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interviews with nascar series stars and owners

chase elliott

 

THE MODERATOR: Weíre going to continue now with our post-race press conference for today and tonightís Ally 400. Weíve now been joined by our race winner, Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Congratulations on the win, Chase. We appreciate you spending some time with us.

 

Q. How tough was it to maintain your focus during all those stops and starts and delays?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: You know, it wasnít too bad. I feel like weíve had that a good bit over the last few years since they implemented the lightning thing. I didnít think it was too difficult.

 

Q. How special is this considering your closeness to Nashville, your dad racing at the fairgrounds?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, look, I wish we were at the fairgrounds, for example, but Iím glad weíre at least in the market. This is a cool town. Itís a great place to be. Itís a great place to race. Itís a town that I think embraces us, and we embrace the people that are here, and they stuck it out. Heck, the crowd was still pretty good I thought for it to be 11:00 at night or whatever and having started this thing six or seven hours ago.

 

Yeah, I thought we had a good crowd. Appreciate everybody sticking around, and it is close to home for me, so ó itís hard to win anywhere, but when you win kind of close to home like that, it is pretty special.

 

Q. What about after last yearís disappointing race?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I think the biggest thing was we just struggled here last year, so to have a struggle race here a year ago and then to be able to come back and be as competitive as we were in the second half of the race, I am the most proud of that piece of the puzzle, I think.

 

Just to kind of reset and be able to reevaluate and get back going the right direction here.

 

Q. I know you were talking relative to the fairgrounds a couple years ago saying snoozefest here, but youíve been through a couple of races here now. How do you feel like this track has stacked up as far as that, especially tonight?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I didnít think the race was terrible tonight. At least we could get up off the bottom and move around, which I thought was encouraging. I was even more surprised that we still moved up after the sun went down. I thought at that point it was going to be really one lane, and it really wasnít. You could still be in at least a couple different lanes. It was way more racy than I thought it would be.

 

But it still doesnít mean I prefer this over the fairgrounds and what that could be.

 

I donít want people to get a sour taste about that. Itís just that racetrack and the history of that racetrack and its location is just something that weíre never going to replicate again. For the most part all these facilities that we have are 45 minutes to an hour outside whatever said market is weíre trying to reach. If itís Michigan or here or Atlanta is 30, 45 minutes south of the city. All these places we go, Homestead is an hour outside Miami. All these places we go youíre drawing from an area that is 45 minutes to an hour away. With the fairgrounds youíd be drawing from an area that is 15 blocks away or so.

 

Correct me if Iím wrong on that, but itís a hell of a lot closer than it is here, and thatís just not something that in todayís society, youíre never going to build a racetrack in a city like that again. Thatís why I think as an industry we need to take advantage of that. We donít need to let that place die. I know they built that big soccer stadium right next door, but use that as positivity because the infrastructure is now there to house all the people. Now they have ideas and ways to get people in and out.

 

Itís too good of a place, too good of an opportunity for us to not be utilizing that in my opinion. I think it would be the best location and best event of the year if they could pull that off.

 

Q. Was your fear at the time that since you were going to be racing here that you may not be racing there, when actually it is possible you might?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yes, for sure. I still worry about that a little bit. But it sounds like theyíre at least working on it. Unfortunately I canít do a ton other than just voice my support for it.

 

I understand all the different sides of the puzzle there, and I respect that. But selfishly for us, I think it would be a great event.

 

Look, theyíre already racing there. Folks seem to be doing just fine with the races that are going on, and youíd be talking about one big event there a year for us to come and be a part of it.

 

I think the positives outweigh the negatives, and I think thereís a way to be respectful in doing so of the folks that live in the area and be able to do it in a positive light.

 

Q. Chase, is it enjoyable to win a race where you have some problems, you kind of go off the radar screen, the JGR cars led 250 of 300 laps, so they were kind of going, all right, one of us is going to snag this thing and then you end up winning. Is it fun to win kind of off the radar?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, look, itís fun to win regardless I feel like. But yeah, I was really proud of a couple things. One, proud of having the past month and a half, two months that weíve had been horrendous. Iíve crashed about 10 times and weíve had a lot of stuff happen to end up having bad finishes, and you never want that, especially when itís ó well, any time, whether itís in a string of races or not, you donít want that, period. So proud to be able to bounce back from a really rough stretch.

 

And then proud to have struggled as bad as we did ó as bad as we were at the beginning of the race, to be able to adjust on it, take advantage of the opportunities we had to try to fix it and then to hit on it and be able to execute on it after we hit on it to be able to finish the event strong is not an easy thing to do.

 

Our team I feel like they do a great job when everybody is pulling in the same direction and is executing and doing their jobs to the best of their ability. I feel like weíre as good as anybody, and tonight I felt like they really show cased their talents, not just on pit road with their pit stops being really solid but Alan and Tom making really good adjustments and just staying on top of everything, so it was a good team win.

 

Q. As far as the points, you got stage points, you obviously get a big chunk for winning. Youíre now plus 30 over Chastain, 31 over Blaney, 47 over Kyle. How do you look at that gap with nine races to go?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: Well, I mean, I feel like no gap is safe. We had a pretty big one there at one point, and that can go away in a hurry.

 

Look, you just have to keep bringing strong race cars to the racetrack. You have to keep putting yourself in position to win. When youíre battling up front and you have shots to win, the points thing is going to take care of itself. You might be faced if you can achieve the first part of that, you might be faced with a situation here or there where you have to decide whether or not you want to get stage points or whether or not you want to try to go for the race win, and those things are ó thatís just part of the world we live in now with stages.

 

But more so on road courses, I guess, than anything. The best way to look at it is just trying to be fighting for wins, and if weíre doing that, I think the points thing will kind of take care of itself.

 

Q. The restart where you picked up like five positions in like a half a lap or a lap, I asked Alan about that and he said that was the point at which I thought weíve got the car to win this race, weíve got to win this race. Your perspective on that, and when you made that move did you know that was when you had the car to win?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: I felt like ó honestly there, I felt like our balance was good at least when we had our penalty and we went to the back, and I was able to run some different lanes that I had not had the ability to run prior to that. When that ability showed up for me, I thought, okay, now I think weíre in the ballpark.

 

Then as the race went on, the restart thing, like you put anybody in the right situation and you can look like a hero. I donít think thereís anything special I did. You can take a car that isnít balanced as well as what ours was tonight and have the right lane choice and the right guys get bottled up at the right time, and you pass three or four of them.

 

So I donít necessarily think that was the turning point for me. I feel like it was more just a balance thing and feeling like we had got it really close. Then from there just trying to execute and have good restarts up front and have good pit stops.

 

Q. You can give yourself some credit, though. It looked like a video game type move.

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, it worked out. I feel like a lot of guys do that when people get bottled up off the corner and you have a head of steam. The lanes just kind of opened up for me, so it wasnít anything spectacular on my end. I just kind of went where the options were.

 

Q. Following up on the points thing, beyond just having the lead in the points standings, youíre also now tied for playoff points lead with Byron and Chastain with 13 playoff points. Do you feel like youíre positioned pretty well? With all this talk about guys are going to fall out in the first round who weíre not expecting, it seems like youíre getting a little bit of a cushion.

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: Well, you want more than that for sure. I donít think any cushion is safe in the playoff thing unless you have six or seven wins like some guys have over the last couple years. At that point then youíre probably feeling much better about it.

 

But I donít think two and just a couple stage wins is going to give you the confidence to make dumb decisions in the beginning of the playoffs.

 

Look, I think everybody is vulnerable when the playoffs start. Especially as the rounds progress. We have seen guys with those big cushions not make the last round. So I donít think anything is guaranteed. You certainly want to hedge your bet in that direction as much as you can, and every win helps that, every stage win helps that. Thatís something I want to achieve.

 

Weíve never really put ourselves in a position like that to where we have a big cushion and weíre able to kind of cruise through rounds. I feel like weíve always had to scratch and claw for each found, which is fine, and Iím okay with that, but it would be nice to rack up some wins and hedge your bet more so for a potential bad day or something out of your hands.

 

Q. Chase, now that weíve had two races in Nashville, where exactly does this race rank among the competitors in terms of races that are coveted and the drivers want to win? Obviously Nashville doesnít really have the recent history in NASCAR since there was a long gap between 1980s and last year, so itís not necessarily like the Southern 500, the 600 in Charlotte, what have you, but itís pretty quickly become a destination race. Thereís a lot of hype around it. Obviously the market is big, kind of like Las Vegas is almost. Obviously everyone also wants the Gibson guitar when you win this race. Where exactly does it rank?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I mean, I think it just depends on what your personal thoughts are on the city or whatever, but Iíve enjoyed coming to Nashville. Itís been one of my favorite towns for a number of years. I have raced at the fairgrounds and had some special memories over there.

 

Yeah, itís special to me because of that. But I donít really know where it ranks amongst everyone. For me, every win is important and special to me because theyíre really hard to get. I donít take any of them for granted, so theyíre all big in my opinion. Theyíre too hard to win to not appreciate them in a pretty high regard.

 

Q. Before the 2022 season you had zero wins on concrete. Now you won at Dover and Nashville. What with the Next-Gen setup and concrete tracks have you kind of found that youíve found this recent success on concrete tracks?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: You know, to be honest with you, I donít know that it has anything to do with the Next-Gen thing. I feel like weíve had good runs in the past at Bristol and Dover, and not necessarily here, but at least at Bristol and Dover, to where weíve had shots at winning and havenít.

 

But look, you get the right day, the right circumstance and the right car balance and everything goes your way, you can ó I feel like our team can have a shot. Fortunately today was that way for us and we were able to get it done.

 

Q. How much say, thought, anything, do you have in staying out or pitting on that last caution?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: I mean, I let Alan do his thing. He lets me do my thing, so Iím going to let him do his and just have confidence in that. It doesnít do me any good to not.

 

When I start questioning his decisions, I feel like is when we start going down a road that is not favorable for success. He has had a lot of respect for me and let me do my job and let me approach things a pretty unique way and kind of be me, so Iíve always respected him in return and let him do his thing and just had confidence in whatever that decision is.

 

Q. When you walked in he was answering a question about how he keeps the team motivated and the driver motivated during those long weather delays. He said because the car had been so off at the start that the team was no problem, but that he did need to have a talk with you. What do you do during the delays, and how did that talk go between the two of you?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, it was straightforward. I think really we just talked about our balance, honestly. We just talked about where we were at the start of the day, what we did in practice on Friday, how we landed in the position we landed in to start the event, why we chose that and why it wasnít working.

 

We tried to diagnose that to the best of our abilities, make a decision on which way we wanted to go, and we did that, and fortunately it was the right decision.

 

Just had dialogue about the car. I feel like when you get in those situations or whatever it may be, look, if itís not going to make you go any faster itís probably not worth talking about. Talking about those things and how we ended up where we did is a fruitful thing to do in that time period.

 

Thatís what we did. I think probably what a lot of people do. It wasnít anything spectacular or really special, but we were able to just kind of talk through some of that and go back in a direction that worked for us, and unfortunately the condition changing and our adjustments ended up in a really good spot.

 

Q. Did you feel okay or were you like, today is terrible?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: No, I felt okay. At the beginning of the race, no. I felt like we were really, really off. Then after we had our penalty, like I was ó Iím sorry, yeah, whatever it was. Yeah, our extended stay on pit road, how about that. We started in the back. So after we started in the back and I was able to run some different lanes that I hadnít been able to do throughout the day, at that point I felt like, okay, we have something to work with again, our car is driving like I remember it driving on Friday, and from there we just kind of went to work and tried to execute the event the best we could.

 

Q. After the race, Kurt Busch was really beating himself up about the last restart. He said he kind of went soft. He said he wished he had thrown some fenders. Were you surprised that he didnít mix it up, or could he have even mixed it up in that position?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: I feel like youíre always going to look back and want to do something a little different. But I feel like Kurt and I raced each other with a lot of respect. Obviously weíre going for the win; weíre going to be aggressive. I thought he was. We went off into Turn 1 and we were both sliding up the track and then at that point I was able to get ó I got position on him off of 2, and from there I was just trying to manage my lanes, and if he was going to go in a lane that I thought might be really advantageous to him I probably would have shut it off on him anyway.

 

No, I thought we raced each other with respect, raced hard, and on those restarts when that one guy gets free, itís going to be very difficult for that second-place guy to time up a run without a mistake or something on a short run like that to the end.

 

I thought he did a good job, and it was respectful from my end. I donít know what else you could really ask for there.

 

Q. With about 40 to go on that restart with the 18, you were on the inside, he chose the outside. He had the lane choice, and you were able to get by him. What were you able to do or can you take me through that, and what worked for you at that point to be able to take the lead and control the race at that point?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, the 18 did it to the 19, the restart prior to that. I felt like the opportunity was there to do it, if the circumstances go your way, and fortunately they did. Once we got the lead there, it was just trying to control my gap to him, run my race, manage my tires the best I could and not lose the lead. Then hope that a caution didnít come out. I hate that it did, but it did, and fortunately it worked out for us.

 

Q. Then after that last caution before the pit stops, were you already thinking of what you would be doing, and Iím assuming you would have taken the high side and had the 18 on the inside? If he had stayed out it would have been the two of you on the front row again; were you already thinking about how you would have played or would you have gone to the outside for the restart?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I was thinking the outside. I felt like there was a difference in used tires versus fresh tires. I got the lead from him on fresh tires. He got the lead from Martin on fresh tires, too, so that was the reasoning in why I did what I did.

 

Q. How surprised were you to see those cars pit behind you then?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: I wasnít. Typically theyíre going to do the exact opposite of what youíre doing. I feel like everybody gave Alan a lot of crap for the 600 a few years ago or whatever, but those people behind you are going to do the exact opposite of what you do. I donít know why that doesnít get through everyoneís head, especially at a racetrack that has some tire wear. Youíre in a very vulnerable position at that point. And two, like if the caution had come out two or three more times, we probably wouldnít have won because those guys would have kept cycling themselves forward.

 

So you get a caution twice and before you get the white flag, and next thing you know youíre sitting with a guy right behind you with four fresh tires with one lap on them, so then at that point youíre wishing you pitted.

 

Those situations are just impossible to get right. You knowing how the outcome is going to go is absolutely ó itís unachievable, so you try to make the best decision you can make and hope the cards go your way.

 

Q. How comfortable are you feeling with this car? Certainly weíve seen nobody has really been able to be consistently strong too many weeks. Obviously you had five straight top 10s at one point which is the longest streak of the season. Whatís your comfort level with this car and trying to build the consistency, and how are you dealing with it when itís different as opposed to past year when you had a higher comfort level?

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I think the difference is that the line to get it right is more thin than I think it has been in the past. So just finding comfort in living in a tighter tolerance is difficult to do.

 

Even though some days you might be comfortable, itís still really easy to step outside that. Look at Charlotte. I felt like I was not being very aggressive, and next thing you know I made a mistake I hit the wall and our day is over. It wasnít like at that point in time youíre trying to do anything crazy in a 600-mile race, or at least I didnít think I was, and you can get yourself in a lot of trouble in a hurry in these things. Just trying to figure out where you can live and live there comfortably, how to ratchet up your performance at that right time if that is something inside your car that you can pull out of it, and if itís not, taking whatís there for you and not driving over your head, because like I say, this thing is pretty unforgiving in a lot of ways.

 

 
 
 
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