An interview with: CHASE ELLIOTT
THE MODERATOR: Chase, thanks for taking the time today.
Four wins on the season, including the must?win race a week ago at Martinsville. For the first time in your career you are through to the Championship 4. What does it mean to break through to the next level and be one race away from a championship?
CHASE ELLIOTT: For sure, great opportunity for us, much like you mentioned, I think you might have said this before, just an area that we haven’t been to yet. The Round of 8 had kind of been that stopping point for us over the last few years. It feels really nice to move on, go and perform at the level I really feel confident we can do consistently this past weekend at Martinsville.
Great, great weekend, great team win, a big win and a timely win. It’s a great opportunity ahead. Just trying to do all the right things this week to be as prepared as possible for Sunday.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll start with questions.
With this being your first time in the four, have you talked to anybody? If so, who, for any advice?
CHASE ELLIOTT: For me, I’m very lucky. My dad obviously has had great success over the years, has been around this deal for a long time. Obviously Jimmie is a great one to lean on, too.
For me, the big thing from talking to dad that I feel like he’s kind of mentioned is just enjoy these moments because these aren’t things you can take for granted. You don’t know when your last race win is. You don’t what tomorrow brings. Nothing’s guaranteed, right?
I think just enjoying these moments, trying to embrace them, especially after a race like Sunday, you wish you could just slow down time and enjoy that moment and make it last a little longer, but you can’t. You just have to enjoy ’em as much as you can, put emphasis on that.
I feel like that’s where I’m at right now, is not taking the situation for granted, knowing it’s not an easy thing, knowing it’s not something that comes every day, try to make the most of a great opportunity.
If you look back on this year from a competition lens, not necessarily your own, would you look back on it and say, Man, it was an abnormal year with nine weeks off, no practice, no qualifying, or normal enough that you say, Man, that was a year that Kevin Harvick won nine races and didn’t make the Final 4?
CHASE ELLIOTT: It kind of goes to show you nothing’s guaranteed in this deal. Just the way the points format and things are, it lends opportunity for winning races at the right time. Fortunate for us, we were able to do that.
I think the big one I take away is, especially after a year like Kevin had, nothing’s guaranteed. You really have to put emphasis on trying to perform at the right time and hoping that you can put all the pieces together.
I’m certainly not taking it for granted. It’s a big deal, a great opportunity for us. To have won four races this season I think is something we’ve never done before. That’s also a great achievement for us. Hopefully we can try to get one more before it’s over with.
Let me ask you, Joey Logano said I’m going to race for many more years, there will be many opportunities. He had a perspective similar to you about enjoy the moment, but this is definitely not your last race, not your last shot at a championship. Does that take the pressure off of you because you are so young, even though you drive yourself really hard?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Well, I mean, we like to think those things, right? But you don’t know. Hell, I don’t know what tomorrow is. I don’t think anybody does.
To sit here and promise myself things that I can’t promise myself, I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball, right? I do know this is a moment you have to enjoy because you don’t know with your last race win is, you don’t know when your last day is, when the last Championship 4 is for you, all of the above.
I’m just trying to enjoy the whole moment and make the most of whatever Sunday brings, put all the emphasis and preparation in the things that are going to give us the best chance on Sunday. To me that’s my preparation for certain situations and probably most importantly the right decisions on the car to get our car balance as close as we can to start the race. All my emphasis is there, and just trying to enjoy and embrace this time, make the most of it.
I know you’ve talked about what last week’s win meant. How does it change who you are or what you do a week later? You’ve had success, you’ve done great things. Just because you won last week at Martinsville, how does that change what you might or might not do at Phoenix this weekend in this situation?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Well, I don’t think it changes our approach any, for sure. I think we’d be foolish to change how we do things now as we go into the last race of the year. Martinsville was a great win, great team win, timely win. Couldn’t have asked for a better time to go out there and perform really well.
I don’t think we change anything as far as how we get ready for the race weekend. I think that our prep and our process that we go through as the 9 team is good enough to compete when we do all the right things and make all the right decisions. I don’t think there’s any reason for us to go about anything differently this week than we have in the past.
I understand every experience can be a learning experience. Because this is a little more of a short track, potential mentality, your experience at Bristol earlier this year late in the race, it not working out, what kind of a learning experience is that in case you’re put in a similar situation late in the race at Phoenix this weekend?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I mean, I don’t know. You get in situations, and you don’t have weeks to sit there and think about what the decision is. You have to make a decision, go with it and live with it.
For me, I feel like when you get put in situations, you have to make a decision, go on down the road whether it works out or doesn’t work out.
It’s so hard to prepare for all of them because you don’t know what’s going to be thrown at you. What point in the race are you going to have a challenge, something not go your way, whatever. It’s so hard to simulate some of that because you don’t know till you get faced with it.
Just try to rely on past situations, past experience, use those little pieces of learning experiences to make a better decision next time. That’s all we can do.
You have to make them very fast. Sometimes they’re going to work out, sometimes they’re not. You’re going to try to make the one that’s going to better your result.
Are you glad that Harvick is not in the final or are you able to have any sympathy for him not making it?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I don’t know. I don’t really think that’s for me to say. Certainly I commend them for winning nine races. I mean, that’s a major feat, for sure. So I think you have to respect that. But I’m not sure it’s for me to say or comment really past that.
I think for us to sit here and talk about others or the other three guys in it or who’s not in it, who somebody thinks the favorite is or isn’t, whatever, is just very unproductive in my eyes.
I’m just really thinking about us, being selfish in a lot of ways this week, trying to put emphasis on the things that are going to make us go fast. Me ranking Kevin’s season is not one of them.
You’re the first Hendrick and Chevy guy in there since 2016. Jeff Andrews said Mr. H was texting him at 2 in the morning. Did you feel any pressure internally from Chevy or Mr. H to get into this finale?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Certainly we all want to do good, right? I would be lying if I said that there was any outside emphasis or pressure that made us want to be a part of this Championship 4 any more than we already did as a team, any more than I did personally.
As much as I know that our partners, Mr. Hendrick, everybody wants us to do really well, I want to do good. I want to do good anyway. Our team wants to do good. We want to perform, we want to win, too. I’m talking about just the guys that are on track and fighting the fight. There’s nothing outside of that that is going to make us want to go and perform any more than we already do.
First Championship 4 appearance. You mentioned people you’ve talked to, tried to lean on. Is it going to be an advantage or disadvantage that you won’t have to go through a weekend full of nerves in terms of each practice and qualifying, but instead you get to show up and race?
CHASE ELLIOTT: It certainly takes a bunch, I guess, I don’t want to say complications out of it, but I guess just that time on track. It takes a lot of pieces away from the puzzle, right?
I don’t know that it’s good or bad. I mean, if you start the race on Sunday and your car’s off, Dang, I wish we had some practice. I wish we could have fixed this on Friday or Saturday. If you start the race on Sunday, your car is driving good, then no, you’re probably not happy with not having any.
I think it comes down to whether or not you hit your balance close to the race. If you do, you’re happy about it. If you don’t, you wish you had some more time.
Everybody is faced with the same rules and the same weekend schedule. We all kind of have the same opportunity, in my opinion. Kind of all depends on how you start the race.
Do you know what car you’ll have this weekend? Will it have any significance? Has it run before or not?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I have no idea. I have no idea what car we’re taking this weekend. They all look the exact same from where I sit unless I look over and see which number is says on the roll bar. I couldn’t tell you. Whatever car Alan chooses, is the best choice, I’ll have confidence in that decision and I’ll live with it either way.
After kind of breaking through the Round of 8 barrier, how did you celebrate?
CHASE ELLIOTT: To be real honest, I came home and went to bed, just to be real clear on that. I would have loved to come home, had a few beers, whatever, hung out. Just kind of the way it worked out.
We had meetings Monday morning, obviously a big week of prep going into this last event. Really just kind of after the race tried to enjoy the moment, embrace it, recognize that situations and moments like that don’t happen every day. Really enjoy that. At the same time just get ready and think about Monday and what we’re going to talk about in our meetings looking ahead to Phoenix.
I don’t know at your young age if you think much about legacy building. Toward that, how important do you think winning a championship is?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I mean, it’s a popular question, right? I don’t know because I’ve never done it. I hate to say that, but I just don’t. I think it’s one of those things where you don’t know. I don’t know what it feels like or the emotions of it or what it would bring or wouldn’t bring or whatever because I’ve never achieved that before.
I just think to be thinking about those things and not the things that are going to make our car go fast on Sunday is just the wrong, in my opinion, my approach right now, is the wrong thing.
I’m just all eyes. My mindset and focus is what is going to make you go fast. That is what matters on Sunday. That is going to be the thing that either gives you a chance or doesn’t. The rest of it right now just doesn’t matter. That’s where I’m at.
Certainly you’ve raced before in these finales not being part of it. You’ve had to race the championship drivers with respect, give them room. Are you expecting to get that back now? Are you anticipating that other drivers who aren’t in the championship will give you some more room than they might usually?
CHASE ELLIOTT: That’s a great question. I feel like the ones I’ve been a part of, I feel like I’ve really tried to let those guys fight it out, especially if those cars are good, which it seems like they have been in the fast, up front battling. I’ve tried to do that for sure.
I will say that I do feel like as the years have gone on, seems like the first year of this Final 4 thing, at least the first year I was a part of it, they didn’t want anything to do with those guys. Then it seems like as the years have gone on, people are just kind of running their race a little more.
I do think the respect is still there, but I do think there is a little bit more of a sense of those guys, the people that are not a part of the Final 4, running their event still.
You hope you get some respect. You hope those guys will give you that. Whether they will or won’t, I don’t know. Never done it. But we’ll find out. I do think the dynamic has changed a little bit as time has gone on. Hopefully we’re fast enough where it doesn’t matter.
You mentioned you weren’t interested in thinking about the favorites for this race. With where you stack up, some could argue you’re an underdog coming into this without a Championship 4 appearance before. Do you feel like that or not really coming off the momentum of your most recent win?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I mean, like I said, I just think it’s unproductive, right? What good does it do anybody to sit down and rank who they think… I guess if you’re in Vegas, it does those people some good, right? For me, I’m not betting this week in Vegas. I’m not laying any money down on trying to win or not.
I don’t care who the favorite is or who the underdog is. I just want to go, have a good run, try to win, achieve our goals.
Why do you think you could be this year’s champion?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Well, I mean, I think for us, I feel like when we’ve been at our best, I feel like we’ve competed with the best in the series. I think if we do the right things, make the right calls throughout the week, the right adjustments and tweaks on the car from that first race, there’s no reason why I don’t think we can go and have a shot.
What sort of advice, if any, has Jimmie Johnson provided to you about this weekend? What will the time you spent together at Hendrick Motorsport mean to you?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, Jimmie has been such a great friend for me, a great role model I think for just not me. The guy I feel like is a great example in a lot of different ways.
I think his message throughout the week is just do the things that kind of make you you. Now is not the time to try to reinvent the wheel or do things different, change who you are. Just go about your thing has you always have. That’s the kind of process that has led us to this point. There’s no need in changing who you are now. It’s one of those things that probably aren’t going to do you any good.
What has your time with Jimmie meant?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Jimmie, like I said, such a great individual, person. But he’s a great guy. He’s a champion on the track and off the track. I think he’s made that very apparent over the years.
I’ve been very lucky and fortunate to call him a friend, have him to lean on in certain times. Yeah, I’m certainly going to miss him being around, being a part of our team all the time.
Last year there was some conversation regarding Championship 4 appearances being weighted as potentially more valuable in this specific era than championships themselves. Where do you stand on that in how valuable the appearances are versus the titles themselves?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I mean, I’m not sure on that. I haven’t really thought about that a ton. One thing I know for sure is you can’t win a championship unless you’re part of the Final 4. That’s my response to that.
I don’t know what the correct answer is on the weight of it. I know with the way the rules are, the way this deal is, you’re not going to win one unless you’re part of the Final 4. That I know for a fact.
Would you consider your season a success in making the Championship 4 or is it title or bust?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Our season is not over, so we’ll find out Sunday.
What do you think is holding you back at Phoenix? What is it going to take for you to finally get over the hump there and claim the title on Sunday?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I think for us, that was a great win at Martinsville, a very timely win as I mentioned. It was a big deal, for sure. I think we all recognize that as a team.
Looking to Phoenix, I think what is going to make the difference out there is a good week of preparation, a good week of making the right decisions on the car, taking what we had there in the spring and tweaking on it, making it better. You’re not going to go back there with what we had in the spring and be good. Everybody is always getting better, always improving.
We want to do some of that and hopefully we can improve and be better than the rest.
Pit crew, talk about their performance all year, especially in the crucial moment at Martinsville, jackman comes out, avoided the penalty. How crucial was that?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I mean, T.J… Obviously you want to eliminate those mistakes in general. That’s number one, right? Nobody wants to make any mistakes. If you do make a mistake, to have the awareness, to be able to do it that quick to be able to say, okay, hey, if I go reset myself, we’re going to avoid this penalty, that was huge. I’m not sure what clicked in his head to go do that.
I’m coming to the pit box. He’s trying to make his mind up whether he wants to go back. I’m about to run him over. He had to make that pretty quick and he had to execute it quick because I was coming in there not slow. Just one of those things to have to really commend his preparation and the coaches for teaching that, knowing what to do in that situation.
Back to a posting on Instagram where you said you were taking a break from social media. Do you think that played a role in getting over the hump in advancing to the Championship 4?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I’m not sure that it played a role in advancing to the Final 4 or not. It was just really one of those things where I think I, like a lot of the world nowadays, we spend any split second of downtime looking at our phones, scrolling, seeing what Twitter has to offer, what Joe Blow and John Smith are doing in the middle of their day.
At the end of the day I just kind of felt like it might be good to give that a rest, just not care as much about what everybody else is doing, just be more productive and focus on more things that matter in your present life more so than on the phone. That’s kind of really where that came from.
It really didn’t have as much to do with the on?track stuff as it did just me personally thinking that it would be a good change for a little while.
Dawsonville has been a good part of your life since your dad was racing. I want to be a little lighter here and talk about your memories there. Were you ever there and got to hear the siren when your dad won? What would it be like to have them sounding that siren, trying to break the thing Sunday night if you win?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I’ve never been around for it. I’ve seen videos and stuff. It’s a really cool tradition. Gordon Pirkle is the guy that has owned the poolroom. That’s kind of been his thing. I think it’s cool of him to carry that tradition on, be able to still do that. I’m grateful for that. I think it’s a cool thing.
I would love for it to go off on Sunday. I certainly hope that’s the case. But, yeah, it’s a cool tradition. Fortunate that I’ve been lucky enough that they wanted to carry it on and want to keep doing it.
I’ve noticed some irony here going back to 1988 where the teams in baseball and basketball, the Dodgers and Lakers, have won titles in 2020. Back in 1988, I believe your dad Bill won a championship then. How cool would it be to be back in his footprints and go for a championship this year?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, that’s a cool thing. I didn’t know that, for sure.
People ask that a lot, right? I feel like it’s so hard. I just remember getting the question of, What is it going to feel like when you win that first race? What is that going to be like? How cool is that going to be to you?
I always had a really hard time answering that because I’d never done it before. So I don’t know. I think that’s the same answer now. Until you achieve a moment like that, that obviously is very meaningful to you, I think it’s really hard to put a stamp of what it means or how it feels or the emotions that come with it. I think I’d be speaking out of turn to really give you an answer because I don’t know. I don’t know.
I hope that one day I can figure it out, but right now I don’t know. We’ll give it our best shot to find out.
THE MODERATOR: That’s all the time we have for Chase. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer question. Good luck this weekend.
CHASE ELLIOTT: Cool, yeah. Thanks.
— NASCAR —