Transcript: Alan Gustafson – Press Conference – 04.14.24

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our winning crew chief, Alan Gustafson.

No. 9 Hooter’s Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports, in victory lane. How sweet was this victory today?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, super sweet. Has been a little bit longer than we’d have liked to see it. Texas of all places. This is a track that’s been tough on us over the years.

Super proud of the perseverance, the effort. The team deserves it. They’ve done a really great job and super proud of them.

THE MODERATOR: We’ll open the floor for questions.

Q. I was surprised when TV said this was his first top five with the Next Gen car at an intermediate track.

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Me, too. Crazy stat. Never would have thought.

Q. To get the first win here, is this the catalyst you guys have been looking for? Three top 10s, two top fives in the last two weeks. This kind of puts you all over the top.

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, for sure. I mean, you’ve kind of got to be there, take some swings at it, some cracks at it. I think Richmond maybe didn’t show up to everybody watching the race, but I thought we had a really good shot at that race. It just kind of didn’t go our way at the end. Martinsville obviously 20 or 30 laps away from closing the deal on that one. We knew we were close.

Yeah, to come here, a lot of momentum as a team, a lot of belief, just a lot of positive energy, a lot of good things going on. Yeah, you kind of see that intersecting with a track that’s traditionally not a great track for us. I think everybody just focused on the positive and what we could potentially do here, not how difficult it’s been in the past. Yeah, overcame it. So super proud of that.

Q. Every time there’s a car change, seems like there’s some drivers who benefit from it, some drivers who have a harder time. Chase has said this has been an adjustment period. How have you tried to keep him positive, motivated in terms of trying to find the edge or feel for himself, not losing hope?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, like you said, I think different car models, different tire configs, tracks, et cetera, certain people’s natural tendencies of driving, better than others.

I don’t really know that this car doesn’t suit him, but maybe not as well as the old car, the options we had with it.

Really the drought has been long, certainly. I don’t know. I don’t keep track. I think he’s won four or five, five or six races in this car. What did we win, five I guess? It’s not like he hasn’t been successful. There’s a lot of good drivers who would have a good career with six wins, right?

I just think the old car, yeah, we were really good, really in position to win a lot. We just have to get back to that standard. Really in 2022 we had it, lost it a little bit.

I’m rambling on. You just have to trust in the process, trust each other, focus on improving, not getting caught up on what you don’t have, focus on what you do have.

We have everything we need to win with Mr. Hendrick, how he supports us, how everybody at Hendricks Motorsports supports us. We have a great race team. This is a really great race team, a great pit crew.

We just knew you had to stay committed to that and each other. That’s all I do. It’s not anything special besides just being super, super stubborn and resilient.

Q. (No microphone.)

ALAN GUSTAFSON: That’s a tough question for me to answer because I don’t feel like we haven’t been where we should have been, right? I don’t feel like we go to the racetrack and just struggle and don’t run well. We have run well and we’ve run well all season.

I really can’t think of a race all year that we weren’t in contention to compete at least for a top 10, most of them top five. I think our average run position is fourth maybe before this race, something like that, throughout the season.

I guess what standards are you setting? Our average run position throughout the year is fourth. That’s a pretty elite position to be in.

I just feel like for us to get back to winning consistently the way we want to, like anything else, I think we’re 90% of the way there, but that last 10% is super hard to get to the level that the 24 has been at recently, the 11 has been at.

Yeah, we just need a little bit more. I don’t feel like we’ve been failing, so to speak.

Q. How has Chase I don’t want to say changed but evolved mentally over the last year and a half amid the winless streak, watching his fellow teammates winning? How has he evolved mentally? How do you help him as a mentor as well?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, in this form, everything is looked at through the lens of racing and performance and the sport of racing. There’s life that goes on outside of this for everybody that most people don’t take into consideration.

He’s a human being just like everybody else. He has his life going on. He has trials and tribulations that he has to work through. Yeah, being out with an injury, then having to go through all that. Yeah, maybe not performing to some people’s expectations.

It’s not something that I believe. I feel like he’s performed really well. I think it’s just, yeah, sometimes you can get in a little bit of a hole. You just have to fight, right? That’s the biggest thing I’m most proud of him and the team for, is just continuing to fight through it, make it happen.

It’s super cliché and cheesy, but you just never give up. You learn that if you don’t give up, eventually things are going to turn around. I think that’s probably going to be the biggest lesson he takes out of that.

He’s a young kid. You have to learn you just have to grind through it. William Byron, as much as I love him and Rudy, they’re not always going to be at the top, right? It’s just not going to happen. Everybody goes through ebbs and flows. Whoever you want to call successful, Truex, Denny, Kyle, Kyle Busch, everybody has those ups and downs. I think just having the strength to battle through it and persevere is key, and he’s done that.

Q. You worked with other great drivers when they’ve been in the midst of longer winless streaks. With Chase, how did it compare to those situations?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: I mean, if memory serves me correctly, we won the second race with Jeff or something like that at Phoenix. There wasn’t really, like, a long buildup, Oh, geez, when are we going to win? I think it happened at Phoenix the second race. At the time or somewhere near there. We won with Mark at Phoenix, too.

To be honest, I don’t want to downplay it, but I’m not like, Oh, geez, we’re on a losing streak. That never comes into my mind. I never think about that at all. There’s no clock on my desk that says it’s been 10,225 days, a billion hours since you last won. I just focus on doing the best I can, performing, getting the team ready to go. Everybody does the same thing.

I think it’s more of a really tangible thing to you guys than it is to me, to be honest.

Q. The strategy that came out today, you were buried in the field with a qualifying effort, you stayed out and got the caution you needed at the right time, what other strategy were you playing with several cautions, really close on fuel at the end?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: I think the strategy was super solid today. We knew we qualified in the back. It’s just hard to pass here. We knew we had a good car. We had to get aggressive, get some track position. We were really literally going to pit when that caution came out. We got a break there.

We knew that was going to give us a few options if we ran long. I think the rest of it was really, really good. We probably missed one call where we pit, I don’t remember where we were running, fifth or sixth, then we pit probably 25 to go to the stage two I guess it was, got buried a little deeper than I’d like to see it. We got back in the 12th or 13th spot.

It ultimately worked out. If I was going to critique it, honestly I would say that was probably not the decision. I think the 12 and a few others stayed out there. I think that would have been the better way to go.

Q. At the end with all those restarts, the second-place guys going up into the wall, before that happened, were you worried or concerned or nervous the tires might be falling off or running out of fuel? You now have three teams in the Playoffs. Does that give you a chance to tinker and fiddle with things to see if you can become stronger and more dominant?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: I mean, see if I can hit all these for you.

Tires, not really, ’cause I think most of the guys we were around were on really pretty even tires, besides the 6. The 6 had made a pretty big press to us, but he seemed to kind of stall out. I felt cool-down tires, restart, we were going to be in reasonable position to him. Even though they had a great race, a really good car, I felt like we weathered the storm there. Before that, he was coming good with tires. He probably didn’t want to see that caution, if I had to guess.

Then the fuel thing, yeah, we were getting down there. I think we had that green-white-checkered that we finished on, maybe one more if it would have happened quickly, but not much. Certainly pushing into longer and longer, getting shorter on fuel.

Yeah, I mean, we’re kind of tinkering, to use your word, every day, regardless. Wins are always a good thing. Wins give you some leverage and opportunity. I don’t really think it changes anything that we do. We’re going to be doing everything we can at HMS to be the best we can be, regardless if we have 10 wins or no wins.

You always love to win. It’s a great thing. I don’t really think it changes our perspective much.

Q. Did you have to do extra work to get Chase comfortable or to thrive in this car, in the Next Gen car? Is the work just the same whether things are going good or going bad?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: No, I mean, there’s times when things are flowing really well and come easier than others certainly. I think there’s times when you have a great feel for what it takes to perform, and it takes to, yeah, run up front and win. That makes things a little easier. I don’t know that you work any less hard. Yeah, things just seem to click a bit easier, yeah, when you’re not running as good as you want to.

Really for us, I think more than this year, it would be this track specifically. This hasn’t been historically a great track for us. Yeah, you emphasize things. It’s a bit more, yeah… I don’t know how to say it. Yeah, you’re just kind of grinding a bit more, trying to look for every potential solution or potential advantage.

Yeah, I mean, you’re talking about Chase like he can’t drive this car. I mean, he really can. He does really good. The winless streak, I can think of certainly one untimely caution, really a couple times, Charlotte, I feel like we had by far the best car at the Roval, the caution comes out, different things happen.

No, yeah, when you’re struggling, yeah, you just have to kind of grind it out a bit more.

Q. (No microphone.)

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I guess my point is, like, if you look at his body of work in this car, regular-season champion the first year of the car, five wins, to the Playoffs, runs two races, Daytona 500, which we all know is a crapshoot, finishing second at Fontana, which was pretty good, has an accident, breaks his leg, has maybe not as good a year as we would have liked.

But still I think the time he was in that car, his average finish was, like, third or fourth best of anybody on the track, right? Now we start this season with this car. Anybody know where we’re at in points now? Have we moved up? Fourth in points, one win, three top fives, average run position before we started was fourth. What am I missing? What is he not doing that he should be doing? I think he’s pretty good (smiling).

Q. (No microphone.)

ALAN GUSTAFSON: I got you, okay. I understand. I understand.

We’ve won the same as Kyle this year, right? Thank you (smiling).

Guys, thank you. Be a little nicer to Chase when he comes in here, Bob (laughter).