Chevy Notes from the ROVAL Cup Race
CHASE ELLIOTT, NO. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS CAMARO ZL1 1LE, PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race winner, Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet.
Chase, we'll start with questions for you.
Q. Do you enter these road courses just knowing that you're going to have a great car? Do you enter these now with some sort of swagger? Does this success even surprise you? Because it's so rare to rattle off this many road course wins.
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, no, we definitely don't show up just expecting to be good. We show up trying to be better than we were last time. I thought we did that today.
I thought our car was better than it was here last year. I thought I was better than I was last year. Didn't pile drive the barriers this time. That was good. Was able to finish it off the right way, which is always encouraging.
Looking forward to this next round, trying to make some noise.
Q. I think you were 12th at Texas and Kansas. Do you feel like you have improved on your program enough to be able to make some noise?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I hope so. 12th certainly isn't going to cut it. We've been working tirelessly to try to improve. Kansas has historically been a decent track for us. We struggled there the first race this year. We know we got to be better. Looking forward to the challenge.
Q. Two years in a row that you've had some type of issue about the halfway point of the Roval. Is this going to be a trend having to come from 28th or back to win?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Hey, as long as the result stays the same, I don't really care (laughter). It worked out. We'll take it for sure. Those bonus points are big, can be a difference maker.
Like I said, just excited to have some momentum going into the next round. Wins are huge. Too hard to get to get picky with them. Looking forward to the opportunity, trying to make some noise and move on.
Q. With the road courses, tying Jeff Gordon, that result, have you talked to Jeff about the road course success? How do you feel in that portion of history with road courses?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, to be honest, we haven't talked all about it. I know he had a great run. I think we all respect his career beyond just that. Yeah, just trying to get better.
Jeff is a four‑time champion. We don't remember him for his four road course victories in a row, although it was great. Being a champion and trying to have the next level of success that he had is certainly a goal. Just trying to improve.
Q. You came down with the loose wheel, you came out 38th or something, pretty far down there. At what point did you feel like you were still going to have a shot to win? Was it immediately you were picking through cars?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I mean, you never know, to be honest. I was just focused on trying to move forward. Felt like our car was driving well. Certainly a setback. Got a caution I thought at a really good time, kind of bunched us back up. We had made our way through there some. That kind of allowed us to reset.
I felt like at that point we were in a position that we were kind of back to where we were or close to it with the way the strategy was working out. I felt like we just needed to be smart, try to keep our eyes forward and make the next right call, whatever that was. Putting on tires at the caution or not.
Alan made a great call, called a good race. I had a fast car. Things went our way. That's all we could ask for.
Q. What is the level of frustration inside the car? You put the blame on yourself last year. This year, not your fault. What happens inside the car that you can rebound from that?
CHASE ELLIOTT: It doesn't matter whose fault it is. The end result is the setback. That's really the bottom line. Blaming or being upset, as much as sometimes you might want to be, it's really unproductive.
Looking ahead, those guys weren't cussing me when I ran through the barrier. I wasn't going to cuss them for a mistake either. I think we just needed to keep our eyes forward, heads down, focus on trying to get back up front and have a shot to win.
Q. Would you compare your dominance on road courses to Kirby Smart's defense?
CHASE ELLIOTT: They've had a nice run, for sure. Yeah, I don't know. Hard to compare I suppose. Yeah, hope they can have a good game next week.
Q. (Question about the Braves and the Dodgers.)
CHASE ELLIOTT: I can't hardly hear you. Something about the Braves and the Dodgers.
Looking forward to watching for sure. I think they're going to have to definitely be on their A game. I'm excited to watch.
Q. In the lead‑up to road course events, mentally is your preparation any different than other weeks considering your track record at them or is it the same?
CHASE ELLIOTT: It's honestly not. I feel like we approach every week the same, to be honest. There's certainly areas that we want to try to improve on all the time. Like I said a minute ago, I don't think you can just come to these places and be the same as you were last time and expect to have the same results.
I thought our car was better today than last year. I thought I did a better job today than I did last year. I think that's why we were able to get a good result.
Q. Do you wish there were more road courses in the Playoffs?
CHASE ELLIOTT: No, I don't. I would just like to be good at all the tracks.
Q. You've got Texas, Kansas and Martinsville in the next round. Your thoughts on how you are going to perform, make it to the Round of 4?
CHASE ELLIOTT: You never know. That's why we go race, is to find out who wins and who loses. Just excited to have the opportunity. I think it's going to be a really big challenge for us to move on, as I think it is for everybody in this round, unless you just have a bunch of wins.
I think today's win is big. Getting those extra five points can be the difference. We just have to bring our A game, push ahead, really try to execute three solid weeks.
Q. What were the conditions like? Did watching what happened yesterday in the Xfinity race put you on edge for what might have come today?
CHASE ELLIOTT: For sure. I mean, I was shocked it didn't rain really at all. Feel like we got really lucky that that didn't happen in a lot of ways.
Yeah, I tried to be as prepared as I could be for that if it happened. I felt like the biggest challenge today was that transition period when the track was wet, as it was drying out, understanding which areas were still damp and which areas weren't.
The track kind of has like a sealer to it, when you see a fresh driveway or a big parking lot resealed. It's kind of like it has that all the time, which makes it dark and kind of hard to differentiate what's dry and what's not. That was the biggest challenge, was just understanding where to be, where not to be, trying to stay on the road.
Q. A lot of drivers learn how to go racing schools to be a better road course racer or driving instructors like Boris Said. Where did you learn to drive on road courses?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I feel like I've done all those things. I remember going to Bondurant out there as a kid, driving Corvettes. I remember going to Spring Mountain and spending a lot of time with Ron Fellows. Boris Said is a friend. I feel like dad was a really good road racer, too. I felt like there's small things that he's talked about over the years that have helped me, too.
I don't know. I feel like I've had an opportunity to be around some guys who have really good knowledge. If you can just pick things from everybody, try to take small little tidbits there, small little tidbits there, put it into one effort I think it's helpful.
I have been fortunate to have some good people to look up to. Still a lot of room for improvement I think on my end, but definitely a good day today. Want to enjoy it.
Q. It can be a bit premature to look ahead to 2021, but how thrilled are you to take on a brand‑new unknown with the Circuit of the Americas?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Great question, man. To be honest, I'm so focused on this year right now, whatnot, I haven't spent a lot of time going through the schedule for next year.
I think it's a good addition. It's a nice course out there. I feel like it's been quite the spectacle from the F1 side. Obviously that's a whole different ballgame.
Looking forward to going. I think it's going to bring new challenges and things none of us have ever seen before. I look forward to it, see what happens.
Q. Given the race form that's been implemented, how have you and crew chief embraced this challenge to keep elevating your performance and now be rewarded with the Round of 8?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Just trying to get better. We've been fortunate to get to the Round of 8 the last couple years. That's kind of been our stopping point. For us, we're just eyes ahead trying to assert ourselves amongst that next group.
We tend to see the same guys make the Final 4 every year, the same group fighting for those spots. I think for us, we're very capable of asserting ourselves amongst them. We just have to be a little better, a little more consistent, eliminate those bad racetracks, and I think we can run with whoever when we're at our best. I've said that before. I really believe it. I'm looking forward to the opportunity and ready to move on.
Q. You've talked about the people that you're around, good road racers that you've learned from, the schools. You've always been very smooth on the road courses. Has that been a natural for you? Did you ever struggle with the road courses when you first began?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I honestly don't know. I didn't feel like we did very spectacular on the Xfinity side when I ran over there. I feel like my first year in Cup, we didn't run all that good on road courses. It wasn't like it hasn't been a work in progress. We've just been trying to chip away at it, get better. I think we have a package that works at some of these racetracks pretty good. We just try to improve that.
Like I said, I'm not sure that you can just do the same thing every time and get the same results. I think we improved today from where we were last year. I try to make my craft a little better, minimize mistakes. We were fortunate that things were in our favor today.
Q. Through today's victory and being strong in the Playoffs, is there anything you feel you need to improve on as you inch closer to the Championship 4? What do you think your chances are of being in the Championship 4?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Like I said, we made the Round of 8 the last couple years. That's a great thing. That's a great achievement. But we always want more. Like I said a minute ago, too, we see the same people make the Final 4 every year. We've been very close to asserting ourselves amongst that group. I think we're very capable of it. I think when we're at our best, we run with those guys. I think we've proved that in the past.
We just have to be a little more consistent, eliminate those bad racetracks, I think we can make some noise.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Chase. Congratulations on the win today and good luck with the Round of 8 starting next week in Kansas.
CHASE ELLIOTT: Cool, thanks.
ALAN GUSTAFSON, CREW CHIEF, NO. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS CAMARO ZL1, PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Alan Gustafson, crew chief of the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet.
We'll get started with questions.
Q. Do you have something for road courses? Is there something you do that Chase takes advantage of that isn't able to be replicated now by anybody, including your teammates?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I think it's him. I think we have Chase Elliott. That's the difference. He's really, really good. Yeah, I don't know what else to say.
I think his performances speak for themselves.
Q. You were 12th at both Texas and Kansas earlier this year. Do you feel like you've gotten better? How much better will you need to be to have a shot at Martinsville to advance without a must‑win situation?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, both races were disappointing for us. I think we were slightly better than that at Texas, if you look at kind of average run, speed, whatever. We didn't get great finishes either place. We just weren't very good at Kansas which was extremely disappointing because that's historically a pretty good track for us, a track that we enjoy going to race at, have had success in the past.
I think we have to be top five every stage and every finish. That's the only way you're going to get through that, or win. It just comes down to the number 4, right? You need to be really, really close to that or on that every time points are offered.
Q. This is the fourth year that the 9 car made it to the Round of 8. You guys have been good, but you haven't gotten to the final step yet. What does it take to get you through this round? Where do you think this team ranks with the last three, four years?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I feel like there's always ifs and buts. I feel like there's certainly a couple times that I think we could have advanced. Last year was pretty disastrous for us with the Martinsville parts failures and the issue with the tire failure at Phoenix.
Phoenix has been tough on us. That fall race for whatever reason, we were in a position to win it a few years back, spin on pit road. Had some trials and tribulations there.
Yeah, we got to find a way to get through. Certainly, winning one of these three, or as I mentioned before, running at the sharp end of the spear, is going to be what it takes. I think we can do it.
We've progressively gotten better and better and better. I think we were much better than our results showed last year, our performance in the Round of 8 showed last year. We just had really, really bad rounds.
Yeah, I think we can do it. We're going to work really hard to do it. We have great support behind us. Everybody at HMS is doing a great job. Greg and Alex did a great job getting through. We have two with a shot to make it through. Certainly, we'd like to get them both through.
Q. Are you a Final 4 team?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I think so.
Q. After watching yesterday's Xfinity race, seeing the rain, what was going through your mind as far as planning for today's race? Do you feel your car would have been just as good in the rain if it would have continued all day?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Man, it's tough. That's a tough one. I watched that race yesterday. I saw everybody making some error at some point in time that was detrimental to their finish. A.J. spun, Briscoe spun. Everybody who ran at the front had some type of issue. The 9 spun, the 7 spun. Everybody did.
If we were racing in that sort of downpour, the way the water can puddle, the way things can happen, it's just really random.
No, I can't tell you with any confidence that we could have performed the same way in those conditions. I don't know that anybody can, to be honest with you. I think it's just super tough circumstances I felt. I felt for those guys yesterday, for sure.
Q. Where do you feel the team's weaknesses are right now that you need to improve on going into this next round?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, it's just always the same things. You have to have faster cars, bring faster cars to the track, have faster pit stops, execute the race better. All the above. You just always are continuously trying to improve those areas. Certainly, never satisfied.
I don't feel like there's a glaring weakness in our team. I don't feel like we have something that we can't overcome. You just have to continuously improve. We have to have our four best races these last four races. That's kind of what it comes down to. We have to operate at our maximum potential. Certainly, we'll try to improve and do the best we can.
Right now, it's probably about getting 100% of what you've got. The teams are going to be in a position that I think it's going to be more about execution than developing something or coming up with some more performance.
Q. It wasn't the smoothest of days, as you had the loose wheel. What was going through your mind at that point?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: It certainly wasn't good. We couldn't take a chance on it. We had to protect our position in the Playoffs first and foremost. That weighed pretty heavy on us all day long. I think some of our early performance was, or lack of performance, based on us trying to protect that position.
We need a little better situational awareness in that case and shouldn't have had that happen. That goes back to something that we've got to execute on and improve.
I was just trying to get video of it to know if I had to come back down. I should have just come right away. It took too long. You don't get too many opportunities, the caution laps are so long, you get one shot to pit and then you're coming to the green. That was a little bit of a rough patch, but everybody kept their wits about them and overcame it.
Q. You won a protest last week that gained you a lot of spots. How surprised were you to win a protest? How much did that impact any of your strategy or preparation for today?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, yes, yes on all accounts. I was disappointed we got penalized, for sure. I feel like if you watch that race over, that Chase threw the least amount of blocks and impeded anybody's progress the least of any car on the track. Never once threw a block when he was leading, never once put anybody in a dangerous situation. Then when we get the penalty, I was kind of dumbfounded.
The 17 made a pretty aggressive move to the bottom. Certainly, yeah, we can probably slam on the brakes or crash him. I don't feel like it's good to put the drivers in a position where they have to decide if they want to take a penalty or they want to send a fellow competitor through the infield.
I was disappointed in the penalty. I was very appreciative of the way that NASCAR was willing to review it, the fact that they overturned it. Everybody has their opinions and their sides of the story. I feel like it was pretty obvious once you watched enough replays to see how that all transpired. We certainly didn't deserve to lose all those points.
Yeah, as far as does it impact the way we come here? Certainly. That was a lot. I don't remember exactly, but I think it was 16 points or something. Yes, it definitely impacted the way we came here.
Q. Does the Hendrick Motorsport track attack program help the organization on road courses at all or are they completely unrelated to what you do?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I'm not really sure what they do, so I can't answer that question really.
Q. Does anything feel different this year about Chase specifically as a driver? Do you sense any more confidence from him?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I think the experience, the trials and tribulations, the successes and failures, they all cumulatively add up.
He's a great driver. He's a really, really intelligent person. The more opportunity he has to race and go through these situations, compete and win, yeah, he's just going to get better and better. I think with that brings some confidence.
There's nothing quite like living through the different circumstances and the pressure of having to race your way in or having to protect a lead to get in. All that stuff's really unique and really tough to manage. I think the more you go through it, the better you get.
Q. How does one go about an at‑track appeal? How do you make that happen at Talladega?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, that's interesting. The way it transpired, I knew from Dustin Shoulders, my race engineer back at the shop, I asked him where we started. He typically calculates the starting positions for us. He told me he couldn't give me the exact starting position because the results were under review, which I understood, as chaotic as it was.
I saw on the front straightaway we were very close to the line. I couldn't see from my perspective if we crossed the line.
Long story short, I never heard anything, didn't know. We were waiting on pit road to go through inspection. I was watching the Jumbotron. It had us only 20 something points above the cut line. I was like, there's no way, there's some bad math, but that's really bad math.
I went to TV and they told me we were last on the lead lap. At that point in time I told Jeff Andrews, started calling everybody I knew saying, Man, we got to do something with this because that's not right.
Jeff did a great job of knowing who to see, what to do. That's all him. He took care of it from there.
THE MODERATOR: Alan, thanks for joining us. Good luck as the Round of 8 starts next week.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Thank you, appreciate it.
RIS NASCAR Editor. Has been with RIS since the middle 90's. Writes on each of the three main series of NASCAR.