Knaus, Gustafson - NASCAR teleconference, part 1

NASCAR Teleconference Transcript - Chad Knaus and Alan Gustafson November 17, 2009 An Interview With: CHAD KNAUS and ALAN GUSTAFSON DENISE MALOOF: Thank you, and good morning, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR Cam video teleconference in ...

NASCAR Teleconference Transcript - Chad Knaus and Alan Gustafson
November 17, 2009

An Interview With:

DENISE MALOOF: Thank you, and good morning, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR Cam video teleconference in advance of Sunday's season finale for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. It's the Ford 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway. To talk about Sunday's finale, we have the two chew chiefs whose drivers remain in championship contention, that's Chad Knaus, crew chief on the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, driven by three-time defending champion and points leader Jimmie Johnson; and Alan Gustafson, the crew chief on the No. 5 Kellogg's CARQUEST Chevrolet driven by Mark Martin, who is second in the points going into Sunday's finale.

Chad and Alan are joining us from Hendrick Motorsports in Charlotte, North Carolina. Martin trails Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, by 108 points. Guys, thanks for joining us today. If we could start off by getting your overall thoughts on your respective seasons and the outlook for Sunday's finale and then we'll go to the media for questions. Alan, start us off and then we'll swing it over to Chad. Looking back, how do you view 2009?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: It's been a real successful season for us. You know, getting Mark on board was obviously a huge step in the right direction, and being able to win five races and contend down to the wire for the championship and have a shot at Homestead has been good. It's been a great season, and the guys have accomplished a lot and really looking forward to going to Homestead. It's a really fun track to race on.

Going there with a shot is -- even though the shot is not as good as we want, it's still a privilege to have that opportunity to contend and win a championship and go down there as put as much pressure on Chad, as much as possible, even though it's not as much as we want it to be. But go down there and have some fun doing that.

DENISE MALOOF: Chad, what's your take on 2009 thus far?

CHAD KNAUS: We've had a really good season, obviously. I think that with Alan and Mark running as competitive as they have this year, very similar to when the 24 car was running as well as what they were a couple years ago, having that internal competition I think has really helped our team and helped our company, actually, to rise to a better level. I think that's evident with the way that all of our teams are running, especially at this stage in the year. The 88 is running well, the 5, the 24 and the 48 are all battling each and every week. So I think that having the two teams battling for the championship and then with the 24 car right there on our heels, I think it's raised the production of the whole company up a bunch. So we're real happy with that.

Real pleased after coming off of Phoenix with a great win there. Jimmie did a fantastic job, the guys did a great job with the car, so I'm really looking forward to Homestead. We've been competitive there in the past. We haven't gotten a victory there. We would love to get an opportunity to do that, and just proud of the position we're in right now. It's really nice.

Q: One question for each of you. First for Alan, does this current Sprint Cup car make it easier or more difficult to chase teams like the 48 that's been in front of everybody else? I wonder whether you'd have a harder or an easier time trying to close the gap on those guys if you were in the old vehicle.

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Um, I don't know that the car matters. That's an interesting question. But I don't think that the car really matters as far as chasing the 48, if it would have been easier in the old car. It may have been a little bit easier to get an advantage in the old car, so with that being the case, maybe I could make a case for yes, it could potentially be a little bit easier to run somebody down in the old car.

I don't think it makes a ton of difference. This car does have us in a little tighter box to where it's tough to get an advantage. Obviously Chad and Jimmie have a great relationship and a great team, and they really work well together, and that makes it tough. To beat them, you have to have some advantage over them. Maybe the old car would give us a better opportunity to do that, but if so, it would be very slight.

Q: And Chad, Ray Evernham won three titles and went into ownership. Do you have any aspirations for stuff like that or management, or is being a chew chief where you want to be long-term?

CHAD KNAUS: I'm getting an awful lot of those questions for whatever reason the last few weeks. I don't know. My initial goal when I first came into the Cup Series was to obviously become a crew chief and win races and win a championship and then move on to an ownership role. I don't know if I want that now or not. I think it would be foolish of me to try to think that I could be an upstart team and try to make something like that happen.

You almost have to have an affiliation with somebody to do that. If you look at Tony Stewart and the way he got into Stewart-Haas and that deal all came together with the support from Hendrick Motorsports, that deal will work. To start from an outside company I think would be a pretty lofty goal, and I don't know if -- after realizing what it is that we've got here at Hendrick Motorsports, I don't know if I would ever want to race against it. It's a pretty amazing place.

Just I don't know. We'll just have to wait and see. But the likelihood is probably slim at this point.

Q: First for Alan, and then if Chad will follow up, Alan, can you put your finger on what Chad and Jimmie have that nobody else seems to have? And after that, if you will, Chad, will you address what about Alan and his operation has impressed you in these last couple years?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: As far as what the 48 has that nobody else has, that's a really tough question to answer. If I could answer that, I'd be working really, really hard to figure out -- or to implement that or whatever it is. But I can tell you that they work as hard or harder than anybody else in the series consistently, and they're both at the pinnacle of the sport, both Chad and Jimmie, and they have assembled a great team and do a great job keeping a great team even when they have some rollover, which in professional sports is inevitable, they can fill the voids really well.

But the things that they've accomplished, and I know firsthand racing in this Chase, this is the closest I've ever been to them in my career, what they've been able to go do is extremely, extremely, extremely difficult. I've given everything I have and my team has and Mark has, and I think we've had a great season. Right now we're falling a little bit short. Hopefully for us that can change. I don't wish any bad luck on them at Homestead, but anything can happen. I do want to make the point that what they've been able to accomplish over the last four years and what they've done in this Chase is really remarkable.

I've heard some people bring the Tiger Woods analogy into the equation, and you sit there and you think about that, and that's probably one of the best ways to summarize how good they are and have been able to be over the last four years.

With that being said, we're not going to stop. At Homestead there's going to be another season in 2010, and we're going to gear up as hard as we can, and that's the position we want to be in. Each time you fall a little bit short, you learn, and I think we're getting better, and I think we're going to do whatever we can to reach that point sometime, too.

CHAD KNAUS: I think if you look at the 5 car, the thing that's impressed me the most, and not even this year, it's obviously easy to put a brand on what the 5 car has been able to do based on the 2009 season. But I think if you look at the tenacity that Alan and his team has had with different drivers, different circumstances, they don't give up. They have a never-say-die attitude.

I think if you look at where they were at at the beginning of the season with a couple of DNFs, whether that was from an accident or from an engine failure, they never even blinked an eye. Yeah, they were upset and they were discouraged, but they never gave up hope that they were going to make the Chase and man, they came back with a force. I think that if you look at the 5 car, they're probably one of the most technically advanced teams that we've got out there. Their engineering staff is second to none. They do a very good job of facilitating tests, looking at seven-post data, gathering intel and using that information.

I think Alan is the smartest crew chief out there. I've been saying that for a couple of years now. And I think it's just a matter of time before they get their chance, and it very well could be this year. We're hoping obviously from my side of things that it's the 48 car, but I can promise you, if we have something go down, they're going to be there to pick up the pieces.

Q: Question for Chad. One question and then a follow-up. Can you sort of go back to that 2004 race down at Homestead and just sort of take us through that and how intense that race was?

CHAD KNAUS: That race, man, if I could do anything to have that race again. I've played that race over in my head a million times. You know, to lose the championship by eight points -- we did a very good job. We finished second that race. There were a lot of teams that were in the hunt for that championship, with the 24 and us and the 97, and I think the 20 was the other one maybe. And we did a very good job. We really did. We lost it by 8 points.

The 97 car had that loose wheel. If the wheel would have fallen off just a split second later, he'd have hit the end of pit wall. If the wheel would have fallen off just a split second later, it would have went down pit road and the caution would have never come out. So all of those things coming out. If we would have won the race and the 97 car would have finished where he did, I think he was fourth or fifth, we would have got the five bonus points for winning the race and leading a lap, and we would have won the championship.

That one was a heart-breaker because I can tell you probably going back about 15 ways that we could have made up eight points throughout the course of those final races.

But I think at that point we definitely established ourselves as a team capable of battling for the championship seriously and people really started to take notice of us, so I think that was a step-out season for the 48.

Q: And then just one follow-up. In terms of sort of intensity of sitting atop the pit box, where does that race rank?

CHAD KNAUS: Right now not as intense as Homestead this weekend is going to be (laughing), I'll be honest with you. The one thing that I think you have to have in this industry is a short-term memory. That's definitely what I've got. I can't exactly tell you how that all played out that weekend. I know the stress level was high and intensity was high. The 97 car sat on the pole, the 24 car qualified well, we qualified well.

And right there at Homestead there's three pit boxes, and the 97 -- was that that race?


CHAD KNAUS: The 97, he took the first pit box, the 24 car took the other one just behind them, and then I took right in the middle of them just to try to add fuel to the fire and try to get everything going. And at that point, it was every man for himself. Typically in a competitive nature you try to spread out and give everybody their own space, but at that point we couldn't do it.

So actually we qualified a little worse. But anyways, man, they're all as important -- every race is just as important as the next. The one that's most important to you is the one that you're at currently. And obviously we're looking ahead to Homestead.

Q: This question is for both of you. Ray Evernham said that in order to be a really great crew chief you've got to have the willingness to kind of give up the other portions of your life while you're doing it. Do you find that's true, in order to be really dedicated to the team, that you have to let some other things go?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, it's definitely a balance, and those are decisions that you've got to make. I think the point to all that is somebody is going to do it. Somebody is going to dedicate their life 24/7, 365, to their trade and their sport and their craft and they're going to continuously get better.

You've got to make a decision in your life at what point in time is enough enough or when are you going to quit or is there ever a point when enough is enough. That's difficult and something we all have to balance out.

The flip side of that is I think you can go too far and lose your sanity, and that can be just as bad of a distraction as not working hard enough. You've got to balance it out, and there's a lot of ways. I think the one thing that we really look at here at Hendrick Motorsports is how we can be the most efficient and optimize our time and not waste time because time is so precious to us, either being here at work, at the racetrack or on vacation with our families or whatever it is that we're doing. We try to get the most out of every second of every day. And I think that's the key, because you've got to be able to balance it out.

But to Ray's point, you've got to dedicate the majority of your adult life to it and your good years to be the best. Chad is the best right now, so he could give a lot of insight into that, I'm sure. But from my point of view, yeah, it's very taxing.

CHAD KNAUS: I think, again, a lot of what Alan says is right. But I think he's a good example of you don't have to do that. I think that Alan has -- he's got a wife, children, house, he does stuff with his family, and he's extremely successful. So I don't think you necessarily have to have that.

I know a lot of us have given up things like that, family life, children, lost wives. I mean, there's been a lot of things that have gone on through different crew chiefs' careers, but I don't think it's necessarily the case that it has to be that way. We do a good job of empowering the people that work with us to carry a lot of the load.

In 2005 I really dedicated everything I had to that year to try to win the championship, and we came up short, and Mr. Hendrick and Jimmie showed me at the end of that season, look, you can't do this; you can't do it at the level that you're trying to do it. It wasn't the level of success, it was the level of intensity, because it was like what Alan said, I was losing that edge that I had and I was beginning to flame out.

I think that now a good crew chief, a really good crew chief, probably does a better job of balancing his home life, his life away from work and his life at work because that's the only way you're going to get the proper balance to where you can be successful in both, so you can be successful in both because you can't have one without the other and probably be fulfilled.

Q: Have you figured out how to balance that?

CHAD KNAUS: Me personally? Yeah, I think so. I'm doing a lot of -- I'm definitely taking more time off than what I have in the past. I'm enjoying things, I'm going places, and I owe all that to Jimmie. I had never had a vacation until 2002 when Jimmie and I went to Cabo San Lucas together, and it was like, man, there's something else to do other than racing. And still to this day I don't do as much stuff as what I would like, but I definitely take time off and enjoy myself, yeah, for sure.

Q: For Chad and for Alan, Mark had said on pit wall after the race, and it was really earnest and from the heart, I've gotta dig deeper, but he did that and said that, having exorcised the demons that we have seen before in him. For Alan, did you help exorcise those demons? That makes him a better driver, I think. And can you talk about him saying I gotta dig deeper? And to Chad, have you had to help exorcise demons out of the mind of your driver because that's such a big part of it?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I think we all have things that we've got to -- challenges that we've got to face and mental blocks that we've got to get over. I think the one you're referencing specifically is Talladega, and that was a place where Mark has made it pretty common knowledge it is not one of his favorite venues, and the racing does not necessarily suit him. He took a very positive attitude on it and didn't let it affect him.

I don't know that I specifically helped Mark with that, but I think in general, Hendrick Motorsports as a whole, as a company, and our race team in general have helped Mark relax and allow us to do some of the things that maybe in his career previously he wouldn't allow other people to do or have the confidence in them to do. And I think he is at a point in his career now where he trusts us and he allows us to take some of those burdens off him, and he can just go out there and drive.

And as far as the comment that he's got to dig deeper, you know, when you're in the position we're in, it's very frustrating. We've done about everything that we humanly possibly can do. I don't look back at one situation -- I guess I should rephrase that. If I look back at one race and second-guess myself, it would be Lowe's. I think at Lowe's we could have done a little better job there and finished a little higher.

We've done everything we could do. We've worked as hard as we can work. He's driven his tail off every week; the pit crew has practiced and performed from January of last year or December of last year preparing for this. So when you get into that situation and you're falling short, it's frustrating, so I think he's just saying to himself in typical Mark Martin fashion, he's putting that load on his shoulders saying he's got to go out there and dig deeper.

I don't know if that's necessarily the case. We've all just got to polish our system or fine-tune our team a little bit, and we're talking a position here, two positions there and we'll be where we need to be. We're not that far off.

Mark, yeah, maybe he can do this a little bit better or that a little bit better, but it's not a huge gap. We've just got to close it a little bit.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson , Ray Evernham , Chad Knaus , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports