CONCORD, N.C. – As the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series regular season draws to a close, Alan Gustafson, crew chief of the No. 9 team, knows the importance of running well at Daytona International Speedway and the impact of this race on the start of the playoffs.
Gustafson and driver Chase Elliott are currently fifth in the points rankings with 820 markers after collecting two wins, 11 top-five finishes and 15 top-10s this season. The duo is only 13 points behind teammate William Byron, who sits in fourth place.
“Certainly, you can’t have an all or nothing attitude, right?” Gustafson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “You can’t just throw it away at a whim because, like you said, it’s a huge impact on where you start, where you pick pits, and where you line up for the first race in the playoffs. It’s really important, so we are going to try and position ourselves as best we can. Obviously, we want to win but we know we have to at least get a solid finish out of it.”
Elliott will start in fifth in Saturday’s race at Daytona and look to stay in the front of the pack for the 400-mile event. In their last trip to the Daytona Beach, Florida, oval, Elliott evaded the “Big One” and took the checkered flag in a wild second-place finish.
“We don’t want to pull the pin until we are close to the finish line; we want to make sure we execute and put (ourselves) in a position to have a good call. All those things make a huge difference,” Gustafson said. “But, at the same time, taking significant and unnecessary risks is not going to do us a lot of good.”
The No. 9 team knows that Daytona and the rest of the playoffs will bring on more obstacles to hurdle as they navigate each round. However, they have shown they can band together and battle through the adversity when their backs are against the wall.
“We believe in each other and support each other,” Gustafson said. “When it gets tough, that’s what matters. It’s kind of easy to get along when things are going well. It’s hard when it’s tough. This team has been together long enough. We’ve been through a lot of tough times, so we can navigate through different things and different scenarios. It’s a great team; a great group, and we all believe in each other and what we are trying to do. That can become a powerful thing.”
Be sure to tune in this Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBC to see Gustafson, Elliott and the rest of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers compete in the final race of the NASCAR Cup Series regular season.