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How Chase Elliott and Alan Gustafson ended their winless drought at Texas

It's cliche but it involved sticking to the processes that won them a championship

NASCAR: Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400
Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

There is this kind of misnomer out there that Chase Elliott has had to reinvent himself behind the wheel in the NextGen era, that he couldn’t fundamentally drive these cars to the level he enjoyed with its predecessors, and that’s kind of silly.

Like, he was the regular season champion in the first year of the platform with five overall victories, and then the bottom dropped out last spring. He broke his leg in a snowboarding incident last March, missed six races, and just didn’t perform to expectations upon his return.

Maybe there is a correlation.
Maybe its just the typical ebbs and flows of motorsports.
Maybe its all kind of random.

But in the afterglow of winning for the first time in 47 races, crew chief Alan Gustafson finds it absurd that Elliott needed to learn how to drive a race car again, at least no differently than everyone has transitioning from Gen 6 to Gen 7.

That discredits just how good Gustafson and his engineers were at their jobs over the past decade too.

“I don’t really know that this car doesn’t suit him but maybe not as well as the old car and the options we had with it,” Gustafson said.

“Really the drought has been long but I think he’s won four or five, five or six races in this car. It’s not like he hasn’t been successful. There’s a lot of good drivers who would have a good career with six wins, right?”


“We’re talking about Chase like he can’t drive this car,” Gustafson said. “I mean, he really can. He does really good. The winless streak, I can think of certainly one untimely caution, really a couple times, Charlotte, I feel like we had by far the best car at the ROVAL, the caution comes out, different things happen.”

There are some circumstances here but the figurative back of baseball card doesn’t lie and Elliott went winless from October 2022 to April 2024. He fueled some of the narratives himself in placing so much responsibility on himself, citing his driving technique on how it translated to the new car.

It’s also true that Elliott hadn’t scored a single top-five on an intermediate track since the transition to this platform in 2022.

But there was never doubt, and despite the obstacles to overcome, no one bailed on the team either. Gustafson is all in with Elliott and vice versa. Their engineering team has remained together through it all and that’s what stood out to the driver now that he is on the other side of the drought.

“I’ve just been really proud of our group for sticking together because I’m sure a lot of you guys have been around the sport long enough to understand that when you have a couple bad years, a period of time that things aren’t going well, it is so easy to jump ship and to start bailing out on one another,” Elliott said.

“I think that the win’s great, all that stuff is fantastic, but I’m truthfully most proud of the journey and the group of people that we have climbed back up together with. We’ve made each other better. They push me to be a better driver and a better person.”

NASCAR: Cup Qualifying
Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

They always have, leading to their championship together, and intend to continue to now that they are decidedly back in the mix together this season.

“It’s super cliché and cheesy, but you just never give up,” Gustafson said. “You learn that if you don’t give up, eventually things are going to turn around. I think that’s probably going to be the biggest lesson we take out of that.”

And Elliott says that Gustafson inspires that sort of culture across the whole team.

Gustafson has been a crew chief for nearly two decades now and he is certainly no stranger to ending lengthy winless streaks with the likes of Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin before him.

The drought never got out of control within the shop, one because Gustafson never took it seriously as a tangible thing, but also in reassuring his driver that the process will eventually pay off.

“That starts with Alan,” Elliott said. “As I mentioned a second ago, it’s really easy when things go bad to jump ship, go do something different, for those guys to go elsewhere. It just is. It happens a lot.

“It’s been an extremely important thing to me, and fortunately to our entire group, to try to climb this mountain again together and try to get back to where we need to be as a group. We’re not all together, but a lot of us are still there that have been on our team for most of my nine years. That’s pretty special.”

So winning, and winning after all this time is special for Elliott, but for him it’s just about the group and company in true Hendrick Motorsports fashion.

“The wins are nice,” Elliott said. “For sure you have to enjoy ’em because, man, they’re hard to get. Certainly made me enjoy these moments more, slow down and embrace it because it’s what you work for every week.

“But from a team perspective and the 40th (anniversary season) for Rick (Hendrick), I’m just appreciative of him for sticking with me and continuing to believe in me, and to make sure that I know that. He does a great job of that. I’m grateful for it.

“I’m just glad I can contribute and we can contribute to the company this season as a whole.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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