NASCAR Media Conference
May 18, 2010
DENISE MALOOF: Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR Cam Video Teleconference in advance to Saturday night's 26th Annual NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. First, however, is Wednesday's Sixth Annual NASCAR Sprint Pit Crew Challenge presented by Craftsman at 7:00 p.m. at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Top 24 NASCAR Sprint Cup pit crews will compete for team and individual honors. And Wednesday's finishing order will determine the pit selection order for Saturday night's All-Star Race. Joining us today is Alan Gustafson, the crew chief of the No. 5 GoDaddy Chevrolet, driven by Mark Martin for Hendrick Motorsports. Mark is currently 11th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. Alan, welcome.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Thanks for having me.
DENISE MALOOF: No pressure now as your crew competes Wednesday night. That's a big carrot to hold out in front of everybody.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, you know, there is some pressure involved there, but I think it's a really cool venue for the guys to go showcase their talents and have the fans so close to them in the stands. It's a lot of fun, a really fun event.
DENISE MALOOF: Thank you. Questions for Alan Gustafson.
Q. How do you approach this weekend? There's been a lot of talk about drivers, about working as much on 600 set-ups and so forth as getting their car ready to run Saturday night. Is that kind of a balancing act you go through this weekend?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I think, obviously, it is the same track, so really valuable information for when you're running the All-Star and stuff that you're going to use for the 600. Ultimately, I think everybody's trying to get their race cars as good as they can for the 600.
But the other side of that coin is it's a lot shorter of an event. The ten-lap, 15-lap run is going to be what you're more focused on than it is going to be in the 600 when you've obviously got to go full fuel runs.
That makes things different in the way the 600 starts the transitions through the night makes it difficult also. So we can use that practice for the All-Star help, and use that race as a dress rehearsal, so to speak.
But as far as I'm concerned, we're going to go there, trying to get the fastest, you know, Delphi Chevy we can on the racetrack and try to win it. I think that's the key. Winning it would give you a huge boost and a lot of momentum going into the 600 as much as it would trying to get your car right.
Q. What is the layman's version of how you set up a car differently for say 10 or 20 laps Saturday night as opposed to a fuel run next weekend?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, I think the biggest difference is when you make a full fuel run, you've got to start out free. The car's really going to start turning well, because as you know as you burn off fuel and lose rear weight and gain front weight percentage and build up the tires, you typically just build tighter and tighter and tighter.
So you have to start pretty free to balance that out. So over the run you've got the fastest established time you can get. You give up a little bit in the beginning to get to the middle and the end.
In the All-Star Race, you can't wait. There is no time to wait for the car to kind of come in, so to speak. You've got to be able to go right away. So you run the car tighter, do a few more things that bias the car towards speed on short runs than you would at the 600 when you give up a little bit early in the run to get it at the end.
Q. Have you guys been testing some things the last few weeks, or has it just been a struggle?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean it's been a disappointment, to say the least. We haven't been very good. Unfortunately, we've struggled to get into this last weekend. So you're always evolving, always trying to improve, always implementing some new components.
But I can't sit there and tell you say, Hey, Bob, we're just trying to step out of left field and we can get back in a moment's notice. I wish that was the case. We seem to be off a little bit. We're searching for some things. We have been for the last four weeks or so.
So we're pushing hard. I think the All-Star Race is going to be a good chance for us to try to work through some of those things. But we just haven't had it. We don't know what it is that we're missing, but we're going to work hard on getting it.
Q. Is there any consolation to the fact that, you know, obviously, the 88 struggled a little bit and the 24 didn't run as well either in the sense of, okay, most of us were off, or is that a cause of more concern?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, definitely more concern. I want those guys to run well. I'd feel a lot better if three of our cars were running good and one of them weren't.
Hey, 88 really struggled bad, and that was unfortunate. There's not much positive to take out of that, and we were similar. Jeff, I think, was a little better, but ultimately not where we need to be.
So Jimmie had a good car. I think he had the best car there and really had a good shot at winning the race. He stopped with that pit road penalty. So that's nice. We'll learn off of that a lot and look at how to get the same results out of our car, and lean on the team a bunch to try to do that.
But, ultimately, you know, to answer your question, I would much rather be the only guy running bad than have company running bad that wouldn't be good.
Q. Earnhardt Jr. stated the other day the car for him due to the introduction of the spoiler, and that may have some impact as well on Jimmie Johnson's team. Is that also the case with Mark and you? Have you seen any major differences in the style of driving and the impact on the car since the introduction of the spoiler?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, it's hard to tell right now. We're working through it. It's always a little bit left up to interpretation, but it seems like the timeframes that we put the spoiler back on got us behind the competition.
In Martinsville, in the first race we ran really good and had a pit road penalty. But ever since then it seems to have been a struggle. It's hard for us to quantify. It's not a situation where the car's just really loose or we're really tight or we're struggling with the balance of the car. It's more a lack of speed.
It seems to correlate, although the information that we've gotten from the research we can do doesn't really show up in the wind tunnel or in any other areas.
But yeah, it seems to correlate with when our struggles started, and it may take a little bit something different with the spoiler. It may take a different driving style. It may take the 5 car set up a different way.
Those are the things that we've been trying to look through methodically. It's not something we can just throw out one week and say this is the magic fix. Just try to piece it week by week by week, just try to find solutions or get rid of potential answers.
So, I can't say that it is, but there seems to be some resulting information pointing in that direction.
Q. Could you give me your thought on the uniqueness, I guess, of qualifying for the All-Star Race and the emphasis put on the pit crew. Also, they had the pit stop at the All-Star Race, so there is a lot of emphasis on the pit crew this coming week?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, it's a really neat way the way they've structured it. But like I said, the finishing order in the Pit Crew Challenge determines your pit stall selection, which is going to be really important. The importance is going to be a little higher than it has been in years past with the way the last pit stop structure on pit road. So you can get a good pit stall and work those timelines and do everything you can to get the track position you need.
Then that last pit stop, it will be a four-tire change, and they're going to let the teams do the adjustments beforehand, so it will be straight up pit crew against pit crew.
That may be between that and the pit stall, what decides the outcome of the race. If you can get a good pit stall and good pit stop and get track position for ten laps, you've got such good competitors, those guys are going to be hard to pass in ten laps. They'll really have to get after it if they get that clean air.
Ultimately, the pit crew is going to have a huge impact on it. I think it's great. All the pit crew guys are really excited about it. The more control they have for the outcome, the more motivation is for them. So I think it's a cool thing they're doing. I'm glad they're getting the pit crew guys involved and make it a potential for a real good reward for those pit crew guys.
Q. So needless to say, all the drivers are being extra nice to the pit crews this week?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, definitely pumping them up, that's for sure.
Q. Obviously, there's a lot of talk about Hall of Fame with the induction ceremony coming up Sunday. A lot of people say Mark Martin is going to go down as one of the great drivers in NASCAR. Although he does not have a Sprint Cup Championship, he does have a lot of victories. I was just wondering, you've worked with him the last couple of years. Would you be able to make a case as far as down the road why Mark Martin should be in the Hall of Fame one day?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, to me it's a no-brainer. I don't think there should even be a discussion about it if it was on my opinion alone. I think there are very few people, if any people, that I can think of definitely, since my generation or since I've been a fan of the sport, that have been able to stay and compete at the high level as Mark has over such a long period of time, to consistently be one of the best race car drivers on the racetrack.
You know, I think it's unfortunate or an injustice, or however you want to phrase it, that he hasn't won a Sprint Cup. I do think it's something that he deserves and he should have won, and hopefully he will win.
But as far as where he ranks, I definitely think he's one of the best all time. I don't think you know you really can argue that fact. I don't think he's, you know, Richard Petty -- I watched him as a kid, but he was a little bit before I really knew the ins and outs of the sport. There was Bobby Alison and some guys before.
But since I've been an adult, nobody has been able to maintain that high level in Sprint Cup competition as Mark Martin has year-in and year-out no matter what the car is, what the rules are, what the situation may be, you know. Old car, new car, this rule, that rule, Mark always seems to be able to overcome it. So he's a great competitor.
I don't know how many second place point finishes he has now, but he's got a stack of them.
Q. One of the big problems car dealers are having all over the United States is finding mechanics that have the know how to repair today's engines because of computer technology. Have the engines in NASCAR changed that much where you open up the hood and just scratch your head?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, not in a direct way as you're stating. The typical car on the road with the fuel injection and computer management systems and the emphasis on efficiency to generate horsepower, they have changed tons, obviously, you know, in 20 years. Immensely five years, immensely.
Our sport, the general concept and package has stayed the same.
But where the technology really comes into play in our sport is the development, the instrumentation, the design, the manufacturing process, all of that stuff is very, very, very specialized, highly technical. It's amazing some of the things that we're able to do here at Hendrick Motorsports with these Chevrolet engines.
So you look at them, and these cars are still carbureted or push rod V-8 engines. There is a lot more production out there going into that.
But we use extreme high levels of technology to build and develop engines. They're sort of inputted in the design because that's regulated by NASCAR. But the manufacturing processes and the testing, and the design, it's all very, very highly technical, very highly skilled. So we have similar issues, just not as directly as auto manufacturers do.
Q. Have you considered going with scuffs for that final ten lap segment? And do you think anybody will try that?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah. You're laying the strategy right out there already, aren't you? But, yeah. I think the scuffs potentially could come in a little bit quicker. The right side tire that we run at Charlotte seems to like that, and we've had that tire a couple of times this year, and that's held true.
So depending on how your car is, I would not be surprised at all to see that. That is definitely something that we'll try to get our arms around earlier in the night.
Q. This race has had a number of format changes over the years with segments and different versions between segments and so forth. From your perspective, how would you like to see this race run? Is it set-up pretty good now or would you like to see some changes?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, you're right. It's taken a lot of -- there's been a lot of changes, a lot of different formats, a lot of different situations. I haven't thought about your direct question.
If I was Bruton Smith, how would I run it? I don't know, I haven't thought about it. The two things I thought were really good were the mandatory green flag stop where everybody stops on the same lap. There are a couple years ago where you had to make one, and people try to adjust their strategy.
But I think that's going to put big emphasis on getting to pit road and that's going to be exciting for the fans. Everybody trying to get to pit road and falling down to three and four at the same time under green. So that will be neat.
You'll probably have some repercussions from all of that. Somebody will probably miss pit road or there is going to be an accident or something. But I think that's going to generate a lot of excitement for the fans. It's a little different discipline than you normally get to see. So I think that's really cool.
I like the pit stop at the end. I think the pressures are going to be on the pit crews' shoulders and it's going to be a great opportunity for those guys to shine during that four-tire stop. So that will be neat. That could potentially shuffle some of the order.
The good cars will probably work their way to the front by then. The fastest cars should be out in front unless something happens, you know, before that point in time. So that will be neat to shuffle around and get somebody else track position and see what they can do about it. I like those two things.
What would be the ultimate format? Ten laps I think is a good number because you just cut it loose for ten laps. And that is something that you can drive around a little bit with your car's imperfections for ten laps. You get to 20, 25 laps, you can't hide for that long, you can't hide your car's imperfections for that long. But if you get clean air for ten laps you can drive and make something happen. So that will generate a lot of excitement and that will be neat.
DENISE MALOOF: We appreciate your time today, and good luck Wednesday night and on Saturday night.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Thank you. Looking forward to it.
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