There’s a reason as to why you don’t see many repeat NASCAR champions. The competition level in the sport just keeps getting better and better with the racing being closer and closer. Just two drivers in the last three decades have won consecutive titles – Jimmie Johnson (2006-2010) and Jeff Gordon.
So, for Chase Elliott to do so in 2021, he says that it takes a lot of improvement from year to year and at times, from week to week. Elliott, wants to win another championship this year, but he knows that in order for that to happen, he has to be better inside of the race car. You can’t rest on your laurels from a season ago. That’s in the past. The bullseye is now on his back and everyone is chasing him.
So, in order to stay on top, you have to keep adjusting. That’s why Elliott is doing everything in his power to stay sharp, even if that means going outside of his comfort zone and racing in other disciplines that he’s had no experience in prior. With everything so close, in order to gain that extra split second on the timing charts, you have to better yourself inside of the race car.
“It’s just so hard to predict with just how close everybody is now a days in the garage,” Elliott told me. “Just how good these teams bringing that next upgrade the next week and trying to get better. It’s close it’s tight. A little bit goes a long way when you’re fighting for literally tenths of a second. A half a tenth can go a long ways so that’s just the world we live in.”
So, with this weekend’s race at the Bristol Motor Speedway being on dirt now, Elliott sought out different ways to improve his craft on a discipline that he’s not had much experience in before this season.
See, the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion takes this gig seriously. He doesn’t want to look foolish. So, he went out of his comfort zone and has raced a midget on several occasions since last December, including the Chili Bowl earlier this year. He also ran in the 24 Hours of Daytona in making his IMSA debut a few weeks later.
“When you challenge yourself in different ways, it’s good for you,” Elliott said on his extra curricular activities outside of his Cup ride. “It’s good for you to go push yourself to new levels.
“When coming off of a great season, it’s great to go and find new limits. Go and find yourself in different ways, ways that you haven’t experienced before and all of those new experiences and if you take just 1 thing from all of the combined, you’ve spent your time in a good place and was worth doing it. I think the bottom line really is a new challenge. A new set of circumstances. Just pushing yourself. I think it’s a good thing.”
Elliott, so badly wants to defend his title and he knows that while Bristol is just 1 of 36 races, he doesn’t want to show up and have a bad performance. So, he’s running a late model on the same race track as a tune up. He actually wanted to enter the Truck Series race on Saturday instead though, but that wasn’t able to be worked out.
“I put some effort into trying to get into a Truck,” Elliott said. “It just didn’t pan out. This (late model) is a great opportunity I thought to just see the race track and just get some hands on experience with it before we show up next week will be helpful. I feel like the Trucks will drive way more like the Cup cars for the drivability.”
Elliott said the seat time in the late model can help him visualize things and understand the race track a little bit more and just kind of get a little bit of feel what dirt feels like at Bristol before he shows up this weekend.
Elliott, says that while he won a title a year ago, he felt like they still could have improved in 2020 and while he’s had a solid outing so far in 2021, he’s not satisfied.
“I think we could have improved last year too,” Elliott said. We were really bad at Homestead there this year which last year Homestead was one I guess was kind of interesting. We had the best run that we’ve ever had at Homestead last year. So I was really excited to get there and that one was a struggle. I’m not really sure about that.”
HMS overall has been vastly improved in 2020 and again in 2021. That’s all part in how well they’re all working together with one another Elliott feels. He says it’s an exciting place to be right now with how many talented people that are there and pushing really hard, working well together.
“I do feel like everybody is – I don’t want to say sharing information, because we’ve always done that but just working together a little more from all aspects,” said Elliott. “You might have some people that work really good together and other people don’t. I feel like right now, it’s super fluid. Everybody’s open about anything and everything, and I feel like it’s showing on track.
“Beyond that, I really feel it’s just fundamental upgrades – things that are important on track being improved upon in the shop, and I think each car is benefitting from it.”
Elliott singled out Chad Knaus and says that his new role as the vice president of competition, is also a big help for HMS. Elliott notes that Knaus is working to get better cars in the hands of its crew chiefs before heading to the track.
“I think Chad has had a big impact in having that car show up in a manner that particular crew chief wants it to be in before he sees it for the first time,” he said. “That makes a big difference.”
Does this show up this weekend in Bristol? He’s doing the right things that’s for sure.