Gordon’s crew chief: 24 team more confident after Brickyard win

2 Comments

As you’d expect, spirits are high in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports camp after Jeff Gordon’s win on Sunday in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.

To Gordon’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson (pictured, right), that confidence has been building within the team since their first win of the year back in May at Kansas.

But the Indy win has put them on a new level of assurance in what they can do.

“If you look at Kansas, we were good – probably a push to the 4 car [Kevin Harvick], we were about even with him,” Gustafson recalled today in a NASCAR teleconference. “We ended up getting an advantage on a pit stop and ended up winning the race. He was coming hard there at the end.

“But I think [with] Indianapolis, we were the best car and were able to execute all day and win the race. That gives us confidence and that gives us, you know, I don’t want to say added incentive, but just an added feel of ability and confidence in our ability, I guess I should say, in what we can do moving forward – maybe a little bit more than what Kansas did.”

With the Indy win, Gordon is now among six drivers (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano) that have officially clinched a Chase for the Sprint Cup berth with six regular season races left.

The consistency that had been missing for the 24 team in 2012 and 2013 has been recaptured, but must be maintained if they’re to keep progressing in this fall’s “new” Chase – which now features eliminations after every third race to set up a one-race, winner-take-all scenario between four drivers in the season finale.

Gustafson said NASCAR’s revamped post-season will be “unprecedented territory” for everyone involved, but is expecting that his team will likely have to encounter adversity that forces them to keep their heads.

“If something goes wrong, we have to have confidence in each other and belief in the team that we can overcome it and come back that next week,” he said.

“You could be in a situation where it comes down to one race to advance. You could be in a situation where you have to do it on points or have to do it by winning the race if you have some adversity the first couple races.

“I think you have to be able to bounce back and believe in what you’re doing.”

Gustafson also gave a sorta-take on the suspension of Denny Hamlin’s crew chief, Darian Grubb, who will be out for the next six races and was fined $125,000 after issues were found with rear block-off plates on Hamlin’s car following Sunday’s race.

While saying he didn’t know enough information to really comment on the situation, Gustafson said the severity of NASCAR’s penalties against JGR caught his attention.

As for those who think the penalties were toothless since Hamlin’s likely to make the Chase anyway thanks to his win at Talladega, he believed that such a line of thinking was foolish.

“This is my livelihood. It’s Darian’s livelihood. I can’t imagine being told you can’t do it for six weeks, how you have to handle that, deal with it, what that creates,” he said.

“Fortunately for me, I’ve never had to go through that. I don’t want to ever have to go through that. I think at the end of the day, people’s livelihoods are at stake.

“This is how we make our living. This is our lives, what we put a huge amount of effort into. To say that’s insignificant, I definitely disagree with that.”

MRTI: Barber Motorsports Park Preview

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

After a month break, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back in action this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, with two of its series tacking the 2.38-mile road course in Birmingham, Alabama.

Both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires have double-headers this weekend, with Pro Mazda returning to Barber after not running there last year.

The season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg was a tale of two completely different stories, with two different winners – Pato O’Ward and Santi Urrutia – and more than a fair bit of chaos for Indy Lights, while Pro Mazda saw Rinus Veekay sweep the weekend.

Talking points for both series heading into Barber are below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia heads to Barber leading the Indy Lights championship on the strength of finishes of second and first in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia displayed great patience at St. Petersburg, finishing second in Race 1 and winning Race 2 after rivals like O’Ward and Colton Herta faltered. However, Barber has not been one of his better tracks, with finishes of 11th, 15th, and 13th in three of his four Indy Lights starts. Yet, he did win Race 2 at Barber 2016, so he has had success there before, and he will be one of the favorites heading into the weekend.
  • Pato O’Ward looks poised to be a title contender in 2018 and will look to avenge a somewhat disappointing outing at St. Petersburg. O’Ward had the speed to sweep the weekend, winning Race 1 handily and dominating Race 2, but a mistake late in the race saw him overshoot Turn 4 and briefly stall before he could rejoin, relegating him to seventh. If O’Ward can show the pace he showed at St. Pete, he might end up being the man to beat.
  • Colton Herta will look to rebound from a St. Pete weekend in which he flashed the speed that caught everyone’s attention last year, but also committed the same mistakes that ultimately prevented him from taking a championship. After finishing third in Race 1, Herta crashed while chasing then leader O’Ward in Race 2. Herta won Race 2 at Barber last year, and getting another win this weekend, along with staying mistake free, would go a long way to erasing his problems from St. Pete.
  • Aaron Telitz is also looking to rebound after a down weekend, as his St. Petersburg weekend lasted all of two corners across both races – he won the Pole for Race 1, but crashed in Race 2 qualifying, and the Belardi Auto Racing team could not repair the car to allow him to race. After the team borrowed a chassis from Carlin for Race 2, Telitz get collected with Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni right off the start, and he crashed again, this time in Turn 2. Telitz finished on the podium at Barber in 2016, the year he won the Pro Mazda championship, and he’ll look for more of the same this weekend.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda weekend in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Rinus Veekay had a perfect weekend to open the Pro Mazda season. The Juncos Racing driver outdueled Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson for the Race 1 victory, and then ran away with Race 2 to complete the weekend sweep. Veekay was expected to be a title contender after moving up to Pro Mazda in 2018, and if he can repeat his St. Pete performance, then he may leave Barber as the heavy favorite in the championship.
  • Not to be forgotten, Parker Thompson sits second in the Pro Mazda title chase, and looks to avenge losing out to Veekay in St. Pete Race 1, and then fading somewhat to finish fifth in Race 2. Thompson was the only driver to regularly challenge Veekay and Oliver Askew in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season, and he and Exclusive Autosport have adapted nicely to the new Tatuus PM-18. If they can show the same form at Barber, and then finish the job with at least one trip to Victory Lane, then it could set the stage for another titanic Pro Mazda championship fight.
  • Last year’s USF2000 champion Oliver Askew had a quiet weekend in St. Pete, finishing fifth and sixth in the two races. He swept the Barber races in USF2000 last year, and will need a similar performance to vault himself forward from his current place of sixth in the standings.
  • Carlos Cunha and David Malukas head to Barber third and fourth in the championship after solid St. Pete weekends – Cunha had finishes of fourth and third, while Malukas had finishes of seventh and second. Neither was necessarily looked at as a title combatant entering 2018, but repeat performances in Barber could vault them into title contention.

A full weekend schedule, including the Mazda Road to Indy sessions, can be viewed here.

**Note: NBCSN will broadcast Sunday’s Indy Lights race (Race 2 from the weekend) on Monday, April 23.**

Follow@KyleMLavigne