CONCORD, N.C. – As soon as Chase Elliott climbed out of his car on a victorious Sunday at Watkins Glen International, Rick Hendrick was right there for a big hug.
The driver said it always means a little more to win a race in front of the Hendrick Motorsports owner.
“That was awesome – I’m glad he came up there,” Elliott said. “I was just happy to have him there. He was at Dover last year, which was really cool, and then to have him there this weekend was neat.”
Seeing the dominant race up close and personal, in which Elliott started on the pole, won Stages 1 and 2, led 80 of 90 laps and captured the checkered flag, Hendrick came away with the impression that the No. 9 driver “can win a championship, and he can win it this year.”
That confidence struck a chord with Elliott.
“I think we all have to have that kind of confidence,” he said. “It’s the kind of mindset we have to have and you have to believe in. I definitely feel like if we can have performances and have the pace of our car and the execution like we did this weekend, I don’t see why we can’t compete with those guys.”
Sunday’s impressive victory stood out among all five of Elliott’s Cup Series wins in terms of being the class of the field from start to finish. The driver was hard-pressed to think of another race weekend that matched that type of mistake-free performance.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever really had many weekends in my career like that,” he said. “I feel like it shows the kind of team we can be when we’re at our best, and those are the kind of weekends you have to execute like that to keep up with the guys you’ve got to beat at the end of the year.”
He was quick to defer a lot of the credit to the entire No. 9 team and everyone back at the Hendrick Motorsports campus who helped put together a NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that Hendrick described as “a rocket.”
"My NAPA Chevrolet had great power – the Hendrick engine shop is doing work,” Elliott said.
Perhaps the most memorable part of the weekend for the driver was the support he felt from the crowd throughout the race weekend, particularly after he captured the checkered flag and headed to Victory Lane.
After winning at Talladega Superspeedway earlier this season, he said he was “blown away” by the fans and their reaction to his victory.
Talladega, Alabama, is just 150 miles from Elliott’s hometown of Dawsonville, Georgia. Watkins Glen, New York, is a whole other story, which made it even more striking that the fan support was so strong.
“New York’s a long way from home, so that was pretty cool,” he said. “But after last year, I think the people up there knew how special of a weekend that was. That was a day that obviously was a difference-maker in my career. I think anytime you’re watching and certainly if you’re a fan or wanting to see us do good, that was a big day for any of our fans, too.
“I saw a lot of fans up there this past weekend that had me sign their tickets from last year. Just neat to see that.”
Now, the No. 9 team’s attention turns to Michigan International Speedway, a venue where Elliott has finished in the top 10 in six of his seven attempts, including three runner-up results.
The only finish outside of the top 10 came earlier this season, when the No. 9 team left Michigan with a 20th-place result. With that in mind, Elliott, crew chief Alan Gustafson and the team certainly aren’t resting on their laurels after the win.
“That’s one thing I’ve always appreciated Alan for, he doesn’t really change,” the driver explained. “You wouldn’t know by him today if we were coming off Pocono crashing last week or coming off a win this week. I didn’t really think our meeting went any different. I think that’s a good thing. That’s the way you have to be.
“Your competitors don’t care that you won. You’ve just got to move on and look ahead and stay after it.”