Hendrick Motorsports

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Take Five: Catching up with the No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST team

CONCORD, N.C. (Feb. 20, 2009)—Alan Gustafson, crew chief of the No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST team, had high hopes going into Speedweeks at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway so he wasn’t surprised when driver Mark Martin secured the outside pole position and finished second in his Daytona 500 Gatorade Duel qualifying event. But Gustafson couldn’t have predicted who he would run into at the superspeedway or how The Great American Race would play out. Here’s what he had to say about last week’s events at Daytona:

“Well, I can’t say that the Daytona 500 was exactly how I thought it would be. In fact, it was probably the exact opposite of how I thought it would be.

“Speedweeks was really strong for the Kellogg’s/CARQUEST team. It was our first chance in a race situation with Mark in the car. We started out good, right off of the trailer. I really wish we had gotten the experience of being in the Budweiser Shootout, but watching it and learning from our teammates was a big help.

“Qualifying day was extremely nerve-racking. We knew the car was fast, and when Mark turned that lap, none of us could stop smiling. We went out pretty early though, and we had to sit there and watch everyone else go hoping they wouldn’t beat our time. Bill Elliott was my biggest concern, so when Martin Truex Jr. got by us I was really disappointed. I knew how bad Mark wanted to be on the front row, and everyone on the team wanted to give him that. I just kept watching the scoring monitor hoping that our time was good enough. In the end it was. Seeing all of my crew guys and Mark in Victory Lane—that made three straight months of nonstop work worth it. I just didn’t want to start patting anyone on the back just yet.

“Thursday, we were strong. The Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevy was even better than we thought it would be after Wednesday’s practice sessions. Mark led over half the race, but in the end, teammates just got the better of us. If we hadn’t made contact with Denny Hamlin, I think we could’ve won it.

“On the day of the race, there are celebrities everywhere. (Team owner) Mr. (Rick) Hendrick is good friends with Tom Cruise, so he was around a lot that day. And I got to meet one of my favorite athletes—Tim Tebow. I am a diehard Florida Gators fan, and that was definitely someone that I was anxious to meet. He’s a great guy, too—very down to Earth.

“In our race strategy that day, we thought a lot about tire wear. We knew that Goodyear had been having some issues all week and it continued during the race. Our right front tire was only lasting about 20 laps, so we had to play everything a bit conservatively.

“When the rain looked like it was coming in, Mark had already put quite a few laps on his tires. Working the opposite strategy of our competition, we came in for fresh ones. We knew if we had about 20 laps, we could get to the front with our teammate Jeff Gordon. Unfortunately, we only got about 10 of those laps before the rain came.

“NASCAR didn’t take long to call the race. The disappointment weighed heavily on myself and the whole team.  Our car was way too good to have finished 16th. I thought about it all night—on the airplane; when I got home. I just couldn’t calm down. But by Monday morning, it was time to move on and think about California.

“We should be good out on the West Coast, so make sure you tune in for the race at 6 p.m. on Sunday on FOX. Also, if you haven’t yet, go to www.KelloggsRacing.com. It’s a new Web site with a lot of information on Mark, the team and all of Hendrick Motorsports.”