Chase Elliott has found his voice.
Saturday morning at Talladega Superspeedway, Elliott must have eaten his Wheaties and felt well rested, because he was ready to go when his media availability came around bright and early. NASCAR’s most popular driver and 2020 series champion sounded off for 15 minutes on safety around the Next Gen car, which was an absolute surprise.
Elliott does not offer opinions. To be completely honest, Elliott can be a difficult subject to cover. It’s not because he’s rude or unpleasant to interact with but because, more times than not, he doesn’t give you much to work with. It’s not Elliott’s style.
Elliott pivots whenever a question comes up that even hints at requiring a personal feeling or opinion. He has been quick to respond that he doesn’t make the rules or something is above his pay grade; therefore, he will not answer.
Hopefully, Talladega wasn’t a one-off. Elliott was clearly frustrated over the weekend, as his fellow drivers have been all year about the car they are driving.
Elliott called upon phrases like “blows me away” and “no excuse” and words including “disappointed” or “disappointing” multiple times. NASCAR, as made evident by Elliott, has taken a step backward in safety, and he is baffled by it.
“I think these guys are concerned,” Elliott’s team owner Rick Hendrick said of his driver speaking up. “He sees a teammate [Alex Bowman] hurt. He saw Kurt [Busch] hurt. He’s a young guy with a career ahead of him. Nobody wants to do something that they could fix and eliminate it.
“I think this has been on Chase’s mind. I’m proud of him. He doesn’t say much, but when he speaks, everybody knows he’s just not popping off that he’s concerned.”
Regardless of why Elliott decided now was the time to speak up – the fact it was a teammate being injured, his frustration coming to a boiling point to where he didn’t hide it, a collective effort by drivers to band together to force NASCAR into a corner on the business and competition side – the sport needs him to do so more often. Elliott might not like it, but his voice matters. Just like Dale Earnhardt Jr. before him, being the sport’s most popular driver carries weight. When that driver speaks, everyone listens. Media. Fans. NASCAR.
It’s a responsibility Elliott has never seemed to want to bear before. But it comes with the job of being a NASCAR Cup Series champion, having stature in the sport, and having a famous last name.
People want to know what Elliott thinks. No one is asking him to solve the sport’s problems, but he has thoughts on them, and it’s like pulling teeth trying to get him to give even the slightest hint of how he feels.
“The way I look at this is I certainly want him specifically and all the drivers, but my concern is Chase, to be as safe as he possibly can be,” said crew chief Alan Gustafson. “We know this is an inherently dangerous sport. But I want him to be as safe as he possibly can be. From my stance, I’ll do everything I can to make sure he’s as safe as possible. I feel like collectively in this garage, there’s a huge resource of intelligent people where we can push this forward, get to a position where it’s not a topic, not something these guys are having to worry about week in and week out.
“I certainly feel terrible for Alex. Alex shouldn’t have sustained the type of injury from the hit he took. We all have to accept that, move forward, push forward, make it better. I’m very confident we can do that. That’s what we have to focus on doing together. Collectively, I think we’ve got a lot of resource to make it happen. I’m sure NASCAR will do everything in their power, as will the teams, and we’ll get past this quickly.
It was a pleasant surprise to see Elliott first take to Twitter by responding to a Justin Marks tweet about how the sport “should never take steps” back with safety. The tweet’s mere existence went against the grain. It was something Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are prone to do, but now there seems to be an effort by all drivers to get their points across.
Then came Elliott’s news conference. Another welcome development.
Elliott spoke up and the world didn’t fall off its axis, and the sport wasn’t hurt. His words were meaningful, important, and all anyone ever wanted from him.