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October 21, 2018

Alan Gustafson

Kansas City, Kansas

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race winning crew chief, Alan Gustafson, crew chief of the No.9 Mountain Dew Chevrolet.
Alan, walk us through the strategy to hold off the 18, just kind of recap the whole race for us, if you want to.
So, I mean, we tested here I guess about a month ago. We had a really good test. We were able to get some speed out of our car over the long run, which was really our strength. We knew going in short runs probably weren't going to be our forté.
Certainly throughout the weekend, qualifying and practice, it showed up as our weakness. We felt like over the long haul we had a really good car. The longer laps we'd run, the better we would be.
Start of the race, we had a few short runs. We actually made a little ground there, then had an issue on a restart when the 1 and the 17 stayed out. We got backed up, lost some track position. Green‑flag runs, we had the speed to drive through there, executed really well on pit road, good pit stops. Certainly that hurt some guys today. Got the 10, 41 I guess.
We were able to get up to the front. Were able to pressure the 4. Certainly would have been hard to pass him with him having the lead in clean air. But we were certainly able to put a lot of pressure on him. Ultimately he sped, from there I felt like it was our race to win.
We weren't looking forward to a caution there at the end. We knew our car wasn't great on short runs. Fortunately it didn't come for us. There's risk/reward, you can run up against the fence, gain some time. If you miss it like the 12 did, couple guys today, you can damage your car.
At the end we were running a conservative enough line to stay the speed to keep in front of the 18, but not get into the wall. Great day. Everybody executed well, did a great job. Ended up getting the win.
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with questions.

Q. Were the wins just a matter of time or was there some sort of eureka moment this season that the team figured things out?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I think at the beginning of this year we certainly weren't in a position to win any races, maybe Phoenix, speedway races. Intermediates, we weren't any good. The way we performed in '16 and '17, I felt like we should have won some of those races, were capable of winning. This year we weren't very good to start the season.
A lot of hard work, a lot of effort. Sometimes been through this long enough that when you're down, not running well, if you can make enough gains to get back in contention, it can be an advantage. I don't know if it's the fact that you appreciate it more or the fact that you struggled and know what it's like to kind of be on the bad end of it.
Fortunately we were able to get the cars good enough, the pit crew has been awesome all year long, we've been able to put them together. So I think it's always a culmination. You have days like today that it just seems like it all works out. Then there's days you have really fast cars, doesn't seem like you can do anything right.
I guess it's just kind of the hard work and everything coming together.

Q. Can your experience in the Playoffs, in championship runs, hunts that you've had in the past help at all over the next four weeks?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, I'd like to think so. I'd hope so. Certainly from my perspective it does. There's no replacement for experience. When I was young, it was like, Experience? What does that do for you? You go through things and you realize it's a big deal.
I've lost my fair share, I've won my fair share. As you go through that, you kind of know what works and doesn't work. You can help apply it, use that to your advantage.

Q. With the strong run you've been on for the better part of two and a half months, Chase's pretty good history at the next round of tracks, how would you assess your shot to move ahead to Homestead?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: It's getting better every day. That's a good thing. The five points certainly doesn't hurt. The 18 and the 4 have a pretty significant point advantage. As well as they run, you know, getting past them via points is probably a stretch. I mean, it's possible, but probably a stretch.
Before the race, I felt like we were going to have to win one of those three to move on. I don't know that my opinion's changed a lot. Certainly going to have to be in contention to win one of those three.
I think we have a good shot at it. Martinsville is a track I personally have had a lot of success at. Chase has done really well here as of late. We weren't good to start when we started working together. I think we've kind of figured some things out. I look forward to that.
Texas we've not been good at since they reconfigured it. This certainly makes me feel a little better about that.
Phoenix is good. I think it's probably one of our better tracks. We run really well there. Close to winning it last year, finishing second in the fall race.
Yeah, I'm looking forward to all of them. You all watched it, right? Anything can happen. Sitting here thinking about leading Martinsville, four laps to go, not pitting, spinning and wrecking, all those other things that happen. Then with Chase wrecking. It's going to be a crapshoot. I think we've got a good shot.

Q. Hendrick Motorsports, you have a steady uptick in performance. What has been a watershed weekend or breakthrough weekend for you? What can you take from this weekend going down to the final four races?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I know it seems like it's kind of like a light switch. It's never a light switch. It's always a lot of incremental gains, a little bit of work. Throughout the season, at the intermediate tracks, we'd struggle to run 15th. We kind of got better, 10th, 8th. In Vegas we were pretty good. Unfortunately got crashed.
I don't think there's one moment that I can say was the turnaround. It's been coming and coming and coming, hard work. We've got an amazing group of people that work at HMS. Certainly great resources, a great boss. If we get an opportunity and a little bit of time, we can make some things happen.

Q. You talked about how testing helped you here. How was it determined your team was the team that came here for the Hendrick organization to test? Was it gifted to you, wanted it?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I don't remember. I remember I wanted to do it. We kind of worked through it. I can't remember exactly. The 48 won in Richmond, which I've tested there too many times, not helped myself out. I didn't want to go do that again. I just remember wanting it and it worked out.
We basically just deliberate, have conversations over what would be the ultimate best for the company. Somehow along the lines, it worked out where it was for us.

Q. Obviously you've been back to Martinsville since last year, referenced what happened. You've been in this sport so long, you know how fleeting great opportunities to be, does how last year finished get harder as time goes on as opposed to easier because of how tough it can be to get to Homestead? Does that come into your mind as you now start to look ahead?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I don't think it changes my opinion, but I do think going through situations like that and opportunities that get away, you know, you go through enough of them, hit a dry spell like we hit. Yeah, it's like you certainly appreciate those opportunities.
When you get chances like we've got now, where we're putting all facets of our race team together really well, running really well, to get everything clicking and working all at one time is really the hardest part of the sport. We've got it going.
Yeah, we got to take advantage of our opportunities. We had it going last year, too. Like you said, that circumstance happened. But I don't look at that and feel like we were slighted in any way, there was an issue, woe is me. It's basically hard racing. That's what you kind of expect when you go to that place. Those possibilities is what really makes that place special. It's really sweet when you win there.

Q. How did you do this in this season that the Camaro seemed to lag behind, Hendrick didn't seem to have what it had in the past, how did the 9 team break out of that at this critical stage of the season?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I think we had struggled, things weren't going well, I got suspended, Josh got suspended, I got suspended. We had to make some personnel changes. We just got to a point where we all, I don't want to say it's rock bottom, I don't think that's accurate, but it's the best way to know how to describe it.

Q. A low point?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, a low point.
We got there. From then on, what I've seen is every person, you know, without a doubt willing to do whatever it takes to perform, working really hard, working 8, 9, 10 at night, continuously trying to improve.
I felt like we were so far behind that we didn't feel like we could turn our nose up on any potential gain, no matter what it is, anything. Over time we've accrued these small, incremental gains, incremental gains, incremental gains. It just stacked up to be really good.
I think through that the team has seen with that commitment that when you get the results. I've been on both sides, had that commitment and you fall short of getting results, then it's hard to sustain it. As you get the results, with that type of commitment, it's like nitrous, adding fuel to the fire. Reiterating that we can do it, reiterating that the hard work pays off. That kind of snowballs on itself.

Q. Now that Chase has won two out of three, three out of 11, is he the kind of guy that can't be stopped?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: He doesn't change. It's just part of his personality. It's interesting to me. I certainly think mentally I always feel like when you're in a situation, whatever it is, if you're shooting a foul shot, hitting a golf shot, racing a car, when you come up to the foul line, is your mind saying to yourself I'm going to make it or I'm going to miss it. That psychology is a huge part of success.
As you get confidence and wins, you make foul shots, when you get to the line you know you're going to make them.
I don't feel like his personality has changed, but I think now when he looks at that opportunity, he is looking at it more, Yes, I can do this, than the hundred things that can go wrong.

Q. You brought up the suspension. From a crew chief perspective, there's a mindset out there with fans, media, that it doesn't affect you that much because of radios, communication, technology. How does that feel from a crew chief perspective? How big is that setback?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, I just can tell you my personal opinion. It sucks. It's terrible. This is my 14th year, the first time I was suspended was last year, right? Went 13 years with never having to deal with that fortunately.
It's not something I like being a part of. It's not good in any way. It's a tough thing to deal with. Certainly can the team and car performance overcome it? Yes. There's ways I can obviously contribute. From a personal point of view, professionally, it's about as bad as it gets.

Q. Does it hurt you guys at all that you're the only Chevrolet?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I don't know. I haven't thought about it. I don't know. I don't think so. I don't think so. I mean, obviously you look at the odds. You say that would make you think it's a bit more difficult.
I don't think it's going to hurt us too bad. I've seen in some situations racing teammates is tough. I don't know exactly who is in, but I assume a lot of Stewart‑Haas cars are in. They can give each other no corner at all.
That's a hard thing to do. That's a hard thing to kind of balance, in my experience. To move on, you have to full throttle, hammer down. If you get into a riff, which is going to happen with your teammate, it's a tough situation.
In some ways I think it can be an advantage for us because it is difficult to balance it when you're all kind of infighting against each other.

Q. You talked about Chase, the momentum, having success, building upon that. He's always been hard on himself. As a crew chief you think that's a great quality. How have you seen him get better in certain situations? Was it a case this year where maybe that competence wasn't there because of not having the win? How has that evolved? More so in the last 12 weeks, been a progression?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I think it's been a progression. Like I was trying to describe, in my opinion what he was driving earlier in the year, in his Cup career, for sure, it's the worst cars he's driven. When he had to make do with that, I felt bad for him at times, doing everything I could do, but wasn't giving him a good enough car. He had to go and deal with that. It's a struggle. It's a battle, right?
I think that he learned as he went through that. That's helped improve him. You may pick up certain traits, certain attributes about tracks or different circumstances. This isn't exactly correct, but running the fence, right? If you don't have a car that's very good, I mean, that's a way you can make up some time, put yourself as risk, run it on the fence here.
Those are the things that he had to do earlier in the year that he may not have had to do earlier in his career because we were able to give him a much better racecar.
As that's happened, he's improved. The pit crews have been great all year. Now we've gotten the cars much improved. All those things add up.
The confidence, he's hard on himself. I think it's a good thing, like you said. There's times that I think he's realized no matter how good you are, you can't do everything 100% right 100% of the time. It's probably worth your time to focus your effort on the things that are going to yield the most results, right, put the time and effort into that, being good at those things.
Yeah, I think he's learned what is it within a reasonable realm of expectation for him to do.

Q. Beyond the wins, do you feel more of a championship contender now than in mid August or the first of August?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Oh, yeah, for sure. The speed in the cars, for sure. I don't feel from August to now there's a huge change in him or anything else besides we've gotten our cars much better.

Q. You've been with Hendrick for so long, you've seen the highs and the lows. What you're seeing now from Stewart‑Haas Racing, can you compare that to the glory days, I'm not saying they're over, when you were at your high point, is that organization pretty stout competition?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, I can't comment. I don't know the ins‑and‑outs of what they do. Certainly their performance has been really well, getting all four cars in through lots of rounds. Yeah, all of them have won. That's a huge accomplishment.
I think they've done a good job of getting to that position. Certainly kudos to them for it. It's something that we're aspiring to get back to. For as difficult as the year started, I thought getting three of our cars in was good. Really should have transferred on through to this round. A real hop away from that. I think that would have took one of them out or close to it.
Yeah, they've got it going on. They're certainly formidable competition. I look forward to racing them and seeing how it all shakes out.

Q. You and Chase have been in championship contention this year, last year. In the previous years you've been in contention with Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon as well. Talk about what is it like working with someone like Chase as opposed to someone who is a veteran.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I think I've been really fortunate to work with some fantastic guys, cherish the time I had. Kyle Busch also. We got crashed here. We were in a good place to win a championship, got in a crash here. Still finished fifth that year.
Yeah, it's personality and driving style, it's lot of contributing factors. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Each one of them do it a little bit differently. It's super hard to say any of them are better when you're talking about Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott. It's like .0001%. Those are the top of the top.
I've learned from all of them. Each one of them have had taught me lessons that I think will help, will help me move forward. I certainly throughout my years, if there's something I learned with Kyle, I conveyed it to Mark, conveyed it to Jeff, then try to convey all that to Chase. But, yeah, their personalities, how they go about business, how they get it done. But certainly they're all, in my eyes, Hall of Famers and champions.

Q. Jeff was on pit box. Speak about what that's like.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I love it. We're just great friends. He's one of those guys, he gets me, he knows what I'm trying to do. In those times, he's doing everything he can to support me, the race team, Chase. Nobody knows it as well as he does. It's just fun.
Even if he doesn't say anything, which he didn't say much today, it's nice to look over and see him. When there's a little bit of tension, he'll make me laugh or do something. He's a special, special, special character, man. He's a really cool guy. I like being around him regardless of the circumstances. I love it when he comes and hangs out with us.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations, Alan.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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