WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Rick Hendrick knows a thing or 12 about NASCAR Cup Series championships.
And after Chase Elliott’s thrilling win at Watkins Glen International on Sunday, the Hendrick Motorsports owner recognized the makings of a championship contender.
“I think if we can get the car good enough for Chase, he can win a championship, and he can win it this year,” he said. “So, we'll just have to keep tuning on the car and giving him good stuff like they did today.”
Hendrick was impressed by the dominant performance the driver of the No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 put together. After winning the pole, he led 80 of 90 laps in Sunday’s race, winning Stage 1, Stage 2 and the race itself.
It marked the young driver’s fifth win – all of which have come in the past 37 races – his second of the 2019 season and his second in a row at Watkins Glen.
“It’s unbelievable for them to come here and kind of be the class of the field this year and win the race last year,” Hendrick said. “Any time you can lead all the laps in a race and end up winning, that's kind of like whipped cream and a cherry. You don't get to do that very often. In all my 35 years I don't think there's been many of those.”
While Elliott said he found himself “comfortable” in the “pressure-filled situation” of holding the lead for the final 28 laps of the race with Martin Truex Jr. challenging him the whole way, Hendrick found himself pacing with nervous energy.
“Man, what a race,” he told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Golly, that’s the longest 10 laps I’ve ever seen in 35 years of racing, I’m telling you. I wore out a pair of shoes there.”
It wasn’t lost on the owner that the No. 9 team essentially had to be perfect every lap and every pit stop to maintain the lead down the stretch with a hard-charging Truex providing such stiff competition.
He noticed that Elliott “didn’t get rattled” on the track and simply “held his ground.”
“It was one of the best races – the two cars, the two drivers were so equal,” Hendrick said. “But Chase had just been there all day long and never made a mistake. It’s really I’m proud of him, because he’s showing the world he’s a road racer.”
Elliott’s five Cup Series wins have come on a wide variety of track types. He’s won on a road course twice, at a superspeedway (Talladega), at a 1.5-mile track (Kansas) and a short, one-mile venue (Dover).
That stands out to Hendrick as he envisions what’s to come for the driver, whom he said is “just getting better.”
“I think Chase has shown that he can win at any track,” he said. “He's just so smooth, so good, reminds me a lot of his dad. Knows when to race, doesn't wreck a car, but he can be aggressive when he needs to.
“I think Chase is going to be a contender for a lot of years to come.”