Chase Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson (pictured above) both agreed late Sunday when it comes to the next three races in the playoffs, the No. 9 team needs to be most wary of Texas Motor Speedway.
“Texas has been the worst one of the three,” said Elliott. “Martinsville has been hit‑or‑miss: Terrible my first couple trip; had a couple good runs there last year. Was back to pretty bad this spring. Really hit‑or‑miss.
“Phoenix, had a good running in the spring. Texas has been really bad since they paved it. Just because you’ve had recent good runs at those other places doesn’t mean you’re going to be good when you go back this time. I think Texas has been the worst of the three as of late.”
Even so, Elliott has an average finish of 7.4 at Texas in five starts, with four top-10 finishes. Elliott finished 11th at Texas this past spring.
With a Sunday win at Kansas Speedway, Elliott goes into the Round of 8 with five more playoff points. The only Hendrick Motorsports driver left in the playoffs, Elliott was already locked into the semifinal round courtesy of a victory at Dover.
The additional playoff points make Gustafson breathe a little easier. Even though it’s slim (three points), Elliott starts the round with an advantage on the cutline, and Gustafson believes his team can perform well at Martinsville and Phoenix. Beyond that and figuring out Texas, with the point advantage Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have on the rest of the playoff contenders Gustafson says transferring to Homestead will take a victory.
“As well as they run, getting past them via points is probably a stretch,” Gustafson said. “I mean, it’s possible, but probably a stretch. Before the (Kansas) race, I felt like we were going to have to win one of those three to move on. I don’t know that my opinions changed a lot. Certainly, going to have to be in contention to win one of those three.
“I think we have a good shot at it. Martinsville is a track I personally have had a lot of success at. Chase has done really well here as of late. We weren’t good to start when we started working together. I think we’ve kind of figured some things out. I look forward to that. Texas, we’ve not been good at since they reconfigured it. This (Kansas win) certainly makes me feel a little better about that.
“Phoenix is good — I think it’s probably one of our better tracks. We run really well there. Close to winning it last year, finishing second in the fall race. Yeah, I’m looking forward to all of them. Anything can happen. Sitting here thinking about leading Martinsville (last year), four laps to go, not pitting, spinning and wrecking, all those other things that happen. Then with Chase wrecking. It’s going to be a crapshoot. I think we’ve got a good shot.”
Elliott, who now has two wins in six playoff races, will be in that same mindset.
“I think every week has to be pressure-packed,” he said. “You have to keep the pressure on yourselves. If you were to make it to Homestead, you have to pretty much win Homestead. I think you have to have that mentality every week. The points game is nice I guess to play. Really, you just need to care about winning. If you’re trying to win, putting yourself in position to win, that’s way more important than just barely trying to squeak through.
“Having the ability to win, putting yourselves in those positions week by week, is the most important thing. If we can do that these next three weeks, I think we can give ourselves a chance.”