Wednesday, Aug 10

CHEVROLET NCS AT ATLANTA 2: Chase Elliott Scores Hometown Win at Atlanta

CHEVROLET NCS AT ATLANTA 2: Chase Elliott Scores Hometown Win at Atlanta NK Photography Photo

It was a trip to victory lane that Chase Elliott will never forget. For the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, the Dawsonville, Georgia, native took the checkered flag at his home track of Atlanta Motor Speedway. The monumental triumph in the Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart marked the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team’s third win of the 2022 season, a feat that is now a series-best.

 

“To win at your home track is a really big deal.. I think to any race car driver,” said Elliott in front of his home track fans. “I've watched a lot of guys do it over the years; Jimmie (Johnson) out in California. We haven't really had a very good run here, so I felt like today was a great opportunity for us.”

 

Elliott led the field to the green from the pole position after rain forced the cancellation of qualifying, resulting in the lineup of the race to be set by the NASCAR metric system. In a race that saw 13 cautions and 27 lead changes among 12 drivers, Elliott powered his No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Camaro ZL1 to a sweep of the stage wins, going on to lead a race-high 96 laps en route to his 16th victory in 240 career starts in NASCAR’s premier series.

 

“Just so proud,” said Elliott. “This is obviously home for me. Home to a lot of great fans who made a lot of noise today. Home for NAPA right down the road in Atlanta. Couldn't be more proud of our team. What a car. I'm not sure we've ever had a speedway car that good.”

 

In the debut season of reconfigured, repaved Atlanta Motor Speedway, the bowtie brand performed a sweep of the wins in the series’ two visits to the track. Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, William Byron, took his No. 24 Chevrolet team to victory lane back in March to capture the team’s first win of the season. The triumph also marked Chevrolet’s 43rd trip to victory lane at the 1.54-mile Georgia venue, extending its win record over all manufacturers.

 

With seven races left in the NASCAR Cup Series regular season, Chevrolet now sits at a manufacturer-leading 11 wins, with Elliott’s victory marking the fourth-straight victory for the Camaro ZL1. Chevrolet also continues to lead in the NCS driver and manufacturer points standings in the quest to defend its championship titles. With his trip to victory lane and sweep of the stage wins, Elliott continues to sit atop the NCS driver points standings for the 14th-consecutive week, extending his point lead to 47 over second.

 

Five Chevrolet drivers from four different Chevrolet teams took top-10 finishing positions of the 260-lap race. Ross Chastain gave the bowtie brand a 1-2 finish after piloting his No. 1 Jockey Camaro ZL1 to a runner-up finish; his 13th top-10 of 2022. Erik Jones and the No. 43 FOCUSFactor Camaro ZL1 team proved to be contenders, with the battle to the checkered flag bringing Jones home with a fourth-place finish. Daniel Suarez, No. 99 Freeway Insurance Camaro ZL1, finished sixth; and Justin Haley, No. 31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Camaro ZL1, rounded out the Team Chevy top-10 in the seventh-position.

 

The NASCAR Cup Series season continues next Sunday, July 17, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with the Ambetter 301 at 3 p.m. ET. Live coverage can be found on USA Network, the NBCSports Gold App, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.

 

CHASE ELLIOTT, NO. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS CAMARO ZL1 – PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:

THE MODERATOR: We've officially been joined by our race winner today for the Quaker State 400 at Atlanta presented by Wal-Mart, and we are now joined by Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

 

Before we go to questions, just your thoughts on winning at home, winning in NAPA's backyard. Obviously a lot of memories for you coming here with your dad, and I'm sure a lot of that went through your mind as you celebrated with the fans just before you went into Victory Lane. Just give us your thoughts on kind of the last 30 to 45 minutes here on this Sunday.

 

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, just been a whirlwind. These are the moments you wish you could bottle up and kind of keep, and unfortunately it just doesn't work like that, moments that are really special and near and dear to your heart like winning at your home track, a place that I've spent a ton of time at as a kid racing on the quarter mile down here in Bandoleros and legends and a lot of trips between here and north Georgia up and down the road.

 

Just kind of -- when you're a kid and you're racing on the quarter mile over there you look at this big track and it's just out of reach, like not even real, just that your heroes are out there competing once or twice a year on this big track, and that's just not real.

 

To be here and to have a day like we had is really incredible, and certainly one I'm going to embrace and enjoy a lot.

 

Obviously be ready to go to Loudon here in a few days, but these wins are just too hard to come by, and especially when they're as special as this one. I've witnessed guys win at their home tracks and you can always tell it means a lot to them, but until you start competing somewhere at a sport's highest stage like this, I'm not sure you fully understand the meaning of it and what it could mean to you. So to be able to have this moment is really special and one I'm very grateful for.

 

Q. Seemed like a lot of respect between you and LaJoie, like you both kind of understood where the other was coming from. Did you anticipate that he was going to really send it on the last lap and try to do something kind of dramatic? And what was your approach of thinking, okay, how do I defend against that or what do I do here?

CHASE ELLIOTT: I mean, yeah, of course, I certainly expected that. That's what you're supposed to do, right? We're going for the win.

 

For me in my situation, I hate to throw a mega block like that. I had kind of shied away from that big block throughout the day. Had always kind of given in at different points to a guy when they had that big of a run.

 

But heck, running the last lap, if you let him go, one of two things can happen. Okay, you choose the lane you want to lose in and you hope that you have enough time to go and get him back. Or you throw a big block and hope you can stay in front of him. The problem is it could go one of two ways for you.

 

Obviously you can crash throwing the big block or you can try to be patient and wait and then the crash happens behind you and you've given up the lead and the caution comes out and now the race is over.

I don't know how you know exactly what choice to make in that situation. I mean, a guy is coming with a massive run, am I taking the chance of crashing when I threw it up in front of him? Absolutely, but I just felt like -- I didn't think I was going to get another shot at him if he let him grab the lead right there in that situation.

 

I was able to defend the bottom side block and I felt more comfortable defending more aggressively up to the top. I thought that was a situation that I could win on. Fortunately it worked out. But those situations are impossible. They might go right for you some and they might not, and I don't really know how you know what's going to happen next to be able to make that choice.

 

Q. I saw you earlier before the race and the way you were interacting with everybody, you looked very confident, and Jeff said the same thing just a few minutes ago. Was it being here in Atlanta or what was it?

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I really don't know. We hadn't had a chance to be in the car all weekend, so I really didn't know how we would stack up. But yeah, just excited to be close to home and excited for another opportunity here. It's always really cool. Up until today we had never really had a great run here. We had been really solid I think one time in 2017 and outside of that it's been pretty mediocre. I was just excited for another opportunity and felt like we were in a good place as a team and as a group to go out there and execute a good day and fired off and our car was really, really good. Yeah, things went our way and was able to sweep the weekend.

 

Q. Talk about you said in Victory Lane, you said, this was the best car I've ever had at a superspeedway. What was different about this car and what did it give you that you needed?

CHASE ELLIOTT: I really don't know what was different about it. Alan and I were joking, he's like, I don't know what we did to that thing, but it was obviously really good. Whatever fine tuning that went on throughout the week obviously made the difference for us.

 

Yeah, it was just really solid. We've had a couple cars at speedways that have been that good. I can remember having one or two like that at Daytona that I thought we had the superior car that day, and I think I crashed both of them. That's typically what happens.

 

When I realized our car was that good, I was like, oh, boy, you know, and then especially when our first two stages go good. Typically when we have two good stages, we are wadded up in the fence for the last one.

 

Yeah, I was just kind of waiting on something bad to go wrong.

 

Yeah, fortunately it worked out for us today, and we were able to get it done.

 

Q. You're the second father-son duo to win at the Atlanta course. Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr. What does that mean to you to be in the record books along with your dad here at your home track?

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, look, those type things are more than special. I'm not sure that my dreams really grasped something like that when I was a kid and I wanted to be here. I wanted to be here and I wanted to make it and I wanted to be successful, but I'm not sure I got far enough into it to start thinking about joining Dad on lists like sharing a championship and sharing wins at our home track. Those type things are -- yeah, they're something that -- me sitting here telling you it's special I think it probably doing it a disservice. It's something to be very proud of and something I'm very proud of, and I think he is, too.

 

Q. I know you talked about it being surreal. It seems like the theme has been this whole family affair. How important was it to have your family around you as you grew as a racer? And at what point did you begin to think as a child, hey, how cool would it be for me to win here on this track and could I do it?

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, when you're racing out here on the quarter mile you want to make it. You want to race on the big track. That was obviously the goal. That's I think what's always in the back of your mind. A lot of stuff has to go your way to get here and to have an opportunity.

 

Yeah, I think for me, I felt like we were capable of winning here. I think we've been capable here in the past. One thing led to another and didn't go our way, but the way this place is now, it really is a speedway race. I think everybody in this room has watched enough speedway races to know that it can pretty much go anybody's direction, so we were just the fortunate ones to have it swing our way today.

 

Q. I wanted to ask about once you got back in traffic, the cars seemed like they really handled poorly. A lot of people complained about it. I know horsepower and aerodynamics are important, but how much was handling coming into play as far as you being able to make moves like the three wide one at the end or the couple of other times you retook the lead?

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I felt like our car had a good balance of pace and drivability, and that's always something you want to marry together at these things. It's always a bit of a guess: Track conditions, how hot it is that day, track position, where you are on track, how fresh the air is that's hitting your car. All those things are factored into it, and it's a bit of a guess. Nobody has a magic ball when they're putting these cars together to know, hey, it's going to be 85 degrees and sunny on Sunday afternoon, we're going to build our car this way and we're going to be successful because of it. It just doesn't work that way.

 

The way that our car was configured suited the conditions today. The temperature, the sun being on the track for the majority of the event and had a nice balance from being out front and having enough pace to pull a line but also being able to drive well enough back in traffic to make moves and open up opportunities and stay on offense.

 

Q. Chase, we know that you're a Georgia boy through and through. Seeing the crowd reaction every time you took a lead, they were just up on their feet cheering on. The last lap under caution you see the fans -- I don't know if you noticed them up on their feet cheering you and then when you got the checkered flag and you saw the reaction of the crowd, tell me about that.

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I think for me, I'm just proud to be from here, proud to still live here, and I'm grateful that the fans of this state have always kind of kept me a part of the family really. At the end of the day I'm just a fan, too, as it pertains to Atlanta and Georgia.

 

I have always felt like they've kind of welcomed me as one of theirs and our team, too. It's a special thing, and to be able to share that moment, I saw a lot of people before the race wearing our hat and our shirts and stuff, and you always want to make those people proud, but when you have it go our way like it did today, that was pretty cool.

 

They were making a lot of noise there after the race, which it's kind of hard for me to see what's going on there during the race, but certainly after they weren't shy, and I loved it.

 

Q. One of the great advantages I think of the Atlanta race is that the Pool Room gets its fair bit of coverage. Today I noticed that every time they cut back to the correspondent up in the Pool Room as the race got more dramatic and you were still up front, they got more excited and intense as the race went along. What does it mean to have to have that strong of a devoted fan base, not only in Dawsonville with its rich history but the breadth of the fan base itself?

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, I think, look, the tradition there at the Pool Room and the siren and all that stuff I think is really cool. Anytime you can carry on a tradition that your father had going on from his hometown and for them to still do that for me I think is really neat.

 

I didn't realize they were taking a crew up there until earlier today, so that's pretty cool. Obviously great timing. I don't know who decided that. But that worked out good.

 

The Pirkle family are just good people and huge race fans and genuinely enjoy seeing us have success on the weekends wherever we go ultimately. Happy to share a home town with them and happy that they have always included me in the excitement of what they enjoy.

 

Q. Chase, just again talk about that emotion. No matter where you go when you win you're going to have the biggest crowd, but this was the home crowd. When you got out, was there any different emotion getting out of that car and embracing the home fans?

CHASE ELLIOTT: Yeah, for sure, just I mean, I felt like there before the race there was definitely a larger quantity of the right hats and tee shirts than there typically are. I just think that's so cool. Like I know that our sport is a little different. It's not like we have home games and away games. There's 35 guys to pick from, and if you choose us, great, and if you don't, that's fine with me, too. Just make some kind of noise; it just means you care.

 

But to see that many people up there and cheering and wearing the 9 hats and seeing the NAPA gear, you want to make those people proud. For me, I just -- like I alluded to a second ago, I'm just grateful that the fans of this state have included me in part of the family of Georgia sports and kind of accepted our team as that, and I'm proud of that and glad we could do them good today.

 

ALAN GUSTAFSON, CREW CHIEF, NO. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS CAMARO ZL1 – PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT: 

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the winning crew chief of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, and that is Alan Gustafson.

 

Q. Alan, you left Charlotte with a chance you might not get any practice at all, and you didn't get any laps at all up to the race. When you built that No. 9 car to bring it to Atlanta, did you build more speed into it, or was it more handling for the No. 9?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, obviously we knew we weren't going to get any practice with the way the schedule is, and I think not qualifying was probably a little bit of an advantage for us. We weren't focused on that really at all. We were more focused on the car driving well and racing well. I think if we would have had to qualify, we certainly wouldn't have been first and wouldn't have been able to have that first pit pick. That was fortuitous. It worked out for us.

 

Certainly it's earned by our performance in the past, but yeah, I was pretty happy when it rained out, to be honest with you. I was pretty happy. That was a good step in the right direction for us.

 

Q. Do you set this car up like a Daytona or Talladega or is it kind of a mixture in between?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: No, I think they're all pretty different. I feel like this is really specific for this track, as much as any other circuit is. You can't really -- you don't set it up like any other place. It's pretty specific. It's got pretty specific needs. Obviously your car has got to be fast and be able to draft well but has to be able to handle well, too.

 

Fortunately for us, we hit it. All the guys worked really hard on it, and we were really good in the spring, too. I didn't do a great job on the strategy in the spring and didn't probably put us in the best position, so I think I learned from that, and we were ready to go this time.

 

Q. Chase kind of let one slip away or get away from him last week, he loses the lead here late. How big is this win considering those two factors when you look at Chase and his progression as a driver?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I mean, I'd have loved to have gone three for three. Last week, shoulda-woulda-couldas, but I don't necessarily feel like last week was all on him. I think that we needed a little bit better of a car. I think Randall and those guys on the 18 did a good job and had a faster car than us, so we needed a little bit better of a car and needed to execute the pit stop a little bit better. Certainly would have loved him to win the race, but there's things we could have done on our side.

 

Yeah, this week was -- yeah, it's just tough. You don't know coming in with no practice, and certainly we were talking earlier in the weeks, like it's really hard to know what to expect, but I do feel like it played out pretty similar to the spring.

 

To finish it off was a big deal because I feel like we had the best car today, and with today's generation of car and the scrutiny behind them, everybody is really close. To get a car that is above is a big deal, and you want to pay that off and cash it out, and we were able to do it.

 

Q. There's been a lot of discussion this year about who's the championship favorite and different drivers at different times have looked like they've kind of deserved that label. You guys have three wins now, leading the points by a pretty comfortable margin. Do you guys feel like you guys are the team to beat for the championship and does it even matter?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: It doesn't matter. I think it's way early. I think a lot of things can happen. We could go next week, and I don't know who all has two wins, but certainly William I know has two wins, and he could go win or Ross could win or Denny could win or whoever. That's going to be the exact same question you'll ask them.

 

I've always said I feel like if we do our job and operate to our highest potential, I feel like we'll be able to give anybody a run for their money and compete on any given day. We just focus on that and focus on trying to improve. There's still things we can do better. The day was really well. It went really, really good. You don't get them to go this way a lot. But yeah, we can learn from today and we can continue to get better.

 

Loudon is not one of our best tracks, so I think we've got to bring our best effort there and try to improve and keep trying to get better, and peaking at the right time is super critical. Yeah, still a long way to go.

 

Q. Teams have seemed to have had success at different kinds of tracks this year and there's not a lot of consistency across the board, but looking at you guys and where you've run well, superspeedways, intermediate tracks, Dover, it seems like you guys are probably right there where you guys are good almost every single week. Is that a fair assessment where you feel like you can go with this car and win any given week at any given track?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, certainly I'm proud of the fact that this team has handled this car as well as we have, and I feel like we've been really competitive week in and week out and put ourselves in a lot of good positions.

 

I think that's certainly one of our strengths, and consistency has really been one of our strengths.

We've just got to keep doing that, and like the question Bob had, what can kind of lack sometimes is just closing it out, and if we can close out our consistency, then that'll put us in a really good position.

 

Q. Alan, Rick and Jeff were just in here and talking about how good Chase was in those final three laps. I think Jeff said something that you said something like how about that, how about that guy. I know you had the best car, but could you evaluate Chase's performance? It seemed like it was pretty good today.

ALAN GUSTAFSON: I don't know, there's not enough superlatives to say how good he is. He's just so good. He's so smart. He's such a great race car driver. He was doing a lot of things that he's just one step ahead. The kid is super, super smart, really talented, can handle a lot of situations.

 

Making it work there, we knew we needed to be the front of a lane. I don't feel like it mattered as fast as our car what lane it was, we just needed to get somewhere where somebody wasn't blocking our progress, and him to be able to make that move on Martin was amazing. I don't know, I'd have to go back and watch if Martin slipped or if he just kind of forced his way through there, but yeah, he did great. He's just -- he did an amazing job.

 

But he does every week. He makes very few mistakes, and if he does, he's very quick to learn from them and improve. Yeah, great talent and just a great person.

 

Q. I'm curious about your unload approach, knowing that the weather would be warmer than it was in March, a lot less grip, did you basically unbox in the same area or did you take advance approaches to compensate for the weather?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, kind of like I said, I felt like our car was really good in the spring, so I knew we had a good foundation to build off of. Certainly we had a few tweaks here or there. We weren't super-fast in the spring but our car drove really well, which really aligns itself for this situation.

 

I knew that we were in a pretty good place, that we didn't need to go really off the reservation or really depart very far from where we were. I felt like if we could bring those same characteristics back and executive a little bit better of a race, we'd certainly have a shot, and we did that, and I was a little bit surprised with the pace in the car. It's hard to predict and try to do that every week, but to have that was certainly a benefit.

 

Q. With this being Chase's home track, it's not your home track, but does it kind of then become the home track for the entire team? Do you feed off that hometown energy for all of you guys?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, there's a lot of -- the 9 team has a lot at stake here in Atlanta. A lot of our partners are based here; NAPA has a huge presence in Atlanta, Hooters, Kelley Blue Book, Cox Automotive, all those people who support us and allow us to do what we do have a strong presence here in Atlanta, so that's a big deal.

 

And then yeah, for Chase, it's really rewarding to be able to help your friends and your teammates prosper and reach those milestones that they want to reach and accomplish things that they want to do, so it's special to do that. It's special for me. Anytime you win, it's amazing. It's just really hard to win in these races. It's really tough.

 

To win and then to win for Chase here in Atlanta and have all of our partners have such a huge strong representation here in this area, in this state, yeah, it's really special, not only for us but for them, too.

 

Q. What did you think of LaJoie going for it there? Is that what you thought would happen?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I didn't -- yeah, like this is all happening really quickly and I'm not completely a hundred percent focused on all that stuff, but I was expecting him to -- yeah, whatever run he had, he had to keep it to the floor and go. I don't think I would expect anything less. I'm sure that's what he did. Yeah, just you hate it didn't -- hate he crashed. But that's unfortunately the risk you have to take, and he took it, and I think anybody in his situation would do the same thing.

 

Q. Does it get any sort of respect points from the garage when he shows up in Victory Lane and stuff like that?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, it's -- I can't comment on the garage, but I've had a relationship with Corey for a while. I've certainly had a relationship with his dad. I've got a lot of respect for his dad. His dad is one of those guys that helped me out when I was a nobody and helps a lot of people out who don't have the resources and don't have the ability to get the seats and get the equipment and do everything they want to do. He's always been a guy that steps up and helps young racers out and supports them, and I'm a huge fan of Randy's, and certainly when I've been around Corey, the same thing.

 

For me, super happy that he had a great run, and I'm just really happy that there was no hard feelings over what happened.

 

Q. Rick kind of discussed that all four of the crew chiefs are communicating more than he's ever seen them. Kind of talking about how at this point William Byron and his team are a little off now and y'all are succeeding, how are you giving back the favor that they were giving to you all back in the early parts of the season?

ALAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, it's always the same. It isn't -- you guys see the box scores, and you see this guy ran good, this guy didn't run good. It's always the same; we're always continuously trying to help each other out. We do the best job we can and share that resource as best as possible, and we generally want each other to do well. The best thing you can do as a teammate is perform so there's a model for somebody else to go and follow or to learn from. Yeah, I feel like we all do that really well.

 

Just specifically the 24, I've got a great relationship with Rudy. I'm a huge fan of his. I think he does an amazing job and been a great addition to our team, and William has done amazing, and yeah.

Anything we can do and always supporting each other. They know they can do it -- I've been through what they're going through now. That's not -- you like to think you can control these circumstances, but you can't, and they're just in a situation where some things are happening that's out of their control, and you've just got to weather the storm, and doesn't really matter until it's the last 10, and they'll be ready to go. I'm very confident of that.

 

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