CONCORD, N.C. – Chase Elliott had been so close, so many times.
With each runner-up finish and near-win, it might have felt like the pressure continued to mount on the shoulders of the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
That’s why it was so fitting that Elliott found one particular video from University of Georgia head coach Kirby Smart last Sunday morning.
“It’s funny, this morning I woke up and I watched a video – Kirby Smart had a speech about having pressure is a privilege,” Elliott said after the Watkins Glen race. “I had that on repeat this morning in the bus, just thinking about it.”
In the speech, Smart said his team’s success this season will come down to “potential versus effectiveness.”
“Pressure is really a privilege,” the coach said. “You should feel privileged to have pressure to win games, to have expectations.”
“We’ve earned that pressure, that right to have that pressure,” Smart said later in a press conference. “I tell our players all the time, it’s how you embrace it. It’s how you think about it. If you let it control you, then it may affect your outcome. If you just go to your day-to-day habits and compete the right way, then you don’t let pressure affect you.”
Something about the mantra stuck with Elliott.
“I felt like he was kind of speaking to me, because I’m the age of some of the kids that he’s coaching,” Elliott explained. “For some reason, it really sat with me and I watched it a handful of times (Sunday) and just felt like that was something I needed to keep in the back of my mind and know that it is a privilege to be in those positions, and you’ve got to make the most of them.”
He certainly did just that.
With defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. chasing him as the laps wound down at Watkins Glen, Elliott never relinquished his lead. Even battling through wheel hop in Turn 1 on the final lap, quick thinking led him to knock the car out of gear and avoid spinning out. He maintained composure – and the lead – en route to Victory Lane for the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career.
“I had some hard times to get here, 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,” he said of his close calls in the past.
This time around, he sealed the deal, and Smart’s advice helped the driver embrace the pressure as a privilege.
“I felt like it was something that I heard for a reason,” he said. “Thought we had a chance (Sunday) and wanted to make sure that if we were in a position, to try to capitalize. And we did. What a day.”