DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Sunday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway, Chase Elliott made it look easy.
But there were plenty of nerves en route to becoming the youngest Daytona 500 pole-winner of all time.
“In a way I felt like, you know, these guys had prepared a really good race car, and they all had a lot of confidence in it,” Elliott said of the No. 24 team. “For me, I just wanted to try to do my job, try not to mess anything up. I know (No. 24 team crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) felt really good about qualifying, hopefully having a shot at the pole. I just didn't want to mess up, try to hit my marks, move forward from there.
“But there were definitely some nerves.”
Deflecting the credit to his teammates was a theme for Elliott after his accomplishment Sunday afternoon, as he maintained that it was more about how hard the No. 24 team worked all offseason than his individual performance.
Still, Jeff Gordon – who helped call the qualifying session from the broadcast booth as an analyst for FOX – tweeted that he was “really proud” of Elliott and Hendrick Motorsports for earning the first pole position of the season.
Teammate Jimmie Johnson agreed.
“Happy to see a Hendrick (Motorsports) car on the pole, a Chevrolet on the pole and should have a good race,” Johnson said. “Excited for him and for the team. We have a great group of guys and I think that the respect we all have for one another and how hard we are all trying to improve the company and improve our teams has created a really tight bond between all of us. Very excited for those guys. I know they are going to have a great year.”
Ultimately, Elliott said that while winning the pole position was important, it’s even more important to make sure that the pole-winning car makes it to next Sunday with a chance to race for Hendrick Motorsports’ ninth Daytona 500 victory and 15th overall points-paying win at Daytona International Speedway.
“We want to try to make sure we have this car next Sunday,” he said of the No. 24 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet SS. “That's the main goal. Try to be smart on Thursday. Know if we can get through these Duels, we can start on the front row regardless -- that's important.”
With his spot already secure, Elliott said Thursday’s Duels will still serve as a big benefit as he looks for experience drafting in a Sprint Cup car. Meanwhile, his three teammates will use the Duels to secure their own starting positions for next Sunday’s Great American Race.
Even after such a momentous start to his season, the rookie took a very business-like approach to the achievement, which he called “a building block.”
“This is a big day, but at the same time this is a long week,” he said. “This is a step in the right direction, but that's one lap versus 500 miles next Sunday.”