CONCORD, N.C. – When Alan Gustafson took on the role as Chase Elliott’s crew chief in the driver’s rookie NASCAR Cup Series season in 2016, he never doubted the young driver’s ability to win a race.
And yesterday at Watkins Glen International, the No. 9 crew chief’s unwavering confidence and belief in his driver paid dividends.
“You just never give up,” Gustafson said. “I think at the end of the day, you do everything you can do with inside your capabilities. We all strive for greatness, and everybody wants to do the best things possible. You want to win the race or hit the three-pointer at the buzzer or catch a touchdown. Whatever it is.”
The win came on a special day for Gustafson, who celebrated his birthday in Victory Lane. As far as birthdays go, it’s definitely one of his most memorable.
“It’s up there,” Gustafson smiled. “It’s pretty cool.”
Elliott, at 22-years-old, became the youngest winner at a road course in Cup Series history. He also became the ninth different first-time winner to race for Hendrick Motorsports, which is now the most all-time among Cup Series teams.
In taking home the historic victory, Elliott’s first and Hendrick Motorsports 250th Cup Series win, Gustafson was grateful to be surrounded by a strong foundation at Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet.
“We were the best car today and the best team today,” Gustafson said. “Very satisfying and very proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and at Chevy today, so it’s a very good win.”
The journey to Elliott’s first Cup Series win and Hendrick Motorsports’ 250th victory didn’t come easily. From eight runner-up finishes since 2016 to struggles in the current Cup Series season, Gustafson and the No. 9 team stayed resilient and focused week to week, regardless of the circumstances.
“It hasn’t been the easiest year for us,” Gustafson said. “We just kept battling through it and battling through it and getting closer and closer and closer and closer and finally got it done.”
The results of that continued effort showed over the last few weeks. Elliott won the pole at Daytona in July and captured top-10 finishes and stage victories in consecutive weekends at New Hampshire and Pocono.
That momentum rolled right in to Watkins Glen, where Elliott won a stage for the third consecutive week, and led 52 of 90 laps at the 2.45-mile road course en route to his first career Cup Series win.
“If you go back five months, we were struggling to run 15th, and then we were struggling to run 10th and 12th, just battling through it,” Gustafson said. “The last month or so, we’ve been able to contend for wins and stages, and that’s the culmination of hard work.”
Elliott also secured a playoff spot and an extra playoff point with the win. That pushed him up to fifth in the playoff standings, giving the No. 9 team a big playoff boost with only four races to go before the 16-driver field is set.
“You never know until you’re in, so it’s good to get in,” Gustafson said. “I think for me probably a little bigger than that is just trying to stack up some playoff points. That’s a huge deal going through this run.”
Gustafson, who has been with Hendrick Motorsports for almost two decades, was honored to earn win No. 250 for the man in charge, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick.
“Personally, I wanted to get that win for Mr. Hendrick,” the crew chief said. “It’s a huge honor to be the crew chief on the car that wins that 250th for Hendrick Motorsports. It’s absolutely the culmination of a lot of hard work.”
Going forward, Gustafson is committed to maintaining that focus and resilience that has gotten the No. 9 team to this point. With the playoffs just weeks away, there’s still work to be done.
“Really proud of the guys and the effort to get us back to this point,” he said. “I know we’re not where we want to be. We’ve got to get better, but we certainly were the best today.”