Interview

Elliott Continues Hendrick Motorsports’ Progression With Pole

By: Cole Cusumano
Photo By: John Harrelson | Nigel Kinrade Photography
AVONDALE, Ariz. — Since the NASCAR Cup Series turned it’s first laps of 2020 at Daytona International Speedway, it appeared the former-powerhouse team of Hendrick Motorsports was making a comeback.
Alex Bowman cemented that possibility last weekend when he notched their first win in 10 races at Auto Club Speedway. The No. 88 team unloaded a hot rod in Fontana; pacing both practice sessions, qualifying third and going to victory lane.
Fastforwarding to Phoenix Raceway, it looks like the Team Chevy group is picking up where they left off. In similar fashion, Chase Elliott and the No. 9 crew were second-quick in first practice (behind teammate William Byron), the top of the speed charts in happy hour, and he locked down the pole position in qualifying.
“Alex (Bowman) was really good last week and they did a fantastic job from Friday all the way to Sunday,” Elliott told POPULAR SPEED. “Those are the kind of weekends you want to have for sure; hopefully we can join him on that.”
He was able to lay down hot laps at the one-mile track, but Elliott is feeling a bit of uncertainty on how his No. 9 Chevy Camaro will handle once the green flag flies on Sunday. As a matter of fact, he was even surprised about snagging the pole-position from Kevin Harvick.
“Our mock-qualifying run was good, as far as what the board said – but way slower than what we ran today,” Elliott explained. “I definitely didn’t have near as much confidence in our race trim runs and we made a lot of changes from yesterday to today. I was glad to see the car still had some pace – I hope that means it drives really good tomorrow, but I think until we get there it’s hard to say.”
The difference-maker for the 24-year-old was a track modification that NASCAR first applied to Phoenix Raceway’s surface in 2019, but enhanced for 2020 – the PJ1 traction compound.
“I was not expecting to run up in the grip there in (turns) one and two,” Elliott revealed. “Then once Kevin (Harvick) and a couple of other guys did it, I was watching and I thought it must be the thing to give it a shot. I thought if we ran the bottom that we’d have a solid lap, but I don’t know that we would have had a shot at qualifying first.”
This gamble paid dividends for the Georgia-native and as a result he’ll lead the field to green on Sunday. Qualifying proved to be crucial for Elliott as he feels he has a better gauge on what to expect in the FanShield 500.
“I think that (PJ1) will be the change in dynamic tomorrow,” Elliott said. “At some point we’ll probably wear it out and the guys who can really get around the bottom will probably shine when it comes time for it to really matters.”
The Phoenix Raceway pole-sitter finds himself in a favorable position going into race day. Elliott has finished inside the top-10 in half of the races he’s run in the desert and he is usually a contender for the win.
Contrasted to the positive, luck hasn’t particularly been on his side in Arizona over the past three races. But with Hendrick Motorsports’ swift turnaround, there’s a chance for that to change in the FanShield 500 on Sunday.

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