In a season that has been largely dominated by Hendrick Motorsports, specifically the team’s newcomer Kyle Larson, NASCAR’s most popular driver and the series’ defending champion, Chase Elliott, has flown completely under the radar, arguably having a more notable off-track presence than he’s had an on-track presence this season.
Only picking up two victories this season – both on road courses — compared to four and nine wins by teammates Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson respectively, it seems difficult to make the correlation between the No. 9 team’s season, and the likelihood that the 25-year-old will be standing on the championships stage for the second straight season.
It’s not difficult at all for Rick Hendrick though, Elliott’s boss and the team owner of Hendrick Motorsports, who will equally split the ‘Championship 4’ with Joe Gibbs and Joe Gibbs Racing. In fact, Hendrick thinks Elliott may just be poised to repeat last year’s achievements.
“[Elliott’s] very, very, very sharp, you can’t rattle him,” Hendrick said in a media availability on Tuesday. “I’ve never seen him get rattled over anything. I think he’s poised for another championship here come Sunday.”
The Dawsonville, Georgia-native has shown a side of him that many have never seen before this season, most notably at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s ROVAL, where an ongoing rivalry between himself and Kevin Harvick was brought on-track, including Elliott being intentionally wrecked by the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
After the Hendrick Motorsports driver rebounded, and Harvick wrecked trying to avoid getting run into by the No. 9, Elliott showed his sarcastic nature, wishing the entire Stewart-Haas Racing team a “Merry Off-Season and Happy Christmas.”
“He’s quick, he’s really quick,” continued Hendrick. “He’s just a super-bright guy. I am just amazed at how he can come back. You might ask him a question or you may say, ‘Man, you had a good race, I’m sorry you didn’t win it.’ He’s always, hey, we did well, we did it to ourselves, whatever.”
While consistent, the raw speed hasn’t been there for the No. 9 team this season, especially not to the level of his teammate driving the No. 5. It’s something the NASCAR HOFer says that Elliott doesn’t complain about, but rather congratulates him on.
“Chase [Elliott] is very competitive, he wants to win, but he’s happy for the organization,” said Rick Hendrick. “He’s never said anything about the fact that he won the championship, and now Kyle’s winning a bunch of races.”
“Actually every time Kyle wins, or one of the other cars wins, he texts me and congratulates me,” Hendrick later said. “He’s not a guy that goes off in a corner and says, I need what they have or whatever.”
If Elliott is to capture the ultimate prize on Sunday Afternoon, which history dictates will likely require a trip to victory lane, he will become the youngest multi-time champion in NASCAR history, and the 11th driver in series history to claim back-to-back championships.
“It all comes down to next Sunday. He’s in it to win it, Hendrick said. “He’s got a chance and a good shot at being a back-to-back champion.”