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

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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.”

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”