Chase Elliott looked to have a golden opportunity at Watkins Glen to get a much-needed victory Sunday, given his previous success at the seven-turn New York road course.
That was for naught, and the pressure of trying to win a race and qualify for the playoffs hasn't gotten just to the driver of the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet.
Elliott's team seems to have folded under the pressure after Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson both referenced their need to be aggressive before Sunday's race. That aggressiveness cost the 2020 Cup champion on Sunday. In pushing Elliott to run long, Gustafson risked it all as the No. 9 car ran out of fuel on lap 55 of 90.
According to Gustafson, Elliott should have been able to run two laps after hitting his fuel-reserve switch.
CHASE ELLIOTT RUNS OUT OF FUEL!
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) August 20, 2023
That wasn't the case, and Gustafson later claimed when asked about the fuel issue that they were working with bad information.
That is quite a vague excuse. NBC commentator Steve Letarte also said there would have been no way that Elliott could've made it three laps after flipping the switch.
When asked by Fox Sports' Bob Pockrass if it was an issue within the fuel line or something, Gustafson didn't offer much info. He was clearly not in a good mood, and it is clear that there is some form of disconnect between Elliott and him.
"It's internal stuff, I'm not going to go over our internal struggles in the media," Gustafson said.
Alan Gustafson commented on Chase Elliott running out of fuel in the middle of the race at Watkins Glen.
— Frontstretch (@Frontstretch) August 20, 2023
With just one more chance at winning his way into the playoffs, Elliott has the biggest challenge ahead of him, with the Cup Series going to Daytona for the regular season finale.
It will be an unpredictable race. And with all of that pressure, Elliott and his team not being on the same page would only make things harder.
The minute the driver and crew chief are having some form of issue, that usually spells doom for their partnership. This could be the last season Elliott and Gustafson will be paired together.
It has been a hard year for Elliott already. The way this season has gone, it should have been expected that something would go wrong.
It would have been one thing if Elliott had a problem himself. But for his crew chief and team to be failing him under this type of pressure is odd, given that this team was under plenty of pressure in the past — including in 2020, when they won the series championship.
He has to win Daytona. If he doesn't, this will definitely be a season to forget for NASCAR's Most Popular Driver.
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