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How Much Criticism Does Alan Gustafson Deserve for Elliott’s Flop at Watkins Glen?

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The Hendrick Motorsports Napa Number 9 team laid an egg at Watkins Glen last weekend. Chase Elliott qualified a disappointing 15th, and crew chief Alan Gustafson was forced to do an outside-the-box strategy. The strategy seemed to be working until a critical miscalculation was realized too late, and Elliott ran out of fuel on the backstretch.

The day was done from there as Elliott fell off the lead lap, and he would finish 32nd. People heavily criticized Gustafson on social media over it, with many calling for him to be fired from Hendrick Motorsports. Gustafson certainly deserves some criticism for what happened, but does he deserve that level of criticism?

The Team Aspect of NASCAR

The old saying in sports is “We win and lose as a team”, and motorsports is no different. Sure, the driver gets the trophy, but it takes a full group of people to set a car up the way a driver needs it to be to win. As was evidenced by the lead in this article, Gustafson’s miscalculation was not the only thing that went wrong last weekend.

Gustafson made a major mistake, and he deserves his fair share of criticism for that. His job is to put together the best race strategy for Chase Elliott, and he made a crucial miscalculation. However, to say that was the sole reason why Elliott is 101 points out of the Playoffs is just wrong.

A lot happened that weekend to put Elliott in that position. Not to mention the races Elliott missed earlier in the season because of both an injury and a suspension. Gustafson and the number nine team were put in a bad spot because of this, and they could not find a way to win a race to make the Playoffs.

The fact that Elliott could not win a race can be chalked up to the race team, but it was Elliott who helped put them in that must-win situation to begin with. You simply cannot blame everything on one miscalculation that Gustafson had.

While, yes, Gustafson deserves criticism for what happened at Watkins Glen, it cannot be all pinned on him, and it’s also important to look at his pedigree as a crew chief.

The Pedigree of Alan Gustafson

In an effort to explain why he felt Alan Gustafson should be fired, @NickBaumann9_16 showed Gustafson’s stats as a crew chief. Objectively, this has the exact opposite effect of showing how bad Gustafson has been.

In 19 full-time seasons as a Cup Series crew chief, Gustafson has 38 wins and one Cup Series Championship. If that was a driver’s resume, then he is a no-brainer Hall of Fame driver. He has had great drivers, but he has done exactly what he is supposed to do with elite drivers, win races.

He made a major mistake at Watkins Glen, but, is that enough to get rid of him entirely? He is one of the better NASCAR Cup Series crew chiefs of this generation as is evidenced by the stats.

Look, the frustration is understandable as Chase Elliott missing the NASCAR Playoffs would be inexcusable under normal circumstances. Well, these are not normal circumstances, and the pedigree of the two together could keep them together.

The lack of a race win this season, however, is definitely a tough pill to swallow for them. Maybe that statistic could predicate the need for a change, but, the circumstances surrounding it are not ideal in any way. Saying Gustafson should be fired or he is overrated is a very strong statement based on one race.

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Joshua Lipowski

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