Martinsville: Alan Gustafson & Chad Knaus Interview
ALAN GUSTAFSON, CREW CHIEF FOR THE NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS AND CHAD KNAUS, CREW CHIEF FOR THE NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Martinsville Speedway and discussed Hendrick Motorsports success at Martinsville Speedway, what is happening with the tires in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the importance of their drivers having high success rates at Martinsville Speedway and many other topics. Full Transcript:
TALK ABOUT YOUR HISTORY HERE AT THE TRACK AND YOUR STRATEGY GOING INTO THE WEEKEND:
GUSTAFSON: “This has been a good place for Hendrick Motorsports in general. The company got its first win here and has had a lot of success since that point. It’s always been a special place for us. It’s close to home and I think for all of us short track racing is close to our hearts. When you come here this is definitely a true short track. We always enjoy coming here. Fortunately having good teams and good drivers we have had some success here and been able to win some races. Always fun to get back here, the place doesn’t seem to change much. It seems to stay pretty true to its form which is special in this sport now-a-days. It’s nice. It’s good to get back here and look forward to getting the weather out of here and get a chance to get on track and get to work.”
KNAUS: “I’m fortunate to have been a part of a lot of victories here with the No. 24 car and with the No. 48 car. It’s been a lot of fun for me throughout the course of my career. I really enjoy coming up here. I didn’t think when we first started coming up here with Jimmie (Johnson) that we were ever going to get the race track figured out. It seemed to be pretty elusive to us to be able to find the speed and race the way that we needed to. Fortunately enough we got on top of it and Jimmie got a good feel for it. We were able to start tuning the race cars the way he needed them. We have had some success since then. This place brings back a lot of amazing memories of success. And obviously some sadness as well, so we always look forward to coming up here to try to run well, have a good consistent solid weekend and hopefully come out of here with smiles on our faces. It’s a challenge, it’s fun. I was just watching the fall race from last year. Holy smokes, we had unfortunately had some problems early on, but boy there seemed to be a lot of problems throughout the course of the race. It was like a demolition derby as opposed to an oval track race. We are looking forward to it. Really excited, we have a great race car and it is one of our favorite places.”
HOW MUCH WILL THE NEW PACKAGE AFFECT WHAT HAPPENS HERE?
KNAUS: “I think you are going to see some changes obviously. We have a bunch less horsepower than what we have had in recent history. So it is going to come into play a little bit. We will have to see how it goes, but I think that just like you always say the cream always rises to the top. With the two drivers that we are fortunate to have these guys get around this race track pretty darn well. Jimmie’s got a unique driving style around here. Jeff (Gordon) has got his own unique driving style and it seems as though if he can get his driver tuned in and I can get my driver tuned in. It doesn’t matter what the package is we are going to be able to be successful. I think you will see some changes, but I think when it all is said and done we should be running well if we do our jobs correctly.”
SO IT SHOULDN’T SHAKE UP WHO MIGHT BE GOOD HERE?
GUSTAFSON: “It’s hard to say. It is definitely going to change and I think the guys who have a good feel for this track like Chad is talking about, Jeff and Jimmie, are obviously two of those guys. It will be a little bit easier for them to adapt to those adjustments and give that feedback. I do think that average finish is relevant. Having run that well gives you a lot of confidence and a lot of understanding of the race track. Now that the configuration is a little bit different you should be able to identify what has changed and how to adjust to it. But anytime things change that opens up opportunities for somebody to get on top of it. I wouldn’t say that the finishing order is going to be the exact same from the fall. There is a good chance that it could shake up for sure. I think that our guys will put us in a good position to succeed.”
THE NO. 4 TEAM IS ON SUCH A ROLL WHAT IS IT LIKE WHEN YOU ARE THAT GOOD WEEK IN AND WEEK OUT? WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
KNAUS: “The challenge if you are good week in and week out? I think the biggest challenge that you have to fight is complacency for sure. When you do go out and you have a stretch of three or four weeks, three or four months whatever it may be that you are running competitive and maybe out doing the competition it is real easy to sit back on your laurels and kind of let them catch up. It is hard to keep that intensity. People work really hard when they are getting their butts whipped every week. When you are not getting your butt whipped you tend to not work quite as hard. The problem is everybody that is trying to catch you is working pretty hard. That will be their biggest challenge I would say from an organizational stand point. The fact of the matter is those guys have some good stuff going on right now. I know I have a pretty good understanding of what they have for race cars and chassis and engines. I know that is good stuff.”
IS THERE SOMETHING MORE THAT YOU DON’T KNOW?
KNAUS: “You mean they are holding out on us? Is that what you are saying?”
ARE THEY DOING SOMETHING THAT NOBODY ELSE IS DOING?
KNAUS: “No, I mean look here is the deal, people said that for years like you said with the No. 48 that we were holding out on maybe the No. 24 or whatever the situation may be. The facts are that they are clicking. They have an understanding for one another that was established quickly. They have been able to grow that. The more they grow it and nurture it the better it is going to be. Like I said the challenge is longevity.”
WITH THE NEW TRACKBAR ADJUSTER IS THIS A TRACK THAT A DRIVER CAN GET HIMSELF INTO MORE TROUBLE WITH ADJUSTING THAT ONE WAY OR THE OTHER? IS IT EXAGGERATED HERE OR IS IT LESS IMPORTANT?
GUSTAFSON: “I do think it is a track that adjustment should be effective. I don’t know that it is a track that you could get yourself in more trouble with. But, it is going to be interesting to have that option here because this is a track that adjustment should be fairly sensitive here. It should be fairly effective. It will be interesting to know throughout the race how you can use that to your advantage and how you can help a car over a run or over different conditions, traffic, or whatever it maybe. I think it will have a big impact here as probably as big of an impact here as anywhere we race.”
WITH NASCAR STOPPING THE CARS ON PIT ROAD THIS YEAR AFTER THE RACE I THINK THERE ARE ONLY TWO CREW MEMBERS ALLOWED OVER. WILL YOU GUYS TAKE ANY STEPS TO REMIND YOUR CREW GUYS TO STAY BACK SHOULD TEMPERS FLARE:
GUSTAFSON: “For me I don’t think I have to remind my guys. We are good on that (laughs).”
KNAUS: “As brothers in the same family I hope that our guys have learned from maybe his guys' mistakes. I guess it is probably a good point. I really hadn’t thought about it. You guys think about that stuff more than I do. Now when I walk out of here I will make sure I go and tell them to make sure that they don’t do that. You don’t know man. I was just watching the race (from last year) a moment ago and the No. 5 and the No. 55 they just beat the hell out of each other all race long last race. The thing that happens is … this is what is kind of frustrating as a crew chief and a team member, everybody always thinks ‘oh Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne’ it’s not just them. It’s the 60 people that built that car or the 600 people that maintain those cars. Every time somebody takes a swipe at your race car you get a little bit madder and a little bit madder. It’s not just the guys inside the race car. That is why those things happen. That is why they get frustrated as well. Yeah, thanks for the reminder I will go tell my guys to make sure they stay back.”
THE LAST TWO WEEKS NASCAR HAS TAKEN TIRES FROM TEAMS. AFTER FONTANA THEY SENT SOME OF THOSE TIRES OFF TO AN INDEPENDENT LABORATORY. NASCAR SAID THAT IS PART OF A REGULAR TIRE AUDIT. WHAT DO YOU GUYS MAKE OF WHAT IS GOING ON THERE? DO YOU THINK THEY ARE LOOKING FOR SOMETHING SPECIFIC?
GUSTAFSON: “It’s hard to speculate because that is all I could do. In my experience there is a lot of smoke around that. There is a lot of talk, there is a lot of dialogue and there are a lot of rumors in the garage. Yeah, I think it is obvious that some people think something is going on and is NASCAR reacting to that? Or do they feel uncomfortable with what is going on? I don’t know that answer. But I do think that it is something that is on the forefront of a lot of people's minds. Obviously NASCAR is trying to make sure that we are all on level playing field and if anybody is violating that they will pay the price, which they reminded us this morning is very stiff. That is all I know. Anything beyond that is speculation besides the fact it is a hot topic.”
SO THEY WARNED YOU?
GUSTAFSON: “I don’t want to say warned. Warned may not be the right term, just reminded.”
DO YOU THINK SOMETHING IS GOING ON?
GUSTAFSON: “Do I think something is going on? I mean I’m busy on Sunday’s. I don’t really watch what is going on. It’s hard for me to say. I don’t feel that I have enough information that would warrant a comment.”
KNAUS: “I don’t know. I don’t know if there is anything or not. I really don’t. Like Alan said, I’m busy on Sunday and I don’t have a lot of friends in the garage. So, I don’t talk too much. I don’t talk to anybody else either so it’s okay. My friends are outside of racing. So, I don’t know what is going on. I really don’t. I know I sent Richard Buck (Managing Director of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series) a text and said ‘hey man could we poke holes in our tires is that okay?’ He sent me a text back and said ‘absolutely not’. So that is all I know.”
AS YOU MIGHT HAVE SEEN THEY HAVE ADDED SOME TIRE BARRIERS JUST OUT IN FRONT OF PIT ROAD WHEN YOU TURN IN. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THOSE INCREASED SAFETY MEASURES?
KNAUS: “It was dark when I came in.”
GUSTAFSON: “Yeah, I was going to say I haven’t seen them so thanks for the info.”
KNAUS: “Where did they add them again? Yeah, that is cool. I’m glad that they are taking some kind of precautionary measures. Our number one commodity is our drivers. They are our conduit. I’m not going to say the reason why we are successful, but they are the biggest reason why we are successful. So, we need to make sure that those guys are safe. I think every race track, and I’ve said this before, any exposed wall that can have an impact to the drivers needs to have some type of safety measures taken to it. I don’t know what those are. I wish I did. I think the tires are an option, especially for a short track, like here with the speeds being decreased as much as they are. You go to a track like Michigan, Fontana, some of those fast race tracks or even Charlotte or someplace like that. Putting tires may not be a good thing, because the cars will ricochet off of them. I don’t know that I have the answer for that by any stretch, but I think every track needs to take a step back, look at their safety measures for the drivers, just as much as they would for anybody else, like with the fans and so on and so forth. I think that is really important.”
GUSTAFSON: “For me every wall just needs to have a SAFER barrier. I know that there are some logistical issues with that and the tracks have to pay. It costs a lot of money, it takes time, but when you see what happened to Kyle (Busch) it is very obvious that these cars are going really fast. If the wrong thing happens at the wrong place you could be in a position where a driver is very seriously hurt and his career is ended. Or even worse, dead, and that is not what any of us want to have. So, I think it is very important that we look at it. Not only do we get SAFER barriers on every wall at the tracks that are exposed to the cars, but I think we can push that technology further forward. I think that is a great innovation and the technology of the SAFER barriers and HANS device has really revolutionized the safety in this sport. I think that the SAFER barrier can continue to improve and make it safer. Really when the tracks are safer and the drivers feel safer they are more aggressive and that is the racing the fans want to see also. I think there is a little side benefit to that when the drivers know that they have some margin of safety there.”
NASCAR I THINK IS CUTTING BACK THE NUMBER OF SETS OF TIRES YOU GUYS CAN HAVE FOR PRACTICE AND ON RACE DAY. IS THAT A BIG DEAL? IS THAT GOING TO IMPACT ANYTHING AT ALL?
KNAUS: “Gosh, I’m so mixed on this topic and I don’t know what the right way to go about it is. I think from a financial stand point obviously it’s great. We all need to save money. From a competitor stand point I hate it. For instance, we are in Phoenix a couple of weeks ago, we come around off of Turn 4 on the first lap and get pushed up into the fence. Caution comes out shortly thereafter we come down and have to change tires. Well that is one set of tires gone in one lap. If you are at a track like here at Martinsville, you go out there and you get crashed and you have to come in and change tires. It goes on and on and on. Before you know it you are out of tires. Look I understand those are the rules and so on and so forth, but that is not what we want to do. We don’t want to hinder a team that is trying to come back from a mishap on the race track or something bad happens and take them out of an opportunity to go up there and compete for the win. Or a top five or a top 10 just because of a tire allotment rule. I know that a lot of the race tracks it doesn’t matter a whole lot. You go to Michigan, maybe Kansas, maybe some of the other events; it’s not a huge deal. But you come to some of these tracks like here, Texas, Atlanta, man you need to have some tires. We almost ran out of tires here I think it was in the spring race last year and we had 11 sets. We got down to our very last set of tires in the race. So, cutting those back, like I say, I get it from a financial stand point. I don’t have the correct answer. I get it from that perspective, but from my perspective and being a competitor I want everything I can get.”
GUSTAFSON: “For me I feel the same way, obviously mixed emotion on it. I think as long as everybody has the same amount that is fair. But it does put you in a tough situation if you do have some unfortunate circumstances like Chad is referring to and you get behind a set of tires. For a puncture or damage or whatever it is, that can shut your opportunity to have a good finish down. It can really hinder you significantly. There are a lot of those circumstantial things in our sport. I don’t think that is unusual, but it may just magnify that more which makes our jobs a little bit tougher.”
IT COULD IMPACT SOMETHING SUCH AS A GREEN-WHITE-CHECKERED?
GUSTAFSON: “Yeah, I can think of a time me and Chad wished nobody had any tires here on a late race caution. It can work both ways. Yeah, it can influence it for sure.”
COULD WE PUT BLEEDERS OR SOMETHING ON THE TIRES TO GET THE SAME AFFECT ON THESE TIRES RATHER THAN PERHAPS COMPROMISE THE TIRES? FROM WHAT I UNDERSTOOD THIS IS ALSO A SAFETY ISSUE. IF YOU GO TOO FAR ON WHAT IS ALLEGED TO BE GOING ON IT COULD BECOME A SAFETY ISSUE.
GUSTAFSON: “Yeah for sure. That is ultimately, you are talking about a bleeder and that is a commonly used tool at a short track. That really would do the exact same thing. Probably do a better job than what is proposed that some people are doing. So yeah, I do think that is something that NASCAR could look at and it is something that really it could potentially help the durability of the tire also because you would start higher on pressure and lower on pressure and kind of stay within that optimum operating condition of that tire. Yes, I think it is a valid point and it is something that they can look at for sure to see if it would improve our sport, not only for tire durability, but for fairness of competition. I think that is the thing that is going to be tough for NASCAR is that if this is going on as rumored it is a very difficult thing to police. The way to police it may be to just allow it through a more conventional tool like a bleeder.”
WAS THAT BROUGHT UP IN THE MEETING AT ALL?
WHEN A DRIVER PUTS UP BIG NUMBERS AT A TRACK DO YOU THINK THAT IS TYPICALLY MORE ABOUT THE DRIVER OR THE CAR?
GUSTAFSON: “That is the million dollar question. I would say in a situation like Phoenix and Martinsville here with Jeff, Phoenix with Kevin (Harvick), the driver has a big influence on that. They obviously have to be in good equipment. Kevin can’t go there in a bad car and win. Jeff can’t come here in a bad car and win. Or he can’t overcome a pit stop late that puts him in 10th spot. The team has a significant influence on the execution and the outcome of the race. But when a driver gets a feel like those guys have at a certain race tracks it takes a lot of weight off the team or makes the teams job easier to do. Then they can focus on those intangibles like the pit strategy and the pit stops because the pace comes because the driver has got very good direction. I would say in situations like that where drivers have become dominate at race tracks that their influences are a bigger part of it than normal if that make sense.”