photo credit: chaseelliott.com
When NASCAR rookie driver William Clyde Elliott II was born, his godmother took one look at him and said, “He looks like a Chase.” Twenty years later, and now affectionately known to NASCAR nation as Chase Elliott, he is the youngest driver to ever qualify first for stock car racing’s biggest race, the Daytona 500.
Some would say Chase Elliott was destined to be a driver. As the heir-apparent to replace legendary driver Jeff Gordon in the Rainbow Warrior’s iconic No. 24, he has established himself to be much more than the son of a champion driver. Like a few before him, Elliott joins other phenomenal father/son driver twosomes, including Mario and Michael Andretti, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Dale Jr., and even a driver threesome, Lee, Richard and Kyle Petty.
Chase’s father, Bill Elliott, not only won the 1988 Winston Cup championship, but he is a two-time Daytona 500 Champion and holds the record for winning NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award a record 16 times, but like the other “sons” before him, Chase is talented and bright in his own right.
Calling Chase Elliott a promising talent is an understatement. Given his previous accomplishments and boyish charm, it’s practically inevitable that he will become the new face of NASCAR, a character and personality driven sport. He has won at every level of the sport, leading up to his debut in NASCAR’s premiere Cup Series.
Elliott won in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the ARCA Racing Series, and NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East, of which he was voted fan favorite in 2011 and 2012. In 2014, Elliott became the first rookie to win a national series championship in NASCAR when he won the Nationwide Series (now called XFINITY Series), NASCAR’s “minor league” circuit. Taking home the honors of the XFINITY Series’ most popular driver in 2014 and 2015, he’s already proving he’s here to stay.
Remarking about Chase, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, “He just wants people to understand that he’s committed, he’s a hard worker, and he’s here to accomplish his dreams and goals and win races and championships.” From fans to drivers, his presence is definitely building in the world of NASCAR.
Following in the steps of some of NASCAR’s most iconic drivers, think “The Intimidator,” “Jaws,” the “Golden Boy,” “The Iceman” and “Mr. Excitement,” Elliott already has the nickname covered with a memorable monicker like “Chase.”
Like his dad and teammate Dale Jr., who is now NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for the 13th time, Chase has already shown that he too is part of the in-crowd and gaining popularity quickly. The 20-year-old Sprint Cup rookie has already accomplished more than many will ever do in a lifetime. He’s not even legally able to drink yet, but he’s already a millionaire, a champion driver, has appeared on the cover of multiple magazines and has his own bobblehead, thanks to sponsor, Valvoline.
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Chase has been racing since he was eight years old, when he started racing karts, but he is essentially just getting started on what is sure to be successful career in his 20s, 30s and beyond. Some would say Elliott was groomed to be a NASCAR driver, but a quick study of his accomplishments reveals it seemed to happen naturally. Whether you follow the sport or not, you should appreciate the fact that driving in a circle with 40 other cars at an average speed of close to 200 miles per hour takes skill. It takes physical stamina, mental stamina, concentration and skill. Will Elliott do extraordinary things in the Sprint Cup Series? Will he at the very least make it to The Chase, NASCAR’s version of the playoffs? Does he have the secret sauce to win over fans in the Cup Series? What will the ‘Chase Elliot’ brand represent? When you have just ten minutes with a guy destined to become a legend, you get straight to the point and ask him the hard questions — what about the pressure? We had an opportunity to catch up with the front runner for NASCAR’s Rookie of the Year award on the heels of the Great American Race, the Daytona 500, and we spoke candidly about his nickname, why he doesn’t feel pressure replacing Jeff Gordon, and about the advice he received from his NASCAR Hall of Fame dad, Bill Elliott.
The Interview: 10 Minutes With Chase Elliott
Tam: My first question is something you’ve probably been asked before, but I try to ask questions that people who are new to NASCAR may or may not know. How did you get the nickname Chase?
CHASE: That’s a good question. When I was born, my mom and dad had—well they still have some really good friends who are actually my godparents. The lady’s name is Mary, and she thought I looked like a Chase and that’s what they needed to go with. For some reason it stuck and that’s just what it’s been.
Tam: It’s a perfect NASCAR name considering the series playoffs are called The Chase. Hopefully you’ll live up to the name and it will work out for you. (laughter)
CHASE: Hey, that’d be great.
Tam: Did you imagine you would move from Nationwide, now the XFINITY Series, to Cup Series so quickly?
CHASE: You know, not really, not really at all. It’s crazy to think a couple of years ago, we were kinda getting late in 2013, trying to find something for 2014 and we really didn’t have a whole lot planned. Getting late in 2013, not having any full time plans moving forward, I certainly never would’ve ever seen things going like they have and just how quickly everything has evolved. So I’m very thankful for NAPA coming on board when they did and kind of making that all happen.
Tam: Let’s talk a little bit about pressure. Do you feel any pressure to win because your dad is a legend in the sport?
CHASE: You know, I don’t really. I love everything my dad’s done. How could you not have respect for something like that, and what they’ve accomplished as a team and certainly what he’s done behind the wheel for various race teams. I think that’s very special; but no, I don’t feel the added pressure just because of what he’s done, you know. I look at him, I look at myself, and granted, he’s my dad and I love him to death and he’s done a lot of great things. You cannot let that add anything else to what you have going on. I think you try to look at the expectations you put upon yourself and don’t worry about the rest.
Tam: I have to ask this question. One of my followers who is a diehard Jeff Gordon fan wanted to know if you feel any pressure driving the 24?
CHASE: No, I don’t. I kind of look at that the same way as I look at my dad and what he’s done. I have a lot of respect for Jeff, and it’s an honor to be in the position I’m in right now and have an opportunity to drive the 24 car…and that be what Jeff wanted.
It was his decision to keep the 24 car going. And I think that’s really cool that I have his support in that fashion and that he’s been supportive since day one and has always been an open book with any kind of questions I’ve ever had. You know, he’s been just a great teammate and I look forward to working with him moving forward as well.
Tam: What’s been the best advice you’ve received from Mr. H (Team Owner Rick Hendrick), Jeff Gordon or your dad about racing in the Cup Series so far?
CHASE: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot, really and truly. I think the big thing is just try to enjoy what you have going on. It’s easy to rush through things. Another thing is just try to take where you are, you know, no matter how things start off — good, bad, terrible, fantastic, whatever that outcome maybe — just try to improve upon that. I think that’s something good to look at.
Jeff obviously has done a lot of great things. Mr. Hendricks is, you know, amazing, and I don’t know where I’d be in my career without him. And him saying that he wanted to help, heck, that’s been over five years ago, now. He’s been fantastic. I am very fortunate, really, since day one, since I started racing to have just phenomenal support. I felt like I had great people when I was racing go-karts to my short track days. I felt like I was just very lucky to have the group of people I‘ve been surrounded with from day one. I think that’s the reason the opportunities have led to where they are now.
Tam: I’m going to throw you an offbeat question to lighten things up. If you could ride along for a day with one legendary sport figure, such as Lebron James or Peyton Manning, who would it be (and it can’t be a NASCAR driver) and why would you choose that person?
CHASE: Well, obviously, I think the Super Bowl being fresh in my mind, I’d find it hard not to go with Peyton Manning with everything he’s done. I think the guy is such a special leader and I think it’s very cool to watch a sports legend, particularly, and possibly one of the best ever to play football in the quarterback position to go out on top. I think that’s really, really cool to me. I think it would be neat to talk to him a little bit and get his insight on some of the things that he’s seen. I’m sure he’s gone through a lot of ups and downs, and often times that’s what sports can bring you.
Tam: Obviously we know the Daytona 500 is the ultimate win, but if you could only win one race this year, aside from Dayton, which track would it be at and why?
CHASE: Excluding Daytona?
Tam: Of course, everyone wants to win Daytona, so we have to exclude that track.
CHASE: Yeah, I would say, to be honest with you, if we could just win a race anywhere on the Cup side, you wouldn’t hear me complain. Obviously, I think Daytona is a big one. I look at the Brickyard as another big one. I think that’s a really cool race, that’s one my dad won in 2002 and that would be pretty special. But like I said, you wouldn’t hear me complain at all with any of them.
Tam: If you were giving advice to someone that’s new to NASCAR, who would be the one driver, past or current, that you’d recommend that person know, study and watch film of?
CHASE: Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie Johnson, without a doubt. I’ve think it’s hard to go against what he’s done and how can you not have respect for what that guy’s accomplished. And not only on the racetrack, but he’s the type of person away from the racetrack and how he treats people, and his family life, everything is very much so in order. I think it takes all that to have the kind of success that he has, so it would be him for sure.
Tam: How do you feel your chances are to win NASCAR’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year? Obviously, the class is stacked with Ryan Blaney, but with his situation in terms of the new charter system, it may be a little difficult for him in qualifying. What do you think your chances are of winning?
CHASE: I don’t think that the charter system for those guys should affect their performance. I expect those guys to be really good. I think Ryan’s a good racer. I have a lot of respect for him. We’re pretty good friends and I’m excited to compete against all the rookies this year, but I think just to get a shot against anybody–if I didn’t feel that way, you know, there’d be no point in me trying, so I do feel like we have just as good a chance as anybody if I can do my part behind the wheel. I feel as if we can give those guys a good run.
Tam: What would people be surprised to know about you?
CHASE: I have bad habits, chewing my straws. So there you go, bad habit, chewing my straws at dinner.
For more information on Chase’s career, make sure to visit his official website chaseelliott.com, follow him on Instagram or visit hendrickmotorsports.com. To keep up with the latest NASCAR news on and off the track, upcoming schedules, and to learn more about other drivers, take the jump over to NASCAR.com.