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Chase Elliott "most proud of the journey" after reaching overdue win

Winning tends to fix a lot of issues for NASCAR drivers and teams but the process of Chase Elliott’s return to Victory Lane appears to mean just as much to him or more.

When performance wanes or is not up to standard, Cup Series teams tend to eventually turn to the mode of trying to fix what’s wrong – and many times that includes a change in personnel.

When Elliott – the sport’s most popular driver – ended his 42-race winless streak on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, he did so with much of the same No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team that was in place when his drought began late in the 2022 season.

Since then, it’s not as if Elliott suddenly drove poorly, but the team was faced with a pair of significant setbacks. It lost its driver twice – once for several weeks due to a leg injury and one race due to a NASCAR suspension.

Upon his return, the once robotic-like consistency of the No. 9 team seemed to become a bit more haphazard.

Over the winless stretch, there were times Elliott contended for wins, but there were also times when the team didn’t look like it was at the same level with some of its biggest rivals, or even its own Hendrick teammates.

“I feel like he’s performed really well. I think it's just sometimes you can get in a little bit of a hole. You just have to fight, right?” said Elliott’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson. “That’s the biggest thing I’m most proud of him and the team for, is just continuing to fight through it, make it happen.

“It’s super cliché and cheesy, but you just never give up. You learn that if you don’t give up, eventually things are going to turn around.”

For Elliott, that seemed especially true this season heading into the Texas race.

Hendrick Motorsports has been running particularly strong as an organization to start the year and although he didn’t have a win yet, Elliott had three top 10 finishes in his previous four races, including consecutive top fives at Richmond and Martinsville.

In fact, at Martinsville, Elliott led a season-high 64 laps and was in the hunt for the win to the end of the race before ending up third.

Whatever he and his team needed to put themselves back in contention for wins on a regular basis seemed to be coming together.

Race winner Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro

Race winner Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: John Harrelson / NKP / Motorsport Images

“I feel like generally speaking from a competitive standpoint we’ve been better to the competition throughout really most of the season, we just haven’t always had great finishes and great results,” Elliott, 28, said.

“You have to be in the mix. You got to be up front to even have things go your way. We were close enough to do that. We still want to be better. I think we have room for improvement. Just proud of the way everything worked out.

“It’s a lot more fun when you’re fighting for wins and up-front battling, whether it goes your way or doesn’t go your way. Just to have a shot is enjoyable.”

Perhaps more enjoyable, however, is battling through the difficult times as a team while rediscovering the winning form to which you’re accustomed.

“I’ve just been really proud of our group for sticking together because I’m sure a lot of you guys have been around the sport long enough to understand and know that when you have a couple bad years, a period of time that things aren’t going well, it is so easy to jump ship and to start bailing out on one another,” Elliott said.

“I think that the win’s great, all that stuff is fantastic, but 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.”

Gustafson said because Elliott has enjoyed so much success at a young age – including winning a championship – it’s easy to forget he’s still someone learning and maturing.

“He’s a young kid. You have to learn you just have to grind through it,” Gustafson said. “William Byron, as much as I love him and Rudy (Fugle, Byron’s crew chief), they’re not always going to be at the top, right? It’s just not going to happen. Everybody goes through ebbs and flows.

“Whoever you want to call successful, (Martin) Truex Jr., Denny (Hamlin), Kyle (Larson), Kyle Busch – everybody has those ups and downs. I think just having the strength to battle through it and persevere is key, and he’s done that.”

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