CONCORD, N.C. -- The last time a Hendrick Motorsports driver reached the Championship 4 was in 2016 when Jimmie Johnson won his seventh NASCAR Cup Series title. Now Chase Elliott will have a shot to bring another trophy back to Hendrick Motorsports on Sunday when he competes in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway.
Crew chief Alan Gustafson said there was a sense of urgency to be among the final four after three seasons without a Hendrick Motorsports driver in the title race. He added it was time one of the organization’s drivers was a contender again.
“I just felt like we've been right on the cusp for so many years - the last three years or so, we needed to get over the edge,” Gustafson said. “You keep swinging at them, keep swinging at them (and) finally hit one.”
Hendrick Motorsports general manager Jeff Andrews echoed Gustafson, saying the change of venue from Homestead to Phoenix for the final race of the year added fuel to the fire.
“When we saw the schedule change (and) saw we were going to end up at Phoenix for the finale, I think we felt all along, obviously, we wanted to get a car there,” Andrews said. “Knowing how Chase runs there, how good he and Alan are there (and) have been there in the past, that was one that came up on our radar pretty quick.
“We are legitimate contenders. Alan and Chase run very well there.”
Elliott earned his spot in the Championship 4 after he won at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday. The 24-year-old driver entered the race fifth in the standings, making his win that much more exciting for the No. 9 team. Gustafson said this will be an advantage for Elliott at Phoenix.
“Ultimately, you've got to win,” Gustafson said. “You don't have to win, but most likely you're going to have to win to be the champion. There's a lot of pressure that (goes) through that. Going through this weekend, we can help prepare him for it.”
The championship race at Phoenix will begin Sunday, Nov. 8 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC. The "Countdown to Green" pre-race show featuring Elliott and the other three Championship 4 drivers will start at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.