Story By: MORGAN OVERSTREET / HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS – CONCORD, NC – Chase Elliott’s 2020 championship is in the rearview mirror and he’s fully focused on the 2021 season.
The 25-year-old driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE is taking on this year’s NASCAR Cup Series season the same way he has in previous years, despite earning his first championship less than three months ago.
In pure Elliott fashion, he’s trying to to better himself as a driver and set new goals on the track.
“The really cool part about winning a championship and then being able to come back into the season as the defending champions is I know that we’re not at our peak,” Elliott said. “I just feel like there are areas where we can do better, so just knowing that there’s still more for us to go get amongst ourselves excites me. I feel good about that.”
Once again, Elliott will have crew chief Alan Gustafson instructing him from atop the pit box this season. Elliott’s Championship 4 win at Phoenix on Nov. 8 gave Gustafson his first Cup Series title after 16 seasons as a crew chief for Hendrick Motorsports. When the pair started preparing for the 2021 season, Elliott said winning the championship only reinforced the strong relationship he has with Gustafson.
“Honestly, not a lot has changed,” he said. “Our prep work hasn’t changed and the way we go about that hasn’t (been) anything different since the first week I was here to preparing for Phoenix.
“I think that’s a really cool thing in a sense that just us growing together – me getting better, us as a team, learning from each other over time – became good enough to win a championship. I don’t think we should really change much now. We just need to operate at a high level, and I think we’re very capable of that.”
The No. 9 team’s first major test will be on Valentine’s Day at Daytona International Speedway. Neither Elliott nor Gustafson have won a DAYTONA 500, and with practice and qualifying being part of Daytona Speedweeks, Elliott will have extra time to shake off any superspeedway rust. The field will then tackle the other 35 races in the Cup season and give Elliott another opportunity to refine his technique at certain tracks where he says he struggles.
“If we could just get better at one of them, that would be great,” Elliott said. “Just trying to improve at the places we’re not great (nor) stellar at would be nice.”
The NASCAR Cup Series season kicks off with Daytona Speedweeks, beginning with the Clash on Feb. 9. The DAYTONA 500 is the first points-paying race of the year and will be Sunday, Feb. 14 at 2:30 p.m. on FOX.