DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Tough times build character and bring groups closer together. 

That motto has been on display for Chase Elliott and the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts team following a trying 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season. Last year, Elliott missed seven races with six coming after a fractured left tibia sidelined him for an early portion of the year. That left him in a points deficit to make the playoffs and he was unable to win his way into the postseason. 

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"When you have a year like last year, it is really easy for a team to blow up from the inside. Like really easy," Elliott said. "When I look at just where our team is at mentally and just our drive, our will, our willingness to fight and not quit, I think it is at an all-time high. My relationship with Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) is as good as it’s ever been. 

"I’m just super proud of those things, regardless of how the season goes because I work with a group of guys who don’t want to give up on me and I don’t want to give up on them. That means a lot to me when you go to war every week with a group of people that have no desire to quit. It speaks volumes. That, in my opinion, is a huge hurdle in trying to get back to where we think we can think can be and where I feel where we belong."

RELATED: Elliott, No. 9 shows resilience throughout the season

The groundwork for getting back to where the 2020 Cup Series champions are used to started last fall. Elliott and the No. 9 team reached the Round of 8 in the owner playoffs. 

As they embark on their ninth season together, Elliott and Gustafson are the longest-tenured driver and crew chief pairing in the garage. They have tallied 18 wins together, which is the second-most among active pairings. During that time, the 28-year-old driver has grown into more of a leadership role within the group. 

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"As I’ve gotten older, Alan and I share more of that," Elliott said. "When I started (in 2016), he probably had most of that role because I stepped into his team. I think there is a responsibility to at least try to make our team through the experiences that I’ve had."

The 2024 DAYTONA 500 marks the start of the points-paying portion of the Cup schedule. Elliott is ready for the challenge of a new year and the promise that holds for him and his team.

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"There is a sense of a new opportunity and I’m appreciative of that," Elliott said. "There’s also a realistic understanding that your problems don’t disappear because of the calendar change from ’23 to ’24. We know that we need to be better. I need to be better and I intend on continuing to build on what we were working on at the end of last year and just keep our heads down and keep pushing."