DOVER, Del. – With a win Sunday at Dover International Speedway, Chase Elliott automatically earned a spot in the next round of the playoffs.
That was one positive that came from the win, but there was another perk that came from the victory that was on the driver’s mind in Victory Lane.
“To come back here and have the day we had and move on to the next round and not have to worry about Talladega next week, man, it’s a hell of a day,” Elliott said, cracking a wide smile.
A trip to Talladega Superspeedway always comes with plenty of uncertainty, as any car could get caught in “The Big One” at any time. But Elliott and the No. 9 team will have some of that weight lifted off their shoulders next weekend with a Round of 8 berth already clinched.
“I have taken four cars to Talladega and cut them up to get them in the trailer – all of them,” Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick laughed. “This will be one we can kind of take a little bit of a break – I hope Alex (Bowman) can get the win down there, but, man, what a great day for Chase.”
In fact, one of the No. 9 team’s top priorities for the upcoming weekend at Talladega is helping Bowman and the No. 88 team toward earning a spot in the Round of 8.
“My desire to win that race is second to that,” Gustafson said. “We’ll do what we can to help Alex, and he’s going to have a really good car.”
There is a sense of relief on the No. 9 team to have a spot secured in the Round of 8, but Gustafson made it clear his team is still focused on performing strong in the next two Round of 12 races at Talladega and Kansas Speedway.
“I’m sure when we’re at Talladega and the race is going on, I’ll feel a lot better,” the crew chief said. “Same thing at Kansas because the chaos is sure to ensue there, also. But, we’re going to have to be right in the middle of it, too. We can’t just write those races off. We’ve got to use that as an opportunity to try to gain more stage points and bonus points to put us in a better position for the Round of 8.”
Elliott echoed his crew chief’s sentiments while also noting the importance of earning as many points as possible in the upcoming races.
“I think it's nice to be able to know you're going to move on, but you can't get complacent in the fact that you are moving on,” Elliott said. “You can't let those points just sit out there and not try to go get them because those bonus points you get for winning a stage or winning a race, that's huge, and you need as many as you can get. One or two points could be the difference in you making the (Championship 4) or not. Just knowing that and not being complacent with the win and trying to go get another one or two before it starts, I think, is important.”
Once the Round of 12 concludes and the focus turns to the three-race Round of 8, winning – and stacking up points in the process –will continue to be the No. 9 team’s primary focus.
“That Round of 8 is obviously going to be really tough,” Gustafson said. “I think most likely to transfer out of that round we’re going to have to win one of those three races. I certainly think those are tracks that we can win at it.”
The Round of 8 features trips to Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and ISM Raceway before four drivers earn the right to race for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
And Elliott is eyeing that Championship 4.
“Anything is possible, man,” the driver said. “There's no reason at all we can't make a run at this deal. I thought we made a great run at it last year. Personally, I felt like we went way further than anybody expected us to, a couple laps away from going to Homestead. No reason why we can't do that this year and give those guys a run.”