It was a weekend of ‘firsts’ for Chase Elliott when he powered his No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Camaro ZL1 1LE to victory lane in the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway, the elimination race for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs’ Round of Eight. Elliott not only scored his first-career victory at the .526-mile oval of Martinsville Speedway, but also punched his ticket to his first-career appearance in the Championship Four to battle for the title of the NASCAR Cup Series Champion. The win was his 10th victory in 185-starts in the NASCAR Cup Series.
With the stage two win and 236-laps led, Elliott’s victory during the 500-lap, 263-mile event marked his fourth points-paying win of the season, the most in one season during his career in NASCAR’s premier series. The triumph at the Martinsville, Virginia, circuit is Chevrolet’s eighth victory of the 2020 season and the manufacturer’s 794th all-time win in the NASCAR Cup Series. Elliott’s win gives the Bowtie brand its 57th victory at Martinsville Speedway, continuing Chevrolet’s lead in Martinsville victories of all manufacturers.
The win is the 262nd all-time NASCAR Cup Series triumph and 25th win at Martinsville Speedway for Hendrick Motorsports, leading all teams in the series at the track. Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Alex Bowman, concluded his first-career Playoffs’ Round of Eight run with a sixth-place finish in his No. 88 Planters Camaro ZL1 1LE, his ninth top-10 finish in the last 11 races. Fellow Chevrolet driver, Kurt Busch, brought his No. 1 Monster Energy Camaro ZL1 1LE across the line in the fifth position to give Team Chevy three of the top-10 spots in the final running order.
Ryan Blaney (Ford) was second, Joey Logano (Ford) was third, and Brad Keselowski (Ford) was fourth to round out the top-five finishers.
The NASCAR Cup Series season concludes next weekend at Phoenix Raceway with the Season Finale 500 on Sunday, November 8, at 3:00 p.m. ET, the first time in NASCAR history that the 1-mile Arizona venue will host the Championship event. Live coverage of the 312-lap, 312-mile race can be found on NBC, NBC Sports Gold, MRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
CHASE ELLIOTT, NO. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS CAMARO ZL1 1LE, PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations, Chase. Thank you for taking the time to join us. We will get right into questions for our race winner, Chase Elliott.
With the Championship 4 set, is there one team you see as the biggest threat? If so, why?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I think the worst thing we can do is worry about everybody else all week. But for right now, I’m just enjoying the night. This is a big moment for us, having to perform in a tough spot. We had to, didn’t have a choice. I think that’s something we’ve been missing as a team, something we haven’t been able to achieve over the last handful of years.
To be in the position tonight to have to perform, to go perform, to win the race, lock ourselves into Phoenix, have a shot for a championship, these are all moments that I’ve never experienced, moments we haven’t done yet as a team.
I’m just enjoying that right now. I know the week is short. I’m going to enjoy that for sure for a little while. We’ll go to work on Phoenix starting tomorrow.
Is this the biggest win of your career?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Hands down, I think, absolutely.
What do you think it means kind of getting over the hump of getting into the Final 4, doing it this way, doesn’t just mean for the next six days but for years to come?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I think you hit it. I think it’s huge. I think it’s huge for me personally. I think it’s huge for our team as a whole, each and every person that puts in time and effort to try to make our program work.
I think when you’re able to be in a position that we were in, like we were tonight, have to go to perform, go and do that, I think everybody gains a lot of confidence from it.
We proved to ourselves that we can do it. I think we have always believed we can do it. But to go out there and achieve it certainly is something we haven’t experienced yet as a group.
To win a championship in this series, you have to make the Final 4. We’ve seen the same crowd make the Final 4 since this deal has been implemented. We want to assert ourselves amongst the people who can make it consistently.
I feel like we’re very capable of doing that. We just have to seize the moment, enjoy it. This is a huge week. I’m just excited to get out there and try to have the best race we can.
In a massive moment like this that you’ve never been in before, is there any extra composure that you have to have in the final laps, when you’re making the pass to lead, to calm yourself down? How do you stay focused, keep your lunch from not coming up, things like that?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, good question. I think for me and kind of the experiences that I’ve kind of had handed to me over the past number of years, since I’ve been in Cup, have taught me a lot of lessons that the race is not over. I think we’ve all kind of seen that, different positions we’ve been in, races we lost.
For me, I don’t have to think back into my head very far to realize that the race isn’t over till it’s over. Just to be prepared for another caution, another restart, whatever it takes to try to get the job done.
I knew everybody had their last set of tires on. We were going to be riding that set to the end. If we had a caution there with just a couple laps to go, everybody was going to be restarting on old tires. Certainly challenging.
I was trying to think about that, tried to be prepared for what was going to come. I felt like the odds of a caution coming out were better than not to have one, to be honest. I was surprised to see it go green.
Not only is this a big day for you, but it will be the first time Chevrolet has had a driver competing in the Championship 4 since 2016, who happened to also be the last Hendrick driver, which is Jimmie Johnson. It’s probably a pretty big deal for manufacturers not to have a chance to win the championship. What are your thoughts on being able to do that?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, absolutely, man. It’s a huge deal for everybody involved. Obviously me personally, it’s a huge deal. Never been in this position before. That’s exciting. But for everybody that is a part of our organization, obviously NAPA is a huge partner, super pumped to have them on the car tonight, a big moment. They’ve been a big piece of my career. Hendrick Motorsport, everyone that lays a hand on our cars. It’s a big deal for everyone to have a chance to win a championship.
For Chevrolet to have a shot again this year I think is important for them, for sure. I’m excited for everybody. I’m excited for myself. I’m going to enjoy it, then we’ll go to work tomorrow and get ready for the big day.
Your thoughts on Phoenix being the decider? When you look at your competition, do you think you’ll stack up pretty good?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I mean, I think the worst thing we can do is to sit back and worry and watch everybody else. I just think we need to focus on ourselves this week and really think about what we struggled with there at the first race this year, what we might need to do to be better, put our best guess on that, go run the race.
I think if we sit back, start worrying about who is favorite, who is not, who is the underdog, getting everybody running their mouths deal, I’m just not about that. I think it’s unproductive.
We’re going to worry about ourselves, try to give it our best shot to win.
Normally championship contenders have the whole weekend to run through and get themselves in championship mode. You got to take the green on Sunday with no practice. What do you think this week is going to be like in terms of anxious, being excited, especially moments before the green flag?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I mean, I think just excited, looking forward to the opportunity. I think the more that you can enjoy that moment, enjoy being backed up against a wall, having to perform, the more you can enjoy that, the better off you’re going to be.
That’s something we put a lot of emphasis on, something I personally put emphasis on to try to get better in those moments. That’s what we had to do today.
I think moments like tonight prepares you for moments like what we’re going to see next week and I’m excited about it.
Is Sunday going to be a backs‑against‑the‑wall moment for you again?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Well, you got to win to win the championship, so I would say so.
Given that a driver like Kevin Harvick, who had nine wins this season, completely missed out on the Playoffs, he would have won the championship a few days ago at Texas if the points went the full season, what does it say about the integrity or legitimacy of the championship?
CHASE ELLIOTT: I mean, the rules are the rules. I don’t get a vote in that. I don’t want a vote in that. I know they’re the same for everybody when you start the year. Whether you might agree or not agree with it, that’s just what it is.
I’m focused on ourselves and enjoying tonight. Had to come out here and perform, and we did. I think worrying about other competitors is just not going to get us anywhere. I’m just excited for us, looking forward to a great opportunity next week.
What was your message to the team once you got to greet them at the end of the race? You proved tonight that NASCAR is a team sport, good pit stops, appealing the penalty. What did you say to your team?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, just a lot of yelling and screaming and happy people. This is a moment that we haven’t experienced together. I said that a few times tonight. You just don’t know those emotions until you go through it, are able to experience it. We obviously all put a lot of effort in to try to do our jobs to the best of our ability.
T.J. made a mistake. He was heads up enough to go back and fix it, not to have to go to the back of the field. If he hadn’t have done that, I don’t think we’d have been able to win. There just wasn’t enough time left. That’s super heads up.
It absolutely is a team sport. We can’t do it on our own. I can’t do it by myself. No one on our team can do it alone. We recognize that. Feel like we have a great group, a group that’s capable of winning. I thought we showed that and proved that tonight. I think we can have a great shot next week.
Have you had any chance to check in with your father and get reaction? If not, what do you suppose the reaction is going to be back home?
CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I’m excited. I don’t have my phone on me. He’s not here. My family isn’t here. I wish they were. So hard, right, to come to these races by yourself some weeks, not have that support group around you.
But I certainly wish they were here, wish we could have shared this moment together. Looking forward to seeing them tonight. Yeah, be headed home here just in a little while.
THE MODERATOR: Chase, congratulations. Thank you so much for taking the time. We’ll see you at Phoenix.
CHASE ELLIOTT: Thanks, guys.
ALAN GUSTAFSON, CREW CHIEF, NO. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS CAMARO ZL1 1LE, PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race winning crew chief, Alan Gustafson. Congratulations on heading to the Championship 4.
We’ll get right into questions.
On the pit stop when your jackman came back to the wall, you were aware of that? Is that something you drilled into those guys?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, we were certainly aware of it. I can’t take the credit for coaching that into those guys. I think that credit goes to Chris, our pit department. They did a good job of instructing those guys, T.J., what to do.
It’s a new rule. Man, I want to say it’s new this year or last year. It’s certainly an adjustment that NASCAR has made to give those guys a little bit of forgiveness if that was to happen.
Yeah, they did a great job. It was a huge moment in the race. Certainly we didn’t need the mistake. For T.J. to have the wherewithal to go back to the wall and reset was great.
How much stress was there tonight with the way it was going up and down?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, it’s an intense race. It’s a lot of fun. This is a great track. It’s a good place to do this.
For us, I had my mind made up we were going to have to win. I didn’t really see any way to get in on points. Especially when the 2 and the 11 and some of those guys did a fairly decent the first stage, it was going to be all about winning the race.
We were able to do that fortunately. That was our focus. We didn’t get too caught up in the back and forth of it.
The rule said you have to reestablish yourself to the wall. Did you know you just need to touch the wall? Is that an interpretation that NASCAR described to you or your pit coaches?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Basically, yeah, yes. I don’t know the exact language they described it to us. Yeah, you just got to get back on the wall, your foot back on the wall.
I don’t think it’s a judgment call in my opinion. I think it’s pretty straightforward. He did what he was supposed to do, took the time to reset. It’s the way the rule is stated.
What do you think this win means not for next week but for Chase and your team in the years going forward?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: We’ve been trying to take this step now for the last two or three years. I feel like we’ve been really ready to do it, able to do it. We just have not done it when it mattered. Today we were able to.
We were able to overcome some pretty tough circumstances at Texas, come here really in a must‑win situation. Being able to do it was great. It’s great for the team. Super proud of those guys. Everybody at HMS essentially delivered. Brand‑new car, great car. Tons of speed obviously. Great engine. Pit crew did what we had to do. Yeah, it’s a good day.
I heard you get pretty hot about guys running in to you purposely to try to cut the tire using the fender. That’s always been a practice in short‑track racing. Is there any way to police it?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: I think it’s self‑policing, in my opinion. There’s a couple guys that consistently do it, at least to us. You just get tired of getting raced that way.
Yeah, I was pretty upset about it. If that ultimately was a tire rub, would have cut our tire down, it was going to get ugly in a hurry.
It happens, right? I get it, you’re racing. I think you see guys when you’re racing them, things happen. You might get into each other. When it happens consistently from the same person, you’re just over it.
What do you believe sets the No. 9 team apart from the other three championship contenders?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Well, our objective is to have the fastest car. That’s going to be the key. That’s certainly what we’re going to try to do. I think the person with the fastest car has a significant advantage in the race. That’s what we’ll focus on trying to do. That’s going to be our objective.
Chase mentioned the importance of he called it to be able to perform when you have no choice. Would you agree with that assessment as an accomplishment tonight?
ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, it’s a tough thing to describe. I’m trying to think of the best way.
You have one shot. I mean, that’s it, right? I never played in the Major Leagues or whatever, but you think about the World Series, you’re up to bat, this is it, right? Bottom of the ninth, two outs. It’s up to you to make it happen.
Those pressure situations in sport are great. I think that’s what draws so many fans and gets everybody so excited. It’s such a special moment. That’s what you have to do. You have to be able to deliver. That’s it, it’s your last shot. It’s time to go, time to do it. There’s no tomorrow.
To be able to do it, like I said earlier, I felt confident we had to win. All week I didn’t have any designs of anything but winning. We knew that was what it was going to take. The competition is too good to make up 25 points in a race. That’s just not going to happen. We knew we had to win. Everybody did.
It’s a huge effort. You see what goes on here at the track. What you don’t see is everybody in the shop midnight Friday getting the car ready to go, making sure every single circumstance in the car is as good as it can be, putting their hearts and souls into it.
That’s a huge thing for us to be able to pull it off.
THE MODERATOR: Alan, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.
story and photo courtesy of Chevrolet