An interview with: CHASE ELLIOTT
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion, and that is Chase Elliott. A quick stat: Last time most popular driver won the championship was 1988, and that was your father, Bill Elliott. So that’s kind of a cool stat to tie this all together. We will kick it off with some questions.
Q. Chase, I’m curious, throughout your racing career when you’ve looked at the champions in other series or even looked up to them, I’m curious, what did you see in things that stood out to you about what a champion was? I know you’ve already won an Xfinity championship, but what do you hope people see out of you now being a Cup champion?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, that’s a great question. I look at the guys who have achieved this honor as guys who perform in the toughest of situations. I felt like that’s been an area that we haven’t done a great job of over my first five years, really up until last week. We had a tough situation, a perform or go home type night there at Martinsville and was able to step up and really get the job done. I thought that was the piece of the puzzle that we haven’t had. I really felt like we had everything else that we needed, and I really believed that.
Last week was a big week. I think it was a great practice session and a situation that really helped guide us through today in preparation and execution.
Q. What do you feel like changed the last two weeks? Why did you suddenly become this guy that can handle it in the pressure situations?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Heck, I don’t know. You know, I feel like we just put a lot of emphasis on the things that matter and really just didn’t care about anything else.
There’s just so much distraction in the world. Everybody is tied to their phones and you can get ahold of anybody at any time. There’s just so many things from the outside that can reach someone.
That’s one thing that I felt like our whole team just did a better job of was just boiling it down to the things that matter. Ultimately it’s how good of a job did we do building that car, how prepared am I coming into a race weekend and how do we execute it.
I feel like those three things we put more emphasis on than we ever have. I feel like I was mentally locked in better than I’ve ever been. And yeah, I think the results showed.
Q. What’s it feel like for you personally to come through with, as I described to both Mr. H and Alan, talking about the same thing, to hit two walk off homers in a row? You hit a walk off homer to win the Division Championship and you just hit a walk off homer to win the World Series. What’s it feel like to have that kind of emotional high and come through as you were talking about before under these kind of circumstances?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, just crazy. I mean, heck, how could you? I’m not sure I could have sat down and drawn it up any better, you know? So for me, it’s unbelievable. It’s something that I’m not sure well, I know I haven’t let it sink in yet. I’m waiting on it to hit me and I’m going to break down here and look like a fool in a minute. I know it’s coming, so I really hope I get done with all this media before it happens.
Just so grateful for the opportunities and the things I’ve had over the years, great people. My mom and dad and their support obviously has been from the beginning. Mr. Hendrick came in and really changed my life when he wanted to help. Not to sound like a NASCAR driver, but NAPA Auto Parts, too, coming in when they did. 2014 wouldn’t have happened without them and the championship that came that season. And man, they’ve been a champion partner for years. Now they have a championship to go with it.
Very grateful for a lot of great people, more people than I named that have got me here today.
Q. Can you explain what the emotion is, how high this emotion is? Last week you were in the car screaming. Was this a different kind of emotional scream or situation today?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Similar. Just bigger. You know, heck, this is as big as it gets. I mean, my goodness. I mean, a champion in the Cup Series? Are you kidding me? It’s nuts. It’s absolutely nuts.
Q. That moment when Jimmie drove up to your car afterwards, he said he couldn’t quite remember what he said to you during that time. I’m wondering if you remember and what sort of that moment symbolized for you.
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, we were just screaming, or I was screaming. I don’t know what he said, but I know we high fived each other, and that was really cool.
Yeah, in that moment actually there was a photo that had sat around my parents’ office for years. I think it was 2001, if I’m not mistaken, ’01 or ’02, dad won the race at Homestead and Matt Kenseth won the championship. And y’all can fact check me on that, but I think it was ’01, whenever Matt won his championship. 03?
Okay, so dad won the race and Matt won the championship. There was a photo that sat around of them high fiving in their cars as they were driving by.
I saw Jimmie kind of taking his victory lap up there and that picture flashed in my head. And I was like, damn, that would be super, super cool to recreate that moment. Yeah, we did. I really hope somebody took that picture because that was really cool. I hope somebody got it.
That was really what sparked that and what made me want to go do it.
Q. Jimmie had mentioned he spoke with you and Alan pre race about when he won the race and championship in 2016, his final championship, obviously. You did the same today, carrying the neon yellow No. 9 in his honor. What did it mean for you to achieve that feat in your first attempt? Was that kind of a passing of the torch in a way?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I guess we should just change our colors to neon all the time. Kind of what I’m thinking. Today I feel like symbolized a lot of great things, and I feel like there’s a lot of things from today I’ll look back on in a week or a month or a year, and I’ll be like, dang, that was really cool. That being one of them for sure.
Jimmie and I have shared some really cool moments on track, and they’ve been in really big moments of my career. The moment we shared after Watkins Glen, the road to that first win. And then for the greatest of all time to be kind of hanging it up today and to win a championship on that day, I mean, that’s just a really cool thing.
As a fan of his, number one, and as a person that’s looked up to Jimmie in many ways over the years, I’m not sure I could have dreamt that any better.
Q. With all the craziness this year has brought, what was the most difficult obstacle you had to overcome on your path to the championship?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I think for us it’s kind of been getting over the hump in those big moments, something that we’ve done an okay job of at times but not something we’ve been able to do with authority.
I really thought performing like we did last week at Martinsville was a really big deal. And then performing like we did today I thought was a really big deal. Finding that groove and finding that comfort in those big moments I think is huge.
That’s something that we can take this and grow from further. I’m really excited about that, and I’m really proud of my team for stepping up in big situations and getting it done.
Q. How did you get the news about the penalty, and what was your first thought?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, Morgan told me. She’s a part of our team. And she kind of let me know that we had failed twice. My first thought was like, Oh, we’re going to lose our pit pick, too. That was the first thing in my head. I’m like, Oh, dang, we’re going to lose that first pit box.
I really don’t think starting position is great and all, whatever, I feel like from that standpoint, but that pit pick is huge. That starting position stays with you. It could potentially be done when you leave Turn 2, but that pit pick stays with you until the race is over.
The first thing that really kind of stuck in my head was, Dang, are we going to lose that, too? And once I realized we didn’t, I’m like, Okay, if we have our car good and our balance is right, who cares if you start at the back for the race? 312 laps, you know. That’s no excuse to not get the job done if your car is good.
Yeah, just took it for what it was and enjoyed that we still had that first pit box and got going.
Q. (No microphone.)
CHASE ELLIOTT: I mean, I don’t know that that’s really for me to say who is or isn’t the face of something. But from where I sit, it’s the performance industry, right? It’s entertainment from the outside looking in, but what makes my living is performing or not.
I think me performing at a high level is going to take me a lot further in life than being the face of something. My focus is on doing my job, and that’s to drive a car to its full potential every week as long as I’m hired to do so.
Q. When you look back on this season, what would you say are some of the biggest lessons you have learned as a race car driver?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Man, y’all got some tough ones today.
Heck, I don’t know. You know, I know I kind of keep coming back to last week, but I just think about last week and the things that that kind of brought and the emotions that came with that.
I guess a big lesson I’ve learned over the past couple weeks is if you believe you can do something and you put the preparation and you put your head in the right place, you can go and accomplish great things.
I felt like I was in a better mental state over the last couple months than I’ve been in in the past. I felt like I was locked in. That’s great, right? Like being locked in doesn’t just guarantee you to do good, and I understand that.
I feel like everybody is locked in when you get to this point, but those things certainly helped, and I think that helped me to get to another level. I look forward to building on that and trying to improve.
Q. 60 years from now when you’re sitting on the rocking chair and you think back on this championship run, what are you going to remember the most?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Just exactly that. Like when I’m dead and gone and my dad is dead and gone, he and I will share a championship with the last name Elliott forever. I don’t think it gets any cooler than that, in my opinion.
Q. That photo is on Twitter. I’ll make sure you can get the actual real copy of it.
CHASE ELLIOTT: Thank you. I’m excited about those.
Q. Do you think this day, this race, not the championship per se, but with everything that’s gone on this season, was there kind of a sigh of relief when you came in here today and you knew this was the finale, win, lose or draw, that this was 2020 for you?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, that’s what it is. I think last week was that for us, too. I put a lot of emphasis on that and I talked about it a lot, and I challenged myself to realize that, too. It wasn’t the Championship 4, no, but it was a perform or end your season, yes. That’s the same thing as it is today.
This is such a unique format. I did think about today when I woke up this morning, I was just thinking about my kind of career and the things I’ve gone through in racing, and it’s just such a unique way for racing to be. There is no other like there was nothing through my racing career that took 16, then to 12 and then to 8 and then to 4. It was just super interesting.
I just thought about it. And I was like, Dang, it’s such a unique thing, and it’s such a new perspective on racing that we have not had. Being a competitor, all my years of doing this, short tracks and things of that nature, there’s just nothing that really felt like that. There were big races, but heck, the Daytona 500 is a big race.
So it’s just such a different feel, as you kind of dwindle it down. It makes you kind of understand, I guess, what other sporting figures and athletes feel like because that is more similar, I guess, to their situation.
It’s different. In some situations some people might not like it, and I understand why, but from a competitor’s standpoint, dang, it is different. There’s not a lot that really prepares you for it until you get to NASCAR.
Q. I’m just wondering, being a champion, a NASCAR series champion, that’ll change perceptions, obviously, outside your world of who you are. Does it change your perception of yourself as a driver?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I don’t know that it changes I don’t know. I don’t know what it changes, to be honest with you. I’m not really sure that I realize what has happened today. Ask me when we get to Daytona if it changed anything for me or not because I don’t know right now.
Q. Can I ask you about the emotion in the car right after the race. The in car camera caught you kind of teary eyed.
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, this is a moment that, heck, I’ve only dreamt about, and something that, heck, I’m still not sure I completely realize what has exactly happened. I don’t feel like I’m a crier in these situations, but dang, I feel like there’s going to come a time where I’m probably going to break down and really lose it. I feel like I kind of did there after the race, and then you get caught up in everything else that’s going on.
I’m really looking forward to just kind of sitting back and looking at everything from a different perspective and just enjoying it. But I’m also going to enjoy it as I’m living it because this is something that may not ever happen ever again, and I recognize that. It’s a moment and a time and an accomplishment that I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever take for granted.
It’s a really big deal to me.
Q. Rick Hendrick handed you a phone. Who was on the other end?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Jeff Gordon. Jeff was on the other end. There was only so many people allowed this weekend, and I was grateful to have my family. And as you have family and partners and Mr. Hendrick and whatnot, there was only so many spots, and Jeff was gracious enough to stay back home.
Just really appreciate him calling and reaching out and saying what he did. It’s a big moment for both of us. I think it’s kind of unique and special for he and I because we both work with Alan, and he had a run at a championship with Alan and things didn’t work out. I just think he’s probably one of very few people that respect AG the way I do and believe in him like I do. So I think he just knows how big of a deal it is for him.
He’s been a championship crew chief for a long time. It just took until today to actually have the title next to his name. Man, I’m proud of him. I wouldn’t want to go to war with anybody else.
Q. That was my next question for you was just talk about Alan. He came close with Jeff, came close with Mark. You guys finally got him to that championship. What is it about his character, his determination? We could all go on and on, but what is it that makes him so unique?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Well, I think the bottom line about Alan is he wants it more than you, and he’s going to work harder than you to go get the job done, period. He’s an intense guy, and he’s going to outwork you to get it done. I guarantee it.
I’ve seen that for a long time, and I’m very, very glad that he can quit and be done and be a champion because I don’t deserve shit I don’t feel like, but I feel like if anybody deserves anything, it’s him. I’m very proud of him for that.
Q. I wanted to ask you with you being so young, 24 years old and getting your first championship and doing it the same year that Jimmie Johnson ends his Hall of Fame career with his seven championships, do you gain any inspiration off that at all as far as the type of Hall of Fame career that you want to build now that you got your first one out of the way already?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Man, right now I’m just enjoying today. It’s certainly easy to look ahead and kind of think what’s next. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned so far today, I feel like when you win a championship, it’s enjoy now.
I’m going to do that. I will worry about 2021 and beyond when 2021 gets here. I’m not going to sweat it right now.
Q. You said that earlier this week you had no idea what car Alan was bringing, you didn’t really worry about any of that. With no practice or qualifying I assume you didn’t have any worry about it rolling off the truck being fast. There were no second thoughts there?
CHASE ELLIOTT: No, I didn’t have any second thoughts for sure. Heck, I couldn’t tell you what car we ran today, currently. I have no idea. But I know that when we started the race today, it was in the ballpark.
We fell off, I felt like, on a couple runs there. Brad got by us, and the next adjustment was good, and the last one was even better. That’s all you can ask for.
Q. You’re talking about you’re going to soak this in. What are the celebration plans? Are you going back home or are you saying in Phoenix tonight?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Good question. I’m going to stay here tonight. I feel like it’s late. 7:00 maybe. I’m going to stick around here tonight and enjoy the night in Phoenix on November 8th of 2020. And yeah, I guess I’ll go home tomorrow and figure out what’s next.
I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to try to do some racing over the off season, which I’m excited about. I haven’t really spent an off season racing before, so looking forward to doing that.
But heck, I’m going to enjoy it, enjoy it, enjoy it. We did it. It’s done. Yeah, that’s it. Here we go.
Q. (No microphone.)
CHASE ELLIOTT: Are they? Perfect. Hey, I’m down. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong, but I feel like the town of Dawsonville should just exempt all work and school tomorrow I feel like would be really cool.
But yeah, I can’t wait to get home. It’s actually funny this week, actually the past couple weeks I really didn’t know where we were going to start. As I was driving to the airport, I passed the poolroom on the way. And on the way they have where I’m starting on the sign.
As you know, I’m not on social media right now, so I’m like, there we go, hey, we’re starting wherever this week, which is really cool. I like that. I like figuring it out on the way to the airport and the poolroom letting me know. Excited for them.
What a cool tradition they’ve carried on for a long time. Grateful for the Pirkle family and great that all those great people can experience this with me.
Q. Jimmie was in here talking about his conversation with you. Before the race he told you he had to start in the back prior to his final championship. I’m wondering if that helped set your mind at ease going through everything that had to happen today and made the job a little easier at hand?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, you know, the last text message I saw before the race was from Jimmie. And he said, The road to the top I forget what he said. He said something about the road to the top can have some twists in it. I hate you guys are having to start in the back, but you can get it done.
That was the last thing I saw before the race. Certainly appreciate his support. He’s been a great support system this week. I’ve talked to him multiple times. He’s reached out on a couple occasions, which is very cool. Very thankful.
He’s a hero of mine. I think he’ll go down as the greatest to ever do this mess. For that type of guy to be reaching out lending support and genuinely wanting you to do good, hell, what else can you ask for?
Q. You said before that you’ve been dreaming about this moment. Has it lived up to those dreams and expectations?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Oh, my gosh, yeah, absolutely, and far surpassed. Grateful cameras and all the stuff is as good as it is nowadays because we get to keep these moments and cherish them forever. Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.
Q. I asked you last week or earlier in the week during media day how cool it would be with Bill winning the championship in ’88, like all those similar LA teams, and now you in 2020. That’s finally happened now. What do you think and how cool is it?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I still think stats are for losers. I said that during the week. And that’s one of those stats that just don’t do you any good, I feel like, to think about during a week.
Yeah, that’s really interesting. 1988 was a good year, I guess, for the Elliotts. I wasn’t around for it, but I heard it was really cool. And 2020 certainly is now, too.
Q. And what you just said about the town of Dawsonville, thinking they should get an exemption, I looked back at your tardy slip from 2014 back from when you were in high school on the Daytona 500, that you thought the day would be called off because of Junior. Is this the way you are kind of feeling tonight, similar to what you’re feeling tonight because of that?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Heck yeah, for sure. If I had to go to school tomorrow, it ain’t happening. There is no doubt about that. Yeah, for sure. Really big deal to me. To be honest with you, there’s really not a bigger deal to me than this and today.
Like I said, I’m not going to take it for granted.
Q. You are the latest NASCAR champion from Georgia and obviously you’ve got everything going on in Dawsonville. You also had UGA athletics congratulate you on the championship on Twitter. How much civic pride do you take in being that person to not only represent the state of Georgia but also bring the championship back there?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, so cool. Listen, I’m as big of a Braves fan, as big of a Dawgs fan as you’re going to find. And I know the past few weeks have been rough. The Braves losing to the Dodgers after being up 3 1. But hell, I guess it all happens for a reason. If that didn’t happen I wouldn’t have the cool stat y’all just told me about, about the Dodgers and the Lakers and dad winning in ’88.
I hate that it came at the expense of the Bravos for sure, but selfishly I’m happy the way today turned out.
THE MODERATOR: Chase, thanks for your time, and we’ll see you in Daytona.
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