CONCORD, N.C. -- Alan Gustafson has nothing but praise for Chase Elliott after his dominating end to the 2020 season. The 24-year-old driver earned his first NASCAR Cup Series championship Sunday at Phoenix Raceway and gave Gustafson his first title in his Cup Series career.
Gustafson and Elliott had a tall order at Phoenix to win the race and the championship. The No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE had to start from the rear due to inspection issues but within the first half of the first stage Elliott had battled back and was running in the top three. Soon he was at the front of the pack and led an overall 153 laps en route to his victory.
After coming close to winning a title a couple of times, including finishing second to Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus in 2009, Gustafson is grateful that his professional path had led him to that moment.
“I think it’s the trials and tribulations, relationships, all the ups and downs that define your career,” Gustafson said. “It’s ultimately the goal we’ve all been trying to achieve, and it’s nice to get there. Certainly, I don’t feel like I’ve had a chance to understand the magnitude of it or reflect back on it.”
Even though the No. 9 team are the 2020 champions, Gustafson said he doesn’t expect Elliott's drive to change and that the group will hit the ground running for 2021.
“He’s super authentic. I love that about him,” Gustafson said. “He doesn’t really change. Professionally, he’s gone through it enough now where he knows how he wants to navigate it and how he wants to go about racing.
“He’s won and he’s lost, and he’s done everything in between. I think that’s the difference. He’s Just much more confident and assertive in his decision-making process and how he wants to go about things.”
Elliott went through a stretch in the summer where he didn’t win over the span of 14 races. However, his win at the Daytona Road Course primed him for the playoffs. Out of the last five races of the season, Elliott won three of them (Charlotte roval, Martinsville, Phoenix).
“I feel like there was a turning point,” Gustafson said. “I feel like we’ve been there, really, from Daytona on. We had a chance to win a DAYTONA 500 and things didn’t work out for us. We’ve been in contention to win races all year long. … (We) had a little slump in the summer, but we were able to overcome that and get hot back again at the end of the season.”