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The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports, who is seventh in the NASCAR Cup Series standings entering the final two races of the regular season.
1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?
I feel like for me at least, a lot of it’s been probably from working at it, or at least having smart enough people around me to help me work through the different things that I’ve struggled with over the years. So I would probably attest it more to the knowledge of the people around me and their expertise in racing, or just dealing with people in general more so than anything, I feel like.
2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?
I’ve had this question a few times and I don’t really know that there’s a right or wrong answer. But in my opinion, whatever people can find a genuine relationship with in a driver, whatever that is — if it’s a passion that they share with the driver or a thing they like about that driver, the driver’s attitude, the way they race, whatever it is — as long as they can make that connection with them and be genuine and not pull for somebody because somebody told them to, then whoever it is — if it’s me or somebody else, I’m good with that. It’s everybody’s right and decision to pick their driver and pull for them. If it’s me, great; if it’s not, then I get it, too.
3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?
I’d say just managing our time. There’s just so many ways you can go about your week and different places we have to be. For us, we have meetings on Tuesdays, so a lot of times your week can be very broken up from traveling on Sundays, getting home on Sunday night, having Monday at home, Tuesday meeting day, Wednesday off, Thursday travel day. So not a lot of consecutive days in one place. I think just managing the time you do have in different places to try and make the most of the time you have off is pretty important.
As you know, we have a long schedule, and not getting too drowned in it throughout the entire year can be important to us. For us, we do it every week; it’s not just a region that we live in and can go to a couple of races a year, so we have to be very mindful of our schedule and try to keep it equal throughout the year.
4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?
That’s a good question. If you’re eating, I’d say definitely not. I wouldn’t want to come bother them while they were eating dinner. I think there’s a right and wrong way to do that; it’s definitely further appreciated when someone will take some extra time — if they have the time — to wait until you’re done eating or at least wait until you’re walking outside or whatever. That will certainly be appreciated.
We try to get to everyone we can. Obviously we can’t get to everyone all the time. But when that does happen, I think just be aware of the conversation. We’re probably with friends or family, and that’s time away from the track and away from things. So any kind of respect as far as waiting and hanging out will be appreciated.
So you don’t mind an autograph as long as you’re not shoveling food at the moment. If you get up to leave, then you’ll do it?
Absolutely. I’m fine with it, it’s not a problem at all. But definitely it is the respect of when you’re eating or when you’re spending time with the people you’re with. That’s where, sometimes, it can be frustrating.
5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?
I would say the playoff bonus points that have been going on throughout the years. It’s kind of something that the TV didn’t really talk about a whole lot until, I feel like, halfway through the season, and to me that’s what’s gonna make up the majority of our playoffs, and the guys who have won stages, won races and have racked up all these points.
I mean, we’ve got guys who’ve got in the high 30s of points, and that will just about carry them all the way to Homestead, if you know what I mean. Someone has a race advantage on you starting each round? That’s huge, and I don’t think we’ve emphasized that enough. Or at least I haven’t seen it. Maybe somebody has. But that’s a big story and one that’s gonna shape our playoffs.
6. Who is the last driver you texted?
Talking about your trip to Europe (which they are currently on)?
Well, yeah, a little bit about our trip. We were discussing that.
But we were hanging out here (at Bristol) last night, we were wondering what all the people were doing walking. We didn’t realize the hauler parade was going on last night, so we were wondering what was going on.
We got in a golf cart, rode around. We were trying to find a group in the campgrounds that was playing cornhole. We wanted to go play cornhole, so we were trying to find a happening spot that was having a good time so we could join in. But we didn’t find anybody because there were all down here watching the hauler parade.
7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?
No, I don’t think so. I don’t really see us as that. I think our personalities and the differences of opinions in personality might be entertaining, but I can’t say that we’re entertainers.
8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?
I tell you, when something really didn’t really go the way you thought it should go or somebody’s not racing you correctly or the way you feel like you should be raced, it can be frustrating. I think that’s where it comes from. My policy on it is it’s probably better to not (use it) in general. Just doing nothing is probably the best thing, that’s probably gonna frustrate people the most. But at the end of the day, there’s gonna be times where you have to do something and those are just those frustrating days. So yeah, it’s been done.
9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?
I definitely do, 100 percent. Racing is something that always comes full circle. There’s times if somebody helps you on early on in the race and you have the chance to do the same for them and it makes sense, then sure.
I think there comes a time in the race where those breaks and the slack are a little more forgiving at the beginning of the day versus what you can do at the end. We all understand that we’ve got to race and it’s hard to be as forgiving toward the end of the races because you’ve trying to fight for what you have. But if you’ve got a guy and they’re way better than you and it’s early on in the race, you’re doing nothing but holding both of you up.
In a lot of ways it seems dumb to let a guy go, but what could potentially happen is you’re slowing him down, the guys behind you are also catching you, so instead of falling behind and trying to make some lap times you might just get freight-trained when the next group catches you. It’s something that we’re all kind of conscious about as the race goes on, so I definitely pay attention to that and try to race guys how they race me.
10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?
I can’t think of anybody outside the racing world. I mean, other than drivers, unfortunately I’m not cool enough to have dinner with entertainers or anything. So I don’t know of anybody.
No Eric Church?
Nah, no Eric Church. I hung out at dinner with a couple other performers, Chase Rice being one of them. He’s a super cool guy and great entertainer. But aside from the country music world or racing, I don’t know. I’m not sure on that one.
Well you have a high ceiling to improve on that.
Alright, fair enough.
11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?
A lot of things. I think just, as far as racing stuff goes, I think as time goes on you want to try and take that next step and put yourself in that next caliber of drivers and not so much stay in one place long enough where you get labeled as that. So for me, I want to improve results, improve our qualifying efforts and really just improve our entire weekend.
I want to be, and I want our team to be, someone who people pay attention to. I don’t want to pay attention to them, I want them to pay attention to us and what we’re doing and us be a factor for them every single weekend. That’s probably the biggest thing I want to improve on, and I think it takes a lot of different things to make that particular thing happen. But I think that’s the ultimate goal.
12. The last interview I did was with Brett Moffitt. His question was: Whiskey or beer?
I was on a beer train for a little while, but I’ve kind of re-swapped over to the whiskey. So I’d say whiskey right now.
The next interview is with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Do you have a question I can ask Ricky?
Is he part of the golf (group), those guys?
I’m pretty sure he’s in the Golf Guys Tour, yeah.
So I wanna know how his golf game is, and if he plans on winning their championship or not.
This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. The cutoff race for the first playoff round takes place at Dover on Oct. 1. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).