By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
TALLADEGA, Ala. – In a sense, Chase Elliott comes to Talladega Superspeedway with the greatest amount of freedom, simply because he has the largest challenge to overcome and the narrowest path to do so.
After unfortunate results at Charlotte and Kansas, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year points leader is 12th in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, 25 points behind Joey Logano and Austin Dillon, who are tied for eighth.
After the Hellman’s 500 on Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN), the Chase field will be cut from 12 drivers to eight, and Elliott likely must win in order to advance.
“I think, for us, we’re obviously disappointed in the way the past two weeks have gone, having such strong cars over the past two weeks and having the ability to go and contend with some of those guys,” said Elliott, who was wrecked in a late restart accident at Charlotte and fell victim to a fluke tire rub at Kansas.
“Obviously, to end like it did was disappointing, but for us it puts us in a pretty simplistic situation for this weekend—having to have a really good run, if not have to win. Like I said, it’s a simple position that we’re in, and we’re up for the challenge and looking forward to Sunday.”
Elliott led 103 laps at Charlotte and had passed Kevin Harvick for the lead at Kansas before his race went south after a green-flag pit stop with fewer than 100 circuits left. Elliott damaged his left rear fender returning to the track and cut a tire in the process. Coincidentally, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne had the same issue at roughly the same time.
“To be honest with you, we’ve kind of come to the conclusion that it was a freak incident,” Elliott said. “We haven’t been doing anything the last couple of weeks that would cause it. So we did identify that it was happening when I would get up on the racetrack off the exit of Turn 2. That’s a pretty abrupt banking change, and we’re hitting it pretty hard under green-flag conditions.
“You hit it hard throughout the weekend, and it was weird that you don’t have that kind of stuff happen. But as those fenders heat up and get warm throughout a day, they can flex and bend easier. I hit the banking with the right-side first, and the left-rear, when it compressed, folded the fender up under the tire.
“Once the car traveled down into the corner, it obviously cut it. The best we can figure out that our incident and Kasey’s was the same, but we hadn’t done anything different the past number of weeks. It was an unfortunate situation for us.”
Elliott, of course, can overcome all his Round of 12 issues if he can pick up his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory on Sunday.