In his 99th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, Chase Elliott got his much awaited first win at Watkins Glen. From bad restarts to making what would be the wrong move at the end to running out of fuel to getting shoved out of the way, something has prevented Chase Elliott from winning in the top series. That was until this past Sunday.
Coming from a racing family, Chase Elliott has been all about the sport, even at a young age. In fact, soon after his first win, Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted a pic of a very young Chase sitting on the lap of Dale Earnhardt Sr.
The newest winner and fan-favorite talked to The Comeback about a variety of things including what kind of input his legendary father has given for him, racing with two new teammates (as well as a seven-time champ) and how he handles being one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR.
(Interview was conducted over a one-on-one phone interview during Daytona Media Day this February as well as on a conference call this past Tuesday. Questions have been edited for clarity.)
PB: Have the Hendrick teams been able to find out more about the secrets of the Camaro, the new car?
Elliott: Well, I think we’ve been getting better for whatever reason that is I’m not sure, so I think that we still have room for improvement. I’m not at all saying that we’re out of the woods, but I think that the past few weeks have been — we’ve been getting a little bit of momentum with a couple stage wins and then certainly leading into Watkins Glen was nice. The only bad thing is you only have one more road course and you have a whole bunch more ovals coming up. We need to continue to improve at the ovals and the road courses but definitely the ovals and try to get closer to those guys that have been really running good.
Phillip Bupp: Now you’re back in the 9 and it’s the number your father had. How important is that number to you and the Elliott family?
Chase Elliott: It’s a very neat number, neat opportunity, neat chance for me to go back to a number I have been for the majority of my career. I’m excited, looking forward to some opportunities with it and try to get to victory lane with it.
PB: I get the sense that your father seems to be hands-off in your development as a driver, in that he isn’t worried about getting the publicity of helping you out but at the same time, let’s you do your own thing and is available as a helping hand just in case you might need it to develop into the driver you are. How has your father’s approach influenced you as a driver and what has been the best advice he’s given you?
Elliott: Oh man, he’s given me a lot of advice, it’s hard for me to pick one thing. But he’s been very involved, he has his own way of being involved. I appreciate the way he is involved, I appreciate his approach. He allows me to learn things and some days I may have to learn the hard way but at least you’re learning them for yourself. And he offers advice when he sees fit so I like his approach and it’s been a great way for me to learn.
PB: Now that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has retired, many people have looked at you as taking the lead and being the next “superstar.” Is that something you have thought about a lot or is that more in the background as you’re trying to win on the track?
Elliott: Yeah, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that. I think that my focus needs to be trying to do my job better and it’s hard for me to worry about that stuff a lot because at the end of the day, our on-track performance is going to define us as who we are and what we do. And at the end of the day, it’s either going to keep you employed or not. So me trying to improve that side is the first thing on my mind and I’m very appreciative of the support that I have gotten and proud to have those folks pulling for me and my team and I’ll certainly do the best job I can to make those people proud.
PB: Yeah it’s gotta be something you can’t really control either. It’s kind of an outside like, people are going to think that or not. You can’t really deal with that and probably not worth worrying about.
Elliott: Yeah, exactly.
PB: You’re entering this season with two new full-time teammates in William Byron and Alex Bowman. The potential for the three of you is limitless and at the same time, have a 7-time champ in Jimmie Johnson to, don’t want to say ’round out the team’ that sounds bad, he’s a seven-time champ. How important is it to have someone like Jimmie there to bring up the three of you as you get more and more experience?
Elliott: Well I think we all have a role to play. We’re all trying to beat each other too so we have a good dynamic over at HMS as to how we do meetings and share information and try to help each other. We also have to be our own people, try to beat one another at the same time so I’m curious to see how the dynamic works as the year unfolds and I think that as we do approach the season and we get closer to certain situations, I’m excited to see how Alex and William deal with them and how their personalities develop throughout the year.
PB: Entering the season with two new teammates in addition to Jimmie, (now that you have been racing with them for six months) how has your relationship among your teammates evolved from the start of the season until now?
Elliott: I mean, honestly, I feel like Alex and William have kind of fit in well, and honestly, I don’t think anybody’s role has really changed or the complexion of what we do each week has really changed. Certainly different personalities and different people than Dale and Kasey, but as far as how we go about things, how we communicate, this or that, nothing from that end has changed. They fit in and seem to do a really good job.