May 25, 2024

How Chase Elliott Took Page from Alan Kulwicki to Break 42-Race NASCAR Winless Streak


  • Chase Elliott, like his famous racing father Bill, keeps his emotion—and his life—private, and that makes him difficult to understand sometimes.
  • During the offseason, Hendrick Motorsports leaders met with Elliott to confirm he was in a good place psychology. Elliott was fine.
  • Chase Elliott’s win at Texas to snap a 42-race winning streak was a touching moment to see a page of Elliott family and Alan Kulwicki history come full circle.

Team owner Rick Hendrick never gave up on Chase Elliott and neither did crew chief Alan Gustafson, but more importantly, Elliott never gave up on himself, Gustafson or his team.

The three men have spent most of their lives either around or involved in racing and they understand the sport’s peaks and valleys, its ebb and flow. That doesn’t mean the low times aren’t difficult to handle because they are, and they often rip a team apart.

Gustafson and Elliott maintained their confidence in each other and ignored outside chatter. Hendrick knew the two men belonged together. Elliott, whose personality is very similar to his father’s, handled the situation as Bill Elliott did when times became tough—shut out the distractions and focus on the task at hand.

auto apr 14 nascar cup series autotrader echopark automotive 400

Icon Sportswire//Getty Images

Chase Elliott’s win at Texas came with a renewed fire.

The 28-year-old Elliott knew the problems he had with the current Cup car, and he needed to work on solving them. He fulfilled his media and sponsor obligations, but he considered anything else that didn’t make him a better driver and help his team a waste of time.

During the offseason, Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon and president and general manager Jeff Andrews met with Elliott to confirm he was in a good place psychology. Elliott was fine.

A few changes were made to the team with probably the most notable his spotter. Elliott’s long-time spotter Eddie D’Hondt was replaced with the driver’s cousin Trey Poole. The two raced Legends cars together during their childhood years and Poole was Elliott’s second spotter on road courses. He also took over for D’Hondt on an interim basis in 2021.

Elliott, like his father, keeps his emotion—and his life—private, and that makes him difficult to understand sometimes. However, it’s also a characteristic of Appalachian Mountain natives. We don’t trust outsiders, and we’re always wary about the motives of people we don’t know.

However, when Elliott won at Texas, snapping a 42-race winless streak, many of the emotions he had held inside for months overflowed. Perhaps the most insight came from a few statements in his post-race interview.

“I’m truthfully most proud of the journey and the group of people that we have climbed back up together with. We’ve made each other better. They push me to be a better driver and a better person,” Elliott said. “I just feel like we’re all in a really good place, and we have been.”

Elliott expressed thanks for Hendrick and Gustafson sticking by him through the tough times.

“We can be open and honest and talk about why we were bad or what I did wrong or what he did wrong,” Elliott said. “We can look at each other and be like, ‘All right, let’s go back to work.’”

Perhaps the most touching moment in Elliott’s victory celebration was when he paid tribute to 1992 NASCAR Cup champion Alan Kulwicki with the reverse or “Polish victory lap” as it was named after Kulwicki invented it.

nascar cup series autotrader echopark automotive 400

Chris Graythen//Getty Images

Texas winner Chase Elliott does the ’Polish victory lap’ made famous by the late Alan Kulwiicki.

When Kulwicki, who was sponsored by Hooters, defeated Bill Elliott for the 1992 championship in the season finale, the young Elliott’s parents were not yet married. It was well known that Kulwicki carried a comb in his race car so he could comb his hair after he took off his helmet before he exited his race car. At that 1992 awards ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, Bill Elliott presented Kulwicki with a large comb on stage. About a week later, Chase’s parents were married. It was a touching moment to see the Elliott-Kulwicki history come full circle.

At Texas Motor Speedway, Chase Elliott epitomized his father and Kulwicki. He showed more fire, more aggressiveness, and more emotion than I have seen in him in a couple of years.

And that’s a good thing.

Lettermark

A North Carolina native, Deb Williams is an award-winning motorsports journalist who is in her fourth decade covering auto racing. In addition to covering the sport for United Press International, she has written motorsports articles for several newspapers, magazines and websites including espnW.com, USA Today, and The Charlotte Observer. Her awards include the American Motorsports Media Award of Excellence, two-time National Motorsports Press Association writer of the year, and two-time recipient of the Russ Catlin award. She also has won an award in the North Carolina Press Association’s sports feature category.  During her career, Deb has been managing editor of GT Motorsports magazine and was with Winston Cup Scene and NASCAR Winston Cup Scene for 18 years, serving as the publication’s editor for 10 years. In 2024 she was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame. 



Source