CONCORD, N.C. – The 2021 season nearly ended with back-to-back championships for Chase Elliott and the No. 9 team after they earned a spot in the Championship 4 for the second consecutive year.
After two wins, 15 top-five finishes and 21 top-10s with 952 laps led, Elliott ultimately finished fourth in the standings following a fifth-place run in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway. It was his fourth straight season earning multiple victories and his average finish of 11.4 was the best in his NASCAR Cup Series career.
There was a lot of success for Elliott and the No. 9 team in 2021. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest moments.
Elliott broke through multiple runner-up finishes at the start of the year to earn his first victory of the 2021 season when the Cup Series made its Circuit of The Americas debut in May. The road course ace battled heavy rain and visibility issues in his No. 9 LLumar Chevrolet and was running out front when NASCAR ultimately called the race with 14 laps remaining due to inclement weather.
The victory marked the 800th NASCAR Cup Series win for Chevrolet and Elliott’s second time being an inaugural winner at a road course.
“Anytime you can go win is a great feeling,” said Elliott after his victory. “To do it at a new track that everybody was seeing for the first time is exciting, so we’ll take it any way we can get it. ... For whatever reason, (road courses have) gone really well for us, so hopefully we can keep it going.”
ROAD COURSE DOMINANCE CONTINUES
Following his win at COTA, Elliott came up short of a victory at the series’ next road course event at Sonoma Raceway, finishing second after leading 13 laps. However, it didn’t take long for Elliott and the No. 9 team to be back on top as they dominated the second half of the inaugural 62-lap race at Road America. Elliott led the final 17 laps on his way to becoming the first driver to win at a new track yet again.
“It was a hot day but a lot of fun,” said Elliott after climbing from his No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. “I’m just really proud of our team for overcoming some adversity early and having to start in the back, having good pit stops and a really fast NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet. Just so proud. We’ve had a rough two weeks, so it feels really good.”
With the victory, the driver of the No. 9 currently owns the record for the most wins at different road course venues with five. Over the last 10 road races, the 26-year-old driver and the No. 9 team earned five wins, led 198 laps and completed every lap – a tough feat on some of the most challenging tracks on the Cup Series circuit.
CHAMPIONSHIP 4 RETURN
Elliott’s two victories locked him into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs for the sixth consecutive year, and after a solid regular season, he set his sights on another title run. The team overcame adversity in each round to advance themselves to the Championship 4 for the second season in a row. Elliott headed to Phoenix as one of two Hendrick Motorsports drivers contending for the title, joining Kyle Larson who was in his first season with the team. The feat marked the first time Hendrick Motorsports had two drivers advance to the finale since the start of the playoffs in 2014.
Elliott and the No. 9 team, led by veteran crew chief Alan Gustafson, gave it their all in the championship-deciding race. The Dawsonville, Georgia, native led 94 laps but came up short in defending his 2020 title, ultimately finishing fifth in the race and fourth in the point standings.
“I felt like our NAPA Chevy was really good, and I thought our team did a really good job preparing this week,” said Elliott following the season finale. “We brought a really good car and did a lot of things that we were wanting it to do today; it just didn't work out and the sequence of the way all that went certainly was unfortunate for us. But look, I’m proud of our team, we have a lot to build on.”
While Elliott’s day didn’t end in victory lane, he was still part of a historic moment. With his teammate Larson bringing home the 2021 championship, the duo succeeded in netting Rick Hendrick the first back-to-back championships for a Cup Series team owner since Jimmie Johnson earned his consecutive titles for Hendrick from 2005-2010.
MOST POPULAR DRIVER … AGAIN
The fans spoke again in 2021, voting Elliott the winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Most Popular Driver Award for the fourth straight year. The accolade was presented during the NASCAR’s championship awards show in Nashville, Tennessee at the beginning of December.
“(I’m) grateful for another red carpet trip here in Nashville,” said Elliott on social media following the awards banquet. “Thank you, guys, so much for the votes and support with the MPD award tonight, I can’t wait to see y’all back on the road in ‘22!”
Elliott is another step closer to catching his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, who leads all drivers with 16 Most Popular Driver awards. The younger Elliott is currently fifth on the list of NASCAR Cup Series drivers who have earned the most awards. The father-son duo are the only drivers to earn both a Cup Series championship and the honor of Most Popular Driver in the same year. Bill Elliott accomplished the feat in 1988 and Chase Elliott did so last season.