Champion Elliott learns to savor wins in season of growth

NASCAR and Motorsports

Chase Elliott (9) leads a group during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race Sunday, July 4, 2021, at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Chase Elliott heard the roar of the crowd begging for more burnouts and NASCAR’s most popular driver refused to disappoint his supporters.

He knew his tires couldn’t hold up for a second smoke show at Road America, but Elliott didn’t care following his seventh career road course victory in the first Cup race at the Wisconsin track since 1956.

There was no statement being made Sunday, and Elliott said he certainly does not resent the success of new teammate Kyle Larson. NASCAR’s reigning champion, so grouchy these days, has learned to savor the good times.

Elliott wins at Road America to start new Hendrick streak

“When the day comes that I don’t appreciate it, I should probably go do something else,” Elliott said. “You have to enjoy these moments. They’re way too hard to get. You don’t know if or when you’ll ever get another one. If the fans want a burnout, I’m going to give them a burnout.”

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As the crowd of rabid Wisconsin racing fans roared its approval, Elliott burned down the tires on his Chevrolet then ran out of gas in a Fourth of July celebration. He doesn’t know why the crowd adored him as it did because Elliott said he has no connection to the state.

Doesn’t matter.

Elliott is the three-time reigning most popular driver voted by fans, and last year he capped his meteor-like career with his first Cup title. Elliott is simply adored everywhere but too humble to see it as bright as the spotlight is shining on him right now.

It’s made it a strange year because Larson is the top dog at Hendrick Motorsports right now. Elliott re-fired the organization after its six-race winning streak was snapped last week, but Larson has carried the load.

Larson has a Cup best four wins this year, not including the non-points $1 million All-Star race, and Elliott’s win Sunday at Road America was just his second of the season.

But there’s no jealousy, Elliott insisted.

“I think it’s great our company’s having success,” Elliott said. “It’s making all of us better. It’s pushing us to be better.”

No current Cup driver is harder on himself when he doesn’t deliver, so Elliott with just two wins has been prickly. No one knows why he seems so over it all the time, but good friend Ryan Blaney said his reserved, private buddy has wallowed in defeats since they were kids.

“That hasn’t changed,” Blaney emphasized.

Elliott is the son of “Awesome Bill From Dawsonville” and although Bill Elliott wasn’t the cheeriest or most charming superstar, he is a NASCAR Hall of Famer and the 16-time most popular driver. Living up to marks set by an icon can be hard enough, but Elliott has also faced his own pressures to meet the hype created when he signed a development deal with Rick Hendrick at 14-years-old.

But even Awesome Bill is vexed by his son’s dour persona. Bill Elliott told The Associated Press earlier this year, “he acts like he’s loading up the covered wagon heading West instead of doing what he loves,” and said he had no answer for the way some have perceived his son.

And he said that before all that Larson winning. It is technically Hendrick winning because the organization has 10 wins between four drivers over 20 races, but there’s been a whole lot of Elliott losing during the team winning streak, which has made Elliott the champion revert to the driver no one wants to be around.

He brushed if off last week when asked by AP about his demeanor, saying he’s allowed bad moods. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won 15 of his own most popular titles sandwiched between the Elliotts, said the 25-year-old champion is still settling into the spotlight.

“He’s pretty young and still has a lot to figure out,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t expect him to be perfect. I don’t expect him to know exactly how his personality rubs people, whether it’s the right way or the wrong way. It’s all kind of trial by fire, and he’s kind of learning as he goes.”

It’s a work in progress, Earnhardt said, and part of it comes with Elliott discovering who is he is as an adult. He noted Elliott has chosen to remain in his Georgia hometown rather than move to North Carolina and the heart of NASCAR.

Elliott said last week the sport has multiple superstars and he’s not the sole face of NASCAR. While Earnhardt argued the kid deserves a break, he noted that Elliott is going to do what he wants.

Bill Elliott, for the record, famously did things his own way.

“He just does his own thing. It’s good enough for him, and like it or you don’t like it, it doesn’t really matter,” Earnhardt said. “He’s got a long way to go. I think a lot has happened to him in a very short time at a very young age.

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