In the Fast Lane with Chase Elliott

On the track, Chase Elliott races with an astute, calculative mindset.  Similarly, like his famous father Bill, he recognizes the importance of connecting with race fans and his role on and off the track.

Presently, Elliott has emerged as one of the leading contenders in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.  In addition, the 21-year-old Dawsonville, GA native remains focused on the job at hand with the No. 24 NAPA Auto Parts/Hooters Chevrolet SS team.

Undoubtedly, Elliott has established his own style while continuing on the legacies of his family and the famed No. 24 ride.  Truly, his mindset is more on the present and accomplishing the mission rather than living up to others’ expectations.

In fact, heading into this weekend’s race weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, Elliott sits third in points with three top-fives and six top-10 finishes after nine races.  In other words, there’s no talk about a sophomore slump with this Hendrick Motorsports outlet.

Meanwhile, it’s about improvement and making gains during each weekend.  Undoubtedly, Elliott may be his toughest critic but his passion is a catalyst for his evolution on and off the track.

Prior to Friday’s opening practice at Talladega, Elliott took the time to talk about his racing efforts and growth as a driver.  All things considered, this is a young man who is ready to win and battle for the championship in 2017.

From a strong start this season to his welcome to NASCAR moment, without further ado, it’s time to get “In the Fast Lane with Chase Elliott” on The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson :  With a quarter of the season in the books, you’re third in the points standings heading into this weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.  Presently, how would you evaluate the performance of the No. 24 team in terms of execution and contending for race wins?

Consistency has arguably put Chase Elliott third in the points standings after nine races. (Photo Credit: Logan Whitton/Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Consistency has arguably put Chase Elliott third in the points standings after nine races. (Photo Credit: Logan Whitton/Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Chase Elliott :  I think it’s been decent.  In a lot of ways, we’ve had some good runs and fast cars.  There’s also been weeks where we’ve had our struggles.  There’s been other weeks where we’ve had a pretty good car and the race hasn’t worked out in our favor or maybe we made a couple of mistakes.

I think from that side, we need to clean up a few things.  Overall, I’m pleased and certainly there’s plenty of time to get things going in the right direction.

RT :  You had a great 2016 season in which you won rookie honors on the strength of 10 top-fives and 17 top-10’s.  Along the way, you got to challenge for the win at tracks like Michigan, Chicagoland, Dover, and Pocono.  What were some of the takeaways from those races that you feel have made you step up your game?

Chase Elliott's unmistakable NAPA Auto Parts colors have been a fixture at the front of the field. (Photo Credit: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Chase Elliott’s unmistakable NAPA Auto Parts colors have been a fixture at the front of the field. (Photo Credit: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

CE :  That’s a good question.  Looking back at those races last year, we had really good setups in the cars. I was driving them the way I wanted them to in those races.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t close the deal a couple of times.

We had fast cars.  At the end of the day, that makes everybody’s job easier when you can unload the cars close and not have a whole lot of work to do after you get to the racetrack.

RT  :  In the meantime, one thing that a lot of folks observed with you was how well you were able to handle those finishes.  Given your strong start to the season and the upcoming races starting at Talladega and Charlotte closing out this month, is there a particular track that you’re thinking, “This is a good chance for the No. 24 team to punch their ticket into the playoffs?”

CE :  We hope we can do that any given week.  If you aren’t able to contend on any given weekend, the playoffs really don’t matter in all honesty.  I think we’re a group that can contend each week and we obviously have some work to do.  We’re confident in that and we’ve just got to get there.

RT :  You and crew chief Alan Gustafson seemed to hit it off right away last year.  Moreover, it seems to have carried over in 2017.  What’s been some of the key aspects that you’d say has been indelible with the chemistry between yourself and Alan during race weekends?

Presently, Chase Elliott has found some common ground with crew chief Alan Gustafson. (Photo Credit: Logan Whitton/Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Presently, Chase Elliott has found some common ground with crew chief Alan Gustafson. (Photo Credit: Logan Whitton/Nigel Kinrade Photography)

CE :  Our relationship has grown personally.  Alan and I have gotten to know each other which never hurts.  I think we have similar viewpoints on a lot of things which helps.  We get along and it’s just been a good fit.

RT :  There’s iconic numbers in the sport of NASCAR and you’re now a part of that lure with the No. 24 car.  Would you say you’ve embraced being in that car by being your own driver, given your family history in the sport as well as the prestige that comes with driving for Hendrick Motorsports?

CE :  That’s a good question.  I think the biggest thing with me is just trying to do your job.  Not in a selfish way, but you can’t worry about the things that don’t matter.  Frankly, what people think about you, in a lot of ways, doesn’t matter.  You just need to focus on your core group of people that surround you.  At the end of the day, that’s the most important things.

RT :  The sport is going through a change with superstars with the recent retirements of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. by year’s end.  As one of the leading young drivers of NASCAR, how important is it for you to connect with all race fans in terms of retaining the longtime fans and attracting new audiences to the sport?

"If I can do my part, then the rest will take care of itself." - Chase Elliott (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

“If I can do my part, then the rest will take care of itself.” – Chase Elliott (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

CE :  You just do your job.  You try to compete.  At the end of the day, I’m a big believer in entertainment.  If the racing’s entertaining, I think people are going to watch.  My goal is to do my part.  If I can do my part, then the rest will take care of itself.  That’s my opinion.

RT :  Let’s put you in Tony Stewart or Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s shoes for a moment.  If you could be a driver and owner right now, from any era, which driver would you hire as your teammate because you like them, which driver would you like on your team towards the end of your career, and which driver would you recruit despite them being annoying, on or off the track?

CE :  (chuckles)  Ha!  Those are some tough questions.  I don’t really know.  I was certainly a Tony fan so I’d have to say him.  He’d be a guy that I’d want.  I don’t see how you could look past Jimmie Johnson on wanting him on your team.  Those would be my two guys.  I’d have to think of the rest.

RT :  For the record, I did ask this question to Ryan Blaney and he named you as his top driver so I was seeing if you’d reciprocate that favor!  You see him enough of him anyways.

CE :  (laughs)  Ah, well.

RT :  Mother’s Day weekend is fast approaching.  What’s been some of the best advice that you’ve received from your mother with your racing career?

Through the good and bad, Elliott appreciates the advice from his mother Cindy and his father Bill.

Above all, Chase Elliott appreciates advice from his mother Cindy and his father Bill.

CE :  I think that’s a never-ending occurrence.  Mom’s always right.  Typically, when you try to argue with her, that doesn’t get you very far. (laughs) I’ve learned that mom and dad typically have the right answer, even on the days that you don’t think that’s the case.

You’re probably better off listening to them and move on down that road.   I don’t know what the best advice is but I’m always in need of it!

RT :  In recent years, you’ve been featured in a few hilarious NAPA Auto Parts commercials including the pancho and garden gnome advertisements.  Did you have any input with those past commercials and is there a new one that’s in the works?

CE :  I didn’t really have any input.  I just did what I was told to do on that side.  We did our commercial this year which was a correlation of NAPA’s sponsorship with IndyCar, NHRA, and their sprint cars.  They incorporated that into a commercial this year.

RT :  I’ve got to ask, what are some of your “Welcome to NASCAR” moments, be it in the driver’s seat or off the track?

CE :  Good question!  Shoot, I don’t know.  There’s a lot of them.  I think you can be put in your place any time.  I can’t really say I have a specific one but there’s too many to pick out.

RT :  What about that first race at Martinsville in 2015 versus your strong finish in the spring?

CE :  Yea, I would say that my first race at Martinsville was a bummer.  I look at my first Daytona 500 and how great that week was going and not make it to lap 25 before I wrecked.  I would say that was a good reminder of putting you in your place really quick.

RT :  In terms of the racing package this season, you’ve had a good taste of the new stage and points format.  What are some of your likes and dislikes and what would be some things you’d change with them?

No doubt, Chase Elliott is a fan of the new race and points format. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

No doubt, Chase Elliott is a fan of the new race and points format. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

CE :  I think it’s good, man.  I don’t know how you could really change it to do a better job.  They did their homework on it.

I think with the package of racing that we have and the current schedule, it’s a good mix of what we need.  Overall, I’ve been pleased with it and the racing has been good from that front.

Author’s Notes:  Special thanks to Chase Elliott and Hendrick Motorsports with this feature on TPF! Additionally, thanks to Jeremy Thompson and Nigel Kinrade Photography for the photographs accompanying this feature!

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. Born and raised in the Boston, MA area, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, you'll likely see an article on The Podium Finish by either myself or one of my talented columnists who absolutely have the motorsports passion.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

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