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Chase Elliott’s Alsco Uniforms 500 win shows Alan Gustafson is still the right man

Chase Elliott knows he has one of the best crew chiefs in the garage in Alan Gustafson, who has guided some of the biggest stars in the sport over a 16-year career at Hendrick Motorsports.

Gustafson had won 20 races with Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Mark Martin before being assigned to Elliott starting with the 2016 season. The guy knows how to build fast race cars.

And if Elliott has fast race cars, he knows he will win races. He also knows that there will be times he will lose races, too.

A win after two difficult losses came Thursday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, as Elliott captured the Alsco Uniforms 500 four days after a much-debated pit call by Gustafson resulted in a second-place finish.

Elliott had been leading Sunday when the caution came out to send the race into overtime and a possible two-lap shootout. Instead of leaving Elliott out on the track, Gustafson had Elliott pit for four tires. He came out 11th, raced his way to third and then assumed second after Jimmie Johnson failed tech.

Elliott called the decision a “lose-lose” situation because the rest of the field can determine what it does from the leader — it could pit for fresh tires if the leader stays out, or many in the field would stay out for track position if the leader pits, which is what happened Sunday and Brad Keselowski won the race.

From the outside looking in, it could be taken that Gustafson didn’t have the confidence in Elliott to get the job done on old tires.

Elliott dismissed a question about whether he was concerned Gustafson didn’t have confidence in him as dumb, indicating he felt his crew chief doesn’t doubt his ability. They have finished in the top-10 in the standings the last three years and had won three races in each of the 2018 and 2019 seasons together.

Gustafson said his decision Sunday had nothing to do with confidence but more on Elliott’s struggle on old tires when he wasn’t the leader earlier in the race.

“I have the utmost confidence in him,” Gustafson said. “I think he’s the best driver out here, and he’s showing it. That situation was ‑‑ there’s a lot of factors that went into it, and our struggles earlier in the race probably influenced me more than I should have let it, and it didn’t work out.

“We’re also assuming that we stay out and we win the race, so it’s tough. It’s just a tough situation.”

Elliott said he hasn’t lost confidence in Gustafson.

“It’s not his fault that the caution came out with two laps to go, and when you’re in a position like that you have to make a decision and stick with it,” Elliott said. “I’m not going to question him. I don’t fault him.

“It’s not his fault; it’s just one of those things where you’ve got to make a gut call and go with it, and heck, we drove back to third. I just don’t see how you can look back at that and say he did something wrong.”

Everything went right for the most part Thursday, and Elliott celebrated his seventh career victory.

“The biggest thing is if we can continue to put ourselves in position and give ourselves chances, and we do a good job at controlling the things that are in our control, that’s all we can ask for,” Elliott said.

“We can’t control when a caution comes out two laps to go, and you’re kind of in a lose‑lose situation there. We’ve got to keep doing things that are in our hands and keep doing those well.”

The Chevrolets should be able to keep doing well as they have the new Camaro body this year, the second season with a low-horsepower, high-drag aerodynamic package NASCAR is using on ovals bigger than 1.3 miles in length.

Denny Hamlin, who finished second Thursday, said a driver in Elliott’s situation Sunday wouldn’t fret over the crew chief’s decision as much as “you just shake his hand and say thanks for the fast car.”

“Certainly you’ll win your fair share if you continue to stay up front and the cautions don’t fall at ill times,” Hamlin said. “You’ll take fast cars and you’ll lose a few every now and then, knowing that you’ve got a chance every week.”

Gustafson certainly will feel that way. He’s got to feel that way. And Thursday proved he and Elliott can win and put the past behind them.

“It obviously wasn’t a great feeling [Sunday],” Gustafson said. “I don’t base my self‑worth on other people’s opinions or if I’m doing a good job based on what other people say, but certainly I’m a human being, too.

“And when you get that many rocks thrown at you, it doesn’t feel great. It was a long couple days, but at the end of the day, you’ve just got to look past it and move on.”

Xfinity

Austin Cindric grew up in Charlotte, so coming close to winning Monday was tough to swallow even though he knew he was on older tires than Busch in their last-lap battle.

“To have a run like we did tonight makes a lot of personal strides for me,” he said. “But at the same time I race with my heart and my heart has gotten smarter over the years, but … I want to win.”

Truck

Zane Smith, driving for GMS Racing, showed he was willing to make a bold move as he passed Kyle Busch on the inside during the truck race. He finished third behind Chase Elliott and Busch.

“I need a win,” Smith said. “I would have one if not two Cup guys weren’t in it, but I love racing the Cup guys.”

On The Air

Sunday

NASCAR Cup Supermarket Heroes 500, 3:30 p.m., FS1

Monday

NASCAR Xfinity Cheddar’s 300, 7 p.m., FS1

Stat of Note

Matt Kenseth’s first Cup win was 20 years ago from Thursday – May 28, 2000, at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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They Said It

“You’re just kind of waiting on something to happen. It just kind of keeps you grounded, and the fact that it’s never over until it’s over, we’ve been reminded of that quite a lot, and that’s a lesson I’m never going to forget.”

— Chase Elliott

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