Michigan: Gustafson - Friday media visit



ON WHERE YOU STAND AFTER ALL OF THE CHANGES THIS WEEK: "I stand the same place I was last week. I am the crew chief for the #5 CARQUEST/Kellogg's Chevrolet that Kyle Busch drives and we are going to continue to try to win races and go after this championship. That is our main goal, it has been from day one and that is what we are going to focus on doing."

WHAT IS YOUR EXPECTATION LEADING INTO NEXT SEASON? "To be honest with you, I am trying to focus on this season. I don't want to give up on what we have got going on here. These guys work really hard and spend a lot of time, and it is only June. We have got a long way to go and the end result of what we are trying to accomplish is win races and championships and regardless of what turns we take to do that, that is the focus and is going to be, and it's what's going to be this year. When next year comes around we are going to focus on the same things, there may be some different players involved but we will take care of that when we get there."

ON DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: "We all know what he means to the sport and the type of person that he is. My initial reaction is, Mr. Hendrick seemed very excited about it, which is great, you know, if anybody deserves that in this garage, it's him and Junior can bring a lot to our company which is what we all work for. We want Hendrick Motorsports to be successful and to prosper and the employees here to have opportunities to have good lives for themselves and their families and I think that Junior is going to help the company do that. I know that Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson and our teammates are excited about it, and we are excited about it in the future, but we are going to keep that in the future, for now."

YOU ARE A BRIGHT, YOUNG CREW CHIEF. ARE YOU UNDER CONTRACT? ARE YOU A FREE AGENT CREW CHIEF NOW? "No, absolutely not. I am under contract with Hendrick Motorsports. Mr. Hendrick has made me who I am today. He has given me all of the opportunities that I have and my loyalty lies with him and whatever he wants me to do, I am going to do it for him because without his help, his support, I wouldn't be who I am today and I appreciate that and understand it."

WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH DALE EARNHARDT, JR.? "I don't know Dale. I have been around Dale for a long time, just growing up. I grew up in Florida in the Southeast watching him race late models at Myrtle Beach and Hickory and Volusia County back in the day. So, I have seen a lot of him. I don't really have a personal relationship with him. I have heard a lot of good things about him from our drivers. I worked with Mark Martin and Mark had a lot of good things to say about him. You can tell, you know, he is a good guy."

WHAT IS THE TIMELINE ON THIS? YOU DON'T WANT TO BE IN LIMBO, NOT KNOWING YOUR FUTURE: "No, I am not in limbo. We have got, I am in charge of this No. 5 car and having this Kellogg's CARQUEST car run well and win races and that is what I am going to do. Believe me, that is not limbo. That is a tough job. That is a lot of work. That is something that I take very seriously. I am going to focus on that, you know. We are here in Michigan. This is a very important race, here in the backyard of Chevrolet, who is a great partner of ours and we want to come here and win this race and run well. So, limbo for next year? To say that you are in limbo is really not a fair statement because we have got a lot of work to do. We have got guys in the shop that work a lot of hours and put a lot of effort into it and we are not just going to say, hey this has changed so we are going to stop doing what we do, no, we are going to keep focused on running well."

ON THE SITUATION WITH JUNIOR IN THE CAR IN TEXAS AND EVER IMAGING IT WOULD END UP LIKE THIS: "Whew! No, absolutely not. A lot has been made of that and I have said this before and I want to say it again, I want to look at what happened there, we had the fastest car there in practice before qualifying and it was rained out. Then we wrecked that car in the second practice and we got the backup out for the third practice and started 43rd, made it to third, Tony Stewart spins out in front of us, which Tony Stewart rarely ever spins out and we ran in to the back of Junior. So that is a crazy circumstances series of events and for all of that to unfold is just one of those deals."

DO YOU SEE THE IRONY IN IT? "I think that we all see the irony in it, you know. I just want to make sure that people know that, I have heard some stories that that may have been an audition and that's, obviously you can see that by the set of circumstances, that that is very, very, very, very far from the truth."

DO YOU EXPECT TO BE A CREW CHIEF NEXT YEAR: "I expect to be a crew chief for Hendrick Motorsports. But I will make a statement that I will be at Hendrick Motorsports next year regardless. I would rather sweep floors for Rick Hendrick than I would be a crew chief for somebody else."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR TEAM, BECAUSE A NUMBER OF THEM ARE FRIENDS WITH DALE EARNHARDT, JR. AND YOU HAVE TO HOLD THE TEAM TOGETHER AND MOTIVATE THEM AND THAT IS A TOUGH TIME WHEN THINGS ARE KIND OF CRAZY RIGHT NOW? "Yeah, it is but the thing that I am very proud of my guys for, and I think that they show it week in and week out, even at Texas in all of that adversity, they are very professional and they are focused on representing Hendrick Motorsports and Kellogg's and CARQUEST, who are our partners, as well. They do a good job at that and I expect them to continue to do that and I know that they will."

WHY DO YOU SAY THAT YOU ARE STAYING AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS? WHAT MAKES THAT PLACE SO GOOD THAT, WITHOUT HAVING EVEN TALKED ABOUT OTHER PLACES, I AM SURE THAT YOU COULD GET OFFERS ALL OVER THE GARAGE? "Yeah, well Rick, Mr. Hendrick, is the most classiest guy in this garage. Like I said, he has been great to me since day one. When I started there eight years ago, he treated me with tremendous amount of respect when I was just a kid who didn't know what was going on. I appreciate what he has done. To me, that is what is important, you know. This sport is going to come and go and things are going to happen, but to have a personal relationship with a genuinely grand man like that is very important to me. I am going to be loyal to him. He was loyal to me."

LAST YEAR WE SAW WHEN BRIAN VICKERS LEFT THE TEAM, HE WAS EXCLUDED FROM SOME OF THE TEAM MEETINGS. IF THAT HAPPENS IN THIS SCENARIO, WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGES DOES THAT PUT ON YOUR SHOULDERS IN REGARDS TO GETTING KYLE THE INFORMATION AND PASSING IT ALONG? "That can get very sensitive. We did kind of see that with Brian. We work very hard here at Hendrick Motorsports to get an advantage and those advantages are small and we don't want to give them away and potentially get it to somebody else. With that being said, if we look at it and do a good job, careful to sensitive areas, I think that we can make it work. We haven't discussed any of that yet, but it is definitely a valid question that we are going to have to be looking at towards the future. For right now, Kyle is going to get everything that he has gotten from day one, from me, from these guys, from Jeff Gordon, from Jimmie Johnson, from everybody involved, all the support we can to win races. You know, it's not like we are struggling. We are a tenth place team that has ran very well and we have got five finishes 30th or worse and we are still tenth and I think that speaks volumes for the performance of the team. We eliminate some of that stuff and we will be championship contenders. So, that is going to be a sensitive area. That is going to be an area that we are going to have to look at, but we are going to do everything that we can to win races."

WHERE IS THE BALANCE IN SHARING AND GIVING ALL OF THE INFORMATION IN TRYING TO MAKE THE CHASE, BUT ALSO HOLDING BACK BECAUSE IN A FEW MONTHS, THAT GUY IS NOT GOING TO BE WITH THE TEAM? "I think that the balance leans towards performance. We have made obligations to all of our employees at Hendrick Motorsports and Kellogg's and CARQUEST to represent them the best we can and we can't just say, hey because things are changing in '08, we can't tell them sure, we are not going to do that. So, it definitely leans towards performance and we want Kyle (Busch) to run well. We want this team to run well and we are going to do everything that we can. With that being said, I am not going to go and photocopy my notebooks and go hand them out, but we will do the best we can."

WITH EVERYTHING THAT HAS HAPPENED WITH KYLE (BUSCH), DO YOU FEEL DEFLATED AT ALL OR DISAPPOINTED AT ALL? "Yeah, I mean, Kyle is a friend of mine. When you have a relationship like you do with the driver, it is very personal and when things go wrong, there is some disappointment. To sit here and say that there wasn't, I would be lying to you and I feel like when this all happened, we all knew the potential for Kyle to be a champion and win a lot of races. We still have a chance for him to be a champion here at Hendrick Motorsports. I feel like, now that it is not working out, I feel disappointed and I feel a little bit responsible, in some regard, because if everything would have went well, we wouldn't have this problem. With that being said, I don't think that I didn't give one hundred percent, it just didn't work out. It is sad, but that is business and we will just have to move on."

WHEN DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT THIS AND WERE YOU SHOCKED TO FIND OUT THAT THIS WAS COMING DOWN THE PIPE ON MONDAY? "Not much about this sport shocks me anymore so I don't know that shocked is the word. No, I mean it's, you know, you kind of know, if you evaluate where you are at and you just kind of know, you kind of know."

IS IT TRUE THAT AFTER THAT TEXAS INCIDENT, THAT WASN'T THE REASON WHY DALE EARNHARDT, JR. GOT INTO THE CAR, BUT A LOT OF PEOPLE SAID THAT WAS KIND OF THE CRUMBLING POINT, THAT THE TEAM LOST FAITH AND THAT THERE BECAME SOME MOMENTS THAT MADE IT MORE DIFFICULT AFTER THAT? "I definitely think that was a brick in the wall. Nothing was intentional there. I hate that that went down the way that it did and I hate that if it severed any feelings or put anybody in an awkward position that is regrettable, because that was not the intent of any of that action. So, yeah, that is a brick in the wall. What part of the contributing factor to these decisions that was, is anybody's guess. It wasn't good, you know. We all knew that it wasn't good. We knew when it happened that it wasn't good. It wasn't something that we wanted to have happen. The way it went down, the miscommunication, the things that went wrong, it wasn't good. So, anytime that happens, you don't like to have stuff like that happen."

DO YOU EXPECT THAT YOU WILL BE CONTENDING AGAINST KYLE ON THE TRACK? "Absolutely, Kyle is the best at his age on the track that I have seen. I have said it from day one and I will say it again, the difference between Kyle getting 20 Cup wins and 70 Cup wins is mentally how he handles the situations. He has got the talent. He is good enough to do it. He is going to be hard to beat. He is good. For anybody to dispute his talent is ridiculous. We all know that he has got it."

YOU AND KYLE OBVOIUSLY HAVE A VERY CLOSE RELATIONSHIP, THE FACT THAT HE IS GOING TO BE LEAVING HENDRICK, FOR ANY SECOND DID HE TRY TO SAY WHY DON'T YOU COME WITH ME TO WHEREVER I END UP? "No. We haven't got to that point. We haven't talked about it. I am very good friends with Kyle and Kyle knows how I feel about Hendrick Motorsports and Mr. Hendrick. I have known Mr. Hendrick and had a relationship with Mr. Hendrick before I have with Kyle and he gave me the opportunity to be with Kyle. I wouldn't know Kyle if it wasn't for Mr. Hendrick. I wouldn't have been through these circumstances to know and grow and learn with Kyle. So, it goes back to Mr. Hendrick and I think that he knows that."

WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE DALE EARNHARDT'S CREW CHIEF? "I want to be the crew chief for the No. 5 and these guys. To me it is more about, I know in this sport, obviously the driver is a huge part, that is what the media focuses on, that is what the fans focus on, but when you get down to the working level, it is the sum of all parts. So, the team is a huge part of that. This team, I have a huge amount of respect for. I have got a great relationship with my guys and that is what is important to me. I want to be with these guys. I want to be with this team. That is who I want to work with. Dale Jr., you know, who would say that they didn't want to work with Dale Jr.? More important to me is working with my guys."

YOU SAID THAT HE WAS TALENTED; CAN HE (KYLE BUSCH) BE HARNESSED? "Um, yeah. I think that decision is going to have to be up to him. He is going to have to decide if he can or not."

ON FEELING THE PRESSURE MR. HENDRICK SPOKE OF FILTERING DOWN THROUGH THE RANKS: "I think there is pressure with Kyle and there is pressure with Junior, obviously, because he is the most popular driver, there is pressure with Jeff Gordon. You have got a four time champ, a guy that has won seventy-five races, in my opinion, the best driver to ever drive a stock car, so when you are working on a team at Hendrick Motorsports with him or if you are Stevie (Letarte), you don't go run 30th with Jeff. (laughs) Right? So there is pressure. There is pressure for all of us and you know, Junior, with the fans support and economic impact that he has, is there is pressure. Yes. We all feel it, but I don't think it is anything unusual to us. It is nothing to Hendrick Motorsports, nothing unusual to the crew chiefs."

GIVEN THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE TEAMS, WHERE YOU BECOME SO COMPETITVE AND HE (JUNIOR) WANTS TO BE JEFF GORDON AND HE WANTS TO BE JIMMIE JOHNSON, CAN YOU MAINTIAN A PEACEFUL CO-EXHISTANCE? "Yeah, I think that has been the challenge with this multi-car team from day one and I think nobody has handled that better than Mr. Hendrick. When we have got teams that run the way we have and won ten races and three in the top ten, and Jimmie (Johnson) and Jeff (Gordon) running tooth and nail every week in and week out. It is nothing new to us. We have seen it before and we will be able to cope with it."

ARE YOU WORRIED THAT KYLE IS NOT GOING TO BE ABLE TO HANDLE THE PRESSURE OF FINISHING OUT THE YEAR IN THIS CAR AND NEGOTIATING WITH OTHER TEAMS? "I want Kyle to be happy. I want Kyle to, first of all, enjoy his life, enjoy what he has, his opportunities, to run well, to successful. I want all of those things for him. I don't want him to get caught up in the stuff that doesn't matter. You know, what somebody says about him, or what the media portrays it to be or what it is not to be, or what some owner thinks or some owner doesn't think. You know, I want Kyle to be happy with Kyle and Kyle to be happy with where he is at. So with that being said, I don't know how he is going to react. I don't know how things are going to go on, I just hope that he is happy with where he is at, he is happy with who he is, he can be successful and he can enjoy his life because he definitely deserves that."

DID YOU SIT DOWN AND TALK TO HIM AND SAY, I AM COMMITTED TO YOU? "Absolutely, he knew that from day one and I have told him that several times through these proceedings and I don't think that I have to tell him. I think that he understands."

I KNOW THAT YOU EXPRESSED YOUR PERSONAL FEELING OF DISAPPIONTMENT ABOUT NOT SEEING THIS THROUGH WITH KYLE. WOULD IT GIVE YOU A GREAT SENSE OF PERSONAL SATISFACTION, IF PAIRED WITH JR., YOU COULD HELP HIM WIN HIS FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP? "Well, I mean, the number one goal is company wide. We want to win championships for Hendrick Motorsports, for Rick Hendrick and that is what is important. Yeah, it's Jeff, Jimmie, Casey, Kyle, Dale, Landon Cassil, whoever we have got in those cars, we want them to win. That is our job. That is our goal. Does it mean more for one or the other? Well, you know, maybe.maybe not. We just want to win the championships."

YOU KNOW HOW MUCH IT WOULD MEAN TO DALE.  "I know how much it would mean
to me.  (Laughs)  If it was Kyle, Dale, Jeff, Jimmie, Casey, Bugs Bunny.I
don't care.  I want to win."

RICK SAID THAT HE WAS STRESSED WITH A LOT OF PRESSURE ON HIM TO GIVE DALE WHAT HE SAID THAT HE WOULD GIVE HIM. "I am sure he has a lot of stress. He has a lot of pressure, I know he does. But there is no person in this world who lives up to his word more than that man. So, I don't think that there will be any problems there."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports