Hendrick crew chief Alan Gustafson makes history in his backyard

Photo by Logan Whitton/NKP

By Yvonne Jones, Staff Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — For Alan Gustafson, history couldn’t have come at a better place.

A native of nearby Ormond Beach, Gustafson on Sunday became the first crew chief since Ernie Elliott in 1985-‘87 to win three consecutive poles for the Daytona 500. The man who calls the shots for Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet guided Chase Elliott to the pole for the second straight year. He was also the crew chief when Jeff Gordon won it in 2015.

“This is a special place,”  Gustafson said. “This is a place ‑‑ this is where really my racing career started.  I came, too, when I was a kid and fell in love with motorsports and watched all kinds of racing here from the 24 hours to the Daytona 500 to the Supercross to go‑karts to everything.  It is a special place.”

Now if only he could figure out how to win the Great American Race next Sunday.

“It’s bittersweet for me because we’ve had really great success on qualifying day and not great success on the Daytona 500,” said the 41-year-old Gustafson.

After winning the pole to kick off his rookie campaign last year, Chase Elliott finished 37th in the Daytona 500. The year before, Gordon ended up 33rd in NASCAR’s Super Bowl event.

“We’re going to work hard on that,” said Gustafson of the 500.  “That’s the ultimate goal.  But it’s nice ‑‑ any time you can accomplish anything here, it’s one of those things that you’re obviously very proud of.  You can see today everybody brings their best effort, everybody brings their best stuff, everybody does everything they can do.”

For a while it looked as if Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. would make a splash in his return by grabbing the pole. But the 21-year-old knocked him off the top of the leaderboard with a lap of 46.663 seconds.

Elliott and Earnhardt locked up the top two starting spots for the Daytona 500 for next Sunday. The remaining positions will be decided in the Can-Am 150-mile Duels on Thursday night.

Elliott said he didn’t feel any guilt in upstaging Earnhardt, back after missing the last 18 races of last season with concussion-like symptoms.

“Well, I think ‑‑ obviously Dale is good down here, and we all knew he was going to be fast today,” Elliott said.  “That’s no surprise.  But I don’t really care who it is.  I’m not going to feel bad about beating somebody.”

Chase Elliott – the nephew of Ernie Elliott — is the fifth driver in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series history to win consecutive Daytona 500 poles. His dad, Bill Elliott, is also on the list, making them the fourth father-son duo to accomplish the feat.

“That’s really cool to me,” he said.  “Somebody told me that a minute ago, and that’s pretty neat.”

What would also be neat is if Elliott can complete all 200 laps for the first time. He led three laps in last year’s Daytona 500 before crashing on Lap 20.

“Yeah, I’m definitely thinking about the race and what we can do to try to improve there,” he said.  “You know, Daytona was certainly a struggle for us last year just as far as getting into wrecks or wrecking and tearing up a lot of cars, so I hope we can just make it to the end of the race next week.”

If Elliott can stay out of trouble, then Gustafson will have a shot at hoisting the elusive Harley J. Earl trophy in his backyard.

“I really want to try to find a way to get a win in the Daytona 500 and have some success on Sunday of the race,” he said.

 

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