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Chase Elliott is NASCAR’s most popular driver. With that title comes influence. How much influence? According to Dale Earnhardt Jr., the Hendrick Motorsports driver called on NASCAR to help set up a meeting with social media star, gymnast Olivia Dunne. 

It happened in June before the race at Nashville. But that encounter has more relevance today because of the ongoing conversation between industry stakeholders on the sport lacking star power. The 2020 champ’s move is a great example and a solid launching point for other drivers to follow suit by getting their names and the NASCAR brand into other areas, boosting their individual star power and the popularity of the sport as a whole. 

Chase Elliot meets gymnast, influencer Olivia Dunne before Nashville race

There’s always a buzz on pit road when a celebrity from outside of NASCAR makes an appearance. That was the case back in June at Nashville Superspeedway when social media superstar and LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne showed up with Chase Elliott.

The pair stood by the No. 9 car as fans mingled about, the occasional photographer snapping off shots at the smiling couple, who happily talked with each other.

After the race, photos of the encounter unsurprisingly appeared online, including the NASCAR Twitter/X account. Naturally, there was interest and speculation that the two might be an item. It was later confirmed they were not. 

But there’s no denying it generated attention inside and outside NASCAR circles. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks about how Elliott set up meeting with Dunne

On this week’s “Ask Jr.” segment of the Dale Jr. Download, Earnhardt was asked what driver and accompanying female would be the NASCAR equivalent of the oft-talked-about budding romance between Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce and musical superstar Taylor Swift.

The Hall of Famer designated Chase Elliott as the guy but then took a detour with his remarks and discussed the meeting between the HMS driver and Dunne at Nashville. 

“I believe that Chase went to NASCAR and said, ‘I think she’s cool. I’d love to meet her. And I think it would be great for NASCAR if you invited her to come to the track,'” Earnhardt explained.

“It would show maybe some of her fans might be curious as to why she was there, and they may then, in turn, experience NASCAR for the first time. I believe Chase sort of leveraged that actually happening, which is really cool on Chase’s part.” 

Why it’s good for NASCAR

What Earnhardt describes makes sense. Bringing in new fans is always the goal for NASCAR. Growing the sport is paramount for its future. Elliott using his leverage to make that meeting happen with Dunne fits nicely into the recent conversation on the sport’s lack of star power, how to change it, and how that’s integrally connected to expanding the overall audience.   

Interestingly, it was HMS Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon who offered his idea of drivers marketing the sport just a few weeks ago on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“Again, I want other guys in the sport to do stuff like that,” Gordon said. “If they come to Hendrick Motorsports — and you can call us stiff. You can call us whatever you want. But we’re running a business, and a business is to win races first, take care of your sponsors, and let the sponsors market you. Let the sport figure out how to market you. Build your brand through who you are on social media and be the best you that you can be.” 

Elliott was doing just that — building both his and NASCAR’s brand simultaneously. If more drivers start taking similar steps and thinking outside the box, like Earnhardt did back in the day, including showing up in magazines and on television like MTV Cribs or Gordon did in hosting Saturday Night Live, growth will naturally result. 

And there’s no excuse today because it’s now much easier to get that exposure through social media. It’s just a matter of making that first call to make an appearance somewhere outside of NASCAR or meet that certain celebrity. They know who to call for advice.  

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