By: Ashley McCubbin
Having consistency throughout, combined with some trips to victory lane, Chase Elliott is having one of the best seasons of his young career as he makes the Round of 8 for the fourth straight season. The only thing that remains is getting through to the Championship 4 and being part of the title conversation at Phoenix Raceway.
In evaluating their performance against their competitors, crew chief Alan Gustafson feels they are focused on improving the same aspects, as always.
“It’s just always the same things,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “You have to have faster cars, bring faster cars to the track, have faster pit stops, execute the race better. All the above. You just always are continuously trying to improve those areas. Certainly never satisfied.
“I don’t feel like there’s a glaring weakness in our team. I don’t feel like we have something that we can’t overcome. You just have to continuously improve. We have to have our four best races these last four races. That’s kind of what it comes down to. We have to operate at our maximum potential. Certainly we’ll try to improve and do the best we can.
“Right now it’s probably about getting 100% of what you’ve got. The teams are going to be in a position that I think it’s going to be more about execution than developing something or coming up with some more performance.”
Although they won on Sunday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, it wasn’t a flawless event. Elliott was forced to make an unscheduled trip down pit road at the start of the third stage due to a loose left front wheel.
“It certainly wasn’t good,” Gustafson said of his feelings at the time. “We couldn’t take a chance on it. We had to protect our position in the Playoffs first and foremost. That weighed pretty heavy on us all day long. I think some of our early performance was, or lack of performance, based on us trying to protect that position.
“We need a little better situational awareness in that case and shouldn’t have had that happen. That goes back to something that we’ve got to execute on and improve. I was just trying to get video of it to know if I had to come back down. I should have just come right away. It took too long. You don’t get too many opportunities, the caution laps are so long, you get one shot to pit and then you’re coming to the green. That was a little bit of a rough patch, but everybody kept their wits about them and overcame it.”
Although there was frustration in what happened, Elliott kept his focus on the task at hand.
“The end result is the setback. That’s really the bottom line. Blaming or being upset, as much as sometimes you might want to be, it’s really unproductive,” he said. “Looking ahead, those guys weren’t cussing me when I ran through the barrier (last year). I wasn’t going to cuss them for a mistake either. I think we just needed to keep our eyes forward, heads down, focus on trying to get back up front and have a shot to win.”
It marks the second year that Elliott has had to overcome adversity to win at Charlotte, after getting into the tire barrier on the final stage restart last season.
“As long as the result stays the same, I don’t really care,” he commented. “It worked out. We’ll take it for sure. Those bonus points are big, can be a difference maker. Like I said, just excited to have some momentum going into the next round. Wins are huge. Too hard to get to get picky with them. Looking forward to the opportunity, trying to make some noise and move on.”
Now lies ahead of the challenge of getting to the Championship 4, and performing over the next three weeks at Kansas Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, and Martinsville Speedway. As for any predictions, Elliott didn’t set any in stone.
“That’s why we go race, is to find out who wins and who loses. Just excited to have the opportunity,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “I think it’s going to be a really big challenge for us to move on, as I think it is for everybody in this round, unless you just have a bunch of wins.
“I think today’s win is big. Getting those extra five points can be the difference. We just have to bring our A game, push ahead, really try to execute three solid weeks.”