, now that it's not just a car that's on track, now it's a car in Victory Lane? Is that like a huge boost for the program?
JUSTIN MARKS: Yeah, it doesn't change anything. It just puts fuel in the tank as far as we're trying to build something here where the greatest drivers in the world have a place that they can call home if they want to try NASCAR racing.
For us to put it in Victory Lane, it just shows, I think, the world that this Project91 is a very, very elite effort. It's not about vanity. It's not about just sponsorship. It's not about social media. It's about putting a program together that can actually win and tell great stories.
I think the fact that we put it in Victory Lane, it just galvanizes our mission in trying to attract the greatest motorsport talent in the world.
Q. Darian, your driver comes on the radio with a few laps to go and thinks something is wrong with the motor. What are you thinking? Do you think anything is wrong with it or are you just trying to talk him off the ledge?
DARIAN GRUBB: Just trying to talk him off the ledge at that point. We were looking at data trying to figure out what it was he keyed up on there that he felt. He felt like the motor was giving up some at the end of the straightaway, but we were able to take the data and confirm that it wasn't.
I think he was hearing the gremlins in his own head, realizing I'm leading the race and have the potential for the win there.
Q. For both of you, 12 laps to go he was fifth. Did you think he was still in it? And as you're watching him come up through the filed, picking off Chase Elliott, picking off Kyle Busch, and then passing Justin Haley, calk me through what you're thinking there.
DARIAN GRUBB: Yeah, I was a little nervous honestly when we knew we were going to be racing to the darkness, and that's when they announced we were going to go to lap 75, and we still needed to pit at that point, where some of the guys had already jumped it a few laps earlier with the risk thinking that was going to happen.
I was a little disappointed we came out 18th, but after the first lap when he came around and we ended up 16th and he showed his skill of passing those cars cleanly and just picking them off one by one, and then he was still the fastest car in the entire field running back in the pack.
Knowing that he had that kind of speed at that point I wasn't really too worried. Then when he got to fifth there with a few to go, yeah, was pretty confident at that point that he at least had the potential, and we were just hopeful for not having the cautions and the other things that would take the time away to be able to do it.
Q. I'm kind of wondering, obviously he has the talent to win. You go into this whole thing, and I'm sure in the sim and at the Charlotte test you were like, if everything comes together he could do it, but it's still sort of a long shot. We just don't really see this. At what point this weekend or today did it flip for you guys from like, yeah, he could win, to like, oh, he's going to win?
DARIAN GRUBB: Honestly for me it was Monday when we did the test at the Roval. I have to give kudos to NASCAR for letting us swap that program up and work more for the safety. We weren't allowed to do any setup changes or anything with it. It was just going to make laps.
But being able to work on seatbelts, steering column, brake pedals, and obviously with the awesome foot that was on there this week, everybody gets to see his footwork.
So just adjusting brake pedals and pads and throttle pedal and those things, that was critical for him to be comfortable in the car and be able to do what he could do.
Thank you to those guys for changing that program and making it now where we can work about the safety and the consistency.
But then that day, watching his disciplined approach of managing tire wear. Let him do a long run. We did 26 laps there at the end of the test just to let him feel how the tires would fall off.
We were running part of the Legends course on the backstretch, so it's nothing that even correlates to anything we do on the racetrack, but those are corners you he felt like he could go attack and understand what it would be for a 90-degree corner somewhere.
Those things you see his talent level and you see his questioning of his own ability, and he wanted to go in there and try it five different ways. You just sit there and watch. We don't have data on the car or anything, but you can see him learning with every lap.
He could do consistent laps all day long, and then when be got to the simulator later in the week watching how he had studied what the other guys had done and being able to go out there lap 3 and beat their lap times in most cases was pretty impressive.
His feedback in the car matched exactly what we were expecting with simulation programs and everything we do with Chevrolet, having their background over there and what we have here with Chevrolet. It was really awesome to see that feedback all match up.
JUSTIN MARKS: Yeah, I think for me, it kind of just built throughout the week. It was sort of like -- we had a lot of hope and belief that he could be very, very competitive, but as soon as he landed, it was like his focus and his understanding of what we were doing was really, really impressive.
His learning curve through the week, great sim session. He came to Nashville last weekend and sat in the box and was really plugged in asking questions, really absorbing it all. And then as the week went on, it was like one of the best sim sessions these guys have had, and great test like Darian said.
He wanted to spend a lot more time on our static sim at the shop than -- he kept asking to go back to it and spent a lot of time on it. Then when we got here, through practice, it just started building. We all kind of were like, man, we've got a real shot here.
But there's always that thing in your mind. It's like NASCAR races, they get kind of bananas. It's not just about the speed, right? It's about getting on and off pit road. He's never made a pit stop before, this type of pit stop before, and these late restarts.
There's just a lot of other variables. So that's always in the back of your mind, is that going to play into sort of how the race goes.
But he showed so much speed in his approach and focus and everything in practice and qualifying, he just adapted to everything so well.
Then as the race went on and he got into position there, his speed late in the race was really, really good. And he's such a racer. He made those passes. He made the pass on Chase. He made the pass on Justin.
Then the caution came out, and typically the green-white-checkered is just like, oh, man, you're just nervous because it just goes crazy and things happen.
But the way they put the restart zone I was remarkably calm, honestly, for the restart because I knew if he just got through 12 and got the jump off there that the whole build of the week -- there was no anxiety about him making a mistake or missing his turn in or anything like that.
It was just get to the white flag and get it done. He just put on a clinic. It was unbelievable.
Q. Justin, with this type of program as you build it, I know it's still early on, but getting a win and getting this attention after having Kimi in the car, what do you feel like this could do in terms of getting other international sponsors and kind of growing it and making this maybe where it at some point becomes more funding itself? And on the other hand, what can this do to help NASCAR's push internationally do you feel? I know it's not your main focus, obviously.
JUSTIN MARKS: From a commercial standpoint it was a big weekend because we had a company come in that said, we want to sponsor Project91. You go get the driver. It wasn't attached to a driver. Enhance Health came in and said, we love this concept and we want to sponsor it.
That's a big moment for our company, is that actually a partner looked at it and said, we believe in this Project91 thing siloed from everything else. We really love it and we want to be a part of it.
I think as far as what it does, it just hopefully -- I think it just makes Project91 be on a lot more people's radar internationally, and we can attract -- continue to attract the top talent in the world.
I think as far as like expansion and growth, we didn't hire anybody for Project91. Everybody that works on Project91 like Darian said already works for the company. They've got other jobs for the company.
I think as far as scaling Project91, it's a two or three race a year program, and beyond that it starts to be kind of a lift. It starts to sort of feel like a third team.
We're pretty committed to just being very focused on the races that we do and very committed and do them in a great way where we can come out here and win.
And then as far as NASCAR, Trackhouse is -- we approach NASCAR as partners, and we really want to help each other. We've got a great relationship with the sport, and it's important to Ben, it's important to Jim and Lisa and Steve and everybody that this sport grows and that this sport becomes more and more internationally relevant.
If we can do all of the things where we can win for us and sign great sponsors and have great days like today but also contribute to that mission, then we're here for that.
I take a little bit of personal pride in being able to deliver something to that international initiative because NASCAR racing is special. It's unique. There's nothing in the world like it.
I think the more people globally that we can get tuned in and excited about this sport, the better it is for all of us, and I think today was a step in that direction.
Q. Watkins Glen, that's the only other Project91 races --
JUSTIN MARKS: We don't have any other Project91 races on the calendar right now. This is it.
Q. Project91, can it go more than the three races a year if you've got the right backing for it, and are you committed to rotating drivers or are you going to try and run Shane a bit more and maybe turn it into a full-time drive in '25?
JUSTIN MARKS: Like I said, beyond probably three races, it starts to be a third team. It starts to really kind of drain -- not drain, but take resources from the 1 and the 99 car, which is what we're really focused on at Trackhouse, getting both of those cars in the championship, being able to make a championship run.
The last thing I want to do is have Project91 be a drain on that or take anything away from that. So I think three is really sort of the limit for us. If we ever expand to a third full-time team it's good that we're going through this exercise right now with the 91 because we're doing sort of three teams' worth of work in the shop as we lead into the Project91 races.
But I think beyond that, it starts to become a third team deal, which is a whole 'nother conversation for our company.
Then beyond that, I don't -- I'm pretty confident that it's Shane's seat right now. He did such an incredible job. Obviously just put on an incredible, incredible race today. Project91 is about bringing all different kinds of drivers in, and we certainly still have the desire to rotate drivers through.
But winning feels pretty good, and Shane just did it, so if he can continue to deliver that, I think the door is open for him to do more for sure.
Q. Darian, you've worked with a lot of different drivers offer the years. Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards. How was your experience with Shane compared to working with them, and where does that rank?
DARIAN GRUBB: I'd just say like professionalism and everything else, he's very similar to all those. I've been extremely fortunate in my career to be able to work with some of the names like you said, Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears, all those guys all had different qualities, and I think Shane has definitely got some of those qualities himself. He's just a leader.
He came in very studious. He wanted to know. He was excited about Nashville. Like the commitment level he had, they left early from the Nashville race even though the 1 won. Didn't do the party because he knew we had to do the Roval test the next morning. He wanted to be back and be fresh and stuff for that. Got him in bed about 2:00 in the morning for it, so it was still a long night.
But that type of professionalism and the commitment to what he wanted to do to come in and prove himself and be prepared, he asked all the right questions. If he didn't know what question to ask, he would say basically what am I not asking, and we sat and talked a lot, and we ran through all the scenarios.
I have to say, he was very well prepared.
Q. Justin, I know your connections to the racing world and whatnot. I saw you on your phone there. What text messages have you received? Have you heard from anybody at all?
JUSTIN MARKS: Yeah, I was just replying to Chip Ganassi. We both won today. It's awesome.
Actually there's a lot of text messages from the industry, from other drivers and other team members, crew chiefs. I think everybody recognizes how cool of a moment it is for our sport that we've got somebody that came in like this and really kind of mixed things up, and I think everybody knows how important Project91 is to Trackhouse. They're just excited that it happened.
Kyle Larson came to Victory Lane, a couple drivers came to Victory Lane. I think it's just cool for everybody to see something different and something like this happen.
Q. Justin, I'm curious, through this whole process with Project91, you said you've reached out to drivers, drivers have reached out to you to be a part of this. With Shane, how did this relationship start? Did you reach out to him first? Did he express his interest? What was the timetable that led to him being in this car last weekend in that test at Charlotte?
JUSTIN MARKS: Yeah, so I reached out to Shane last fall probably, like the end of last year, and through a mutual friend just said, hey, I'm Justin and we've got this Project91 deal and you're sort of on the short list here.
And I called him, and I think we FaceTimed or talked to each other, and I said hey, I would love to be able to run you. We have to get sponsorship. Obviously it's commercial driven, so we have to do our job here to get this thing funded, and if we get it funded and I get the right people behind it where I can make the phone call, I'll call you.
Four or five months went by and he didn't hear from me and we ran Kimi and COTA and Enhance Health signed on to sponsor the program. They said, go get whoever you want.
That's like the coolest phone call you get to make is to call Shane and say, hey, do you want to race for us? We got a seat for you. He was all about it and it was just about figuring out the logistics.
It was important. The Supercars Series in Australia was something that was really on my radar really from the get-go in Project91. Shane was the guy. He was like the first person and the only person really that I thought of, so I reached out right away and I said, I'm not offering you a ride yet, but I'm working on it.
If I can get to a place where I can call you and make the official offer, then I will, and that was able to happen this spring.
Q. Why was he the perfect person to drive the car?
JUSTIN MARKS: I think if you look at Cup racing, especially with this new car on the street courses, if you look around the world, the closest thing that there is to the NASCAR Cup Series anywhere on in the world on road courses is the Supercars Series.
The cars are very similar and the talent there is unbelievable. Obviously we had Marcos Ambrose in the series for a number of years, Scott McLaughlin came over and won in the INDYCAR series, and you look at Scott Dixon, guys from that part of the world. There's so much talent over there, and I sort of thought of it as kind of an untapped resource.
Really it was -- because it's difficult to take a guy like Kimi Raikkonen who has raced Formula 1 and put him in a full-bodied stock car. Obviously incredible talent, but there is a lot to learn there; whereas Shane has had a lot of experience in cars like this.
I figured if a guy like him could come over and we could put the program together like we have for Project91, that he could get to speed really, really quickly and be able to contend.
Q. For all of you, talking to the drivers yesterday and looking at the weather, we kind of knew we were going to be dealing with inclement conditions and a road course, but are you guys all salivating because you know he's got experience doing that and there's such a few number of drivers that are in the field that have raced under these conditions before?
JUSTIN MARKS: Well, for me, I didn't think that any conditions were going to give us a better advantage or a disadvantage just because of his talent. I think in the dry obviously he could win, and in the rain he could win.
Obviously he's got a ton of experience. I think when you bring somebody like this over that's got the experience that he's got racing in the Supercars in all kinds of different conditions that no matter what the conditions were today, I think we had a great chance at winning.
DARIAN GRUBB: I can said that, too, and the preparation for the week we could see there was a chance for rain, and just picking Shane's brain honestly about what he liked in a race car and what he preferred to drive and how he liked to set up, we knew that also trended towards the rain setup, as well. Keeping everything really flexible, let the car move around, have as much grip as possible. He gave us the freedom to do that, so all the work we did in the simulator led us in that direction. It was definitely off the charts versus our teammates for what we were trying to do.
Luckily, we can do that. We have the ability to explore. We had his direction of what he liked, and we were able to go out there and put that together. Obviously he could go out there and get it done in either of those conditions.
THE MODERATOR: Justin and Darian, we'll let you guys go before we start with Shane. Thank you again for joining us.
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