It’s a new year for Chase Elliott and the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts team. With it, the group is looking for a rebound season in the NASCAR Cup Series after what can only be described as a difficult 2023 campaign. With a championship-winning driver and crew chief pairing leading the team, the work begins in earnest in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Last season, the group suffered adversity in March with Elliott being sidelined with a fractured tibia in his left leg he sustained in a snowboarding accident. Even with a speedy recovery that saw him return in mid-April at Martinsville Speedway, it was a challenging time for the team.
“It was not fun sitting out and kind of watching the show go on,” Elliott said. “I had never had any serious injury or serious broken bones before last year and certainly never had surgery before.”
Despite missing seven races, Elliott made a push to reach the driver playoffs, but ultimately fell a little short. However, he did help the No. 9 team reach the owner’s playoffs, where he led the team to the Round of 8.
The 2024 season offers a full reset for the No. 9 team. Elliott and the group already have new goals in mind for the full season.
“I would like to have better pace,” Elliott said. “Winning would be great. Winning a championship would be great. We just want to have pace on a week-to-week basis and that is where my head has been for a long time. I just want to show up and have a shot every week. We are very capable of doing that but you got to be perfect. If you are not perfect, you have to be close to it and just keep yourself in contention. That’s really where I am at with it. I want to have pace, be fast and be in the hunt more often.”
Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson enter the season as the longest active driver and crew chief pairing in the garage. Their 18 wins together rank second among current duos. Among their highlights are the 2022 regular-season championship and the 2020 Cup Series championship.
“We have such a solid working relationship,” Elliott said of Gustafson, whom he has been with since the start of the 2016 season. “It just makes each week way easier and better when that is the case. He and I are very similar in a lot of ways and kind of look at things from a similar view. That helps our relationship at the track and ultimately, we have the same goals in mind.”
One milestone Elliott will enjoy during 2024 is his 300th career start in the NASCAR Cup Series. That is slated to occur at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Coca-Cola 600 over Memorial Day weekend. The 28-year-old driver has been close to winning that crown jewel event in the past, with a runner-up finish in 2020.
All of the Dawsonville, Georgia, native’s starts have come with team owner Rick Hendrick,
who took an interest in him as an up-and-coming prospect in 2011. Given the opportunity, he hopes to drive for the Hall of Fame team owner for the rest of his career.
“I don’t know how long my career is going to take me but I would love to spend it here,” Elliott said. “This has been the only home I have ever known in my NASCAR career, which is cool. I owe everything that I have to Rick (Hendrick) and the opportunities and my life, just every bit of it.
“The biggest thing is to be able to call one place home. It’s a really big deal to me and to drive for one guy.”
PIT CREW LINEUP
Front-tire changer: Nick O’Dell
Rear-tire changer: Chad Avrit
Tire carrier: Jared Erspamer
Jackman: T.J. Semke
Fueler: John Gianninoto
The No. 9 road crew has a few new faces with Mark Ziegler moving up to be the primary engineer after first joining the team in 2023. Nick Gardiner will serve as the interior mechanic while longtime secondary spotter Trey Poole will be the team’s primary spotter for 2024.
STAT TO KNOW: 277 starts Gustafson and Elliott have made together in the Cup Series. This is the most by any active driver/crew chief pairing.
40TH ANNIVERSARY MOMENT: Aug. 5, 2018, at Watkins Glen International
Elliott looks back at this first Cup Series win, which was also the 250th for Hendrick Motorsports
“I remember pretty much everything. We qualified OK. We had really good pace all weekend and liked the way our car drove. We got the lead early on – passed Kyle Busch for the lead and he ended up getting me back someway. At that point, I thought I had handed the race back to him but they ended up not getting it full of fuel or something midway through the race and having to eat that time on the next stop. He gave up his track position and then it became a race between Martin (Truex Jr.) and I. I was just glad I didn’t throw it away. I was glad that I was in front of him when he ran out of gas rather than him pass me and get it gifted back to us. I was certainly glad we earned it the right way and felt like we did. It was a memorable day and one that I’ll never forget. Your first win – at least for us – it was so hard to get there. We had a tough road to that first win. It meant a lot to us because of that.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I A STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!