CONCORD, N.C. – Now in his 15th season as a NASCAR Cup Series crew chief, Alan Gustafson had accumulated 23 wins in his career prior to last weekend.
None of them had come on a superspeedway.
“It’s kind of funny – we’ve been so close and not won, I kind of had conceded the fact that I was never going to win one of those races,” the crew chief said at Talladega Superspeedway. “You're a bit cautious with your expectations because this place can bite you in a second.”
But on Sunday, Chase Elliott earned Gustafson win No. 24 – and finally that elusive trip to Victory Lane at a superspeedway arrived.
“To be able to win it was special,” Gustafson said. “It was cool to be able to put it all together and be there in the right place at the right time and be able to capitalize.”
The win came in dramatic fashion. Following a caution, the race resumed with just four laps remaining. One lap after the green flag, Elliott powered into the lead with teammate Alex Bowman right behind him in second.
“I knew we were in a good position, but anything can happen,” Gustafson said. “We’ve been in that position before and lots of things have happened.”
As the final laps wound down, Elliott continued to hold off the competition with his teammate helping to push him into clean air.
“It is stressful,” his crew chief said. “At that point in time, there’s just nothing I can really do – I’ve kind of done my part. I try to give Chase any information that would be vital and just watch.”
Elliott remained in the lead on the final lap, but Bowman seemed to be positioning to mount a charge before a caution flag waved along with the checkered flag.
Gustafson acknowledged that for a moment he wasn’t sure if the No. 9 team had officially won the race, as he couldn’t see to the part of the track where Elliott was running to confirm he was still in the lead.
But once they got the word that the victory was in the books, it was pure elation.
“Just kind of the moment after the race and being with the team, those few hours after the victory is kind of the best feeling and the best circumstances of being able to share that with all the people involved in making it happen,” the crew chief explained. “It’s kind of the high point for me.”
Now, the No. 9 team turns its attention to Dover International Speedway, a venue where it found Victory Lane last season.
Returning to a place where the team has already had success, particularly coming off an exciting win, has the group ready to get back to the track.
“It certainly gives you some momentum and some confidence and some energy,” Gustafson said. “Any time you have success, there’s some positiveness, there’s some forward momentum and everything’s a little bit easier to do and you’re a little more motivated.
“Certainly, this is a confidence-driven sport and momentum is very important in this sport, so we’ll try to take that and apply it as much as we can in Dover.”