Chase Elliott on being champion: "It's absolutely nuts"

In the hours after he won Sunday’s race and the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship, Chase Elliott found it difficult to grasp what he had achieved.

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro and Team owner & NASCAR Hall of Famer Ricky Hendrick, Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro is congratulated by Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro is congratulated by Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro and crew member celebrate the victory
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro, celebrates with his parents, Cindy Elliott and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro

“This is as big as it gets. I mean, my goodness,” Elliott said at one point. “I mean, a champion in the Cup Series? Are you kidding me?

“It’s nuts. It’s absolutely nuts.”

But is it? Yes and no.

While the path Elliott traveled to capture his first series title was a difficult and unexpected one, in many ways he has been preparing for this moment since he signed with NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick as a 14-year-old.

Elliott, now 24, had grown up at the race track as his Hall of Fame father, Bill Elliott, was winding down his own stellar NASCAR career.

As Bill was closing his NASCAR racing career, Chase was kicking his into high gear.

Since running his first NASCAR races in 2012, Elliott has been a consistent winner. He won his first Truck series race at the age of 17; his first Xfinity series race at 18; and his first Cup Series race at 22.

Elliott has three or more wins in three consecutive seasons and has advanced to the playoffs all five years he’s been a fulltime competitor in the Cup Series.

Until this year, however, Elliott and his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team had been unable to qualify for the Championship 4 and earn a chance to compete for a series title.

That all changed last weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, when Elliott’s victory – his first ever in the semifinal round of the playoffs – locked him into the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway.

It was a do-or-die moment for Elliott and this time there was no turning back.

“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,” Elliott said.

“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.”

Having succeeded in making it to the title race, Elliott then had to basically repeat the performance at Phoenix against three competitors with much more experience, two of whom had already won series championships.

That’s exactly what he did.

Elliott ran a flawless championship race, leading 153 of 312 laps, ran down fellow title contender Joey Logano to get the lead late in the race and then held off another title contender, Brad Keselowski, by more than 2.7 seconds at the finish.

Suddenly, hurdles that had proved so difficult to overcome in recent seasons, all came crashing down and Elliott was crowned the third-youngest champion in series history.

“This is a moment that, heck, I’ve only dreamt about, and something that I’m still not sure I completely realize what has exactly happened,” Elliott said. “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.”

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