#9: Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro NAPA Auto Parts smiles during pre-race activities for the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., May 30, 2021.  (HHP/David Tulis)
Chase Elliott enters this year’s NASCAR Cup championship hunt with a title already under his belt. (HHP/David Tulis Photo)

Elliott Is Low Key As Title Defense Begins

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott enters this year’s playoffs with the experience of last year’s championship run behind him, but the Hendrick Motorsports driver doesn’t see that as an advantage.

Elliott won two races during the 26-race regular season and enters this weekend’s Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway as the No. 5 seed among the 16-driver field.

“I don’t really feel any different than I did going in last year,” Elliott said on Tuesday. “I mean, it’s nice to have seen some of those circumstances and to have gone through some of those things that you’re faced with mentally, just some of those challenges, as you step through that last round and get to Phoenix.

“But to me the message is really no different than it was last year. It’s just about enjoying those big moments,” he added. “If you don’t enjoy them, you’re never going to thrive in them. A big moment typically means it means something to you and it typically means there’s opportunity for something big at the end of it.

“You have to like it. I mean, that’s to me the biggest piece of the whole puzzle. I don’t think that message will ever change whether you have zero championships, or you have 15. I feel like that’s the single most important piece of how this playoff format works. It promotes winning, and winning in big situations.”

All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers qualified for the playoffs and his teammates Kyle Larson, William Byron and Alex Bowman may represent his biggest competition.

“I think we’ve all — a lot of us have been around racing long enough, have been doing it long enough, to kind of understand how that dynamic works,” Elliott said. “At the end of the day, I feel like for Mr. Hendrick especially, he’s done a lot for the sport, he’s changed a lot of people’s lives in the sport, mine included. If his cars are racing against each other for a championship, I think he deserves that. I think at the end of the day it’s a good thing.

“I’m for it,” Elliott added. “And it really doesn’t matter who you’re racing against, you just hope you’re around at the end of this thing and have a shot.

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