TALLADEGA, Ala. – The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs have been a bit of a roller coaster for Chase Elliott, Alan Gustafson and the No. 9 team.
Sunday’s win at Talladega Superspeedway does more than serve as a major rebound from an early exit in the Round of 12 opener at Texas Motor Speedway. The victory locks Elliott into the Round of 8.
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That’s quite a turnaround from last weekend where an accident left Elliott with a 32nd-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway. The early exit in the Round of 12 opener mirrored that of a stage one incident at Darlington Raceway in the Round of 16 opener. Elliott rebounded in the opening round with a solid points day at Kansas Speedway and a runner-up finisher at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Gustafson, who has been the crew chief for all of Elliott’s full-time Cup Series career, felt it was imperative that the team bounce back in a big way from its Texas trouble.
"I really felt like this race was crucial," Gustafson said of Talladega. "I felt like we had to capitalize. We got ourselves into a hole last week, super disappointed with it. We made a mistake the first round. We made a mistake the second round. You just can’t continue to do that and expect to have success.
"We needed to come back and we needed to get ourselves right. I felt like we needed to level up close to the top, level with those guys."
Elliott did more than level up, he rose to the top of the standings after entering the weekend just +11 to the cutoff line. The race win as well as the stage two win mean that he will enter that round with at least 4,046 points. That will give him a significant leg up on his competitors before the final three-race round that will set the Championship 4 field for Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 6.
The 26-year-old driver has been to the playoffs all seven years of his full-time Cup Series career. He’s made the Round of 8 six straight seasons, reached the Championship 4 twice and won the championship in 2020. There is no playoff situation that the Dawsonville, Georgia, native is unfamiliar with.
"Just try to ride the wave," Elliott said of the ups and downs of the playoffs. "Had a bad week last week. Had a good week this week. Obviously, great to move on into the next round and get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic. We’re super proud of that."