Monday, August 6, 2018

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Go Bowling at The Glen Winning Crew Chief, Alan Gustafson

by Stacey Owens

After more than a few races that probably should've ended in victories, Chase Elliott can finally cross his first win off his bucket list. Elliott conquered The Glen to give Hendrick Motorsports their 250th win overall.

Crew chief Alan Gustafson, who celebrated his birthday on Sunday, was back in Victory Lane for the first time since 2015 when he last won with 2019 Hall of Famer, Jeff Gordon. Was the road course win a relief for the veteran crew chief?

"Yeah, I don't know if I'd choose the word relieved. You feel satisfied in the work and effort you put in and getting back to Victory Lane is a huge deal, something we want to do much more frequently than we have, obviously, recently. But yeah, I think I just feel satisfied.

"It's not been the easiest year for us, and we just kept battling through it and battling through it and getting closer and closer and closer and closer and closer and finally got it done," Gustafson said.

In a race that looked like it could have been a repeat of Dover, Gustafson talked about what he thinks his driver has learned, having had so many races not go his way.

"Yeah, you just never give up, and I think at the end of the day, you do everything you can do with inside your capabilities. We all strive for greatness, and everybody wants to do the best things possible, and you want to win the race or hit the three-pointer at the buzzer or catch a touchdown, whatever it is. And when it doesn't go your way and you have those opportunities, sometimes that can be deflating.  But at the end of the day, you've got to take some solace in what you do, and the fact that you gave it your best and learned from it and moved on, and certainly he has and will continue to do that.

"If you learn and you move forward, you don't lose. You've just got to keep going," Gustafson explained. 

Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
The road to 250 wins for Hendrick Motorsports has been stalled at 249 for a long time: 37 races to be exact. In what many consider to be an off-year, the team's senior driver, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, has yet to log a win in 2018. Gustafson discussed how this win is a culmination of a lot of hard work by everyone at HMS.

"We've been stuck on 249 for a while, and certainly very aware of that. I know personally, I wanted to get that win for Mr. Hendrick. Was really close to getting the 250th there at Martinsville with Jeff and unfortunately had a late caution and that one kind of stung. We're going through these opportunities to win and not getting that 250, so that was always in the back of my mind.
            
"But I'm glad to get that for him. It's a huge honor to be the crew chief on the car that wins that 250th for HMS. It's absolutely a culmination of a lot of hard work. We haven't been -- I told the guys before the race today, if you go back five months, we were struggling to run 15th, and then we were struggling to run 10th and then 12th and just battling through it, and the last month or so, we've been able to contend for wins and win stages, and that's the culmination of hard work.
            
"I don't think it's a fluke. It's not like we just came off winning 25th. We had a shot to win last week, too. Really proud of the guys and the effort to get us back to this point. I know we're not where we want to be. We've got to get better. But we certainly were the best today," Gustafson said.

Gustafson also talked about the point when he saw Elliott turn a corner in terms of his confidence and reach the point where he knew wins, instead of second-place finishes, were in sight.

"I mean, to be honest with you, I thought -- Daytona, the very first race we worked together at Daytona, we kind of sucked, but past that, I felt like he could win right away. I felt like he could win every race. I never doubted or thought that he needed to go through any maturation process or any experience to win a race.  I thought he could win a race right away.
            
"You look back, and certainly we've had lots of opportunities to do it, and hindsight is always 20/20, and sure, we should have, but there was never any question to me. There was never a pinnacle moment that he turned or learned something or went through something. I thought he was pretty equipped to win from the start.
            
"And you know, I do think not making it -- he can comment on it. It certainly adds a little -- seems to raise the hurdle a little bit. Like it makes it slightly tougher, by it was never what I felt like was insurmountable or something that we couldn't overcome. I just knew we had to fight through it and it was going to go our way, and there was countless races it didn't.
            
"But on my experience, those odds -- the statistics end up evening out, and there's going to probably be some races that we may get that we shouldn't get, right, so you've just got to stay after it," Gustafson explained.

Staying after it helped cement Elliott's place in the playoffs for this season. He came up short last year but will get the chance to race for the big prize when the playoffs begin the 10-race runoff next month.

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  Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
   The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far. 
   This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves country music, though she can't carry a tune; Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life; and her husband who's supportive of her NASCAR obsession... as long as she allows him to obsess over college football every fall.

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