Chase Elliott: Returning to the No. 9 is ‘getting back home to me’
For Chase Elliott, the number on the side of his Cup car is a big deal.
But it’s still just a number.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver will once again compete under the banner of the No. 9. It’s the numeral his father, Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, raced with for much of his Cup career and which Chase Elliott competed with for two years in the Xfinity Series, winning the 2014 title.
Chase Elliott returns to the number after two seasons in Cup driving the No. 24 made famous by Jeff Gordon.
But the 22-year-old driver has no illusions about his car number leading to more success, including his elusive first Cup win.
“At the end of the day is it going to make me go any faster? No, probably not,” Elliott said Tuesday during a Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway. “Do I think it looks better? Yes, I do. Is it my favorite number? Yes, it is. Has it always been my favorite number? Yes, it has been. So, all those things are great. I’m very lucky and honored to carry the number that I’ve carried for a number of years before this year, so it’s like getting back home to me from that sense.
“But no, I don’t think it’s going to make me go any faster or slower. I wish it did make us go faster. I would love that, but unfortunately numbers don’t.”
The native of Dawsonville, Georgia, will make his 78th Cup start with the 60th Daytona 500 on Feb. 18. Even though he made it to the third round of the Cup playoffs last season, it was despite not earning a win. He came close twice in the playoffs, at Dover and Martinsville.
At Dover, he was passed by Kyle Busch for the lead coming to the white flag. Martinsville was the site of the now infamous run-in with Denny Hamlin, who hit Elliott and sent him into the wall as he led with two laps to go in the scheduled distance.
Elliott got a bit of revenge two races later at Phoenix, when an aggressive battle saw Elliott force Hamlin into the outside wall, which resulted in a cut tire for Hamlin and an impact with the wall.
How will Elliott choose his battles in the looming season? He reiterated his mantra from last season that he’ll “race guys as they race me.”
“I mean I think it’s circumstantial,” Elliott said. “I think in life in general you can’t let people run over you and let them get away with it otherwise they are just going to keep doing it. I think that is just a part of life. If you let somebody control you too much they are probably going to take advantage of you as it goes on. That happens in work places every day. It happens in racing, I’m sure it happens in football, baseball, basketball, the whole deal.
” ... I want to beat people the right way because I think at the end of the day racing people the right way and doing it with respect is probably going to make them more mad than it would if you did something dirty to get by them.”
With the retirement of former teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., Elliott is now in the position of possibly being voted NASCAR’s most popular driver. Whoever gets the nod, they’ll be first new driver to win the recognition since Earnhardt began his 15-year stretch in 2003.
Entering his third full-time Cup season, Elliott said he’s not planning on changing who he is for the sake of others, especially when it comes to his social media presence.
“I’m not as active as a lot of people are on Twitter,” said Elliott, who has the eighth-most followers among Cup drivers on Twitter. “I think that is just because that is the way my personality is. I’m not going to jump out of the box of my personality to appease other people, never have been that way and I’m not going to be that way. I have been very lucky to have had some great supporters over the past couple of years. ... Look, I want people to if they want to pull for me or like me ... because of who I am and the person I am and the way I carry myself. If I’m not the right guy for somebody, then hey, there are 39 other people to choose from and I think that is your choice, so I will respect it either way.”