After some recent terrible racing luck, Chase Elliott collected his first win of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season in the No. 9 Kelley Blue Book Camaro ZL1 1LE in the midweek Alsco Uniforms 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the fourth race since the sport resumed competition on May 17th. His last win was at the Charlotte Roval in September 2019.
The victory was Elliott’s seventh in 157 NASCAR Cup career starts, and his first victory and fifth top-10 finish in 29 races at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It also marked the second win for the Camaro Zl1 1LE in 2020, Chevrolet’s 46th win at the Charlotte venue, and 788th in NASCAR’s premier series.
Ricky Stenhouse, No. 47 Kroger Camaro ZL1 1LE finished fourth in the 208-lap race, and Kurt Busch, was fifth in his No. 1 Monster Energy Camaro Z1 1LE, to give Team Chevy three of the top-five finishing positions. Austin Dillon was eighth in the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Off Road Camaro Zl1 1LE.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Ally Camaro ZL1 and William Byron, No. 24 Axalta Camaro ZL1 1LE, finished 11th and 12th, respectively. Additionally, Hendrick Motorsports leads the NASCAR Cup Series in wins at Charlotte with 20: Jimmie Johnson (eight), Jeff Gordon (five), Darrell Waltrip (two); plus Ken Schraeder, Terry Labonte, Casey Mears, Kasey Kahne, and Chase Elliott with one each.
To round out the top five overall, Denny Hamlin (Toyota) finished second and Ryan Blaney (Ford) was third.
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE INTERVIEWS:
CHASE ELLIOTT and ALAN GUSTAFSON, NO. 9 KELLEY BLUE BOOK CAMARO ZL1 1LE
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the winner of tonight’s Alsco Uniforms 500 and that is Chase Elliott. Congratulations on winning the race. Walk us through that run tonight.
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, appreciate it. It was just ‑‑ we battled hard and finally got our car good enough there at the end. I’m not sure that we had it exactly perfect, but the guys did a great job making good adjustments and good pit stops there to put us in a position, and I think the race going long played into our favor as compared to what Kevin had to work with. Just had some good fortune and things went our way. Just appreciate all our partners for sticking with us. Finally good to get a Kelley Blue Book win. That’s our first win together, so hopefully many more.
After Sunday, was there any worry on your part that maybe Alan just didn’t have confidence in you?
CHASE ELLIOTT: That’s probably about the dumbest question you’ve ever asked me.
Does the fact that you have strong cars, does that alleviate any concerns of, oh, well, if a decision doesn’t go your way or if you make a mistake or if somebody makes a mistake, as long as you have fast cars you’re going to continue to win races?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I think 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. 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.
You spoke to it a little bit in your interviews, but just the feeling of oh, my gosh, what’s going to go wrong, how do you keep focused on what you’re trying to do in the car those final laps when you’re like, oh, my gosh, what’s going to happen?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I mean, honestly, it really just keeps you grounded, to be completely frank, especially after Sunday. 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.
Do you have any sense of if the caution ‑‑ were you thinking, okay, if the caution does come out I’m definitely staying out here this time or anything like that?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I think it just depends. We can “what‑if” it to death, but until you’re put in that situation ‑‑ that was a longer run there at the end than we even had on Sunday, so who knows. I mean, when the caution comes out late like that, you’re going to have takers and not, and it’s all just about the numbers as to who does and who doesn’t. I can’t answer that. It’s hard to tell.
I wonder how you’re feeling physically after running all these races?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, good question. I feel really good. I feel like I tried to stay biking and doing things throughout those two months off, and honestly coming back and going back to Darlington where it was hot and then coming into the 600, it kind of just threw us back right to the wolves, and I think that was really a good thing just to really get some hot races and some long races in right off the bat and just jump right to it. I feel good, and I’m certainly tired, it’s been a long week, but I’m going to rest these next couple days and get ready for Bristol.
I wonder with this workload if the size of Hendrick Motorsports is a benefit and you guys having so many people and it’s showing in your preparation and how you guys are showing up at the racetrack?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I mean, I think all of our employees at HMS from top to bottom have been really working hard throughout the off‑season. But again, we’re still very early in the year, and I challenge all of the people at HMS, myself, the road crew, the pit crews to stay hungry because the season is very long, a lot of racing left, and we just need to keep pushing. No reason to get content right now.
Chase, you were running well even before the pause of the season, and now you’ve been ‑‑ you’ve had the strong run here. Is it as much a continuation or do you feel like you guys have gotten better just in the last two weeks?
CHASE ELLIOTT: To be honest, I feel like it’s been a continuation from the beginning of the season. I feel like all the same contenders are contending now as to who was contending before the break, so I still feel like ‑‑ I almost get the sense that we’re still working on some of the parts and pieces and cars that we had before we had two months off, so I’m really curious to see how these next two weeks progress because people are going to get better, and I think some of the things they’ve been trying and working on they’re actually going to have time to implement to their cars. We have to stay hungry and stay after it.
What are you curious to see?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Who’s fast and who’s not.
What was the conversations like with Alan in the immediate aftermath of Sunday and through the next couple days?
CHASE ELLIOTT: You know, look, I mean, I feel like at the end of the day, he has to make decisions on the spot. I feel like we were in a lose‑lose position there on Sunday, so 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. 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 because that position is a super hard one to be in. It’s a good one to be in, right, because you’re leading the race, but also a really tough one to be in at the same time.
Did you kind of give him a pep talk or anything or explain what you just explained now to him?
CHASE ELLIOTT: No, he’s been doing this way longer than me, so he knows.
Chase, with the races you’ve run this week, the 600, the truck race, then tonight, the rain delays, postponements, how do you get your mindset into making the transition from a late week race into Bristol on Sunday for a short track?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, just get ready. 500 laps at Bristol is a really physical event. We’ve raced a lot throughout this week. I’m tired, and I want to rest tomorrow and Saturday and get ready to go. It’s going to be a tough one on Sunday, especially in the afternoon.
Chase, kind of bouncing off of the previous question, when we talk about momentum, normally you have a full week to enjoy a race win like this. Does it help to go to Bristol only a couple days later to carry the momentum or would you rather enjoy the victory a little bit more?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I mean, that’s tough. You know, I don’t know that it matters. To me a win is a win. Those five bonus points are five bonus points, and the sticker on top of the car is still going to be there. I think it’s all ‑‑ I don’t really know that it matters. I’m just excited that we’ve been performing well, and ultimately I want to just have a shot to win each and every week. That’s our goal as a team. Whether we do or not is one thing, but to just have a chance to be in position is the goal, so we need to stay after that goal.
How much of a benefit was it for your confidence to come back and win Tuesday night and kind of immediately shake the sting of Sunday? Did that do anything to help you maybe come into this race with a little bit of a fresher mind?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Like I said Tuesday, I don’t know that Tuesday made up for Sunday. It was certainly good. It never hurt anything to come over here, perform and have a good run like that. But it definitely didn’t fix it. I think we were hungry and wanted to get back and try again.
Rain delay aside, what did you think of the length of tonight’s race both in time and mileage wise?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I think it’s great. I think it ups the intensity. I think you have to have your car driving really well from the start, and if it doesn’t, you have to make those big swings early. I feel like it just ramps up the intensity and everything that comes with that. Just the clock is ticking and you don’t have a lot of time to do much of anything.
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the crew chief of the No. 9, Alan Gustafson. Please walk us through tonight’s victory from your perspective.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, so with the invert we certainly started a little further back than we wanted to, and you know, short stages and a lot of cautions near the start, it was just kind of hard for us to work our way through there, and we did eventually, and kind of got in the top 5, and once we got up there we could figure out what kind of car we had. Our car I don’t think was quite as fast as it was the other night and a little bit too free, so we suffered there a little bit and tried to improve it, and I think we got it better. Had a loose wheel, an unfortunate caution to get the loose wheel fixed, and at the end there, Chase made some adjustments, we adjusted on the car and he was able to pass Kevin to win the race. It was a great day for us.
Alan, how much does having fast cars help kind of heal any either frustration and everything over what happened on Sunday?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, a lot. I mean, a lot. Having an opportunity to win is a huge thing, and we’ve had a lot of opportunities to win. It’s obviously been pretty well‑documented that we didn’t do that as much as we would have liked, and knowing we could come here with a good car and a chance to win again and put ourselves in that position again and overcome it was good. I mean, if the race on Sunday night, if that was really the only shot we had all year, we hadn’t had cars that had speed to win, it would have been even that much more devastating, but we’ve had really good cars. Yeah, it worked out.
Chase didn’t indicate that he felt this way, but I was curious whether you were concerned that he might feel like you wouldn’t have confidence in him to be able to kind of stay out on old tires and win.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Oh, no. No, no, I have the utmost confidence in him. 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.
Can you walk us through what those hours and days since Sunday night were like for you, your own personal experience and taking the heat from the call and everything that went into that?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I don’t know, it obviously wasn’t a great feeling. You know, 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. But yeah, it was a long couple days, but at the end of the day, you’ve just got to look past it and move on.
As a crew chief after you have a race like Sunday, does it shake your confidence at all? Does it make you doubt yourself at all?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: No. No. I think you have to be a little bit hard‑headed to do this job, and you have to find a way to improve, and just you have to kind of shake it off. Professional sports are super fickle, and one day you’re good and one day you’re terrible, and you just get used to that.
What was the conversations like with Chase Sunday night and then the next few days afterwards?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Chase and I, we were always in lockstep on all those decisions. I have the most confidence in him, and I feel like he does in me, and we never ‑‑ I mean, we certainly felt that on Sunday. I think both of us did. Not only for ourselves but for all the guys at the shop and everybody that works so hard and for NAPA and for HMS and for Mr. Hendrick and Kelley Blue Book, all our sponsors, we felt bad, but we certainly knew that we just had to move past it.
Obviously with the new social distancing protocols and guidelines, this is the first time that you got to react to a race win with those in place. I saw you were kind of giving some air high‑fives to some people in the pit box, walking down pit road. What has that been like adjusting to that and then tonight not really being able to celebrate physically with your team?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, it’s tough because that team camaraderie, that’s really the best part of our sport, and I think that’s my favorite thing is working together with a group of guys and overcoming adversity and then being able to celebrate that together and enjoy that accomplishment together.
You know, look, it’s still a great feeling, but certainly you miss that intimacy and you miss that ability to high five and kind of go through that. But certainly it’s a small price to pay. There’s a lot of people in a lot worse positions than we are. We’re fortunate to be here. We’re fortunate to be able to do what we love to do, and it’s not ideal, but it’s really good.
Alan, could you talk a little bit about what the feeling is right now at Hendrick Motorsports where you guys have been consistently talked about as having the fastest cars, considering everything that’s gone on the last few years, and then you guys being able to capitalize on that by going to Victory Lane?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, we’re really excited and proud, and we’re happy with our Chevy Camaro. The thing is a rocket ship, and we appreciate all the work that’s gone into it. It’s fun to race, and we feel like we’ve got a really competitive car.
It’s not been easy. We’ve had to work through split shifts and social distance circumstances and all types of ‑‑ the things that everybody has had to go through with COVID, and it’s been tough. That’s something I’m really proud of, not only Hendrick Motorsports but certainly the 9 guys ‑‑ there’s a group of guys on the 9 team that typically go on the road, and ultimately they can’t go on the road anymore based on the roster, so those are the guys who are working tirelessly at the shop to prepare these cars, so everybody back there is doing an amazing job, and to bring cars like this to the track is a true testament to their ability, and I’m really proud of that and super proud of everybody at HMS. We’ve all stuck together. We’ve all fought through it. We’ve not had the years we wanted the last three or four and we’ve stuck together and kept fighting and kept fighting, and now I think we’re getting to a position where we can contend.
Have you had enough races this season where you can say how much the change to the Chevy body has contributed to the effort this year?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, I certainly ‑‑ that’s a contributing factor, and a lot of hard work at the shop and a lot of work in the off‑season and a lot of collaboration and all those things, a lot of collaboration with Chevrolet and all those things have paid off to put us in a really good position and in a spot where we can really compete.
Alan, when we talked during the pause, you had said that you kind of thought that what happened the first part of the season would probably carry over to the first few races early on because of the challenges of getting equipment and updating stuff for teams. That seems to have played out. Will there be a point where you’re going to see teams make a challenge, or how much more difficult is it in this season and this unique season to try to catch up?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, it’s a great question. I mean, I think it’s going to unfold. I certainly feel like we’ve raced some really competitive teams. The 4 car and the 18 car and the 22 and whoever else, the 19 and all those guys, they’re going to work hard, and they’re not going to be down for long. They’re going to be improving, and we’ve got to do the same thing. We’ve got to continue to improve and continue to get better on and off the track and execute better in all facets of what we do.
It’s a very interesting dynamic. I can’t say that any of us have gone through this, and we don’t know ultimately what’s going to transpire. But I certainly think that there’s certainly room for everyone to improve, and I have every expectation that our competitors will.
Is that going to come up maybe in the next month when there’s not 16 races in 12 days seemingly?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I think right now you’re going to see a lot of just being able to execute and bring quality cars and do the ‑‑ I want to say basic, not that it’s basic, but do the fundamental things that we take for granted. The teams that can do that well are going to be successful, and then once we transition more back to a normal situation, I do think that then there probably will be a bigger opportunity to work on performance enhancements.
Alan, seeing Chase win the truck race on Tuesday night, did that do anything to help erase any lingering sting or tension from Sunday night? Obviously I know it doesn’t fix what happened Sunday, but did seeing Chase win that race do anything for you and the team?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Not really. I enjoyed it. I thought it was great. I thought the whole bounty and Kevin putting it up and Chase racing it and Kyle putting his best effort into it was very entertaining. You know, it’s no surprise that certainly two of the best guys in our sport, and I’d argue two of the best guys on the planet driving race cars were doing that and had a good race. It was entertainment. Happy for Chase. It was a cool thing. As always, he handled himself really well and did an amazing job. It was more fun.
I mean, it certainly doesn’t hurt to laugh and there was some funny circumstances in there, but yeah, it was good entertainment.
With having shown the speed at the intermediate tracks and the restrictor plate tracks, how much confidence does that now give you going into the first short track of the season at Bristol?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: None really. I love Bristol. It’s a great track. It’s a lot of fun. But it’s got its own unique challenges, and it’s got its own unique circumstances. I don’t really feel like there’s much from any of the tracks that we’ve raced that’s going to correlate to Bristol. It’s its own animal. I’m excited to get there and race it, and the dynamic of the track changing and rubber and the grip compound and no practice and all that’s going to be ‑‑ it’s going to be significant there. That’ll be a pressure cooker. It’ll be fun.
Alan, kind of following off of something you alluded to from an earlier question, you mentioned you guys have to keep pushing forward and keep trying to find speed. In this environment and really with how tight the top of the field is right now, how tough is it as a team when you’re sitting on top or close to the top like you guys are? How tough is it to not get complacent and keep reaching for more, keep trying to find those extra tenths?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: It’s not hard. It’s not hard. You’re only as good as your last result, and as soon as you think you’re in a position that you’re going to be better than everyone else, you’re going to get knocked down pretty quick. I’ve been through it enough in my career that this is the pinnacle of motorsports; there’s too many good people to think that you’re going to be able to walk through the park and just stroll along. You’ve got to work.
THE MODERATOR: Alan, congratulations on the win. Good luck on Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Thank you. Appreciate everybody for sticking around.
The NASCAR Cup Series season continues at Bristol Motor Speedway with the Supermarket Heroes 500 on Sunday, May 31st at 3:30 p.m. ET. Live coverage will air on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
story and photo courtesy of Chevrolet