DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Chase Elliott came to the defense of crew chief Alan Gustafson, saying Friday that he stood by his crew chief after his No. 9 Chevrolet’s fuel tank ran dry at a critical juncture during last weekend’s race at Watkins Glen International.
Elliott’s remarks came after Friday’s qualifying session at Daytona International Speedway, where the Hendrick Motorsports driver has his last chance to make the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Peacock, NBC Sports App). One postseason berth remains open in the 16-driver field, and Elliott is among a host of driver who must win Saturday’s regular-season finale to clinch that final spot.
Elliott’s most recent opportunity to make the postseason field for the eighth straight year came at Watkins Glen, the 2.45-mile road course where he’s a two-time winner. His bid came to a sputtering halt on the 55th of 90 laps when the fuel cell on his No. 9 Chevy ran empty, and he finished 32nd in the 36-car field.
The miscue led to criticism of Gustafson’s call from certain sectors of social media. Elliott said neither he nor his crew chief gave it much mind, reaffirming the bond that they’ve built ever since they were first paired together for his rookie season in 2016.
“That’s not something that he and I worry about. You know, he doesn’t worry about social media, and I don’t either,” Elliott said after qualifying 23rd for Saturday’s 400-miler. “We have a lot of trust in one another and the job that we do. I think a lot of him, and I think he’s a great dude, he’s a great crew chief, and I don’t really care what anybody says about that, because I work with him every week and no one else does. So it’s kind of unfair, really, for anybody to feel like they have a good hold on what our team sees and the things we talk about every week and the things that we go to work on together, and I’m really proud of that. We’ve been working together for, what, about eight years now, so I’m not worried about him.”
Elliott said that he hasn’t made a major dive into the reasons for the error, which came after the driver hit the switch to the No. 9’s fuel reserves. Gustafson had communicated that Elliott could pass pit road two more times before he needed to bring the car to pit road. Instead, the car stalled at the backstretch chicane.
“I have a decent idea of what went on, but it’s really better that we don’t know, to be honest,” Elliott said. “I don’t really think it was anything trick or anything like that; it was just an unfortunate error that was bad timing more than anything. It wasn’t as obvious as I would say the average watcher would think it was.”