WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Sunday at Watkins Glen, Chase Elliott had plenty of fuel to race his way to victory for the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career.
But he didn’t have quite enough to finish his victory lap.
“I ran out of gas,” Elliott laughed. “I coasted on around, and then probably one of the many cool things about today was Jimmie Johnson pushed me back to the front straightaway.”
The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion didn’t realize at first that his services were needed. He thought his teammate was just preparing to do burnouts.
“I pulled up alongside him to give him the thumbs up and then I could see his car wasn’t running as I drove away, so I backed up and helped him along,” Johnson said. “Seeing Chase’s arm pumping along the way was so cool as I was pushing him. The crowd was going crazy!”
It made for an iconic image as Elliott celebrated the milestone moment, bringing home his first checkered flag and Hendrick Motorsports’ 250th Cup Series win.
The fact that it was Johnson pushing him along the track made it that much more special for Elliott.
“Jimmie has been one of my heroes for a long, long time,” he said. “I always lean on him, but certainly a lot throughout this offseason just about the opportunities I’ve had in the past and not closing them out.”
The driver of the No. 9 SunEnergy1 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 recalled visiting Colorado in the offseason, and Johnson happened to be in town at the same time. So, the two got together to talk about some “disappointing days” to that point in his career.
“He's been a big supporter of mine, too, which is pretty neat,” Elliott said. “When you have not only a fellow racer but a teammate and a guy who's done what he's done take the time to lend me advice or just listen to what I had to say, that helps a lot.”
He pointed to last October at Dover as one of those “disappointing days,” when he led a race-high 138 laps but was passed on the final lap while maneuvering through lapped traffic and ultimately finished as the runner-up.
Johnson was the first person to come to his car after the race.
“I just wanted to check on him and turn him around where people couldn't see his face and let him get those few first words and sentences out,” Johnson said at the time. “Chase is one heck of a driver, and I look forward to whenever that celebration does happen.”
And when it did happen Sunday at Watkins Glen, Johnson was right there once again.
“I’m just so proud of him and that team, what they’ve been able to do together. It hasn’t been an easy couple of years, and Chase has been so close so many times,” Johnson said. “I know how hard all of those second-place finishes have been on him. He’s a great friend, teammate and competitor, and I’m so incredibly happy for him. He is so talented behind the wheel and I’m glad that first-win monkey is off of his back.”
After eight runner-up results, there was no better way for Elliott to cap his first Cup Series win than to have a seven-time champion push him around the track toward Victory Lane.
“That was one of the coolest things ever,” Elliott said, “and I will never forget it.”