CHASE ELLIOTT, NO. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS CAMARO ZL1, Press Conference Transcript:
THE MODERATOR: We've now been joined by our race winner, Chase Elliott.
We will start with questions for Chase.
Q. A couple Playoff drivers, Hamlin, Blaney, said they had one eye on winning the race, but also the bigger picture in the points. What was your mindset in the final laps?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I mean, I don't really know where we were. I thought we got some pretty decent stage points throughout the day. I don't know where we were.
I just felt like when we took the green for the restart, I thought my opportunity to win was to get up in the top lane. It was certainly a risky move. I felt like we had accumulated a decent number of stage points throughout the day, so it made me feel a little bit better about moving up there, trying to give myself a shot to win.
I just didn't think I was going to be able to win from the third lane, the bottom row, with that few laps left. I just thought that was my shot.
Fortunately moved up there, gave me the great shove for the lap and a half, was far enough ahead to hold Ryan off at the line.
Q. Your thoughts on tying your current teammate Kyle Larson but Kasey Kahne and Geoff Bodine on the all-time wins list at 18?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I didn't know that. That's really cool. Kind of hard to believe honestly, I mean, 18.
Yeah, I'm super proud of that honestly. Just knowing how hard one was, to have 18 now is really special. I would love to keep adding to that obviously as time goes on. Very grateful for the 18 that we have. Proud of our team.
It's been the same team for the most part, been some changes in there, but Alan and Tom, myself at the 9 team, Eddie, we've been there the whole way. That's a special thing. Proud that we've been able to grow together and give ourselves that many opportunities to grab checkered flags. Hopefully we can get some more.
Q. With Jones, were you having to drag the brake? How did you stay connected with him so well?
CHASE ELLIOTT: That was all on him. He was able to give me a really good shove. I didn't feel like I did anything special. I think just the timing of how he got connected, and the two guys on the bottom were also connected, so they weren't aggressively side drafting us, trying to pull us apart.
Yeah, it was just good time. He did a really good job. I think he deserves a ton of credit for that. Obviously I'm very thankful he was that committed to me for the last lap and a half.
I have a lot of respect for Erik. I've raced with him long enough to trust him in that situation to not turn me around. We certainly pushed right to the limit (smiling). It was a handful, but that's kind of what you have to do in those scenarios. I thought he balanced that well.
Q. You get a big shove out there, left out there on your own. Coming to the line, did you feel you had enough distance you were going to be able to cover them or you were out too far?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I was certainly concerned. I saw the 34 come unconnected with the 12 there in turn four. I thought that was my opportunity, so I tried to get down and pull Ryan back as hard as I could, get away, try to get clear. I thought that was my safest place to be.
Yeah, when they get side by side again, I was a little worried about getting out there too far. When they got side by side that brief period of time, I thought that was enough for me to make it. I knew it was probably going to be close. Ryan was going to have such a good run; I didn't really know how I was going to block it. Tried to waste as much time as I could and hope I got to the line first.
Q. Racing Ryan, good friends, does that help you at all when you're competing against him? Do you know what he may or may not do? What is the dynamic like?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I mean, obviously I know Ryan very well. I don't know what move he's going to make in that particular scenario. A lot of times I don't know that even as a driver you do until you kind of get faced with it and you have to make a quick choice as to what you think is the right decision at that time.
I'm not smart enough to put all that together, stay ahead of him, for sure. I just try to make the right decisions based on the information, the things that I see, as quickly as possible, hope for the best.
Q. There's no added benefit to you knowing him as well as you do?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, we're still friends. But we also want to win. I think we both get that. We've always had a really, really respectful friendship on the racetrack, but also a very good understanding of our jobs and what's at stake on Sundays.
Q. Have you talked with Alex at all, know if he's able to come to the Roval?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I talked to him after I heard about everything. Obviously I have no idea what his status is. Certainly not going to speculate on that.
Q. You raced with Noah Gragson. As a teammate for the first time, what was that experience like leading up to the start of the race?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, it was good. I know Noah just from his time at JRM, obviously my history there. Some of his Cup races, too. I thought he did a good job. I thought he was making good decisions.
Really as a whole, I thought everyone was pretty smart about the things they were doing today, kind of understood where the line was, what we could get away with, what we couldn't. That was nice.
I wish that would continue at these places, but I'm sure it won't. Yeah, I just thought it was a really good race. Everybody kind of understood where that boundary was, just lived within it. Put on a really good show to the finish line.
Q. You talk a race without many cautions, clean. What are your thoughts about the race in general, exciting for the fans to watch?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, like I said, I thought it was a good show. Another close finish right there at the start/finish line. Not much more you can ask for really.
Q. Have these Playoffs challenged you in any other way that others haven't? Is winning as much a relief because of the unknown of the ups and downs?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I mean, I feel like I've been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing. It's going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don't. That's just part of the deal.
So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we're super proud of that.
This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race.
I don't know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.
Q. Given that you've won half the races at the Roval, did that factor into rolling the dice at the end?
CHASE ELLIOTT: No. No. I was just trying to think in the moment as to what I felt like I could do, be smart, give myself a shot to win today, yeah.
No, I wish I could piece things together that far ahead. I just don't have it in me.
THE MODERATOR: Chase, thank you.
ALAN GUSTAFSON, CREW CHIEF, NO. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS CAMARO ZL1, Press Conference Transcript:
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with our post-race press conference. We've been joined by our race winning crew chief, Alan Gustafson.
We'll take questions for Alan.
Q. Why was this race so calm by Talladega standards?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, it's a great question.
It seems like kind of both the races were before it. I don't know if maybe the stability of the car or it was just hard. We've seen it all year, it's not three lanes that don't seem to work out. There doesn't seem to be a middle option. It doesn't get fanned out. It's kind of about staying in line, pushing. I think that contributes.
Yeah, it was certainly a bit tamer than I expected. I kind of expected maybe not the typical four-wide just craziness. The cars don't seem to generate the performance, the huge runs. It's more about that steady seesaw momentum.
Q. Yesterday your driver had some comments that were a little out the character for him, to take such a stance. Did that surprise you?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Second time I've been asked about it. I don't know what he said, so it's hard for me to say specifically. I'm assuming he spoke out about the safety, is that correct?
Q. He said NASCAR took a step backwards.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Look, the way I look at this is I certainly want him specifically, and all the drivers, but my concern is Chase, to be as safe as he possibly can be. We know this is an inherently dangerous sport. But I want him to be as safe as he possibly can be. From my stance, I'll do everything I can do to make sure he's as safe as possible.
I feel like collectively in this garage there's a huge resource of intelligent people where we can push this forward, get to a position where it's not a topic, not something these guys are having to worry about week in and week out.
I certainly feel terrible for Alex. Alex shouldn't have sustained the type of injury from the hit he took. We all have to accept that, move forward, push forward, make it better. I'm very confident we can do that. That's what we have to focus on doing together.
Collectively I think we've got a lot of resource to make it happen. I'm sure NASCAR will do everything in their power, as will the teams, and we'll get past this quickly.
Q. Coming into this race, you want to win every race, but looking at the bigger picture, make sure you finish this race, get as many points as possible, what was your mindset coming in?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I really felt like this race was crucial. I felt like we had to capitalize. We got ourselves into a hole last week, super disappointed with. We made a mistake the first round. We made a mistake the second round. You just can't continue to do that and expect to have success.
We needed to come back and we needed to get ourselves right. I felt like we needed to level up close to the top, level with those guys. They had a points advantage on us.
Fortunately for us it wasn't a massive points advantage. (Indiscernible) was in the 20s, other guys were 17 points, something like that. Our objective was to score as many points as we could, try to get as close to level as possible. We were able to do that.
We got really good points in both stages. I think really after that, we were in a really good position to not have to take crazy risks. But our car was really good, execution was great, strategy was good to keep us up front. Chase did an unbelievable job. It all worked out.
If we had an issue here, I know we have good performances at the Roval, but I have no interest in leaving it for the Roval. I felt like we needed to take care of business or at least get level set with those guys where we didn't have to go out and win or have an amazing day because you just never know what can happen there.
Q. Three out of the four superspeedway races this year went to regulation and ended there. The Daytona 500 was only one lap over regulation. From a strategy standpoint, did that make war gaming the last stage of the race any easier?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I think you still had to have a contingency plan. This is probably the oddest caution. Maybe not the oddest, but super odd caution. At the end of the race the guy comes down pit road, stops at the end of pit road, the caution for it. Super odd.
But have you to be prepared for it. That's what you balance is ultimately we all pit under green, how long you want to take, how long do you sit there and put gas in the car. You want to take enough, at least in our opinion, to give us a slight buffer, still execute a fast enough spot, maintain track position. I feel like we did that.
Q. I'm not sure how much you take a look at tire wear during races, but overall do you feel this race was better than last week at Texas? If so, why?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, tire wear wasn't the issue at Texas, for clarity. It was sidewall failure. Even though our tires would come off at Texas, you don't look at 'em and say, Hey, they're wore out, we're into an issue.
Ultimately we have our tires cut apart after most every run, as we did at Texas, to see the integrity of the sidewall. At that point we got a clear report that we blew the tire.
Here I would say that tire wear was probably a little worse than in the spring than we expected. It wasn't into a position that we felt like it was going to put us in any harm's way. It was certainly a little bit more than we had expected, something we had to be conscious about.
We were able to double stint those first two stages with some comfort. So I don't think it was hugely different. It just was slightly more than the spring.
Q. Sorry to ask another car question. If everyone is in agreement that the car is too stiff, what is a reasonable time frame for that to be corrected?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I mean, I don't know the logistics behind what all has to happen as far as manufacturing, what goes on.
I think the first step is we need a solution, right? That's what we got to focus on. That is a good goal for us as an industry to collectively look at what's the best solution we can come up with in the short-term. If we can get the solution figured out, implementation, you can worry about that later. That's certainly not my area of expertise.
I think the solution is the key right now. To my knowledge, it doesn't exist. It may exist, but we need to get that figured out, how to move forward.
I think collectively we can all work together to get -- I mean, I think Hendrick Motorsports, the boss owns an amazing place, we can accomplish some amazing things. I think if we get a solution, implementation, if we all pull together, we can do a lot in a short period of time.
THE MODERATOR: Alan, thank you. Congratulations on that win.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Thank you.
RICK HENDRICK, OWNER, HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, Press Conference Transcript:
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with our post-race interviews. We're joined by our race-winning team owner, Mr. Rick Hendrick.
Just a comment on Chase's season this year, his fifth win, talk about that team.
RICK HENDRICK: We had a lot of momentum going, then we had the tire failure. We just kind of hit a bump. So this is good momentum to have the points now to go into the Roval where he's really good, get into the Round of 8 and move on.
This is great momentum for him. This race means a lot to Chase. It was great to see the fans excited. Boy, it was a heck of a race.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. There's been a lot of talk this week about safety, possible solutions. Ultimately it is going to cost money. As a team owner, are you comfortable having to spend more money on this aspect of the Next Gen car, something you've already invested a lot in?
RICK HENDRICK: Absolutely. I mean, for sure. Our drivers are so important, we don't want 'em hurt. So if it meant buying all new clips Monday morning, I'd do it. I'd be happy to do it. We want 'em safe. Be it like Alex, Kurt Busch, that's hard. So I'm all for whatever it takes.
I think the teams could fix it. If NASCAR wants to do it, I think everybody working together, we could do it in a hurry, test it, have it on the cars a-sap.
Q. The drivers have had communications with NASCAR about safety. From a team owner's perspective, have you had that conversation with NASCAR?
RICK HENDRICK: Yes. They said they're working on it.
Q. This must have been a weird week with Alex's injury. Did you have any idea anything was wrong prior to Thursday?
RICK HENDRICK: No. After the race, he said he didn't feel good. But it was Monday morning. I didn't know anything because he stayed in the car. Then Monday morning he didn't feel well. They started working with him Tuesday. Wednesday was good. He felt much better. Then Thursday he backed up, he didn't feel good, so he went to see the doctor.
I think hopefully he'll be back next week. I think he will. He's feeling good today and yesterday. I guess he'll go back and get evaluated here midweek.
Q. Did his concussion amplify the urgency in your message to NASCAR?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, absolutely. These guys are stars. You spend a lot of money, like, bringing them along over the years. Then to have 'em hurt, you have sponsors and everything involved, they're in the Playoffs, they get knocked out of the Playoffs.
It's not about the Playoffs, it's about safety, having a guy that wants to be able to race again. We have done really well in the last 10, 15 years with safety in so many ways: the seats, the headrest, everything.
This car, from the rear impact, it's just like you're sitting on a piece of steel. I watched a video of Alex's hit. Those guys usually try to lean a little bit forward if they think they're going to have an impact, then the whiplash back.
We need to fix it as soon as we can.
Q. Yesterday Chase took a very strong stance. He said NASCAR is taking a step backward in safety. That's unlike him to offer an opinion on controversial topics. Are you surprised he did that?
RICK HENDRICK: No. I think these guys are concerned. He sees a teammate hurt. He saw Kurt hurt. He's a young guy with a career ahead of him. Nobody wants to do something that they could fix and eliminate it.
I think this has been on Chase's mind. I'm proud of him. He doesn't say much, but when he speaks, everybody knows he's just not popping off, that he's concerned.
Q. William would be above the cut line without his penalty. How confident are you that you might be able to get those points back for him before the Roval? Where do you see his chances of advancing?
RICK HENDRICK: William is a good little road racer. He's a really good plate racer. 25 points in the Playoffs is a ton. I mean, in regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.
I've seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, wasn't trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.
That's like saying you're going to tell everybody who won the race next week. That's a little strange. I think it was excessive. We'll just see what happens.
THE MODERATOR: Rick, congratulations again. Thank you.
RICK HENDRICK: Thank you.