AVONDALE, Ariz. — To a sport, he is seen as a rock star and a champion, but to Bill and Cindy Elliott, he’s just Chase, their son.
“Your babies are always your babies,” Cindy Elliott told NBC Sports of her 26-year-old son who seeks to become the 17th multi-time Cup champion in NASCAR history and break a tie with his Hall of Fame father in series crowns.
To Bill Elliott, he sees how his son has grown. He thinks back to his Brickyard 400 win in 2002 and the photos of a young Chase celebrating with him.
“It’s how fast things go,” Bill Elliott said of how time has passed. “I’m in Victory Lane at Indy in 2002 and now here you are 20 years later and here he is grown and doing his own thing.
“Life goes by so fast.”
It makes Bill Elliott think about days gone by.
“I still think the most fun times we had together are the things we did when we lived in Colorado and he was go-kart racing out there,” Bill Elliott said of his son’s early days racing. “It was just kind of a great time. I think it was a fun series we ran. There wasn’t a lot of pressure. I kind of still see him in that. Times have gone on, he’s grown up and he’s his own person.”
That also was a special time for Chase Elliott.
“We did a couple of fun years out there,” Chase Elliott said. “Dad was, I guess, thinking he was retired at the time. Just enjoyed being dad, enjoyed going to the racetrack and us racing together, working on the go-karts, cleaning trailers, all the things that come along with it.
“Yeah, they were special years. Certainly glad I have them to look back on.”
Cindy Elliott sums up such experiences by saying: “Enjoy and embrace every moment.”
Sunday marks the third consecutive year Elliott has made the Cup championship race. He won the 2020 title and finished fourth last year. Should he win this year, Elliott would become the second youngest driver to win multiple Cup crowns, trailing only Jeff Gordon.
Cindy Elliott says that this weekend will be “just as nerve-racking as it was last year and the year before.”
One thing that is different is how inconsistent Elliott and his No. 9 team have been in the playoffs.
He won at Talladega in the Round of 12 but that is one of only three top-10 finishes he’s had in the playoffs. Elliott started each round as the leader based on the playoff points he collected in the regular season but faltered in the first race in each round.
“I feel like we have as good of an opportunity as anybody,” Elliott said of Sunday’s title race. “Yes, our playoffs has been up and down, probably more down than it has been up really for how we ran leading into it.
“But when I sit back and I look at this weekend, the way this format is, the way the final four works, if you’re in, you have a shot, number one. Number two, we haven’t wrote the ending yet, right? The narrative is there for you to make it whatever you want to and however you execute your day into being.”
Not every champion was the favorite entering the season finale.
Kyle Busch was not viewed as the favorite in 2019 but emerged the champion, winning his second crown.
Jimmie Johnson was not headed for his seventh series title in 2016 until a late caution changed that race and led to Johnson joining Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most series crowns.
So anything is possible in one race for a championship.
“His confidence is high,” car owner Rick Hendrick said of Elliott. “I think he’s so competitive, he just wants to be there for the team and the organization and for himself. He knows how good he is.
“I’ve talked to him several times this week. He’s ready for this race. He wants to win another championship.”
While Elliott’s playoff has proved challenging, it was during this time that the sport took notice when he spoke up at Talladega about safety concerns with the Next Gen car. It came after teammate Alex Bowman suffered a concussion at Texas the previous week. Elliott was among high-profile drivers who discussed the issue. It gained attention because Elliott typically does not interject him into such discussions, but he felt it was important then.
With changes being made to the car for next season to help drivers, the focus for Elliott has returned to playoffs and now a championship.
But he also knows these are the days he’ll look back upon sometime in the future.
“I want to do well,” Elliott said. “I want to do my job. I think you have to mentally be where you need to be to do that. I think sometimes that can take away from being able to enjoy certain moments or certain instances.
“But I try really hard to because I know you’re not going to get this time back, you’re not going to get these years back. I certainly respect that aspect of life and how fragile it can be, frankly.”
His father takes a moment to look back and he thinks about celebrating his Indianapolis win with his son 20 years ago.
“Kissing the bricks,” Bill Elliott said, “ he’s standing there like, ‘What are you doing?” He’s got that look of what are you doing down there? I don’t think he got it.”
Winning, though, his son gets.