WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – A second consecutive win at Watkins Glen International over the weekend proved that the road course is one to circle on the calendar for the No. 9 team.
Chase Elliott, crew chief Alan Gustafson and the No. 9 teams have had back-to-back trips to Victory Lane at the New York track and this year swept the weekend with a pole win followed by wins in Stages 1 and 2 before capturing the checkered flag.
Though Elliott led 80 of the 90 laps, the race featured plenty of pressure for the No. 9 team, as Martin Truex Jr. provided plenty of competition as the runner-up down the stretch. Atop the pit box, Gustafson could only watch as his driver did everything he could to remain out front.
“There's no reason to hold your breath or panic about it,” he said. “I mean, we had done the best job we could all weekend long and put ourselves in position, and certainly, Martin is an extremely good road racer and has a really good car and was really fast. I knew Chase was up for the challenge, and Chase was going to have a run a perfect race at that point in time, and he did, so fortunately for us, we got the win.”
Since claiming his first career NASCAR Cup Series win at the same New York track last year, Elliott seemed to compete better and better on road courses. But “The Glen” seems to stand out for the 23-year-old driver.
“I knew right away that he's really talented when it comes to road courses,” the crew chief said. “This track certainly suits Chase a little bit better than the other two, but I think he can win at the other road courses, too.”
Throughout the 2019 campaign, the driver has claimed two wins, seven top-five finishes, eight top 10s, three poles and 489 laps led through 22 starts.
But after a recent stretch of seven races without a top-10 finish, the team was eager for their hard work to pay off at the road course.
“Our speed has been decent, we just have not executed the races for mechanicals or crashes or different issues,” the crew chief explained. “That's the biggest thing I wanted to do this weekend is perform to the potential to the team and the car and get back on track, and certainly we did that in style, which was fantastic. We needed to get out of that rut to get back on track and get focused on competing and improving and get some confidence back.”
In the win, Elliott picked up seven playoff points, putting him sixth in the projected playoff standings.
“It couldn't come at a better time, and certainly these things come and go,” Gustafson said. “It happens to everybody, I think, and you can use those last weeks that we had to kind of reflect on what we could do better and improve, and I feel like we've done that. So, all in all, it certainly hurt us in the points, but I think it's probably going to make our team a bit stronger.”
As the team continues to get stronger and stronger this season, the group looks to continue its winning ways as the NASCAR schedule heads to Michigan International Speedway this weekend.
Elliott, Gustafson and the No. 9 team have finished inside the top 10 in six of their seven trips to the track, including three runner-up results. But earlier this season, Elliott took home a 20th-place result at the venue.
“We're excited to go back and give that another shot,” Gustafson said. “I think we've learned from the spring for sure and look forward to applying those things and going back and having a bit more speed in our NAPA Chevy and contending to win there at Michigan.”