THE MODERATOR: We’re now going to roll into our post-race press conference here at Nashville Superspeedway, and we’ve been joined by today’s winning crew chief Alan Gustafson for today’s Ally 400. Alan, before we roll straight into questions, it has been a long day. From a crew chief standpoint you guys had a lot of things to navigate, from lightning holds to actual rain and red flags and then just the racing part of it. Just from your seat today, tell us a little bit about what that looked like before having the opportunity to celebrate with your team in Victory Lane.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I think for us we were super optimistic coming in. We had a pretty good car on Friday practice and qualified decent and had some track position. I felt good about it and didn’t start the race very good, and the car wasn’t driving great.
I had a lot of work to do and started to work on the car, then had a pit stop issue which kind of got us behind but ultimately helped because we had an opportunity to work on the car a little bit more and from then on I think the car was in a good position and driving really well so we were able to make up ground.
The rain delays and lightning delays, certainly there’s nothing we can do about that. We just had to work through it and stay focused and use that to our advantage to have a plan to move forward and execute.
Yeah, once we got back through that rain, our car was really good and competitive, and we executed well.
I think from then on, it was kind of the tale of two races for us. We were the Bad News Bears at the start and then at the end we got it right and were really good.
Q. My question is with the tire wear, how did it wear comparing the day part of the race to the night part of the race, and how much did that influence your call to stay out for Elliott?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, the tire wear wasn’t really an issue for us. Our tire wear was good. The falloff was less certainly at night. You could see the lap time falloff was less, and that played into the end.
I think regardless in that circumstance, we were probably going to stay out, but certainly the fact that the falloff was less as the track cooled down contributed some.
Q. What was the penalty for?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Did we get a penalty?
Q. That’s what Chase keeps saying.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: No, I think we just went to the back on our own accord.
Q. You had a long — made some changes on pit road?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, we had the potential loose wheel so we backed him up in the stall, tightened the wheel to make sure it was okay and obviously we were going to be at the back at that point in time so we came in and worked on the car a little bit more handling-wise, chassis-wise.
Q. He said you guys were able to make a lot of changes during the rain —
ALAN GUSTAFSON: We had changed — I can’t remember if — I thought that pit stop issue was before the rain. It was before the rain. No, we had made all of our changes to that point, and then ultimately never got too much chance to show it. We went to the back and we were like 16th at the rain delay.
Q. So he’s completely confused —
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, a little bit but we won’t call him out too bad.
Q. So you guys stay out, all the guys racing for the win come in. Did the nine other guys staying out put the separation —
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Absolutely, yeah, that was the difference. I think the 18 for sure — the 19 was really good. The 18 was really good. The 18 was really fast on the short runs, so if he lines up anywhere near us on new tires it’s game over.
Yeah, he just — my expectation was he wasn’t going to get that close and I felt like there was going to be tough — there typically is, there’s enough chaos in front of you that you just can’t go anyway, so that’s what we were hoping for.
Ultimately there was — I guess you said nine or whatever, ten, there were — when I saw, there was four or five legit good cars, guys that weren’t going to be easy to pass. When I saw that, I felt better.
You never know.
But then you can’t just say, oh, Kyle. You’ve got to switch your focus to Kurt. He’s no slouch; the guy is a great race car driver. He just won at Kansas, and that team has been doing really well. So you’ve got Kurt and you’ve got Kyle Larson and Ryan, all those guys super good drivers and good teams. Had to execute regardless.
Q. You get points in both stages, you get some more playoff points with the win. You’re still in position of course to get the 15 for the regular season championship. What does this win do in moving towards that goal, other than not getting the stage wins you kind of got everything tonight.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, that’s the position we’re in right now. I think most of the guys, whatever, the 12 certainly that have won are focusing on that. That’s kind of the key now is to get as many playoff points as you can so you position yourself as best as possible when it reracks because anything can happen. There’s still a lot of time between now and then.
We’re obviously working to win every race, but when you’re there, yeah, the points are — points and playoff points are the focus.
Q. Is that a goal to the point where that’s part of your strategy planning every week, or do you just stay on offense and just hope for the best?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I wish it was a bit more glamorous, but that’s kind of what I try to do every week. If you’re leading the points or wherever you’re at, you’re trying to win, and you’re trying to win stages and you’re trying to lead laps and have the best car possible.
Yeah, are we in a position to maybe take a few more gambles now than we would have if we were somebody else? Certainly, but I don’t think it’s significantly different.
Q. Alan, I don’t mean to drudge up bad memories when you’re kind of riding the high of a victory —
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Of course you don’t. So let’s not do it. Next. Are you going to ask me about Charlotte?
Q. Yes. So you know what the scenario was. Was that in the back of your mind when that caution came out and you had to make the decision whether to stay out and hope everyone else behind you — hope enough other drivers stayed out and be able to stay out front or come in and risk everyone else staying out?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, it’s how you — anything you do in life is based on your experiences, right, everything you do. So certainly that factors into the decisions I make. Unfortunately the bad ones are the ones that always get brought up, but all the good ones factor into my decision making process, too.
I don’t know, did I think about Charlotte? Do I think about Charlotte? Do I get reminded about Charlotte? Yes, I do, unfortunately. Was it a huge influence on what we had to do here? Not really.
Q. Were there any other times in the past where you elected to stay out and it worked out? Just so we don’t keep drudging up bad memories.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, a lot of them. I can’t think off the top of my head. Probably the coolest one was with Mark Martin at Loudon, whenever that was.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I don’t know, there’s certainly ones that I’ve stayed out and won. I won a race with Kyle at Phoenix staying out, so yeah. I could go through the Rolodex here, but there’s quite a few that’s happened. I won Dover with Chase staying out. How about that one? We’ve got a few.
Q. There was a restart where Chase passed like five cars in half a lap. Can you give us your perspective on that?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I felt like that was kind of the moment in the race I was like, all right, we should win this race. Ultimately I didn’t feel like we were going to pass the 19 — sorry, 18 and 19 at the time on equal ground, so I wanted to get off sequence with them there, and when I did, not as many people pitted as I had hoped so we were a little bit further back, and he got back to what you’re referencing, fourth or fifth, in no time. I was like, this gives us a huge advantage.
I think it’s a testament to how good the 19 was. It really took us a long time to pass him, but then certainly we got past him, were able to track Kyle down in pretty quick order there. Yeah, that was a big deal. Restarts typically aren’t our forte and our strength, and Chase did an amazing job of that, and that was really kind of the first indication — I knew we were getting better, you just don’t know how good you are because we weren’t really in the best track position, and that was the first indication, I was like, all right, this thing is pretty good.
Q. Chase isn’t really known for that kind of aggression. Did that take your breath away a little bit?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: As far as, yeah, you’re like, here we go. Like you said, he’s not conservative at all, but he’s just a guy, he’s a very calculated driver and doesn’t put himself in bad positions. When I knew he had that much confidence in the car, then I knew it was that good.
Q. I know you’ve talked about points, but this gives you 13 playoff points and you’re tied with Byron and Chastain now for first, which I know is — you’ve still got nine races to go in the regular season, but where does that position you? Does it give you some confidence for the championship hunt?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I just think it’s too early. Look, it’s good. You want to be the best at everything. You want to be the first in all the metrics that matter, and certainly that’s what we strive to do. But it’s just early. It’s just a long way to go. I don’t know that the landscape is right now how it’s going to be. We’ve just got to keep winning, accumulating points and put ourselves in the position to score as many points as possible and try to win the regular season and just stack them up. You don’t know. Certainly the Gibbs cars have been running a lot better, and who knows where it’s going to go in the future. We’ve just got to do everything we can to stay on top.
Q. I know it was in comparison to the fairgrounds when you had fears of a snoozefest here. What kind of racing do you feel like this track has given you guys, and was tonight exciting in that way?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I like boring races that we lead every lap, so I’m probably the wrong guy to ask. That’s up to you guys to decide. I want to make it as boring as I possibly can.
Q. There’s been so much talk about this car can go to widely variant types of tracks compared to what you guys used to do. Obviously you won at Dover, you win here at concrete. Was this the same car? Were things able to carry over or was this a car that was run on the Bristol dirt or something?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I have no idea to be honest with you. I don’t know. They’re all — we don’t look at them the way we used to and categorize them for certain types of tracks. It very well could have raced anywhere. I have no idea.
Q. Do you feel you are — where do you feel you are in understanding this car and able to calculate what to do in terms of adjustments or look ahead as opposed to just trying to react?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, it’s still early. We’re still learning things. I feel like we came here with a little bit different philosophy from what we’ve been running. We had the off weekend to kind of work through it, so this isn’t our typical package. It’s slightly different. It’s fairly different from Dover. I don’t know if it was better or worse, but it ran well.
Yeah, I think everybody — my fear is everybody, there’s not a ton of adjustment in the car, so everybody is going to kind of drive down into the bottom right corner. It’s just eventually everybody is going to get to a very, very similar place through experience and guys that are good at what they do.
I don’t know that we’ve tapped everything, all the opportunity to get the car to drive good or get an advantage, so we’ll keep working on it, but I hope that we can keep opening up new ways to get performance out of the car, because if not I think everybody is going to get pretty close pretty quickly.
Q. Is it too early to see trends, or is everything just bouncing from week to week and nothing makes sense yet?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, I think everybody can draw their own trend line they want to. To me it’s not — just like there was tonight, there’s probably a legit pick your number, eight or so cars that can win the race, and the team that executes that the best and puts themselves in position at the end wins. I don’t feel like there’s really been a dominant car in a race all season really that I can think of.
Q. With the two long delays, how do you keep the team motivated and focused and the driver, as well?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: So the team, we just kind of came off a rough start, so everybody was pretty honed in. You just feel like you had just taken a beating so you were pretty much ready to avenge that.
For Chase, I felt like I needed to instill a little confidence in him that the car was improving and we were getting where we wanted to be. It didn’t take much, but I talked to him a little bit and just said, hey, with the way the car is driving, the way the lap times are and as ground as we made, even the restart when we went to the back before the rain delay, we had made some pretty good ground. I was like, look, we’ve got a really good shot here. We’ve got to stay focused. He’s pretty easy. It’s not hard.
But yeah, I didn’t want him to — I know he’s in the car and driving hard and things happen and it’s super easy to get frustrated and super easy to think things are going to go bad, and where he’s at obviously based on what he’s talking about he doesn’t know the whole story all the time.
I just wanted to make sure that he knew that hey, I was pretty confident we were going the right direction, we were going to be in position to do what we needed to do.
Q. He said on Friday he was saying how (indiscernible) uses his positive thinking —
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I love that. We talked about that a little bit today.
Q. He does not think he’s a positive thinker, so how is it not hard for you to rebuild his confidence?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I don’t feel like I was rebuilding his confidence. I was just basically trying to say, hey, we’re not going to screw it up anymore, go do your job. That was kind of it. So my philosophy as a crew chief has always been the same. My goal is to always make the driver the weak link. If he’s the weak link, then I’ve done my job, the team has done their job.
With him it’s not an easy thing to do because he’s a pretty strong link and obviously other guys that I’ve worked with. So that’s what I try to do. That was a little bit more of what I was describing is I was trying to say to him, hey — the word I was going to use I’m not going to use. We’re done messing up and we’re going to get after it, so stick with us, bring your A game, all will be good.
THE MODERATOR: Alan, thank you for spending some time with us. We appreciate it. You are free to go.
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