WHAT’S ALAN (GUSTAFSON) BEEN LIKE THIS SEASON WITH THE UPS AND DOWNS AND EVERYTHING THAT’S BEEN THROWN YOUR WAY?
“Yeah, it’s definitely not been normal for sure over the first six months of the year. But you know, it’s the reality of where we are now. And for me, I’m just focused on only the things I can control, which is what’s ahead and what’s in front of us right here. Really no need to complicate it more than that. Obviously if I could go back and change a lot of the things, I would. But I can’t, so we’ll just try to make the most of these next 10 weeks or so and try to get in the show.”
WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN FROM ALAN (GUSTAFSON) LEADING THIS TEAM THIS YEAR? ANYTHING DIFFERENT, SAME APPROACH, ANYTHING OF THAT NATURE?
“Yeah, I mean obviously he’s had a challenge and I’ve put him in that situation more this year than I would have liked to, for sure. But you know look – he’s a top notch guy, first and foremost, and he’s a good leader. He’s somebody that has enough experience to be able to plug someone into his system. That was really all I did when I came in – I was just plugged into the system that he had already created. I think that’s a good thing. It’s really always been the same. Our approach has been the same. Our preparation has been the same. Obviously we talk about different things, but just that week-to-week schedule is very similar and it has been for eight years now at the end of this year. I think it’s a good approach. I think he’s led our team really well through a tough situation. Obviously still a lot of the season left and a lot of opportunity to get things going like we want to, but I think he’s done a great job, as I’ve always thought about him. Looking forward to continuing to go to work.”
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT LAST YEAR’S RACE WITH THE WEATHER DELAY - BEING ABLE TO GRIND IT OUT AND COME OUT ON TOP?
“Yeah, it was good. I remember it being really good for us. We started the race last year and we were actually pretty bad. And usually when that happens – you start a race and you’re struggling, it doesn’t typically get better. With the rain, I think we ended up having a bad pit stop there at one point and we just decided we’re going to take some time – try to think through some adjustments and do some things that we wouldn’t necessarily do during a normal situation because you would lose a lot of time on pit road doing it. So yeah, we just kind of – I don’t want to say swing for the fence.. it was a thought out process. But we just took the time to do what we thought we needed to do and fortunately we hit the nail right on the head. I couldn’t really ask for much more after that.
It was crazy – I’m not really sure I’ve ever been part of a race where we were that bad and then we were all of a sudden that good. So yeah, hopefully we miss the bad part and we can just be good. But a lot’s changed in the course of the year. At this point last year, I think we were running better, as it pertained to just the results on-track. I think people’s approach kind of changed throughout the year and that’s where we started struggling a little bit was really right about this time last year. Just been trying to kind of scratch and claw and get back to where we need to be and catchup to where we feel like everybody else got a little better.”
LAST YEAR, WE WENT FROM DAY TO NIGHT BECAUSE OF THE DELAY. THIS YEAR, YOU WILL GO FROM DAY TO THE NIGHT BECAUSE OF THE START TIME. DID LAST YEAR GIVE YOU ANY INDICATION OF HOW THE TRACK WILL CHANGE, OR WITH THE WEATHER IS THAT NOT COMPARABLE?
“I don’t think so. I remember last year, kind of thinking back through it – we were already moving up the track. The race track was really widening out before the sun went down before that last rain delay, if I remember right. I thought we started moving up and it started to get really wide, and the race kind of looked like that for the rest of the night. I personally don’t think it will change a whole lot. They said they did the same track prep to the surface, so I think if that’s the case, it will move up at some point. There was a lot of pace when we moved up the track last year, so I think you’ll see more of that. But I don’t think it’ll change much day-to-night, other than it will be just a little nicer for the fans and the people watching here.”
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SEE NEXT WEEK AT CHICAGO? WHAT WOULD MAKE THAT A GOOD EVENT.. DOES IT JUST NEED TO HAVE SOME EXCITEMENT? DOES IT NEED TO BE A GOOD RACE? WHAT DOES IT NEED?
“I don’t know.. that’s a good question. I think it depends on which hat you’re wearing. If you’re wearing a competitor’s hat - for me, it’s us going up there and trying to put ourselves in position to win. From a fan standpoint, you’re tapping into a part of the country that I think has a lot of race fans, a lot of NASCAR fans, but into city limits that a lot of those people might not typically come out to Joliet or somewhere up there like it typically would have been the case. For them, I think it’s about it being a good event and it being exciting for them; there being a lot of stuff going on for them and they feel like they’re at the event. That needs to feel like the event that weekend over a Cubs game or whatever it may be. I think that will make it successful from a promoter’s standpoint. From the racing side, I don’t think I have to leave the race track and think – oh wow, that was a really great race for it to be successful to the viewership or the people that show up in attendance.”
I WANTED TO ASK YOU A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE CONCEPT OF PERSEVERANCE. DOES THIS SEASON BECAUSE YOU HAVEN’T GOT THAT WIN, ARE YOU GUYS TALKING ABOUT JUST KEEPING THINGS THE SAME AS YOU WOULD ALWAYS GO ABOUT IT, OR IS THERE A LITTLE EXTRA SENSE OF ‘COME ON GUYS, LET’S RALLY AND SHOW WHAT WE CAN DO WHEN WE HAVE TO’?
“Not really, honestly. I feel like a lot of times when you put yourself in those situations, it doesn’t always get better when you’re 11 out of 10, right. I think just being in that nice sweet spot of pushing but not pushing too far, and pushing yourself and your team, but not pushing them too far. So I think there is a balance there where I feel like we’ve done the best and had the best results, and I think that’s just where we need to stay, personally. When we do our jobs at that level and to the best of our abilities, I feel like it’s been plenty good enough to go and contend. We just have to fall into that rhythm and just do our thing.
I guess, short answer – no, I don’t think we need to push too hard or do anything crazy. I think our approach needs to be the same and just make sure we’re executing the things that we talk about and the things we’re zoned in on. No, I don’t think we really need to change anything. But personally, I’m looking forward to it. As bad as the year has been to a lot of people, I feel like it’s kind of fun. We’ve got 10 weeks left and you either get in the show or you don’t. The playoffs are kind of like that. When you get in those last 10, you either have to run well the next week or you go home. So it’s kind of that way now. For me, I kind of enjoy it. I’m kind of looking forward to just the challenge and seeing if we can figure it out.”
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU DON’T SEE THIS AS PRESSURE, BUT MAYBE COMING OFF THE WEEK OFF AND COMING TO A PLACE WHERE YOU WON LAST YEAR, IS IT KIND OF THE PERFECT COMBINATION TO JUST RESET AND DO A PLAYOFF CHASE AT THIS POINT?
“Yeah, I think so. Sonoma (Raceway) was a nice run for us. We didn’t win or anything, but I think we just had a good, solid weekend. We got into the second round of qualifying and that was a great thing. We hadn’t been doing a lot of that for quite a while. Just thought we did a lot of little things good last weekend and I felt like I kind of just plugged right back into a good stride and a good cadence. I think that cadence and that stride that we executed with in Sonoma can result in great results from here to Daytona (International Speedway). Like I said, we’re in a tough spot, but I think it’s a great opportunity to go and have some fun and embrace the challenge. That’s really kind of where my head’s at.”
YOU TALKED ABOUT WHAT IT WAS LIKE LAST YEAR. I DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH YOU CAN TAKE FROM THAT, BUT CAN YOU JUST SPEAK TO THE EVOLUTION OF FIGURING OUT HOW TO RACE ON THIS CONCRETE OVAL THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS?
“Yeah, this track I would say a lot of the Cup garage had a lot of laps at prior to running this race – probably more than we had at any new race track that we’ve gone to over the last couple of years because this was a testing facility for us and we came here a lot in the winter. Even before I was driving in Cup, we came up here and tested a bunch. On the Xfinity side, I did some tests with the No. 24 team when Jeff (Gordon) was still driving, too. This was a place that was a really hot stop for everyone to come up here and run at. It was a place that you could come repeat lap times. It wasn’t super hard on tires. It was just a popular testing facility, so I don’t really think anything has jumped out at anyone because of that. It’s just been about putting together a good weekend and finding your balance. No different than anywhere else.”
A NUMBER OF DRIVERS ARE IN THE SAME POSITION YOU ARE AND NEEDING TO WIN AT THIS POINT WITH 10 RACES TO GO IN THE REGULAR-SEASON TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS. THEY DON’T ALL HAVE YOUR KIND OF RACE TEAM. HOW DOES IT MAKE YOU FEEL TO HAVE CONFIDENCE THAT AT ANY TRACK ALONG THE WAY IN THESE NEXT 10 RACES THAT IT WOULDN’T BE SHOCKING FOR YOU TO WIN?
“That’s a good thing, for sure. And I agree – I think our team has been really, really strong for the majority of the season. I think back to some of the races that I’ve been a part of – a lot of those races I feel like our race team has been better than I have done for them throughout the year. So if we could just combine our efforts, I think it would be really good. If I can bring to the table what they’ve been bringing to the table – on pit road, race strategy and things – I think we’d be in really, really good shape. I feel like I’ve very capable of doing that – just putting the right pieces of the puzzle together at the right now and just getting in a bit of a rhythm. There’s been some high spots.. Kansas (Speedway) was a high spot. Fontana (Auto Club Speedway) was a high spot. Sonoma (Raceway) was also very good. Three very different style of tracks, so that brings some positivity to my mind that it’s there. We just have to extract it here every week for the next 10. Certainly don’t want to go to Daytona (International Speedway) and be in the position to have to win a speedway race to get into the playoffs. Odds are if you’re in that position, you’re probably not going to be much of a threat anyway, in my opinion. We want to be a threat each week from here on, and I intend to do that.”
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING, IF ANYTHING YET, TO PREPARE FOR THE CHICAGO STREET COURSE RACE? DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’LL APPLY YOUR ROAD COURSE CRAFT NEXT WEEKEND?
“Yeah, I mean honestly we haven’t dove in completely. We’ll be diving in deep next week, for sure. Really all eyes have been on Nashville (Superspeedway), and that’s just kind of how we do things. Just take it a week at a time. I think it’s very easy to get too far ahead.
Outside of just running some laps on iRacing, really just familiarize with literally what turns are where. That’s the biggest thing I think I can do for myself right now, and certainly going to dive more into that next week – start talking about setup stuff and things that we feel like we need to do well out there to be good.
It's going to be different. From my understanding, the surface is pretty rough. A lot of 90 degree corners. I’m sure it’s going to be very hot. All those things certainly are a factor, but we’ll dive in next week and go to work.”