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Chase Elliott exposed to a new side of fandom by Atlanta Braves’ World Series title run

Chase Elliott previews the Championship 4 race at Phoenix and says the experience he gained as the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion "is nice" when it's "anybody's game" out in the desert.

PHOENIX – Being NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver gives Chase Elliott a natural window into sports fandom, but being a longtime fan of his beloved Atlanta Braves recently deepened his understanding.

Namely as it relates to gaining a better appreciation of how fans feel when they cheer for the defending Cup Series champion.

“It’s hard to see that sometimes because you’re in the midst of it, and it’s hard to appreciate that and see it from another person’s vantage point,” Elliott told NBC Sports during a Championship 4 Media Day interview Thursday. “But I’ve had a lot of people ask me that through the Braves run, and I can certainly appreciate it watching them go through that. For sure.”

The Dawsonville, Georgia, native loves watching postseason baseball and savored every moment Tuesday of the Braves’ clinching 7-0 victory in Game 6, which he stayed up to watch well past midnight. “I watched the whole game and then I watched a lot of the postgame,” he said. “I don’t know what time it was (when he went to bed), but worth it. Right? Not every day you get to see your team win the World Series. So I wanted to hear what everybody had to say. All of them.”

Atlanta’s championship over the Houston Astros was the Braves’ first World Series victory since Oct. 28, 1995 – exactly a month before Elliott was born.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver, who was a special guest of the team before a game in September, nearly witnessed history in person last Sunday.

After finishing 16th at Martinsville Speedway (and qualifying for the championship round), Elliott flew home to Georgia and then made the hourlong drive to the Braves’ ballpark in northwest Atlanta. He arrived around midway through the Braves’ 9-5 loss in Game 5.

The defeat hardly dampened his enthusiasm about enjoying the playoff run, which he documented on social media and interviews throughout the NASCAR playoffs.

“Just being a fan was super fun,” said Elliott, who has been voted NASCAR’s most popular star by fans the past three years. “It’s not something I’ve experienced with the Braves before. Like a lot of Braves fans, I had a couple of tough NLCS losses. So it was exciting. Definitely different.

“When you’re a fan and watching it, it’s like I can’t do anything. I’m just sitting there. I have no hand in trying to help this go better. So it’s definitely a different vibe than I have when I’m racing or in the moment, because you feel like you can control some things, but as a fan watching on TV, you just cross your fingers and hope for the best.”

The history of blown leads by the Braves (and other Atlanta sports teams) made for especially tense viewing after the team opened a big lead and a dearth of communication with fellow fans until the final out “and then obviously your phone starts blowing up there,” Elliott said. “I feel like no one said a word. I feel like we all just had this mutual understanding of do not say a word until it was over.

“I was waiting on something to happen. That was one thing that really impressed me about it was the majority of that team had never been to the World Series, and I just thought it was really cool the composure that they exemplified, and to be able to get the job done on the road like that, I’ve never done it, but I would have to imagine that would be a tough environment to play in.”

Elliott now will be in the though environment Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, trying to become the first repeat champion since Jimmie Johnson – and also maintain a run of success for Atlanta sports that includes the top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs football team.

“I don’t really feel any additional pressure,” he said. “I’m just excited about it. It’s awesome. The ’Dawgs and the Braves are kind of my two teams that I always pull for and to see them having success is really cool. And then on our end, to have a great opportunity this weekend, that’s the most important thing to me.

“But yeah, just excited to be here and looking forward to Sunday. I feel like we can go out there and have a really good run.”