The Dover loss still smarts for Chase Elliott. The Hendrick Motorsports driver shouldered the grand share of the blame for last weekend’s narrow runner-up finish, his fifth in his thus-far winless Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.
Elliott apologized to his crew afterward, then — true to form — was forthright in accepting responsibility for surrendering the lead to eventual race winner Kyle Busch just prior to taking the white flag.
Elliott may be his own worst critic — overly so, some say. But the 21-year-old driver says it isn’t a matter of beating himself up over on-track setbacks. For Elliott, it’s simply calling it like he sees it.
“Look, I’m just honest,” Elliott said Thursday from Hendrick Motorsports’ 2018 paint scheme reveal. “People say, ‘ah, you’re too hard on yourself.’ That’s one thing about sports and things that frustrate me is people watch and they say, ‘well, he should’ve done this,’ watching a football game. ‘He should’ve done that, and he’s not doing his job right. So-and-so should’ve handed the ball off instead of passing it.’ Look, we don’t know. I don’t know anything about football. If those guys are in a situation and they do what they think is best, that’s their decision, and nobody knows the situation that I was in better than me at the end of the day.
“So it’s my decision. I want to face it. And it’s also my decision to realize if it’s my fault or not. And when it is my fault, I’m going to own up to it. I think us losing that race in the closing laps on Sunday was my fault and I believe strongly in that. It’s a fact. I messed up, and I’m going to be the first one to say that. That’s just the way I see it. You don’t have to agree with me, but I was in the situation and I know what happened, and that’s what happened.”
Elliott’s chance to rebound comes quickly in Sunday’s Bank of America 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The race kicks off the Round of 12, the next three-race elimination phase of the postseason.
Elliott’s father, Bill, can relate to his son’s heartache in some ways. The NASCAR Hall of Famer had eight runner-up finishes in seven partial seasons before finally breaking through for his first win in the 1983 season finale.
“And I didn’t have all this social media following me around either saying how bad he felt or how good he felt,” the elder Elliott said. “I went back to Dawsonville and nobody could find my butt.”
Bill Elliott’s early-career near-misses came in an era of far less scrutiny. Not all the races were broadcast on TV, and the level of driver-fan interaction through social media means was decades away from becoming reality. Stepping out of the car and beating a hasty, quiet retreat back home to Georgia home is less and less viable an option these days.
“We all deal with things differently; we all have a DNA in our system, how we deal with things, how we process it, day to day things that happen,” Bill Elliott said. “If somebody comes up to you and provokes you, one day you can take it, the next day you can’t. It’s just a part of how we’re made up. I can’t say it’s right, wrong or indifferent.
“Yeah, I think he’s hard on himself, but he goes on, goes to the next race and continues on. But he wants to win, he wants to do that, he wants to race.”
Chase Elliott said he won’t forget the feeling from Sunday’s defeat, and that playing “the what-if game” of what he could have done differently over the final stages is inevitable. Fortunately for Elliott, he’s had a shoulder to lean on and a sage source of advice within his team in seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson was among the first to console Elliott after Sunday’s 400-miler. He was also a sounding board for Elliott in another conversation later Sunday evening.
“Nobody knows it better than him and I think he said it best: You have to go home, you have to move on, but you have to find the lesson that came along with losing that race in the closing laps on Sunday,” Elliott said. “You just have to figure that out and realize that if you’re ever in that situation again, what you would do differently to change the outcome.
“I’m a big believer in things coming full circle, especially in racing they have in the past in my career. I think that applies to this situation as well.”