Even starting from the back of the field, Chase Elliott thought he had a chance to earn his first Sprint Cup Series win Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
While he may have been disappointed a victory turned out to be elusive, he did appreciate crew chief Alan Gustafson’s strategy in the race.
“Being on offense is good,” the rookie said after his career-best fifth-place finish. “With Alan’s decisions, I’m going to be all for whether they go good or bad. Whatever he says, I’m in for and we’ll make the most of it.”
From the rear of the field
Elliott, who took over the driving duties of Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 24 Chevrolet this season after Jeff Gordon moved to the Fox Sports broadcast booth, had a fast car all weekend. He qualified fourth for the race but was forced to start from the rear of the field when his team changed the transmission on his car the morning of the race.
Elliott rocketed through the field, and once he made it into the Top 10, he remained there and in position to make a gamble for the win.
We’re definitely not satisfied running fifth. I feel like we have a group of guys that are capable of doing that. We’ll keep digging at it.
Elliott took on two new tires under caution on Lap 289 while most of the lead-lap cars took four. That gained him some valuable track position and he was running second when another caution came out.
This time, Gustafson elected to bring Elliott down to get four new tires, believing there was still time left in the race (about 30 laps) to catch the leader.
He started eighth on the restart and got up to high as fourth before crossing the finish line of the rain-delayed race in fifth.
“It was a quick decision,” Elliott said. Alan “didn’t have a lot of time. Once the caution came out, I think pretty much the first time we came back, pit road was open. Those crew chiefs are put in a position they’ve got to make a call in a hurry.
“They definitely have my respect because I respect them for what they do because that’s a tough, tough spot to be in, but as I’ve said, we’re a team. I’m going to support his decision, right, wrong or indifferent, so I was happy we did it, and we tried to make the most of it.”
A step in the right direction
The rebound from the back of the field, being in position to challenge for the win, finishing with a career-best finish – most 20-year-old Cup rookies would be satisfied with any of those.
Yet Elliott sees the potential for much more and doesn’t want to squander any opportunities.
“It was a step in the right direction. We’re definitely not satisfied running fifth,” he said. “I feel like we have a group of guys that are capable of doing that. We’ll keep digging at it. We have a long way to go with a lot of racing to go in the season.”
Elliott’s Hendrick teammates are certainly taking notice.
“He’s definitely a wheelman. It was fun out there racing with him,” six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said of Elliott. “I really thought he was in a position to when he was in third on (two) tires.
“I was ready to go to Victory Lane and have a beer with him. Well, I guess he can’t have a beer yet, but I would have a beer.”