Chase Elliott enters the 2021 NASCAR season as the defending Cup Series champion. But the 25-year-old son of a Hall of Fame driver isn’t thinking about just defending his title.
Chase Elliott is focused on winning more races, more championships and cementing his status as one of NASCAR’s top stars, just as his father, Bill Elliott, did 30 years ago.
Bill Elliott arrived on the NASCAR scene in the early 1980s, a small-town short-track racer from Georgia looking to make a name for himself in the big leagues of stock-car racing. He emerged as a household name and national star when he won an astounding 11 races in 1985, including three of the big four speedway events to become the first driver to capture NASCAR’s prestigious Winston Million.
Elliott won the Cup Series championship in 1988 and finished his career with 44 career victories in NASCAR’s top series. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015.
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Eleven years after his father’s final full-time season, Chase Elliott burst onto the NASCAR scene by winning the Xfinity Series championship at just 18 years old. Six years later, he won his first NASCAR Cup Series title for Hendrick Motorsports.
Now Chase Elliott has more wins and more championships on his mind.
“There is no defending. We need to be on offense. We need to keep pushing,” Elliott said entering the 2021 season. “I think if you’re back on your heels and trying to protect something, I don’t think your mind is in the right place. We want more. We’re not trying to play defense. We just simply want more. That needs to be our outlook and keep it as simple as that.”
Chase Elliott climbs to the top
Chase Elliott won just six races in his first four Cup seasons and finished 10th in points in 2019. But he sped to the top of the standings with an incredible playoff performance last year. Chase Elliott won two races during the regular season, then won three of the 10 playoff races, including the two biggest of the season.
Chase Elliott won on the Charlotte Roval — his second road-course win of the season — to advance to the Round of 8 in the playoffs. He then scored a dramatic win on the short track at Martinsville Speedway to advance to the championship four with Denny Hamlin and former Cup champions Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.
Though he had to start at the rear of the field in the championship race at Phoenix, he charged through the field to take the lead and ran away with his first series championship, setting off a wild celebration in his hometown of Dawsonville, Ga. Chase Elliott became just the third NASCAR Cup Series driver to join his father as series champion.
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The next missionfor Chase Elliott is to simply keeping winning. Keep winning races and continue winning championships. He hopes to follow in the footsteps of NASCAR legends Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who combined to win 11 Cup championships for Hendrick Motorsports.
“Just keep pushing,” Elliott said. “Like I said throughout the winter and since Phoenix last year, it obviously was a great end. We were able to get hot at the right time and have really well-executed races to end the season. I think for us, and the cool thing for me that I’ve thought about since then, there is still much more for us to go get. I don’t think we are at our best in every category, which is really cool for me and something that I think our team should take a lot of pride in. To have the kind of result we had last year, but also know that we can still improve in some pretty big ways is exciting.”
Team owner Rick Hendrick, who has won 13 NASCAR Cup Series titles, believes Chase Elliott has the demeanor and determination to win a lot more races and multiple championships. Johnson won a record seven Cup Series titles in Hendrick’s No. 48 Chevrolet. Gordon won four in the famous No. 24. He believes Chase Elliott, whose car carries the No. 9 his father made famous, can be his next multi-champion.
“You know, I think Chase has such a sharp head on his shoulders that you don’t have to tell him much,” Hendrick said. “He celebrated and now he is ready to try and go do it again. … He is a competitor, but I think he takes all of it in stride. So, I am excited about this year with Chase.”
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Hendrick believes Chase Elliott has the same championship mettle as Gordon, Johnson and his father, Bill. He even compares him, in a sense, to seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt.
“Its one of those things when you have a competitor in Chase that is calm and cool, he knows how to race, he takes care of the equipment, he can run fast, and he can lead laps,” Hendrick said. “But he is more confident in himself and he and (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) are really clicking.”
Hendrick saw that confidence build throughout last season and play a huge role in the 2020 championship run.
“I couldn’t believe the confidence level they had when they went into Martinsville,” Hendrick said. “Alan said, ‘I am going to win that race.’ Then to go into Phoenix, when he had to start from the back, I talked to Chase and I said, ‘Man, I am sorry.’ He said, ‘Well, I get to pass more cars.’ The confidence level with Chase Elliott is unbelievable and also with Alan. They think they can win every week. Just let it come to you. Bill (Elliott) is there talking to him and he is just way more mature than his age. And that is something that Dale Earnhardt Sr. told me one time. He said you have to know when to race. He said you have to know how to race, but you have to know when to race. And Chase does that.”
Chase Elliott has had great mentors in Gordon, who still owns an interest in Hendrick Motorsports, and Johnson, who retired after last season. He knows that even though he is the sport’s most popular driver, like his father before him, he must continue winning to maintain not only his fan base but his status in the sport.
He’s ready to make that leap.
“In any sport, it’s what have you done lately,” he said. “I think about all the disrespect that Jimmie Johnson got toward the end of this career. It’s like everyone forgot about how great he is just because he had a bad race or a bad stretch of races. The lesson that taught me is that no matter what you do, if you have a bad stretch or don’t do well, then they’re going to come after you about whatever you’ve done recently. On the flip side of that, if you have a good run after being trashed for a year or something, everyone is going to be hyping you up, be excited for you and jumping on the bandwagon.”
That’s where Chase Elliott wants to stay — on top of the bandwagon. He enters the 2021 season as the NASCAR Cup Series champion. His mission is prove he can do it again, and stay on top.
“It’s all about performance and all about what you’ve done lately,” he said. “We want to push; we want to continue to do good for ourselves and push our team internally. That’s all that matters to me, and that’s all that matters to our entire group.”