NASCAR Playoffs: Chase Elliott on Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, ratings and his feud with Denny Hamlin
Hear what the 21-year-old NASCAR Playoffs contender had to say to CBS Sports
Chase Elliott has quickly become one of the top drivers in NASCAR in less than two seasons. The 21-year-old son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott is in the thick of the playoff hunt and a victory at Phoenix could clinch him his first ever appearance in the Championship 4 at Homestead.
We caught up with Elliott about a variety of topics ranging from, his thoughts on Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and William Byron in addition to his role in NASCAR's ratings increase and whether or not he's the future of the sport.
Please feel free to listen along as you read using the Soundcloud player below.
On Championship 4 hopes and racing Denny Hamlin after Martinsville feud
Q: Pleased to be joined right now by "The People's Champion" Chase Elliott. I know you got the nickname last week at Texas, pretty strong showing.
A: "Well, we didn't like a whole lot about our car last weekend to be completely honest with you. We actually had a pretty good Friday, our car was driving pretty good. I was pretty excited about the weekend and once the sun came out on Saturday afternoon it was kind of a fight the rest of the weekend from there to the checkered flag. Didn't have the showing we were hoping for but it's not over til it's over."
Q: I think that's a testament to your skill that you can take a car that wasn't working out for you and still finish in the top 10. I don't want to harp on this too much but I want to get off the bat with it. Not entirely interested in Martinsville or who did this or who did that but I did notice when you were making your run from the back and you finally make it into the top 10. Who do you see in the top 10? Denny Hamlin right in front of you, nose to bumper. As a driver, what was going through your mind, given what happened two weeks ago at Martinsville? I'm curious what happened in your mind when you're trying to make that pass and make your way to the front?
A: "Ah well, it was just another guy in the way and you're trying to move forward. That's kinda of the way I looked at it. At the point in time we were racing for whatever it was. It wasn't first and second so at the end of the day it wasn't as big of a deal as it was at Martinsville."
Being dubbed the "People's Champion" and becoming the next face of NASCAR
Q: After that whole thing, you got that nickname at Texas I know you called it a little weird but "The People's Champion". I'm all over Twitter all the time and people are calling you that man. You are the people's champion, especially the people on Twitter. Are you prepared to take on that nickname and whatever legacy that is, carry it forward?
A: "Well, I certainly appreciate the support the past couple weeks, it's been pretty cool to see but I'd say Dale (Earnhardt Jr.), he's still got a pretty popular vote in general. He's been a great person to follow and I'm sure as he's running these last few races if anybody is the people's champion, I'll say it's gonna be him."
Q: Yeah, but like you said, it's only two more races that Dale Jr. is going to be on the track and NASCAR is looking for that guy to step up and be the next one. I think a lot of people, including myself, think that's you. Are you prepared to be the face of NASCAR?
A: "Well, that's not one for me to decide. It's really more for the folks that watch it and the people that follow along. If it's me that folks want to pull for next year, then I'm all for it. If it's somebody else, then hey, that's their decision, too. Whatever the people decide, you gotta respect that, and at the end of the day it's not going to change how I go and try to do my job. Again, you always appreciate the support but it's not really up to me."
On taking on Jeff Gordon's legacy and passing the torch to William Byron
Q: You talk about all those people who support you. You're getting ready to build on your family legacy next year with the move to the No. 9. That being said, at a young age you were already tasked with carrying on a pretty big legacy, Jeff Gordon's No. 24 the past few seasons. Given how important that number is, what advice do you give to.
A: "I don't think anything that I'm going to tell William is gonna help him or be anything that he doesn't already know. I mean, the guy is in the position he's in for a reason. He's a good racer and has had success along the way. Hasn't been in racing very long, but the time he's been racing heck he's won just about everything he could win in, and results are there. I think the number will be in good hands, the car will be in good hands and I think he'll fit in really well with it."
The difference between Elliott's first and second Cup seasons on the track
Q: And I'm sure he's happy to have you to look on for experience given that now you're in your second full-time season. You're about to wrap it up. First of all, do you think people even realize your age? You're only 21 years old and looking back what have you learned from year one to year two?
A: "Well, I think it's been a lot of learning processes. I don't necessarily know if it's one thing that I've learned from year one to year two. There's been a lot of, I think more just as you go along, you face the different situations that you haven't seen yet. When you're put in those situations, and if they were to come back around, at least you seen them before. That's the biggest thing. Not necessarily one instance but just circumstances and seeing different things for the second time is nicer than seeing it for the first."
Elliott's thoughts on NASCAR's ratings increase and his role in it
Q: Not sure how much attention you pay to this but people love to talk about ratings in the sport. We've seen a 7 percent ratings increase increase in the playoffs this season with the Texas race increasing 45 percent from last year. I think it's because folks are starting to take note of your success and jump on that Chase Elliott bandwagon. What do you say about that?
A: "That's refreshing to hear, and I think that's rightfully so. In my opinion, I think our sport is -- with the way that the playoff format is -- frankly, if you're a fan and you're watching from home, it's really about as exciting as it's ever been. I think to watch the rounds and the different ways a guy can either win or lose a championship is pretty abundant nowadays. Knowing that you have three-race increments all year and then the final nine to make it to Homestead, it make things tight. Again, I think that's why it's improved and a lot of people are starting to see it and understand the point system better. I think it'll just get better as time goes."
What Elliott wants the casual sports fans to know about him
Q: I agree with you Chase, and we did an article on CBS Sports talking about everyone's case for getting into the Championship 4. We made our predictions at the end. As we move along here off the track kind of stuff, we have a lot of casual sports fans over at CBSSports.com and I'm just curious to know what do you want the casual fans to know about Chase Elliott.
A: "Ha well you know, sheesh, I don't know. I think I'm a pretty straight-forward guy. The racing side keeps me pretty busy and I try to enjoy time off as anybody does. I don't know. I don't feel like I'm a very complex I don't have a whole lot. So I don't have a whole lot there to tell you."
Will the Georgia Bulldogs win it all this year?
Q: Well, one thing we've done our research on you a little bit. You're a Georgia Bulldogs fan. The No. 1 team in the country. Do you think this is the year?
A: "I don't see why not, man. They're as real as I've ever seen them in my lifetime. It's been a lot of fun to watch. I've been a Georgia fan as long as I can remember and pulled for them through some good years and some bad years, too. It's definitely been a good year to be a Georgia Bulldogs fan so far. So, a lot of games to be played, but they have all the ingredients to make it happen, so we'll see."
Q: And it's only going to get better with Justin Fields coming in next year, one of the top quarterback prospects in the country. Chase, thank you so much for coming on and really good luck this weekend at Phoenix. Hopefully you punch your ticket to Homestead.
A: "Right on. Many thanks! Y'all have a good day."
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