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February 19, 2017

Alan Gustafson

Daytona Beach, Florida

THE MODERATOR: We're going to continue with our media availabilities for today's Coors Light pole award qualifying. We are now joined by crew chief Alan Gustafson of the No.24 NAPA Chevrolet. Alan is the first crew chief since Ernie Elliott in 1985 to 1987 to win three consecutive poles for the Daytona 500. Alan, why don't you just talk us through that qualifying run today.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I'm pretty shocked to be honest with you. I think yesterday we had great speed‑‑ pretty shocked, honestly. I thought yesterday we didn't have great speed in comparison to the competition, and we were a little bit off and couldn't seem to improve our NAPA Chevy any. We worked hard on it, and it was a bit difficult, a bit of a trying day, so we just collectively pulled our heads together and worked hard last night to come up with some solutions.
Really threw a lot at the car today. We changed a lot of things, more than you'd typically like to change prior to a qualifying event like this. Great outcome, and just a great testament to the team effort and everybody at HMS and all the hard work, and obviously Hendrick engines is a huge part of our success, and having both cars on the front row.
Really proud for the organization, proud for the boss. Really happy for Chevrolet. Just a good day all in all.

Q. What can this do for your team's kind of psyche going into next week?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: It can be really good. I think you know‑‑ it gives you a lot of confidence with the speed of the car, and you know the car has the ability to run fast. But ultimately, based on what we saw today, really I think it was pretty fortunate for all of us to race today in the day and know what the track conditions would be like. You saw today the cars are going to have to handle and drive well.
The good news is we have the speed in our car, and I think we are going to have to work hard on it to get it to handle.
The flipside of it we've been in this position a few times, fortunately, and you can't sit back and say, oh, we're good, or we've got the fastest car there. You can't just kind of go poke around. You've got to go work hard and race hard and work on your car.
Our experience with being on the pole, I think, will help us there.

Q. Do you have to try to tell Chase to put last year's Daytona 500 out of his mind?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: No, I don't think so. You know, it was‑‑ the whole week was‑‑ of all the‑‑ I don't know that it was our worst performance all year, but it was probably one of the toughest weeks because there's just a lot of tension and unknowns, and that was maybe the only time all year I saw some of the pressure affect him.
I don't think he necessarily needs to put it out of his mind. I think he needs to learn from it, which I think he has, and it'll have him better prepared to go on Sunday.
There's no‑‑ when you're on‑‑ you start this race, the Daytona 500, you're on the front row, man, it's crazy. It's just chaos. There's thousands of people everywhere. You can't barely get next to the car, and having gone through that last year, I think that'll help him a little bit. But I think he needs to learn from it, and I think he will.
He's done a really good job on plate tracks, so I think he'll be suited to run well on Sunday.

Q. Alan, in the Clash today we saw Jimmie spin off of 4 on his own. We saw it happen with the Hendrick cars last year, and I know it's different cars and different rules, but it's easy to start connecting dots. How much of a concern is it? Did you guys have issues? I think Jimmie mentioned he thought you guys were loose or saw Chase loose once or twice off of 4. What kind of an issue is it and concern is it?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: It's a concern. You know, I think the crash last year was indicative of some car performance things. I don't think‑‑ last year we had to race the 150s at night, and that was the only opportunity that we raced was at night. We'll do that again, assuming the weather is good, but that was our only opportunity on track to really get the car balanced, and the cars just drive so much better at night.
And then the subsequent days, Friday and Saturday, nobody practices, and it's really frustrating for me because I think it's really important to practice in the sun and the heat.
So last year, I don't think we had the car very good for Chase to start the Daytona 500 due to lack of practice and just kind of lack of experience with him and what he was going to need in the car.
So racing today was a big deal. We went to July, even though that's at night, it's a much slicker race. July race in '16 we brought kind of a different philosophy and a different car setup, and the car handled and drove really well. We ultimately got in a crash, but we're going to lean on that. That's a long‑winded way of saying we have things in place to try to improve that, and we're very aware of it, and this car was‑‑ we brought this car specifically for that reason and expected to take some hit today. I'm really surprised we were able to run as well as we did today.

Q. I know you talked about people aren't practicing as much, so is there anything you can do to get a feel for these types of conditions?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Your question is probably the best thing I can do is lobby for it here. Yeah, it's just‑‑ I don't know how to describe it. It's a frustrating thing.
I think you need 20 cars, you know, at least, and if you don't have 20 cars, you're probably not going to get a great read on what your car is going to do, and really, you need to have 20 cars for more than five, six, seven laps at a time. Obviously there's inherent risk with that. We know that. If you're going out there and you're in a pack and your car is not driving well there's an opportunity to crash, but I'd much rather find that out early than I would during the race. Obviously even if you have to go to a backup car and we'd have to go to the back or whatever would happen, it's still a better alternative than that happening during the Daytona 500.

Q. With the Duels paying out points now, have you begun strategizing how you're going to maximize those points while keeping the pole position?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, that's a great question. It's a pretty unique situation. I've always had the philosophy to race hard during the Duels. I think it's the best way to go about it. I think you have to continue, like I said, to develop your car and research your setup and work on improving your car. The night race kind of takes some value away from that over years past, but now that it pays points, you're going to have to look at it a little bit differently and focus on trying to win it. That would be great, but if not, you want to come out of there with some points.
In the past, I can think of a situation with both Jeff and Mark when we were on the front row. I don't know if it was one of the poles or not, but at the end of the race when you're fourth, fifth in line and it's pretty dodgy, we just would bail out. On the last lap I remember Mark bailing out off of 4 and just coming to the bottom and ultimately finishing, wherever it was, 20th place, but saving the car because he thought there was a potential for a crash, and obviously you can't do that anymore.

Q. You're from Daytona; this is your home track. Do you get an extra little bit of satisfaction when you have an accomplishment here?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, for sure. This is a special place. This is a place‑‑ this is where really my racing career started. I came, too, when I was a kid and fell in love with motorsports and watched all kinds of racing here from the 24 hours to the Daytona 500 to the Supercross to go‑karts to everything. It is a special place.
It's bittersweet for me because we've had really great success on qualifying day and not great success on the Daytona 500. I really want to try to find a way to get a win in the Daytona 500 and have some success on Sunday of the race.
We're going to work hard on that. That's the ultimate goal. But it's nice‑‑ any time you can accomplish anything here, it's one of those things that you're obviously very proud of. You can see today everybody brings their best effort, everybody brings their best stuff, everybody does everything they can do. It's amazing to me how close the times are. I mean, it's just unreal to run around here and have times and speeds that close.
Proud of that, but our focus is still for the 500. A, getting a good finish, and B, trying to win it.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us today, and good luck next week.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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