CHASE ELLIOTT, NO. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS CAMARO ZL1 1LE, Daytona 500 Media Availability Transcript

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THOUGHTS ON GOING INTO DAYTONA.“I’m looking forward to getting the season started. It’s the start of a very long road in our season. This is always very exciting week. I feel like every time I get to Daytona, I’m excited and ready to get started. It’s a great week for our sport and a big event, but also the first days of a very long season. I think anyone that travels this deal knows that. So, it’s a long road ahead.”
HOW DO YOU LOOK AT QUALIFYING FOR DAYTONA?“To be honest, I don’t look at it any different. It’s a very straight-forward thing. Single-car qualifying is really a representation of your team, your organization, your aero department and engine shop… it’s an opportunity for them to come out of the box strong and for them to get the recognition and credit they deserve if you have a good day. It’s not about the driver. It’s just not. It’s not hard. There’s nothing hard about making a qualifying lap at Daytona or Talladega. The race is obviously very different. A lot of the thinking and decision-making goes into that. The qualifying side of things, it’s a representation of what your team has been working hard over the winter for and an opportunity to come out of the box strong.”
ARE YOU USED TO HAVING WHAT YOU NEED TO GET THE JOB DONE THERE IN QUALIFYING?“I don’t think it’s me being good at it. I think it’s Alan (Gustafson, crew chief), our team, the Hendrick engine shop, Chevrolet and the people that work on our cars to give us fast race cars for a superspeedway like Daytona or Talladega. I’ve been fortunate to have been in that position since I got here. Kyle (Larson)’s past at Ganassi, they haven’t been as fortunate on the speedway qualifying side of things. It could be different this year, who knows. I think we’ll all have a good shot at it.”
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR AN ENCORE FROM 2020?“Just keep pushing. Like I said throughout the winter and since Phoenix last year, it obviously was a great end. We were able to get hot at the right time and have really well-executed races to end the season. I think for us, and the cool thing for me that I’ve thought about since then, there is still much more for us to go get. I don’t think we are at our best in every category, which is really cool for me and something that I think our team should take a lot of pride in. To have the kind of result we had last year but also know that we can still improve in some pretty big ways is exciting. It should be for our team, and I know it is for me. I’m looking forward to cleaning up those areas that haven’t been so good and also to make the ones that have been good, better. I think we have to do that. Everyone else is going to be improving as always. We need to stay the course, keep doing our thing, keep being us and continue to improve in every area that we have been.”
CHANGES IN THE DRIVER LINEUP AT HENDRICK SINCE FIVE YEARS AGO?“It’s changed, for sure. I’ve said this a few times over the last month since I’ve been racing and being asked questions. I feel like when I get done with my career, to look back and to have been one of very few people in those closed-door meetings to see legends step away and watch that room transition… it was really cool to see that happen. Our sport is an exciting place to be right now, whether you’re a driver, a team member or any one of our many teammates on the complex. It’s a fun place to be but really neat for me to look back and first-hand watch that room transition… it has been pretty wild.”
BASED ON FEEDBACK FROM FRIENDS OR TEAMMATES, WHAT HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THE NEXT-GEN CAR?“To be really honest, I haven’t talked to anyone about it. I feel like still to this day there are things that they aren’t 100 percent sure that they’re either going to have on a car or not have on a car. I think there are components that we aren’t sure how they are going to hold up at a place like Bristol or Dover. I personally feel like until we have a definite on all those things, what’s the point? Until all those questions are answered, why mess with it? I’m looking forward to driving it when I have the chance. I was planning to do it last year early in the year but schedules didn’t work out for me to go. We’ll have plenty of time to test, and we’ll all have plenty of opportunity to drive that car and be prepared for next year. I just haven’t yet but I think we’ll all have our fair chance.”
DO YOU FEEL MORE RELAXED OR COMFORTABLE IN YOUR ROLE SINCE THE CHAMPIONSHIP?“For me, I’ve been trying to just enjoy all of the different situations and scenarios I’ve been part of. Winning the championship is great and it brings confidence to our entire team. I’ve really just enjoyed my winter, enjoyed racing… just to go and seek out opportunities and have some opportunities come to me to be able to go race, I’ve had a lot of fun with it. It’s something I’ve put a lot of emphasis on at the end of last year… just enjoying those moments more. You have to enjoy those big spots to have success in them. From that standpoint, I’m trying to carry that over to everything and enjoying all the moments that you can… take advantage of opportunities when you have them. You may not always have these opportunities, so go race and do the things you enjoy. I’m still fairly young and am able to do these things. You gotta live life… live it and have fun with it.”
HOW DO YOU MANAGE REMAINING IN GEORGIA, AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?“It’s home for me. I like where I live and I like the area. Georgia is where I’m from and like anybody, home is home. Not everyone has the opportunity to not have to move for their job. Sometimes you have to move and relocate. That can be tough. If you have the opportunity to stay where you want to stay and can make it work, I’d think most anyone would do that if they had the choice. Fortunately for me, the choice was there and I’ve been able to make it work.”
WHAT ARE THE MECHANICS OF MAKING THAT WORK?“It’s as difficult as you make it. For me, it’s trips back and forth from Charlotte. A lot of it is managing logistics and your schedule… having good people to line those things up who understand that I am remote so that when I do go to North Carolina, I’m busy and I do what I have to do and fulfill my role… do all things that I need to do to do my job. It can be some added work at time, but for me I enjoy where I’m at. I enjoy flying and aviation, and this gives me more of an opportunity to do more of that, as well.”
YOU SAID LATE LAST YEAR THAT IT WAS IMPORTANT FOR YOUR TEAM TO RISE TO THE OCCASION IN TOUGH MOMENTS. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO DO THAT GOING INTO THIS YEAR?“In any sport, it’s what have you done lately. I think about all the disrespect that Jimmie Johnson got toward the end of this career. It’s like everyone forgot about how great he is just because he had a bad race or a bad stretch of races. The lesson that taught me is that no matter what you do, if you have a bad stretch or don’t do well, then they’re going to come after you about whatever you’ve done recently. On the flip side of that, if you have a good run after being trashed for a year or something, everyone is going to be hyping you up, be excited for you and jumping on the bandwagon. It’s all about performance and all about what you’ve done lately. We want to push; we want to continue to do good for ourselves and push our team internally. That’s all that matters to me, and that’s all that matters to our entire group.”
AMOUNT OF ROAD-COURSE RACES GIVEN HIS SUCCESS IN RECENT YEARS? “That’s been a very popular question from the road course side. It’s been good the past few trips, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to go good next time. Again, it’s back to the ‘what have you done for me lately’ topic. That narrative can change very quickly. That’s just part of what we do. I don’t have a different approach, to be honest. There’s not been one part of me that watched the schedule change, saw seven road courses and thought, ‘Yeah, we’ve got it now.’ That’s just not how I am. The schedule is what it is. I don’t enjoy having any more or less road courses. I really don’t care where we go. At the end of the day, you have to be good everywhere and I want to be good everywhere. We as a team want to get to the point where we can win on any given week: road course, circle track, intermediate, dirt…whatever it is, we want to be able to win at any time. The great teams and the great drivers are capable of doing that, and I think we are capable doing that. So that’s where my head’s at – trying to be good everywhere.”
ARE THERE AREAS WHERE THE TEAM CAN FOCUS ON A LITTLE MORE THIS YEAR?“Just eliminating bad tracks. We have some bad tracks and places where I’m not great at and places we haven’t been great at as a team… whatever it may be, just bad results. So yeah, we just want to clean that up. There is a really small group of guys that can win literally every week. Like, we all would leave the track and we wouldn’t not be a bit surprised that they won the race. I want our team to be a part of that conversation as well. I want to get to the point that whenever we leave the racetrack, no one was surprised that we won. Our team is very capable of doing that, and that’s where my head was at last year. If you can get among that group, consistently be there and have chances to win every weekend, everything else will fall into place and you’ll have plenty of opportunities for a long, long time to do great things.”
ANY CONVERSATIONS WITH KYLE LARSON ABOUT HIS WORK TO BETTER EDUCATE HIMSELF ON RACE-RELATED ISSUES AND CONTRIBUTING TO UNDER-SERVED COMMUNITIES?“We’ve talked about it a little bit. Being on the outside looking in on his situation, I try to be supportive of him and try to better myself through all of the things that have happened in the last year. From my standpoint regarding Kyle, I just try to be a good friend and be supportive. His life really changed last year; I see a different Kyle than I did a couple of years ago. He and I have never been super close. We’re not best friends but we’ve always had a mutual respect for one another. To see the change in him, how his life changed overnight, the efforts he’s made to make that right and to better himself through that is something we should all admire about him and respect. To answer the question, I tried to be supportive of him directly right after that happened and still try to be today.”
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU’VE DONE TO BETTER YOURSELF?“I try to treat people the way I want to be treated. That’s the golden rule, right. You learn that when you are in kindergarten. It sounds elementary and simple, but I really think it is that simple. If we all personally take on that rule, then there’s no problems in the world, in my personal opinion. It’s on each individual to treat each person with respect and things they deserve and that they would want to have for themselves.”
ARE YOU GOING BACK TO BUBBA (RACEAWAY PARK) TONIGHT?“I’m planning on it. I was wanting to if the weather holds out. I was planning on running. Hopefully it does and we can finish it out. It’s been a long weekend over there with the rain and everything, so we’ll see how it goes.”
DID YOU HAVE TIME TO GET TIPS FROM CHRIS WINDOM AND CHAD BOAT TO IMPROVE YOUR CRAFT IN A MIDGET?“We talked a lot. I feel like I made a lot of gains over there this weekend. It may not show, but I feel like I’ve gotten better in certain aspects. The biggest one for me is the race craft. I feel like there are times where I can make some decent lap time in comparison to some of the guys who are good, like Chris. In the racing environment, it’s understanding how to position your car, how to be around guys, how to move forward and how to restart and move forward without getting completely taken advantage of. Those are the situations are the areas where I need to get better at. There have been gains made, and I’ve tried to lean on those guys as much as I can. On the same token, you have to learn some of those things on your own. You can have great advice and great people will help you, which I’ve had. But you have to figure it out on your own. They’re not driving it for you, so you have to get there by yourself at some point.”
THE FEEL OF A STOCK CAR AND LEARNING FROM DRIVING IN OTHER FORMS OF RACING?“On the stock car side of things, which I’m used to, that feel is kind of home to me. Everything else has been a little foreign to try to learn and get used to. I’ve had fun with it. I’m not sure what will translate, but I do think there are things about these different types of racing that I’ve done throughout the winter that will help – whether it’s mentally, racing environments… the dirt side of things is so fast-paced. There’s no time to really gather yourself and set up a guy. You can’t take five laps to set up a pass; you really have to get after it. I think that mentality of being precise coming out of the box and being good can translate to anything. At some point in time, you’re going to be put in tough situation. That’s a very timely situation from the very start in that world. I think that’s one good thing you can learn.”
HOW MANY TOTAL OFFSEASON RACES HAVE YOU RUN, AND HAVE DONE THIS MANY IN YOUR CUP CAREER?“I’ve never done this in my Cup career. I think I’ve done five or six throughout the winter, something like that. I haven’t really done any type of racing like this since I’ve been in Cup. It’s been a nice change of pace. I’ve enjoyed traveling around, driving different cars and doing different things. It’s been fun.”
WHY DO SO MANY NOW? IS IT FOR FUN OR IN HOPES THAT IT MIGHT TRANSLATE TO CUP?“Why not? I had some opportunities to go and do different things. I’m 25 and trying to live life, drive racecars and be good at what I can be good at… learn as much as I can, face new challenges, get uncomfortable, learn new things and have fun.”
WHAT KIND OF RACE DO YOU ANTICIPATE ON THE DAYTONA ROAD COURSE FOR THE SECOND RACE OF THE YEAR?“The road course worked out good for us over the summer, for sure. I had a good start there. I just never felt that even at the end of the race – and Denny (Hamlin) would probably say the same thing – that I had even pieced together every part of the racetrack properly, really dialed in all my marks and maximized every corner. I felt like he and I at the end were still learning as we were still racing to the checkered flag, at least I was. I never felt like I found my limit in certain corners. That race was so unique because most of us had never raced on that track before, and we all just started the race. It was a bit of a guessing game. By the end, even though I felt much closer to maximizing a good lap or what I would consider a great lap at times, I never felt like I got there in all aspects. I think most guys would tell you the same thing – that we were basically still learning at the end of the event. That was the cool part about it for me, that we were kind of guessing. It was a fun environment.”
WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO HAVE PEOPLE STUDYING YOU ON ROAD COURSES? HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT OTHERS HAVING SO MUCH DATA TO ZOOM IN ON WHAT YOU DO COMPARED TO WHEN THE PAST IN THIS SPORT, THEY HAD TO FIND THINGS THE HARD WAY?“I don’t feel like I do anything special at those places. I’ll take that to my grave. That was exemplified in the Rolex 24. I was not even close to the great road-racers from around the world who were in that event. I really don’t think I do anything special. I’ve been fortunate to drive fast cars, and Alan does a really good job of putting an emphasis on things that matter in road racing. He has a little bit of a road-racing background from being from down here and being familiar with the sports car stuff. Also working with Jeff (Gordon) gets overlooked a little bit. That was a really good foundation for me coming in.”
“The data thing is interesting, but we’ve had data for a long time. It’s been around with pretty easy access for about 10 years, I would say. That’s nothing super new and obviously it isn’t going away. For me, I always struggle to find the small details that make the differences in the data because they are so small and it doesn’t depict it. I’m sure guys are going to be better, for sure their cars will be better and we have to be better, as well.”
ANY KIND OF CONVERSATIONS WITH MENTORS ABOUT GOING INTO A SEASON AS DEFENDING CHAMPION?“To be really honest, I have not talked to anyone about it. So, we’ll give it our best shot and go from there. What I have thought about going into the year, and this sounds boring like a lot of answers do, but just trying to be better and improving in those areas where we haven’t been good in or been great in. There is no defending. We need to be on offense. We need to keep pushing. I think if you’re back on your heels and trying to protect something, I don’t think your mind is in the right place. We want more. We’re not trying to play defense. We just simply want more. That needs to be our outlook and keep it as simple as that.”

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