CONCORD, N.C. – On Nov. 8, 2020, Chase Elliott climbed out of his No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet for the first time as a NASCAR Cup Series champion. As the Georgia native let the emotional moment sink in, his car chief, Matt Barndt, realized what he had accomplished too. His hard work and dedication had played a crucial role in the young driver’s career-defining moment in just his first season as the No. 9 car chief.
Growing up as a racer himself, Barndt spent most of his childhood behind the wheel. From quarter midgets to late models, he raced anything he could get his hands on. But his dreams took a different form after he started working at Hendrick Motorsports full time in 2013 following his college graduation.
The Pennsylvania native worked his way through the ranks from intern to design engineer, race engineer for both the No. 24 and No. 9 cars, and finally to car chief for the No. 9. His job deals mostly with the setup of the race car, but also insures that everything is in working order before the car ever hits the racing surface.
"The main job is to make sure that the car doesn't have issues," Barndt said. "We're looking at the finite details. This car gets put together over the course of three weeks. We get it and in three days go through it with a fine-toothed comb trying to find any potential issues."
The background of racing in his youth gave Barndt the experience needed to translate his knowledge from behind the wheel to outside of the car. His responsibility with the setup must match what his driver is looking for, but his work is not limited to the shop. Every race weekend, he travels to the track and works with Elliott and the No. 9 team to insure that the driver is happy with the balance of his car.
Much like the rest of the No. 9 group, Barndt's favorite memory comes from the team's championship run in 2020. But the title weekend did not start well by any means. After failing pre-race inspection twice, Elliott was forced to start at the rear of the field, leaving Barndt with an uneasy feeling before the green flag even dropped.
"Inspection went terrible. We failed twice and passed on the third, so we had to go to the back," he recalled. "I thought I ended our hopes."
Barndt's work gave Elliott the car he needed to make his way to the front in no time. Elliott led a race-high 153 laps and by the time the checkered flag flew, the Dawsonville, Georgia, native had claimed not only the race victory but more importantly, the championship.
"Chase made quick work of getting to the front. It was just an all-around good day," Barndt said.
With the No. 9's recent win at Nashville Superspeedway and a strong run at Road America, Brandt and the team are looking to extend their point standings lead over the rest of field. With the postseason quickly approaching, Elliott has his eyes set on his first regular season championship and the 15 playoff points that come with it.
Tune in on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on USA Network, PRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio to see if the No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 can claim victory in the Peach State at Atlanta Motor Speedway.