He may be young in his NASCAR career at just 25 years old but he’s keenly aware of the stakes this weekend at Phoenix and the unique opportunity ahead of him.
“It’s hard to believe it was a year ago already. That’s kind of nuts to me,” Elliott said Thursday of winning his inaugural Cup title in 2020. “The great news is we don’t just have to come and enjoy it and be done with it. We have another opportunity to try to do it again.
“That’s where my head is at, and that’s where our team’s head is at, just thinking about that and trying to execute a really solid weekend.”
Elliott’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, Kyle Larson, has garnered a lot of the headlines this season with his career-best nine wins in just his first year driving for the organization, but Elliott has a chance to add his own mark on the NASCAR and Hendrick history books in Sunday’s race.
Should Elliott come away with the 2021 title, he will become the youngest driver in NASCAR history to win multiple championships; just the 11th driver to win back-to-back titles and his championship would be the 14th for Hendrick Motorsports.
“I felt like we learned a lot about ourselves last year and really what we were capable of and how we could focus on the right things and go and ultimately get the job done, and I feel like our group has exemplified that since,” Elliott said.
“I think having gone through that experience once, we can hone in on the things that matter most and make our car go as fast as possible and execute a good race. I think just making sure you’re focusing on the right things is really the most important piece of the weekend.
“I feel like our group is very capable of doing that.”
Elliott is certainly aware the stakes are higher on Sunday than any other race this season. But he’s also been one not to change up the playbook because the payoff is bigger.
“The opportunity to win something is larger than it is on other weekends. However, the path to getting there is very much the same,” he said.
“A fast race car, good decisions, executing a really solid race. All those things are going to lend you the best result, and this year, this weekend, and this year is no different.”
Team owner Rick Hendrick said even while Larson has had the most success at HMS during the 2021 season, Elliott has never been anything but a “team player.”
“Chase is very competitive. He wants to win. But he’s happy for the organization,” Hendrick said. “He’s never said anything about the fact that he won the championship, and now Kyle’s winning a bunch of races.
“It all comes down to Sunday. He’s in it to win it. He’s got a chance and a good shot at being a back-to-back champion. Chase is super-cool. I’ve been amazed at his maturity and how he looks like just a pure veteran of 10 or 12 years.”
The battle to go back-to-back
Elliott’s road to the Championship 4 this season isn’t all that different than a year ago. While he’s only won twice this year – and both on road courses – Elliott has saved some of his best performances for the playoffs.
Of the 828 laps Elliott has led this season, 521 have come in the nine playoff races thus far. He has also finished second six times this season, twice in the playoffs.
Asked if he feels any additional pressure this year, having won the championship last year, Elliott said, “I honestly don’t. I feel really good and I feel like our team is very laid back and ready to go try to perform at a high level.
“If it’s not going to make us go faster, we don’t care about it right now.”