CHEVROLET AT PHOENIX: NASCAR Cup Series Post-Practice Notes and Quotes

·       The NASCAR Cup Series kicked-off the season finale race weekend at Phoenix Raceway with a 50-minute practice session.


·       Ross Chastain topped the overall leaderboard at the conclusion of the practice session. Chastain powered his No. 1 Worldwide Express / AdventHealth Camaro ZL1 to a fastest lap of 27.019 seconds at 133.240 mph.


·       Chase Elliott concluded the NASCAR Cup Series practice session 10th overall on the speed charts, driving his No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Camaro ZL1 to a fastest lap of 27.202 seconds at 132.343 mph.


·       NASCAR Cup Series qualifying will get underway tomorrow, November 5, at 12:35 p.m. MST to set the starting lineup for the series’ championship race at Phoenix Raceway.






1st      Ross Chastain, No. 1 Worldwide Express / AdventHealth Camaro ZL1

10th    Chase Elliott, No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Camaro ZL1






“It was a good practice for us. We did a couple of runs and a mock qualifying run. We’ll debrief and get ready for qualifying tomorrow.”



Q. All four crew chiefs, you’re the only one who has never been here before. What does it feel like going through the experience for the first time? Normal race weekend for you?

PHIL SURGEN: A little bit of both. It’s exciting. Obviously we work our whole lives, careers to be here. That feels good.


Try to treat it as any other race weekend. For us, all the goals are the same: we want to show up, be the fastest, win the race. In that regard it’s very similar to every other week.


I have been in the Final 4 as a race engineer before, so have a little bit of experience.


Q. (No microphone.)

PHIL SURGEN: Generally, no. I feel like I’m pretty good at managing stress and managing what people from the outside are saying. Largely the stress that people talk about is something they create, something they allow to affect themselves.


For me, I take it one step at a time and look at the situation, the information in front of me, do the best we can with what we’ve got.


Q. Talk about qualifying. You guys were really fast in practice, but talk about what qualifying will be like, how important it is.

PHIL SURGEN: Yeah, obviously qualifying is important every week. Fortunately this week the Championship 5 are picking pits first five. That ensures us a good stall selection. I don’t want to downplay the value of qualifying, but that’s part of it.


Largely this Phoenix race for the Championship 4 is a little bit different strategically in that it’s winner take all. We’re going to use the first half, the first two-thirds of the race to put ourselves in position to win. On a normal week we have to worry about stage points, how we are running earlier in the race.


If a championship driver qualifies in the teens, I don’t think it’s a deal breaker by any means.


Q. When you look at practice, can you sense your Final 4 competitors, or it’s hard to tell until you get past qualifying and into the race?

PHIL SURGEN: I think I’ll reserve judgment till Sunday. Obviously the Final 4 are here for a reason. I was just in here a minute ago when Adam was speaking. I have no doubt they’re going to make good headway over the course of the next couple days. I would expect all four, all five championship drivers to be fast on Sunday.


Q. You had your practice session, so what’s the rest of the night like?

PHIL SURGEN: Process directly after practice, we’ll do a debrief with the driver. That’s what I just left. After I get back, I’ll do a debrief with the engineers, and we’ll take a look at how the practice went, the balance, the speed, identify where the shortcomings are, figure out from a setup perspective what we want to change going into tomorrow, going into Sunday for race trim, that’s our first objective.


We did a mock run at the end of practice, so we have a little bit of information about how qualifying trim needs to be for setup-wise.


After we get our race trim setup set up, we’ll apply the qualifying adjustments to that.


Q. How do you feel after practice tonight?

PHIL SURGEN: Obviously being fastest is encouraging. Certainly some opportunity to improve. Our short run speed is good, our mid run speed probably could use a little bit. That’s where we’ll focus our efforts tonight, on just keeping the far better longer.


Q. In your meetings with Ross this week, did you ask him if he needed a spot in the last lap, if he could let you know what his move is so that you’re not as surprised as you were last week?

PHIL SURGEN: The answer is no, we haven’t discussed any type of moves like that again (smiling). Frankly, we hadn’t discussed one before Martinsville either.


I don’t know where he stands on that.


I speculate that Phoenix is probably a place where it’s not going to work near as well as it did at Martinsville.


Q. Why?

PHIL SURGEN: If you look at the shape of the track, the distance the cars are from the wall and how fast the cars are going, I don’t think that you would see that huge change in lap time like you did at Martinsville.


Q. Following up on Martinsville, the way in which Ross did what he did to get you all here, what has it been like for you, the team, the organization this week, that excitement and just having this opportunity?

PHIL SURGEN: Yeah, it’s probably a good example of the whole team. We never give up. There’s always fight in us. Ross, like the rest of us, are always willing to explore things that are a little unorthodox.


In that moment, I mean, that was incredible. It never crossed my mind. We hadn’t spoken about it before. He’s always thinking outside the box. In that moment, he knows that he needs a Hail Mary, he threw one, and it was something special.


Q. Justin said earlier this week it was almost like a needed adrenaline boost. There’s not a person on this team that won’t do anything that Ross Chastain asks of them after that. Do you agree?

PHIL SURGEN: Yeah, I would agree in the sense that making the Final 4, everybody gets excited about making the Final 4. The move was incredible. I think we all spent a good couple of days just watching and rewatching it.


Like I said, it’s a testament to him and his willingness to do what it takes. Certainly team looks at that and says, Man, this guy is willing to do what it takes.


I don’t think that’s unlike the rest of our guys. He just thought outside of the box and did something we hadn’t seen before.


Q. How do you balance the emotions of this weekend?

PHIL SURGEN: I think there’s a difference between excitement and not executing like we do every other week. I’ve got a good group of veteran guys. I think they can manage that pretty well.


Q. When Ross got to the garage stall, fans were cheering for him. You hit the racetrack and go P1. What was the vibe in the garage tonight?

PHIL SURGEN: The vibe was great. A lot of excitement. A lot of people around. It felt really good to have a 50-minute practice. We had been a couple years now with pretty limited practice. Most of us remember three, four, five years ago, or longer than that ago, when it was four and a half hours of practice, seven sets of tires, a lot of us get excited for the extra practice now.

There was a good vibe in the garage today.


Q. You were second here in the spring. Same tire. Does that matter?

PHIL SURGEN: It certainly helps being on the same tire. We’ve run this tire at a couple of the other short tracks as well. It helps us establish some trends, on performance and durability side.

Phoenix one was pretty early on in the Next Gen life, and we’ve learned a lot since then. So what we have today is not very similar to what we brought in the spring. We feel like we’ve learned a lot over the course of the summer and we’ve applied all that.


Q. Ross said yesterday that he was disappointed he didn’t make the Playoffs last year. You finished 20th. How do you go from finishing 20th to finish in the top four in a year?

PHIL SURGEN: A lot of it’s attributed to the Next Gen platform. Now, different than in the past, enormous engineering budgets can’t overcome groups of people that work together well, that execute every week, that understand the fundamentals, just establish consistency.

That’s the biggest difference.


Q. I was told of all the Ganassi employees, 80%, 90%, bought into the new ownership, decided to stay. You weeded out the people that didn’t believe. Does having that positive mentality going forward also help?

PHIL SURGEN: Oh, absolutely. We don’t have to get bogged down during the week with naysayers and people within the company that don’t believe.


We get to focus solely on our goals of bringing the best race cars to the track every weekend, winning races. That’s across the board, whether it’s pit crew, shop mechanics, management, road crews. That’s refreshing.


THE MODERATOR: Phil, thanks for coming in. We wish you the best of luck this weekend.


PHIL SURGEN: Thank you.




“I felt like we made some good gains in practice and we have some good long-run speed in our NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevy. We’ll keep working on things tonight and try to go lay down a good lap tomorrow in qualifying.”



Q. Is there anything you do differently this weekend that you wouldn’t do on a normal race weekend?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Hmm… I mean, there’s a little more detail to everything, a bit more communication. Obviously, everyone on the 9 team, everybody at HMS have a bit heightened, I don’t know, intensity, sensitivity. Yeah, you’re just trying to overcommunicate, trying to dot all Is, cross all the Ts.


I don’t know that there’s like, Hey, we do this this week and not the rest. You try to do everything you do normally a little bit better.


Q. Your driver said yesterday that he didn’t think he would have made it to the Final 4 had it not been for winning the regular season. Is that just a testament to how important it is to gain those points, to kind of be consistently good throughout the whole season, not just the final 10 races?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, certainly you don’t have to have them. But, yeah, I agree. Just haven’t performed as well as we wanted to. Had to fall back on ’em.


Ideally you want to run good enough to not need any bonus points, make it through. That’s not always how it goes.


For us, we needed ’em. I think, yeah, it is representative of your entire season and the work you’ve done. You get some payoff for that. Certainly, had to use it. We earned it.

It’s good for us that we had it.


Q. This weekend there’s a different kind of resin patch on each side of the track. How did that impact the changes you made? What feedback did Chase give you?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, I’m not super surprised. Nobody was really up the track in one and two just because it’s cool and everybody is on good tires, decent track position. That may change on Sunday.


I think as you get into a run, you have lapped cars, guys get up the track, guys’ cars start to drive worse…


For practice as cool as it was, you’re nailed to the bottom. The resin doesn’t really come into play.

I do think it will be a more significant impact on Sunday. For right now I can’t really give you much feedback on it. Our car is decent. It’s not perfect. I do feel like it’s competitive, and we need to make it a little bit better. Some good attributes, some things we want to make better.


Q. I spoke with Chase earlier. I asked him about the fact that he was actually the first-time winner here at Phoenix for the championship. You have been in this situation before at this track. He seemed to think there’s not a lot he can carry from that. Could you speak to the crew chief perspective there.

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, any experience is valuable, in my opinion. I think maybe all of it doesn’t correlate. When you get to come race for a championship, yeah, it’s been the same track obviously, but even before, when it was Homestead, I think you can draw some of your experiences.


Certainly, we’ve done it the last couple years. We did some things well and did some things not so well that we need to improve on.


I think all that certainly is good. It’s good to have that experience. Now, is that the differentiator or is that what is going to set you apart? No, but it doesn’t hurt.


Q. It’s the same tire setup as was run at Richmond, New Hampshire and Gateway. Do the past notes on those tires help you at all coming back to Phoenix?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, not necessarily about those tracks, it’s just about this track really. We raced in the spring. You know a bit what to expect.


Yeah, I think it’s as similar as you’re going to be able to get it, so that helps for sure.


Q. You alluded earlier to how cool it was tonight in practice. What can translate from tonight that you can apply to Sunday?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: I mean, I don’t think it’s going to be night-and-day different. I do feel like the track is going to have some tendencies as it rubbers in, you get cars on the track. The grip’s going to degrade. I think everybody is in the same boat.


Practice is valuable. It’s a good thing. It’s just not an exact representation. I think we know enough that we should be able to get it pretty close, close enough just to try to adapt.


Q. With the rare opportunity to practice, tonight to think about things, are you more focused about qualifying, or are you more attune to thinking about race?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, race, for sure. Qualifying is great, but it doesn’t pay the points, or you don’t win the championship for qualifying first.


To me, yeah, I’d love to qualify first, great. But the top four are going to get the first four pit stalls, so pit pick… You could be 20th and still get a really good stall.


I think qualifying’s value is diminished in this format with the way the top four, and fifth guy, get to pick. Stage points are kind of irrelevant to all of us. It’s about the race for us, long story short.


Q. How much can you adjust with the car, make an impact on this car? Is it pretty much what you have is what you’ve got?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: I mean, are you referring to what we practiced or what we practiced to what we qualify?


Q. (No microphone.)

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, you could rebuild it. Right now in this format, if you weren’t very good, you wanted to change everything or you had teammates you wanted to get like them, whatever it is. Yeah, I mean, there’s enough to completely change the car.


Typically, on a normal weekend when we have limited adjustment, no. But with the practice schedule, ability to change the whole car, you can get from A to Z.


THE MODERATOR: Alan, thanks for your time.