CONCORD, N.C. -- The last time Alan Gustafson was at Bristol Motor Speedway, he and Chase Elliott finished seventh during the No. 9 team’s playoff run in September, which eventually led to their first NASCAR Cup Series championship. The time before that, Elliott was celebrating in victory lane after winning the All-Star Race in July.
Now the No. 9 crew chief is doing what he can to prepare his team for the dirt race at the .533-mile track, which is a completely different kind of race for those used to Cup cars.
“There are so many challenges,” Gustafson said. “Certainly concerned about durability and making it through the race. Stopping on dirt, from what little I have raced dirt, is not easy to do, especially if something happens or somebody crashes or spins out in front or near you.”
Like the other Hendrick Motorsports teams, Gustafson has been working with his crew on how best to prepare for the Bristol dirt race. One of the bigger questions marks is organizing the pit crew since the pit stops will have a three-minute time limit while the field is frozen between stages.
“We are trying to focus on the things we think are most important,” Gustafson said. “We know now that we aren’t going to have live pitstops, so we are working through the coordination of the equipment and how we get that to the track. We still have to be prepared in case we get a flat tire and who is going to change the tire because our normal pit crew isn’t going to be there.”
Some of those focuses are preserving the car throughout the race. Dirt racing is far rougher on Cup cars due to their heaviness and the dirt possibly getting into systems that normally need to be pristine. Gustafson and his team have been working tirelessly to ensure the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE they bring to the track can withstand nearly four hours of dirt racing.
“You can’t just take our car and race it at a dirt track,” Gustafson said. “We’ve gone through a lot of different iterations of what this is going to look like and what the track is going to be like and what the rules are going to be like and what the cars going to be like.
“What equipment are you going to have? What are the races going to be like? Our cars are made with the intent to be on asphalt at high rate of speeds, so how are we going to cool our cars and how do all the auxiliary engine systems work? The dirt, all the debris, all the electronics and all the different systems in that car don’t like that very much.”
Even though the Bristol dirt race has many unknowns, Gustafson said the excitement on campus is palpable. He joked he was thrilled to change up his normal race attire to get down and dirty this weekend.
“My NAPA coveralls, that’s going to be a big one because it’s going to be a mess. I’m going to try and save my good clothes and wear my coveralls,” Gustafson said. “I haven’t raced on dirt in a long time, since I was probably a teenager. I’m looking forward to it, looking forward to the challenge. I hope everybody likes it; I hope everyone enjoys the change of pace and has fun with it.”
The dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway will begin Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET and be broadcast on FOX.