WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Seconds after Chase Elliott captured the checkered flag for the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, the No. 9 team radio crackled to life.
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Elliott exclaimed. “Yes!”
“Super proud of you,” No. 9 team crew chief Alan Gustafson responded.
Elliott had held off a furious rally from defending Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. to take home the win at Watkins Glen International.
He led a race-high 52 laps in the process, including the final 34, en route to Victory Lane.
“Holy cow. What a thrill,” Elliott said after the exhilarating win. “I don’t know what to say. Just so thrilled. So emotional. So much relief. Working on three years, hadn’t won one and came here with a great opportunity today and I was able to get it done.”
Elliott became the ninth different first-time winner to race for Hendrick Motorsports, setting a new all-time record for the organization. He is the 17th different driver to win for the organization, a number that ranks second all-time in the NASCAR Cup Series behind only the Wood Brothers team, which has placed 19 drivers in Victory Lane.
The milestone win was the 250th in the Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports, making the organization one of just two teams in Cup Series history to reach that mark.
“Had some hard times to get here,” Elliott said. “Made me learn a lot personally and had to have a good group around me to keep pushing me and to keep making me realize that we weren’t in those positions by accident.”
"Just so thrilled. So emotional. So much relief."Chase Elliott
Prior to the win, Elliott had captured eight runner-up results but couldn’t quite capture the checkered flag.
When it finally paid off Sunday afternoon, it validated all the hard work and close calls.
“A lot of emotion in general, but definitely relief would be one way to describe it,” the 22-year-old said. “I've left these races pretty down over the past couple years at times and had some great opportunities. I think that you just have to realize, we run second eight times, whatever it was, I think kind of one thing I tried to beat in my head was that you don't run second eight times by luck and take it for what it is. That's the truth – you just don't.
“You have to realize that you were in those positions for a reason, A; and B, if you were in them at one point in time, you can get back to them and learn from whatever it was that prevented you from ultimately getting a win and try to correct it to do so.”
He did exactly that on Sunday.
With Truex battling right behind him in the closing laps, Elliott stayed out in front no matter what the competitor threw at him.
In Turn 1 of the final lap, he nearly lost the gap he had built up when he went wide entering the corner. But he held onto the lead even through the mistake, learning from his past experiences.
“I started wheel-hopping and I had two options – knock it out of gear or spin out,” he explained. “We were coming to that white flag, I felt like I had a pretty nice gap, just don't mess up, and I messed up, of course. I had to knock it out of gear and I completely missed Turn 1. Luckily, I had a big enough gap that he couldn't get up next to me.”
He stayed out front and began to put a gap between himself and the runner-up once again, racing to the checkered flag as Truex ran out of fuel behind him. In the process, he became the youngest winner at a road course in Cup Series history.
Elliott is now the fourth driver to capture his first win behind the wheel of the No. 9 car, joining Kasey Kahne, Donald Thomas and his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.
The younger Elliott has now led laps in three consecutive races and earned a stage win in all three.
After capturing his first career win, he is confident in what the No. 9 team can do the rest of the season as the playoffs approach.
“I felt like the end of last year I was probably at the top of my game that I've ever been racing as a race car driver in general,” he said. “I came into this year with a lot of confidence, knowing that we could compete with these guys. We haven’t had the year that we were hoping for, but the past few weeks have been encouraging and feel like we've been running more like we did last fall, which was really nice.
“No reason why we can't do that more often.”