THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the winning crew chief of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, and that is Alan Gustafson.
Q. Alan, you left Charlotte with a chance you might not get any practice at all, and you didn't get any laps at all up to the race. When you built that No. 9 car to bring it to Atlanta, did you build more speed into it, or was it more handling for the No. 9?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, obviously we knew we weren't going to get any practice with the way the schedule is, and I think not qualifying was probably a little bit of an advantage for us. We weren't focused on that really at all. We were more focused on the car driving well and racing well. I think if we would have had to qualify, we certainly wouldn't have been first and wouldn't have been able to have that first pit pick. That was fortuitous. It worked out for us.
Certainly it's earned by our performance in the past, but yeah, I was pretty happy when it rained out, to be honest with you. I was pretty happy. That was a good step in the right direction for us.
Q. Do you set this car up like a Daytona or Talladega or is it kind of a mixture in between?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: No, I think they're all pretty different. I feel like this is really specific for this track, as much as any other circuit is. You can't really -- you don't set it up like any other place. It's pretty specific. It's got pretty specific needs. Obviously your car has got to be fast and be able to draft well but has to be able to handle well, too.
Fortunately for us, we hit it. All the guys worked really hard on it, and we were really good in the spring, too. I didn't do a great job on the strategy in the spring and didn't probably put us in the best position, so I think I learned from that, and we were ready to go this time.
Q. Chase kind of let one slip away or get away from him last week, he loses the lead here late. How big is this win considering those two factors when you look at Chase and his progression as a driver?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, I'd have loved to have gone three for three. Last week, shoulda-woulda-couldas, but I don't necessarily feel like last week was all on him. I think that we needed a little bit better of a car. I think Randall and those guys on the 18 did a good job and had a faster car than us, so we needed a little bit better of a car and needed to execute the pit stop a little bit better. Certainly would have loved him to win the race, but there's things we could have done on our side.
Yeah, this week was -- yeah, it's just tough. You don't know coming in with no practice, and certainly we were talking earlier in the weeks, like it's really hard to know what to expect, but I do feel like it played out pretty similar to the spring.
To finish it off was a big deal because I feel like we had the best car today, and with today's generation of car and the scrutiny behind them, everybody is really close. To get a car that is above is a big deal, and you want to pay that off and cash it out, and we were able to do it.
Q. There's been a lot of discussion this year about who's the championship favorite and different drivers at different times have looked like they've kind of deserved that label. You guys have three wins now, leading the points by a pretty comfortable margin. Do you guys feel like you guys are the team to beat for the championship and does it even matter?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: It doesn't matter. I think it's way early. I think a lot of things can happen. We could go next week, and I don't know who all has two wins, but certainly William I know has two wins, and he could go win or Ross could win or Denny could win or whoever. That's going to be the exact same question you'll ask them.
I've always said I feel like if we do our job and operate to our highest potential, I feel like we'll be able to give anybody a run for their money and compete on any given day. We just focus on that and focus on trying to improve. There's still things we can do better. The day was really well. It went really, really good. You don't get them to go this way a lot. But yeah, we can learn from today and we can continue to get better.
Loudon is not one of our best tracks, so I think we've got to bring our best effort there and try to improve and keep trying to get better, and peaking at the right time is super critical. Yeah, still a long way to go.
Q. Teams have seemed to have had success at different kinds of tracks this year and there's not a lot of consistency across the board, but looking at you guys and where you've run well, superspeedways, intermediate tracks, Dover, it seems like you guys are probably right there where you guys are good almost every single week. Is that a fair assessment where you feel like you can go with this car and win any given week at any given track?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, certainly I'm proud of the fact that this team has handled this car as well as we have, and I feel like we've been really competitive week in and week out and put ourselves in a lot of good positions.
I think that's certainly one of our strengths, and consistency has really been one of our strengths.
We've just got to keep doing that, and like the question Bob had, what can kind of lack sometimes is just closing it out, and if we can close out our consistency, then that'll put us in a really good position.
Q. Alan, Rick and Jeff were just in here and talking about how good Chase was in those final three laps. I think Jeff said something that you said something like how about that, how about that guy. I know you had the best car, but could you evaluate Chase's performance? It seemed like it was pretty good today.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I don't know, there's not enough superlatives to say how good he is. He's just so good. He's so smart. He's such a great race car driver. He was doing a lot of things that he's just one step ahead. The kid is super, super smart, really talented, can handle a lot of situations.
Making it work there, we knew we needed to be the front of a lane. I don't feel like it mattered as fast as our car what lane it was, we just needed to get somewhere where somebody wasn't blocking our progress, and him to be able to make that move on Martin was amazing. I don't know, I'd have to go back and watch if Martin slipped or if he just kind of forced his way through there, but yeah, he did great. He's just -- he did an amazing job.
But he does every week. He makes very few mistakes, and if he does, he's very quick to learn from them and improve. Yeah, great talent and just a great person.
Q. I'm curious about your unload approach, knowing that the weather would be warmer than it was in March, a lot less grip, did you basically unbox in the same area or did you take advance approaches to compensate for the weather?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, kind of like I said, I felt like our car was really good in the spring, so I knew we had a good foundation to build off of. Certainly we had a few tweaks here or there. We weren't super fast in the spring but our car drove really well, which really aligns itself for this situation.
I knew that we were in a pretty good place, that we didn't need to go really off the reservation or really depart very far from where we were. I felt like if we could bring those same characteristics back and executive a little bit better of a race, we'd certainly have a shot, and we did that, and I was a little bit surprised with the pace in the car. It's hard to predict and try to do that every week, but to have that was certainly a benefit.
Q. With this being Chase's home track, it's not your home track, but does it kind of then become the home track for the entire team? Do you feed off that hometown energy for all of you guys?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, there's a lot of -- the 9 team has a lot at stake here in Atlanta. A lot of our partners are based here; NAPA has a huge presence in Atlanta, Hooters, Kelley Blue Book, Cox Automotive, all those people who support us and allow us to do what we do have a strong presence here in Atlanta, so that's a big deal.
And then yeah, for Chase, it's really rewarding to be able to help your friends and your teammates prosper and reach those milestones that they want to reach and accomplish things that they want to do, so it's special to do that. It's special for me. Anytime you win, it's amazing. It's just really hard to win in these races. It's really tough.
To win and then to win for Chase here in Atlanta and have all of our partners have such a huge strong representation here in this area, in this state, yeah, it's really special, not only for us but for them, too.
Q. What did you think of LaJoie going for it there? Is that what you thought would happen?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I didn't -- yeah, like this is all happening really quickly and I'm not completely a hundred percent focused on all that stuff, but I was expecting him to -- yeah, whatever run he had, he had to keep it to the floor and go. I don't think I would expect anything less. I'm sure that's what he did. Yeah, just you hate it didn't -- hate he crashed. But that's unfortunately the risk you have to take, and he took it, and I think anybody in his situation would do the same thing.
Q. Does it get any sort of respect points from the garage when he shows up in Victory Lane and stuff like that?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, it's -- I can't comment on the garage, but I've had a relationship with Corey for a while. I've certainly had a relationship with his dad. I've got a lot of respect for his dad. His dad is one of those guys that helped me out when I was a nobody and helps a lot of people out who don't have the resources and don't have the ability to get the seats and get the equipment and do everything they want to do. He's always been a guy that steps up and helps young racers out and supports them, and I'm a huge fan of Randy's, and certainly when I've been around Corey, the same thing.
For me, super happy that he had a great run, and I'm just really happy that there was no hard feelings over what happened.
Q. Rick kind of discussed that all four of the crew chiefs are communicating more than he's ever seen them. Kind of talking about how at this point William Byron and his team are a little off now and y'all are succeeding, how are you giving back the favor that they were giving to you all back in the early parts of the season?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, it's always the same. It isn't -- you guys see the box scores, and you see this guy ran good, this guy didn't run good. It's always the same; we're always continuously trying to help each other out. We do the best job we can and share that resource as best as possible, and we generally want each other to do well. The best thing you can do as a teammate is perform so there's a model for somebody else to go and follow or to learn from. Yeah, I feel like we all do that really well.
Just specifically the 24, I've got a great relationship with Rudy. I'm a huge fan of his. I think he does an amazing job and been a great addition to our team, and William has done amazing, and yeah.
Anything we can do and always supporting each other. They know they can do it -- I've been through what they're going through now. That's not -- you like to think you can control these circumstances, but you can't, and they're just in a situation where some things are happening that's out of their control, and you've just got to weather the storm, and doesn't really matter until it's the last 10, and they'll be ready to go. I'm very confident of that.