Heading into Talladega, Chase Elliott has found himself among the most consistent drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, with the 21-year old driver for Hendrick Motorsports sitting fourth in points and on the cusp of winning his first Cup Series race.
Throughout the season, Elliott has been among the fastest of his teammates, despite not yet finding his way to victory lane. Finishing as a runner-up four times this season and three times in the last four races, there is no doubt that the No. 24 team is primed and ready to break through and finally capture that elusive win.
Could it happen at Talladega? History certainly points that direction as the 2.66-mile track has been the site for many drivers’ first wins, 11 times in fact. From Richard Brickhouse in 1969 to the most recent first-time winner in Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. back in May 2017.
Elliott’s results at Talladega don’t necessarily show just how well he has run at the track in his three previous starts. In all three starts, Elliott has started in the top-10, including a pole in May 2016, but has only one finish in the top-10, with a fifth-place finish in that same race. In his other two starts, Elliott finished 12th and 30th, but still maintains a series-best driver rating at 91.4, topping perennial Talladega powerhouses Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Brad Keselowski.
“I think there is something the driver can do to be a factor at Talladega,” said Elliott. “There are guys that have been consistently winning at those races over the past number of years. Anytime you see something consistently happen there is obviously not just luck involved in it. The guys who have embraced it and have been willing to want to figure it out seem to excel and we would like to be amongst that group.”
“Our cars have been better, our execution at races have been better and our pit stops have been better. It takes everything to have a full, complete day. So, I don’t think it’s one thing. Luckily, a lot of things have been working good over the last few weeks. Hopefully we can carry it forward. We’re going to have to in order to have a shot.”
Even with the confidence that he can keep the momentum going this weekend, Elliott was quick to note Sunday’s race was going to be a wild one and even with a 16 point gap over the elimination cut-off, he is not safe in the points race by any means, given the unpredictable nature of racing at Talladega.
“I can never guess what the rest of these guys’ moods are going to be when we show up at these places. Sometimes we get here, everybody is really calm. Then sometimes we get here and everybody wants to push each other and try to push through the corners and everything else. I can’t read their minds. I think what happens is when one guy starts to get aggressive, the guy around him has to get aggressive to start dealing with that guy. And then when that happens, the guy in front has to deal with it, and so on. I think that is what happens. If it shows up and that is the kind of race it is going to be, then we will see. I definitely think there is going to be some emphasis on running well in the stages. But I just hope that everybody will want to get to the end as much as they want to have stage finishes, too. So I really don’t know, but I could see it being pretty wild to try and get those points.”