Following an emotional must-win at Martinsville Speedway last weekend, Chase Elliott is trying to embrace everything that comes with his first Championship 4 appearance.
“I do know, this is a moment you have to enjoy because you don’t know when your last race win is,” said Elliott during Championship 4 Media Day. “You don’t know when your last day is, when the last Championship 4 is for you or all the above. I’m just trying to enjoy the whole moment and make the most of whatever Sunday brings, put all the emphasis and preparation, and the things that are going to give us the best chance on Sunday.
“To me, that’s my preparation for certain situations and probably most importantly, the right decisions on the car to get our car balance as close as we can to start the race. All my emphasis is there and just trying to enjoy and embrace this time, make the most of it.”
Elliott is competing for his first championship in his fifth full season in the NASCAR Cup Series. Previously, he finished a career-best fifth in the standings in 2017.
Although Elliott has never experienced the one-race showdown for the title, he is surrounded by those who can offer guidance. It was his Hall of Fame and championship-winning father, Bill Elliott, who preached enjoying the moment and not taking anything for granted.
Crew chief Alan Gustafson has also been here before. Gustafson competed for the title with Jeff Gordon in the 2015 finale.
“I don’t think you can really be prepared for it until you go through it,” Gustafson said of his young driver. “It’s certainly a different situation. He’s raced to transfer into the final eight; he’s been in the Round of 8 for the last three years and knows what it’s like to be in kind of that must-win situation. This is really no different. There’s a lot of focus on the four cars. That’s the majority of the focus from the press and the media and the TV and everybody around.
“Ultimately, you’ve got to win. You don’t have to win, but most likely, you’re going to have to win to be the champion. There is a lot of pressure that went through that. Going through this weekend, we can help prepare him for it. It’s a unique experience. I think you have to go through it to really understand it and learn how to manage it.”
As @chaseelliott competes for his first #NASCAR Cup Series championship win, his @NAPARacing Chevy will sport neon numbers in honor of the seven-time champ, @JimmieJohnson. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/n5qVlpS5at
— Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) November 5, 2020
One of Elliott’s teammates is a seven-time champion, Jimmie Johnson. According to Elliott, Johnson, who won six championships under a previous format and his seventh in his first and only Championship 4 appearance, has been “a great one to lean on” this week.
“I think his message throughout the week is just do the things that make you, you,” said Elliott. “Now is not the time to try to reinvent the wheel or do things different, change who you are. Just go about your things how you always have. That’s the process that has led us to this point.
“There is no need in changing who you are now. It’s one of those things that probably aren’t going to do you any good.”
Kevin Harvick won the championship in his first title race appearance, but that was naturally the first year of the elimination format. Elliott is looking to join Kyle Busch and Johnson as the other drivers who have won the championship in their first Championship 4 appearance.