Knaus, Gustafson - NASCAR teleconference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Chad, what about you? Is your driver flawless with the demons in his head, or do you have to work on that with him, or did you? CHAD KNAUS: I don't know if you'd call them demons, I guess, but Jimmie and I, we've...

Continued from part 1

Q: Chad, what about you? Is your driver flawless with the demons in his head, or do you have to work on that with him, or did you?

CHAD KNAUS: I don't know if you'd call them demons, I guess, but Jimmie and I, we've reached a level in our relationship that we're pretty open with one another and can communicate very well. So I think that, you know, if there's something that's weighing heavy on him, he definitely brings it up and we can discuss it. It's not like we have to have a formal sit-down or anything like that, that I've really got to try to talk him off a cliff. It really hasn't been that way.

We're in communication constantly, whether it's via email, text, phone conversation. So I think we have our own therapy sessions, just kind of unwillingly, just kind of flows. I don't think it's something that's real, real structured or something that I necessarily have to focus on. But if there were things, you know, we would talk about them.

Q: One for each. For Alan, I know that you've talked about in the past always have been a Mark Martin fan growing up. I don't know if I can recall exactly how you got in that direction or why, so if you could talk about that. And for Chad, we were talking the other day and mentioned the name Bill Belichick, and I'm guessing you're aware of the gambling call he made at the end of Sunday's football game that didn't work --

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Thanks a lot. I know he knows about that because we watched that together.

CHAD KNAUS: Weren't you just here?

Q: Yes, I was. I really wanted to ask you just about the decision-making in evaluating a risk of a gamble. Obviously to Belichick, he didn't see the risk as great as other people saw it or he wouldn't have made that decision. A lot of people look at you and the gambling that you do. Can you talk about that process when you get the chance, please?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: As far as me being a Mark Martin fan, where that started is just a kid, a young race fan, who like every other kid was in love with the race cars and the speed and the competitiveness of the sport and everything that's great about it. Mark was a guy that stood out to me, what I would kind of term as a man's man. He always worked very hard for what he got, and if he fell short, he was the first guy to stand up and take the blame, and he would not point the finger and get into controversy. He'd go back and work harder and come back that much better.

That was a trait that I tried to emulate in my life and follow, and that was something I was really drawn to. He was a blue-collar racer and he worked really, really hard for it and deserved everything he got. And that was the big thing that drew me to Mark, and his tenacity on the racetrack, as a fan, somebody watching this guy on Sunday or Saturdays in the Busch Car winning all these races. It really drew me to him, and I really respected what a stand-up guy he was.

The great news about all that is sometimes I think when you have people like that, that you idolize, the opportunity when you meet them or you really get to know them, you can be let down. But for Mark with me it's exactly the opposite. I think I'm a bigger Mark Martin today than I was before I knew him, and I have more respect for him today than I did then. That's a really neat thing.

CHAD KNAUS: You know, as far as -- you have to weigh out your options as you're going through a race. The thing that I probably enjoy the most in our sport is trying to figure out how to win. You know, that's what drives me the most. You know, if you're running 10th with 100 laps to go in the event, what we enjoy the most is trying to figure out how to beat the competition.

Based on what Belichick did, he weighed it out, and this is me speaking for him, I haven't heard any of his interviews or anything like that, but I think he felt like, okay, our team is in a position where we're comfortable enough, we're going to make the playoffs, we're in a position where we can take this chance. If something happens and it doesn't work out, we're not going to be much worse for it.

I think if you look back at Phoenix last year when we won the spring race on fuel mileage, it was the same situation. We were like, okay, we can take a gamble at this point because it's not going to kill us. We won the race.

If you fast-forward to Michigan this year, the same situation arose. We were like, okay, let's give it an opportunity. We really had nothing to lose because we were going to be in the Chase. So to go for a win at that point was a little bit wiser.

Now, he was on the defensive side of that thing because he had the points lead, but I think if you try to second-guess every decision everybody makes, you're going to find a fault in every person. But I think if you make the right decision the majority of the time, then you're a successful coach.

Q: Jimmie sort of flew under the radar there in the Busch Series and we all know the story about him. Chad, you ended up at the drivers meeting in Chicagoland that sort of led to this whole thing. Was there any point that particularly sticks out in your mind when you first saw him do something, where you thought, oh, yeah, I've got something to work with here, this is going to be good?

CHAD KNAUS: Nope. Not until we showed up at the test in Las Vegas because I never really paid any attention to him to be honest with you. I was in the Cup Series. I've primarily been in the Cup Series, never really worked in the Nationwide or the Busch Series. I've never even crew chiefed a Nationwide car until Jimmie and I did it together. Really I had nothing to fall back on.

All I knew is coming into Hendrick Motorsports I would have the resources that we needed to be successful. I knew that I liked Jimmie from a personal standpoint, and I was like, shoot, let's give it a shot, see what happens. From his driving ability, I knew nothing. I had never even watched a race that he had been in. I think the one race that he won in Chicago on fuel mileage was the only race I really even took notice to him doing that, and I knew Ryan Newman was catching him at the end. That's all I really knew about it

Q: Do you remember a point after y'all got together when he did something like that, that you sort of turned an eye to him?

CHAD KNAUS: You know, I think just from us really getting after it. We went to the Las Vegas test, and we really sat down and we had a methodical way of trying to learn each other and develop our vocabulary, and right there, I was like, man, this guy has got some talent. We were running just as fast and what the 24 car was and we were trying to kind of mimic them. If you're at a racetrack and you're one of the fastest guys there, because back then everybody went and tested together, so you had all 50 teams there testing, and if you were in the top two, three at a test, you were pretty impressive. And I think that's kind of the way we went through Las Vegas.

So I would say that test there was a good indication of what kind of skills he had.

Q: We spoke to a Cup champion recently, and he said that Rick would not be satisfied unless he took you and Jimmie to the point where you broke the seven-championship record with -- I know this is down the road, but he just said Rick Hendrick has such a need to break records, he takes such satisfaction in setting those goals and doing it. Can you see yourself in that position at some point?

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I hope. That's all I can say. We've been in a position to where we've been able to battle for the championship since 2002. So I would like to say that we could be in that position. But you don't know. The competition level is so high that you can't -- you don't know what you're going to do from one week to the next. It's so difficult to predetermine what's going to happen. It wasn't that long ago you would say, okay, we can realistically run Top 10 every week, barring a mechanical issue or what have you. Now you can't realistically say you're going to run Top 20 every week because the competition is so tough.

So I'm hoping that we have that. I know that Jimmie has got the talent. I know that we've got the talent here at Hendrick Motorsports to make that happen, and we know Mr. Hendrick likes shiny things. If we can keep going and get him more trophies, he's just going to be happier, and Alan is going to try to do the same thing.

That's just kind of the way it is. We're going to give it everything we've got and see where it shakes out, and hopefully we're here six, seven years from now doing the same thing.

Q: This is for Alan. How is working with Mark Martin different from other drivers you've worked with?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Mark has got obviously a lot of talent. He's a great person. I think the biggest thing, his professionalism is above -- considerably above everybody else I've worked with on and off the racetrack, the way he works at his trade, the way he communicates with the team, the way that he works with his teammates. Everything he does, he is very, very professional, very dedicated to what he does, and he does it in a really positive way.

I know it's a really broad statement, but his professionalism is very impressive, and that allows you to focus on what's important. You don't have to worry about things that aren't important. You can worry about what's going to make the cars go faster, the communication of the team, the communication of the engineering staff, help work with the pit crew, help work with our teammates and other drivers, other crew chiefs and other drivers to get that dialogue going to where we can get as much information as possible, and then process it correctly.

He does a fantastic job with that. You know, he's a great teammate. He's just a great person to be around. I think Chad would say the same thing. He's a great complement to our organization. He helps all the drivers, helps all the teams, helps management, everybody. He's just got a great perspective on racing and how to go about things, and we're really fortunate to have him here at the company.

Q: As a follow-up, because of his experience, has that been an asset there with the younger drivers at Hendrick, but with Mark's experience because of the testing policy that has been in place this year, has that benefitted Hendrick?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I think there's no question about that. I know it's benefitted the 5 tremendously, and I think that's flowed over to other teams. He knows what he needs and what he wants. He's got a great feel for a race car, and he can give us the information. Not that he's going in and saying, hey, I need this or I need this, but he will say I need my car to do this and he feels like this is happening, that it make this happen and that's a result of X, and then we can go back and diagnose all that stuff.

There's been a lot of times during the year that the 48 and the 5 have been very similar or the 24 and the 5 have been very similar. All four cars have been similar. To watch Mark have the dialogue with those other drivers -- and when you get a guy like Mark Martin and a guy like Jimmie Johnson on very similar equipment, getting their feedback is just priceless. It allows us to take things so much further, and like you said, with the lack of testing, you don't have that benefit if you have a rookie driver or drivers that don't have the experience or the intelligence level or the ability that those two have. They're two of the best.

So it's really neat to be involved with that, when you get the four talented drivers we have, get them on similar equipment and then listen to how each one of them will dissect the car differently, and I think Mark does as good a job with that as anybody.

Q: And Chad, would you mind commenting, please, if Mark has benefitted you this year, as well?

CHAD KNAUS: I think Alan really hit on it all. Mark is a fantastic talent. I've been a fan of Mark since I was just a child. My father and Mark used to run ASA together, so I've got photographs of myself and Mark when I was like six and he was, like, 18 or something like that, 20 years old. So that was kind of neat to be a part of this deal.

I think he brings great experience, not only from a motorsports side of things but life experiences. Obviously he's older than we are, so he's done more and he's experienced more things. He really pulls out good information out of the other drivers. It's real easy, especially with what we've got going on now with different tires, and obviously we hate to compare cars still, but with this car that we've got, there's only so much you can do to it before the driver just has to say that's about as good as it's going to be and I have to go through with it and drive it.

And I think when we get together with Mark as a group, a lot of the drivers will come in discouraged and be just like, man, that's all I've got or even Mark could possibly do that. What ends up happening is they start to discuss it, and they're like, wow, that's what my car is doing, too, and they start to feed off of that and then Mark starts to influence those guys, just like, you know, guys, we can get through this, we can do this.

He's got such a good spin on things. It's never done. You're never done working on it. It could always be better. It's just time to go race.

And I think he brings a lot of that mentality to where we're like, look, we're going to work on it until the last lap of the race and try to make it better. He's got that desire that not a lot of people have.

Q: Chad, I'm wondering, heading into this weekend at Homestead Miami Speedway, it's the only track on the Chase schedule that you guys haven't won at, and I'm wondering if the reason is mainly because you're going in protecting a lead, or is there something else about that track that you guys haven't quite figured out yet?

CHAD KNAUS: Well, I think if you look at it, we've had obviously both scenarios play out there. We've had races that we've had to win to try to win the championship, we've had races that we needed to go in there and just be protective and try to make sure we didn't lose it.

So I think that we haven't hit on exactly what it is that we need there, although I feel like our package going into Homestead this year is probably the best that we've had yet, so I'm excited about that. I think we can go in there this weekend with the aggressiveness that we need. We sat on the pole there a couple years ago. I think it was 2006. I think we can go down there and battle for the pole and hopefully get ourselves in position to race for the win.

But you know, we're not going to do anything silly, either, to take ourselves out of contention or out of a place that we can possibly win this thing. So we're just going to have to play it by ear and hopefully we can be in a position to race for it and hopefully win this thing. It would be awesome. But obviously the big prize has to be the thing first and foremost on our minds.

Q: Alan, Rick Hendrick as a guy, what is it about him that just promotes an incredible sense of loyalty that we see out of the employees from the drivers and crew chiefs to everyone we see in the garage area? There's just something about Rick Hendrick that you guys want to do well for him.

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, I don't think there's any person that I've ever met who was more compassionate and who treats fellow human beings better than Rick Hendrick. And I think that's the key for me personally, and that's all I can speak on.

I know when I started here in the chassis shop, basically -- I don't want to say a nobody, a nobody is a nobody, but nowhere on his radar, he treated me like I was the best crew chief in the world or the president of Lowe's or whatever you want to say. He was extremely, extremely good to me, and he has been, and he's supported me through thick and thin, and he's supported me in tough times.

One thing that stands out in my mind when we've had issues on the racetrack or we had performance issues last year, there's a lot of owners who would have went right to the crew chief, and we see that week in and week out. We've seen that happen this year. But he had faith in me, and he stood behind me. I will return that favor ten times over. I think that's the key.

It's not -- there's not any magic. The fact is he's willing to do more for people, for his people, than basically anybody else is. And he's willing to put himself second time and time and time again for his company and for his people, and we all sincerely appreciate that, and we want to return the favor to him because he treats us so well.

I think he genuinely enjoys bringing good things and happiness to people's lives, and he does a great job of it. So he's just a super-special person. The world would be a worse place without Rick Hendrick in it. He's just a great guy and somebody you will do anything for because he will treat you the same way.

DENISE MALOOF: Chad and Alan, we appreciate your time today. Thanks very much for doing this, and good luck on Sunday.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports