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.”