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February 15, 2018
Dayton Beach, Florida
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Alan Gustafson for the No.24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: No.9.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, the No.9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Alan, once again in Victory Lane in a Duel race here. Tell us what the key to victory was tonight.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I think for us, obviously having a fast car paid a lot of dividends. We put an emphasis on getting our car to drive good. I think that showed up because he was able to make some moves and work through traffic. Ultimately we got a pit road penalty from a violation, we were able to take a little bit of advantage of that and put four tires on, drive back to the front.
The car handling well is the key criteria. Obviously it's got some pretty good speed to be able to make the move on Denny, a good indication of the speed in the car. A pretty good executed race besides our pit stop penalty there.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open the floor for questions.
Q. Were you worried at all about tearing the car up tonight?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, but you just can't worry about it. I mean, you are worried about it, right? I mean, obviously you're like, The last thing I want to do is have to pull out a backup car after all the work that's gone into this car, as beautiful as that NAPA Chevy is. Everything is perfect on it. The last thing you want to do is pull out a backup car.
In my experience, you have to race, race hard, get as much information as you can to put yourself in a good position for the Daytona 500. If you don't do that, you'll be at a deficit.
There's probably not going to be much opportunity for us to practice in a situation like that. Usually, the last four or five years, there's only six, seven, eight cars that line up in practice, kind of ride around, because nobody wants to wreck.
You just don't have any way to simulate racing conditions. As much as you don't want to crash your car, it's a necessary evil to go race. Ultimately that's why we're all here. If it's a Duel race or the Daytona 500, you want to win. Being in Victory Lane here is very special. We knew we had to race and accept the risks.
Q. (No microphone.)
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I understand what Alex Bowman did. Greg's focus was to get the pole, and he did it. He did a good job with it, had a really fast car. There's very much a lot of positives that's going to come with that for Greg, pit stall selection, starting position, a lot of good things. Ultimately the penalty he's going to pay is not having a lot of drafting practice with his car.
To me, in his situation, we've been fortunate enough to win a fair amount of poles here, it's kind of like a bird in the hand. He has something in his hand. He's got something gained throughout the week. He can use that to his advantage.
Ultimately he didn't get much practice tonight. That's going to hurt him. Certainly we did, and he can lean on us a bunch for that. We took a little bit different strategy. We felt like racing was going to be the premium. The car is going to have to drive a little bit better. We focused on that. It paid off for us tonight.
Q. You nearly won the 500 last year. Chase has been in that position. For somebody as young, relatively inexperienced, how has he progressed even in the last year in this type of racing? Is it more on the track, off the track? What have you wanted him to work on?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I think, since we've worked together, our first Daytona 500 was kind of a disaster. We sat on the pole, ended up wrecking lap 30 or something. Ultimately in that position, I don't think I gave him the right car or the right setup, didn't put him in a position to succeed. We didn't have our communication down.
But since that point, I feel like really not even the next year, but really the next race at Talladega, he and I made leaps and bounds in understanding what he wants in the car to race. Ultimately when we gave him what he wants to race, he was pretty instantly very, very competitive. I think we got 90% of it right away, then he's just continued to work on it and work on it and work on it. We continuously try to evolve.
You want to get a car that is ultimately very fast, but drives well. We've continued to evolve that. He's continued to evolve his craft. I think we're getting better and better and better.
These races are really, really tough. I've never won a plate points race. It's really hard to do. I don't know how to do it obviously because I haven't done it. We continuously put ourselves in position. I think when we keep doing that, ultimately we'll get a trophy.
Q. We've seen the strength of the Ford cars this week. Anything can happen Sunday. Between now and Sunday, is there enough time to get your car better so you can fend off the Fords?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I thought we just did, didn't we? There was two of them. I think they had three.
Obviously Joey is good and Brad is good. I feel like we're as good as any of those guys. I know ultimately there's a lot of talk around the Fords, how they're working together.
Ryan didn't think twice about shucking Brad. I don't know how well they are working together.
Q. Have you been waiting for this weekend since a year ago?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I have since Homestead probably. Not necessarily a year ago.
Q. (No microphone.)
ALAN GUSTAFSON: No, no, no. Last year was obviously a disappointment running out of fuel with whatever it was to go, a couple laps. It was just the circumstances and the cards we were dealt. When I left here, I didn't have any regrets. We did the best we could to win it. The way it worked out, fell a little bit short.
This is a big one. We've been really, really close. With Chase I've been close, with Jeff, with Kyle, a lot of people. Ultimately we want to try to get it done.
Q. Where do you fall on the scale of you can have speed on this end or handling over here? Are you looking for a happy medium or one more than the other?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I want our car to drive better. I think handling is the premium. I think it's going to be really exaggerated on Sunday. That's our opinion. Really we had that opinion tonight. If we were going to get hurt in a race from that, it would have been tonight with the cool conditions I think.
I still feel like our car driving well proved out to be an advantage over guys who ultimately had faster cars. We know that everybody impounded these cars, we know we don't have the fastest car if you're going to run a lap by yourself. Ultimately I feel like we've got one of the better driving cars and a really good driver.
I lean towards handling. I think at the end of the Daytona 500, when it gets a little bit cooler, could be a circumstance where you have tires, it's just an all‑out 10‑lap push fest. Who knows. Somebody could come from the fourth row, have a huge run, win the race.
I don't feel like that's a good way to say, Hey, I'm going to have a fast car and hope I get the right run the last lap. My philosophy is to have a car that drives good, can be up there all day in contention. That's ultimately what we're going to go with.
THE MODERATOR: Alan, congratulations on the win tonight. Good luck on Sunday.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the winner of tonight's race, Chase Elliott, driver of the No.9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.
Chase, another wild race here tonight. What was the secret that got to you Victory Lane lane tonight?
CHASE ELLIOTT: First off, a really fast car, first and foremost. Secondly, I think just a big push by Kevin at the right time. It was timely, just the way it kind of worked out, was able to get by Denny before the lane got completely single file. Then I was able to kind of halfway control the top and how it continued to run. I was hoping that those guys would give each other a hard time there towards the end, would hopefully take some pressure off me.
Fun night, for sure. Fast car. Did it last year, so the big trophy is the one we want.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open the floor for questions.
Q. How important is it for you to start the season off in the new No.9 car, get the win, carry on your dad's legacy?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, car looks good. I'm a little biased, but the 9 looks good on top of the scoring pylon. I would love to have it there more throughout the season.
Like I alluded to a minute ago, we were able to do this last year, win the Duel. The one on Sunday is the one we want, the one that counts, the one that everybody is after. Obviously a lot of racing after that, too.
This is an exciting event. Having the Duels I think is pretty cool. But, man, the kicker would be to have a good run Sunday. That's where our focus is at.
Q. Has the finish of last year's race stuck in your craw? Have you been waiting to get back to this event?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, definitely last year was a bummer. Unfortunately the beginning of many bummers throughout the season. I hope that's not the trend this year. I hope tonight is more the trend. But time will tell.
Definitely think about it some. On the same token, I feel like we played our cards the best we could last year. I don't really know what we would have done any differently. As I've told you guys before, the ones where I feel like we could have done something differently or I could have done something differently to change a result are the ones that frustrate me the most.
Knowing last season in this event I feel like we did the right things with the position we were put in doesn't make me as frustrated just because I felt like we played our cards well, and we couldn't help how the circumstances ended up.
Q. Looking back to your first Daytona 500 two years ago, can you tell me how you've changed as a driver in restrictor plate races, how you've improved?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I hope I've gotten better, for sure. If we make it past lap 20 on Sunday, then we've done better than my first event down here.
I think overall as a team we've done a better job of setting our cars up, making our cars faster, driving them the way they want them to drive. Our communication is better. My communication with Eddie is better, his communication to me. I think all that stuff over time develops. You hope it's improving as we go along, as well.
I hope we haven't peaked. I hope we continue to work at it, get better, find some better results in the big shows.
Q. Early evidence indicates cars are reacting differently from last year, maybe significantly differently. Is that going to impact what you might or might not be able to do when you have to do something late in the race?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I definitely think‑‑ first off, the sunshine being not out tonight was to me the biggest factor of all. I think the sun and the heat on Sunday is going to play a pretty big role in the race, how people's cars drive, how they react in certain situations.
I got in a bad spot there. I thought Erik was going to take the top. I tried to scoot the middle. Got both of us in kind of a bad aero spot. Unfortunately he got the bad end of the stick. Didn't mean to turn him around. Just the aero, the cars are already so unstable. You don't even have to touch them to make that happen.
I think all of us being aware of that more is going to weigh on our minds, just try to keep from wrecking people. When that happens, you're taking a big chance of wrecking yourself, too.
We'll just have to be smart. I'm sure everybody is paying attention to it. I think it's going to be key to have your car driving pretty good on Sunday, which is exciting. I think that's what everybody wants back down here.
Q. Blaney said he would probably want some changes for his car on Sunday to do something different. Are you happy with the setup you have? Have you found what you need for Sunday?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I want something different, for sure. I think the nighttime and the cooler conditions tonight covered up a lot of handling conditions that won't necessarily be the case, I don't think will be the case at all on Sunday. I think if you're not taking tonight's information and trying to learn from it, I think that's a mistake.
Q. Obviously the Fords have been very strong. Do you feel you still have enough for those guys?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, absolutely. I think I feel like we have as good a shot as anybody to compete for a victory on Sunday. I don't really have anything else to say beyond that. I think we can do it. I believe our team is very well capable of it.
Q. Did you like being able to watch the first race, watch the Penske cars, or would you have preferred to have been in that race to see those cars up close? Would it have made a difference?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I don't know if it would have changed a ton. In the past years, I was in the first race. I guess it was kind of nice to sit and watch, see how it unfolded.
To answer your question, yes, it was similar to what we saw in the Clash on Sunday. We kind of knew a little bit of what was coming, at least.
Yeah, I don't think it hurt.
Q. A lot of folks talking about making their cars handle better. Is it possible to do that mechanically down here? Are you solely dependent on making aero changes?
CHASE ELLIOTT: That's a good question. I think there are certain things you can do mechanically to make them drive better. But I definitely think whatever you do has to coincide from an aero standpoint, as well. I don't think you can do something that looks better on paper, that should drive better, if it's doing the opposite of what you would see in the wind tunnel. I think they have to coincide to make that happen.
Q. Did you see the replays of the two wrecks in the first race that Stenhouse was involved in? It appeared he got so close he took the air away. Any way the other guys could have prevented that at all? Is that going to be a sitting duck thing Sunday?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Man, I don't know what you could have done, like I said a second ago. Unfortunately I kind of put Erik in that same spot. You don't mean to do it. You're trying to advance your position. It's just a bad place to be in when you're the other guy, right? There's not really a whole lot you can do about it.
To answer your question, no. You're kind of at the mercy of the people behind you when it comes to that. They know definitely now where the vulnerable spots are.
THE MODERATOR: Chase, congratulations on your win tonight. Good luck Sunday in The Great American Race.
CHASE ELLIOTT: Thanks.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports