CONCORD, N.C. – When a caution flag flew with fewer than 10 laps remaining in Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway, No. 9 team crew chief Alan Gustafson made the call – stay out.
“I just say, ‘Yes, sir,’” Chase Elliott laughed after the race. “I honestly thought it was the right move.”
As the leaders headed to pit road ahead of him, Elliott moved into the race lead. But he was on older tires than virtually every competitor behind him.
The driver of the No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 recalled losing leads on late-race restarts in the past. But he didn’t let that faze him, instead focusing on the task ahead of him.
“I feel like I’ve messed it up so many times, I was like, ‘Here’s our opportunity to make it right and to do it right,’” he said. “I don’t know, today just felt different. In those positions, I just felt more confident and just felt excited about the opportunity instead of unsure of what was going to happen.”
When the green flag waved, Elliott shot out in front and held the lead as a multiple-car incident behind him sent the race to overtime.
One more time, he took the restart on the outside as the leader, and once again he held it for the final two laps to capture the checkered flag for his second career NASCAR Cup Series win.
Thanks in part to “the great call at the end to stay out,” the victory secured Elliott’s spot in the Round of 8 in the playoffs, and he was able to celebrate the win with the many peers, competitors and teammates who visited Victory Lane, including Jeff Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick.
Elliott jumped over the pit wall to share an embrace with Hendrick after climbing out of the car with the win in hand.
“Just amazing,” the driver said. “Just love the opportunity that Mr. Hendrick has given me. Glad he was able to be here today for our second win of the year. On we go.”
He ventured that the moment was made even sweeter by the near-wins and “down” moments that came before it.
“I feel like we’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and for us to be kind of on the down for a while, it just makes everybody appreciate it that much more,” Elliott explained. “I know it doesn’t feel like that when you’re struggling those days, but when you do have a day like today or a day like Watkins Glen, it just makes you appreciate it more and you wouldn’t have if you just had the success without the rough days.
“Lessons learned the hard way.”