Alan Gustafson to call 650th Cup event as crew chief at Talladega

The upcoming GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway is set to mark crew chief Alan Gustafson’s sixth NASCAR Cup Series event atop the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 pit box of the season and second since returning from a four-week suspension stemming from the hood louver penalties and fines issued to the HMS organization. It will also mark a significant milestone achievement for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship-winning crew chief. By participating in this weekend’s Cup event at Talladega Superspeedway, Gustafson will call his 650th career race as a crew chief in NASCAR’s premier series.

A native of Ormond Beach, Florida, Gustafson was working on go-karts piloted by Casey Yunick, grandson of legendary car mechanic and designer Smokey Yunick, at eight years old. As a mechanic, he worked his way up to late models, legend cars and the Sports Cars Club of America region. Graduating from Seabreeze High School in Daytona Beach, Florida, Gustafson was pursuing a mechanical engineering degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University when he decided to relocate to Charlotte, North Carolina, and pursue a career in motorsports racing.

In 1996, Gustafson joined Gary Moore’s Goody’s Dash Series team as a crew chief for Jimmy Foster. A year later, he became a crew chief for Addington Racing’s NASCAR Truck Series before making the jump to the Xfinity Series to work as an engineer for Diamond Ridge Motorsports. Another two years later, Gustafson, who was working for Jimmy Foster, was recruited by former NASCAR championship-winning crew chief Gary DeHart to work in Hendrick Motorsports’ chassis department. By 2000, he was working as a full-time shock specialist for HMS’ No. 5 Chevrolet team piloted by two-time Cup champion Terry Labonte before being named lead engineer for the No. 5 team another two years later.

Entering the 2005 Cup season, Gustafson was named crew chief for the No. 5 Chevrolet team set to be piloted by Kyle Busch, who entered the season as a 2005 Cup rookie candidate. Throughout the 36-race schedule, Gustafson achieved his first two NASCAR victories as a crew chief, the first at Auto Club Speedway in September and the second at Phoenix Raceway in November with Busch. The duo went on to achieve a pole, nine top-five results and 13 top-10 results, with Busch claiming the 2005 Rookie-of-the-Year title despite finishing 20th in the final standings.

Over the next two seasons, Gustafson remained as crew chief for Busch and the No. 5 team in the Cup circuit, where Busch achieved one victory apiece, made the Playoffs during both seasons and achieved a fifth-place result in the final standings in 2007. By then, Gustafson surpassed 100 Cup starts as a crew chief.

In 2008, Gustafson remained as crew chief for HMS’ No. 5 Chevrolet team piloted by Casey Mears, the reigning Coca-Cola 600 winner, who replaced Busch as Busch joined Joe Gibbs Racing for the upcoming season. Throughout the 36-race schedule, Gustafson and Mears only achieved one top-five result and six top-10 results before finishing in 20th place in the final standings. 

The 2009 Cup season was a competitive season for Gustafson, who was paired with veteran driver Mark Martin as Martin returned to full-time Cup competition for the first time since 2005 and as the successor of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. It took the first eight scheduled races of the 2009 season for Gustafson to return to Victory Lane in the Cup circuit after Martin achieved a dominant win at Phoenix in April, which snapped Martin’s 97-race winless drought and a 74-race winless drought for Gustafson. The momentum continued for the driver, crew chief and the No. 5 team as they won at Darlington Raceway in May, Michigan International Speedway in June and Chicagoland Speedway in July. Martin and Gustafson then achieved a fifth victory of the season at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September, which commenced the 2009 Cup Playoffs. They ended up as the championship runner-up to teammates Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus by 141 points. Nonetheless, they earned a total of five victories, seven poles, 14 top-five results and 21 top-10 results throughout the 36-race schedule.

Compared to the 2009 season, however, Martin and Gustafson were unable to pursue another shot at a championship in 2010 as they missed the Playoffs, went winless and only achieved a pole, seven top-five results and 11 top-10 results before finishing in 13th place in the final standings. By then, Gustafson surpassed 200 Cup starts as a crew chief.

For the 2011 season, Gustafson, who remained at HMS, transitioned from the No. 5 team to the No. 24 team as he was paired with four-time NASCAR Cup champion Jeff Gordon. Following a 28th-place run in the Daytona 500, Gustafson notched his first victory with Gordon at Phoenix in February, where Gordon rallied from an early wreck to dominate and fend off Kyle Busch to snap a 66-race winless drought. Gordon and Gustafson went on to achieve victories at Pocono Raceway in June and at Atlanta Motor Speedway in September along with a pole, 13 top-five results, 18 top-10 results and a spot in the 2011 Cup Playoffs before finishing in eighth place in the final standings.

From 2012 to 2013, Gordon, Gustafson and the No. 24 team achieved a total of three victories, four poles, 19 top-five results and 35 top-10 results, with a best points result of sixth place in 2013. Then in 2014, the duo recorded four victories throughout the 36-race schedule, including the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July, which marked Gustafson’s first crown-jewel victory in NASCAR. Having earned three poles, 14 top-five results and 23 top-10 results along with the victories, Gordon and Gustafson were poised to contend for the title until a late run-in and brawl with Brad Keselowski ended their hopes for a championship prior to the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, thus relegating them back to sixth place in the final standings. By then, Gustafson surpassed 300 starts in the Cup Series.

In 2015, which marked Gordon’s 23rd and final full-time season as a NASCAR competitor, Gordon and Gustafson commenced the season by winning the pole position for the 57th running of the Daytona 500. They then rallied from a bumpy regular-season stretch to make the Playoffs and earn a spot in the Championship Round at Homestead following a sentimental victory at Martinsville Speedway in November, with Gordon earning one final opportunity to win his fifth title. During the finale, however, Gordon settled in sixth place on the track and third place in the final standings. Along with the Martinsville victory, Gordon and Gustafson achieved four poles, five top-five results and 21 top-10 results.

Following Gordon’s retirement, Gustafson remained as crew chief for HMS’ No. 24 Chevrolet team piloted by Chase Elliott, the 2014 Xfinity Series champion and the successor of the No. 24 entry. In their first run together, Elliott secured the pole position for the upcoming Daytona 500, thus becoming the youngest competitor to win the pole for the 500. Elliott, however, finished 37th after being involved in an early accident. Despite the slow start, Elliott and Gustafson managed to record two poles, 10 top-five results and 17 top-10 results. While they qualified for the 2016 Cup Playoffs, the duo were eliminated from title contention following the Round of 12 and went on to finish in 10th place in the final standings. By the end of the season, Elliott captured the 2016 Cup Rookie-of-the-Year title. In addition, Gustafson surpassed 400 Cup starts as a crew chief.

In 2017, Gustafson commenced the season by making history as he became the first crew chief since Ernie Elliott to achieve three consecutive Daytona 500 poles, with Chase Elliott zooming to his second consecutive 500 pole. After winning the first of two Can-Am Duel events at Daytona, Elliott and Gustafson were in striking position of winning the 500 until Elliott fell back to 14th after running out of fuel with two laps remaining. Despite several opportunities presented for Elliott, Gustafson and the No. 24 team to win, they endured a second winless season. Nonetheless, they earned 12 top-five results, 21 top-10 results and a Playoff spot before being eliminated from title contention prior to the finale and ending up in fifth place in the final standings. During the season, Gustafson was suspended for the Cup Playoff event at New Hampshire in September stemming from an L1-level post-race penalty report during the previous event at Chicagoland Speedway.

Gustafson remained as crew chief for HMS and Elliott in 2018, with Elliott piloting the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for the new season. During the season, Gustafson was suspended for two races (Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond Raceway in April) stemming from an illegal rear window penalty report at Texas Motor Speedway the previous week. Nonetheless, Gustafson returned to Victory Lane in the Cup Series in nearly three seasons after Elliott achieved his first elusive Cup victory at Watkins Glen International in August. Earning a one-way ticket to the Playoffs, Elliott and Gustafson won at Dover International Speedway and at Kansas Speedway in October before finishing in sixth place in the final standings. By then, Gustafson surpassed 500 Cup career starts as a crew chief. 

After a winless start through the first nine events of the 2019 season, Elliott and Gustafson achieved their first victory of the year at Talladega Superspeedway in April. They went on to win at Watkins Glen in August and at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval in September before making the Playoffs and settling in 10th place in the final standings.

The 2020 Cup season was a season to remember for Gustafson, who commenced the season with two victories with Elliott throughout the 26-race regular-season stretch amid the COVID-19 pandemic. During the Playoffs, Elliott went on to win at the Charlotte Roval in October and at Martinsville Speedway in November, which earned Elliott, Gustafson and the No. 9 Chevrolet team a spot in the Championship Round finale at Phoenix Raceway. During the finale, Elliott rallied from starting at the rear of the field to lead a race-high 153 of 312 and capture the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship along with the finale victory. The championship was a first for Gustafson in his 16th season as a crew chief along with the first for Elliott and the 13th overall for Hendrick Motorsports.

Commencing the 2021 season as the reigning champions, Gustafson and Elliott recorded their first elusive victory of the season during the series’ inaugural, rain-shortened event at Circuit of the Americas in May. They went on to win at Road America in July and record 15 top-10 results during the 26-race regular-season stretch amid Gustafson being suspended for Watkins Glen in August due to the No. 9 entry failing pre-race inspection twice before qualifying for the 2021 Cup Playoffs. With four top-10 results during nine Playoff events, Gustafson and Elliott were able to transfer all the way from the Round of 16 to the Championship 4 and receive an opportunity to defend their series title. During the finale at Phoenix, however, Elliott finished fifth on the track and ended up in fourth place in the final standings. By then, Gustafson had surpassed 600 events as a Cup crew chief.

This past season, Gustafson and Elliott achieved their first victory of the season at Dover in May. They went on to win at Nashville Superspeedway in June, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway in July before securing their seventh consecutive berth to the Playoffs. Throughout the Playoffs, the duo rallied from a rough start in the Rounds of 16 and 12 by winning at Talladega in October and transferring to the Round of 8. They were also able to accumulate enough points to transfer to the Championship 4 round for a third consecutive season. Their aim for a second Cup title, however, came to an end when Elliott was involved in a late-race incident with title rival Ross Chastain and ended 28th on the track. This, in turn, kept him in fourth place in the final standings for a second consecutive season.

Gustafson and Elliott commenced this season on a rough note by finishing 38th in the 65th running of the Daytona 500 after being involved in a multi-car wreck in the closing laps of the second stage. Despite rallying during the following weekend at Auto Club Speedway by finishing second to Kyle Busch, Elliott was then absent for the following Cup event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after injuring his leg while snowboarding in Colorado. With Elliott absent, JR Motorsports’ Xfinity Series competitor Josh Berry piloted the No. 9 HMS entry to a 29th-place result at Vegas before finishing 10th during the following event at Phoenix, both occurring in March.

Soon after, all four Hendrick Motorsports crew chiefs, including Gustafson, were issued a four-race suspension and a combined $400,000 fine as a result of NASCAR confiscating and noting issues to the hood louvers on all four HMS entries during the Phoenix weekend. The organization was also docked 100 owner points and 10 Playoff points between the four entries, but following an appeal process during the final week of March, the points were reinstated while the fines and suspensions remained intact. With Gustafson serving his four-race suspension, lead engineer Tom Gray filled in as an interim crew chief for the No. 9 HMS entry that was piloted by Berry for three events and by sportscar star Jordan Taylor for Circuit of the Americas.

This past weekend, Gustafson and Elliott returned to their respective roles as crew chief and driver of the No. 9 entry at Martinsville, where Elliott started 24th and finished 10th. Despite being ranked in 31st place in the driver’s standings, Elliott has been granted a waiver to be eligible to make the 2023 Cup Playoffs.

Through 649 previous Cup events, Gustafson has achieved one championship, 38 victories, 34 poles, 188 top-five results, 324 top-10 results and 10,781 laps led while working with six different competitors.

Gustafson is slated to call his 650th Cup Series race as a crew chief in the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, April 23, with the event’s coverage set to commence at 3 p.m. ET on FOX.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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