Story By: MORGAN OVERSTREET / HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS – CONCORD, NC – Chase Elliott is still soaking in that he is a NASCAR Cup Series champion. The 24-year-old driver took the checkered flag at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, putting him in elite company.
Elliott said the drivers who moved through adversity on the track were the ones who secured titles. Elliott was in that same situation when inspection issues forced him to start in the rear for Sunday’s race and when he rallied during the race at Martinsville.
“I look at the guys who have achieved this honor as guys who perform in the toughest of situations,” Elliott said. “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.”
Elliott said there could not have been a better ending for him this season. His come-from-behind wins at Martinsville and Phoenix had almost a fairytale aspect to his first championship.
“I’m waiting on it to hit me and I’m going to break down here and look like a fool,” Elliott said. “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. (Rick) Hendrick came in and really changed my life when he wanted to help.”
Elliott also credits crew chief Alan Gustafson for getting him to elite championship status. According to the Dawsonville, Georgia, native, there is no one more deserving to win a title than Gustafson.
“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” Elliott said. “He’s an intense guy and he’s going to outwork you to get it done. I guarantee it.”
Aside from earning his first title, Elliott lauded teammate Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time Cup Series champion drove up beside Elliott to congratulate him, something Elliott will always remember.
“The last text message I saw before the race was from Jimmie,” Elliott 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.
“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?”