After bringing home one title, Chase Elliott thirsts for more

Chase Elliott holds up the season championship trophy as he celebrates with his race crew in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. (Ralph Freso/AP)
Chase Elliott holds up the season championship trophy as he celebrates with his race crew in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. (Ralph Freso/AP)

Credit: Ralph Freso

Credit: Ralph Freso

First of all, happy Chase Elliott Day. In observance, let’s all stick a bunch of random decals to our clothing and resolve to make only left-hand turns today.

“I guess if I were to get a speeding ticket, that would be the day to do it,” Elliott joked when he heard about the Georgia legislature officially setting aside Feb. 9 as his day. And be it resolved on this day that should William Clyde “Chase” Elliott II cut you off on the perimeter, you shall not flip him off.

It has been a big month for confirming Elliott’s local ties. You win a major championship in this state, there should be a statue involved. They should give you a county — there are plenty to spare. But at least the reigning NASCAR Cup series champion got a nice proclamation and a free meal out of it.

For viral reasons we know only too well, NASCAR didn’t hold its usual champion’s gala at the close of 2020. So, the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in Elliott’s hometown of Dawsonville honored its native son on the first of February. He got his championship ring there while also christening a new exhibit of his stuff. Who needs any snooty big-city, black-tie dinner? “To bring an event kind of like the banquet to my hometown, I don’t know, it might be just as cool, if not better,” Elliott said.

In case it escaped anyone’s notice, we’re not exactly up to our elbows in winners around here. So, when the 25-year-old heir to the Bill Elliott racing dynasty broke through last season, it stuck out even more, an oasis in the competitive desert.

Because Elliott has to actually make an effort to maintain his Georgia roots, his championship has an even more homey feel to it.

ExploreBill Elliott-Chase Elliott: Like father, like son

Like the bulk of his sport, Elliott’s race team, Hendrick Motorsports, is based just outside Charlotte. The simplest tact for any driver is to move to North Carolina to be near his shop. Yet Elliott maintains his North Georgia home.

Let the Georgia Chamber of Commerce PSA commence:

“I’m proud to be from here,” Elliott said. “That pride carries with you, for sure. For everybody, home is home, right? You’re always going to have that deep tie to your hometown and the area you grew up in.”

Owning an airplane and a pilot’s license certainly helps the commute. “It’s as difficult as you make it,” Elliott said of the logistics. “For me, it’s trips back and forth from Charlotte. It’s about having good people to line things up, who understand that I am remote so that when I do go to North Carolina, I’m busy and I do what I have to do and fulfill my role, do all things that I need to do to do my job.

“It can be some added work at times, but for me I enjoy where I’m at. I enjoy flying, and this gives me more of an opportunity to do more of that, as well.”

Chase Elliott hugs his father Bill Elliott after winning the season championship during a NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. Bill is also a former series champion. (Ralph Freso/AP)
Chase Elliott hugs his father Bill Elliott after winning the season championship during a NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. Bill is also a former series champion. (Ralph Freso/AP)

Credit: Ralph Freso

Credit: Ralph Freso

His championship was a tonic for his sport given that people seem to like him even beyond such border towns as Valdosta and Columbus. Like his dad, he’s appears to have a lock on the most popular driver award, and popularity in this sport is almost as important as it is in high school.

With Sunday’s Daytona 500, NASCAR launches another season in the shadow of the coronavirus, this one hopefully uninterrupted.

How Elliott is choosing to wear the crown is to recognize that he got hot at the right time last year and that there remain plenty of ways to find more speed. It’s not like he dominated anything. His five race wins in 2020 trailed Kevin Harvick’s nine and Denny Hamlin’s seven. Elliott realizes he’s only leasing this title, he doesn’t own it.

“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,” he said. “I’m looking forward to cleaning up those areas that haven’t been so good and also to make the ones that have been good, better. We have to do that.”

It has to help that the reconfigured NASCAR schedule has doubled the number of road-course races this year, and having won the past four of those dating to 2019, Elliott is the young king of the road. He’ll own a significant homefield advantage at all six road course layouts.

Chase Elliott drives during the NASCAR Cup Series at Phoenix Raceway, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Avondale, Ariz. (Ralph Freso/AP)
Chase Elliott drives during the NASCAR Cup Series at Phoenix Raceway, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Avondale, Ariz. (Ralph Freso/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

There is a very positive vibe emanating from the No. 9 car right now, as the driver piles experience and maturity upon native skill. Said team owner Rick Hendrick: “The confidence level with Chase Elliott is unbelievable and also with Alan (Gustafson, the crew chief). They think they can win every week.

“That is something that Dale Earnhardt Sr. told me one time. He said you have to know how to race, but you have to know when to race. And Chase does that.”

Not so strangely, a race-car driver believes that the key to prolonged success is to stay out front.

“There is no defending,” the defending Cup champion said. “We need to be on offense. We need to keep pushing. 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.”

Granted, it may be a little-felt sensation in these parts, but could it be this winning thing is habit-forming?

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