Like most people who call the town of Dawsonville, Georgia home, Chase Elliott wouldn't go nearly so far as to classify himself as a celebrity. Even if fame has found him, and even as it continues to grow.
As the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion and NASCAR's most popular driver, Chase Elliott has found that a wealth of opportunities have presented themselves to him. Last weekend, Elliott was a featured guest on ESPN's College GameDay, driving a car that featured the colors of his beloved Georgia Bulldogs through the crowd. Tuesday night was Chase Elliott Night for the Atlanta Braves, as Elliott took a lap around Turner Field as the guest of honor for Atlanta's 8-5 victory.
And on Thursday night, Elliott was featured in a new commercial that aired during the NFL's Kickoff game, starring alongside Hollywood star Chris Pratt and rap/country music artist Breland to promote the new 2022 Chevy Silverado ZR2.
"Those moments, things like that, don't feel like work," Elliott told CBS Sports. "It's really an opportunity to go and do something cool and fun and different just kind of outside of the race weekend. It really has been an honor … For (Chevrolet) to want me to come and to be a part of this launch really is humbling. Although I'm not an actor, I hope I helped and can help them with this launch and make folks want to go and support their product."
Such is what comes with the enormous responsibility of representing NASCAR as its champion, something that Elliott has been called upon to do since the greatest triumph of his young career 10 months ago. While Elliott's reign is far from over -- the 2021 NASCAR playoffs are still only a week old -- He feels that he as an individual and his race team as a collective have grown greatly from the experience of being champions.
"I felt like I learned a lot about myself, I feel like we learned a lot about our team and what we were capable of," Elliott said. "You try to carry all those experiences and whatnot forward as much as you can, although the season does reset at the beginning of the year and everybody has an equal opportunity to go back and to get their shot at winning. And I think you have to reset with them and you have to have that hunger and desire to go and accomplish that again.
"So it's hard to carry the result with you, but I think you can carry the experiences with you and help hopefully make better choices and better your team and yourself for it."
In crossing over into popular culture at large, Elliott is following in the example of other NASCAR drivers to have achieved a level of fame within racing that has allowed them to enter the mainstream consciousness. The previous generation of drivers saw Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Tony Stewart all take on the same responsibility that Elliott has now.
As the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, Chase indeed paid attention to the examples of those stars, and has since tried to follow them as the duty of helping grow NASCAR as its cultural representative has fallen on him.
"I always thought that was really cool and admired them for not only their on-track success, but getting out there and doing something different and trying to not only grow their own platform, but help grow the sport and get some different eyes on a racecar driver and maybe bring somebody to come watch the race this weekend," Elliott said. "That's the goal. We're all kind of in it together. We want to grow it and help it, and that's where I'm at today."
For Elliott, being the Cup Series champion and one of the most recognizable faces in NASCAR has also meant that he's ascended to something of an idol status: Something which is especially pronounced by how people much younger than him perceive him.
That was on display last week at Darlington, as Elliott represented Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and was accompanied at the track by 15-year old Mary Frances Webb, a cancer patient from North Georgia who won a contest to design Elliott's car. Webb's awe and admiration of Elliott was clearly visible at the track, and is surely felt by other children and young adults as well.
At still only 25 years old, Elliott admits he has not gotten used to or feels like he deserves to be put on a pedestal by kids. But nonetheless, the attitude and positivity emanating from Webb -- even after Elliott cut a tire and crashed late in the Southern 500 -- was something he appreciated.
"She was over the moon to be there, her drawing came to life in our racecar and it was on track ... She told me not to crash it, that was her only thing, and I didn't listen to her," Elliott said. "So I hate I tore it up. But those moments are really what we should be focused more on. It's just not something that happens every day.
"It was incredible, it really was. A special weekend, wish it had gone a little better on track, but still very special. She was the first one after the race to say 'Look, you're still a winner and we're still pulling for you. You've got nine more weeks ahead of you.' I mean, the girl's 15, has been through more than most people see in their lives. A lot of things you can take from that, and just the attitude that she brought to our team this past weekend was special."
Now, in order to try and repeat as champion, Elliott is going to have to rebound from his issues at Darlington, as his crash left him just four points above the cutoff line for the playoffs' round of 12. The process of bouncing back begins this weekend at Richmond Raceway, admittedly a track where his fortunes have varied wildly.
"It's been a hit-or-miss track for us," Elliott said of Richmond. "We've had some good runs, we've had some really bad runs. This spring was really bad, last fall was pretty good, so hopefully we hit the cycle right this time and can have a solid day.
"(The round of 16 is) an important round – every round's important. And I think our weekend is a great example of anything can happen. If you look too far ahead, you can find yourself in trouble and not making it through. We've just got to hunker down and execute a solid race and I think we'll be fine."
Elliott finished 12th in the Cup Series' first race at Richmond this past spring, a track where his performance has been up and down. Although he did not score a top 10 finish at Richmond until the fall of 2017, Elliott has since earned three top 5s at the track with a best finish of second in the spring of 2018.