CONCORD, N.C. – After capturing two victories in the last three races, including a win Sunday at Kansas Speedway, the pressure that comes with competing in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs has been a lead motivator in helping Chase Elliott and No. 9 team crew chief Alan Gustafson reach Victory Lane.
“I think every week has to be pressure-packed,” Elliott said. “You have to keep the pressure on yourselves. If you were to make it to Homestead, you have to pretty much win Homestead. I think you have to have that mentality every week.”
And as Elliott has found himself in more and more “pressure-packed situations” throughout his career, the stronger he’s performed with a lot on the line.
“Those pressure-packed situations, the only time you can learn from them is to be in them more often,” the driver said. “I think it’s as simple as that, just putting yourself in position more is going to keep the pressure on more. The more you’re comfortable with that, the better off you’re going to be for it.”
Elliott has now found Victory Lane three times in the last 11 races. While there’s been steady improvement in the No. 9 team’s performance over the last few months, being patient and maintaining a consistent mindset all season long from the very start has been an integral part of the team’s recent success.
“He doesn’t change – it’s just part of his personality,” Gustafson said of Elliott. “It’s interesting to me. I certainly think mentally I always feel like when you’re in a situation, whatever it is, if you’re shooting a foul shot, hitting a golf shot, racing a car, when you come up to the foul line, is your mind saying to yourself, ‘I’m going to make it’ or ‘I’m going to miss it?’ That psychology is a huge part of his success.”
Gustafson credited Elliott for always staying true to himself, regardless of the result on race day.
“I don’t feel like his personality has changed,” he said. “But, I think now when he looks at that opportunity, he is looking at it more, ‘Yes, I can do this,’ than the hundred things that can go wrong.”
Another constant paving the way to the No. 9 team’s success has been continued hard work behind the scenes from all the Hendrick Motorsports teammates back at campus.
“I know it seems like it’s like a light switch, but it’s never a light switch,” Gustafson said. “I don't think there's one moment that I can say was the turnaround. It's been coming and coming and coming, hard work. We've got an amazing group of people that work at Hendrick Motorsports. Certainly great resources, a great boss. If we get an opportunity and a little bit of time, we can make some things happen.”
As Gustafson and Elliott prepare to tackle the Round of 8, the crew chief feels all the pieces are in place to make a run at Homestead.
“When you get chances like we’ve got now, where we’re putting all facets of our race team together really well, running really well, to get everything clicking and working all at once is really the hardest part of the sport,” he said. “We’ve got it going. We’ve got to take advantage of our opportunities.”