But the 22-year-old driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet believes he needs to start winning races before such a mantle is placed upon him. Even then, he points out that not everyone will be a Chase Elliott fan.
“Sure, I care about the sport,” Elliott said at the NASCAR Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I think Most Popular Driver would be a great honor to have. I don't necessarily think one person carries the sport. There are guys that people like and there are guys that people don’t like. That’s what makes the sport, not just one person that everybody likes.
“As much as you may think, not everybody liked Dale (Earnhardt Jr.). The majority did. But a lot of other people have other drivers. It’s not just about one person.”
His major focus is to do well for his team, sponsors and others associated with the No. 9 team. It’s a special number for Elliott, the same number that his Hall of Fame father, Bill, drove to his most memorable victories and the 1988 championship.
In addition, Chase used the number to become the youngest NASCAR Xfinity Series champion ever in 2014. Despite being a solid championship contender last season, Elliott feels like he’s come up short in two seasons in the Cup Series driving for car owner Rick Hendrick.
“I’m fortunate to be in a situation where Mr. Hendrick put a lot of trust in me to do well,” Elliott said. “He has a reputation, his company, of winning, winning championships and winning races. I haven't really done that for him. I’d love to do my part. I don't feel like I have, to this point. (I want to) earn my place, earn my keep there at Hendrick Motorsports.”
Elliott is closing in on his father’s record of eight second-place finishes before a first victory. Elliott has six runner-up efforts heading into this season. Asked about what must happen for his 2018 season to be considered a success, and Elliott said it’s a no-brainer.
“Just the obvious: try to win a race,” he said. “Starting year three, I think at this point I should know how to do that much at least. I think that I'm capable of doing it. We’ve had the speed and the ability to compete for wins.
“We’ve shown that on more than one occasion — just a matter of actually doing it. Sounds like a broke record, but you just got to go do it. We're capable. We’ve just got to make it happen.”
Elliott has three pole positions, including those for the last two Daytona 500s. He also has been part of a major controversy after getting wrecked by Denny Hamlin near the end of the Martinsville race. Elliott repaid Hamlin by wrecking the No. 11 Toyota at Phoenix.
“I think there were times not just in that situation that I was a little taken advantage of, how I raced people, maybe with too much respect at times,” he said. “At some point, you either stand up for yourself or you continue to get taken advantage of. I’d rather choose option A over B.”