By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
AVONDALE, Arizona — It’s do or die for Chase Elliott heading into Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway.
The only way the popular second-generation driver makes the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the first time is winning at a track he’s never visited victory lane in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Elliott, who is 78 points behind the cutoff, said the mindset is to achieve his seventh career Cup win after a self-inflicting Turn 2 accident during last Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway put him in this predicament.
“I would say that would have to be the mindset, for sure,” Elliott said. “It takes some talent to get 80 points back in two weeks, but we’ve achieved it. Certainly self-inflicted; I hate that I messed up last week as bad as I did, there’s really no excuse for that. But we’re in the position we’re in, we’re there, it’s reality and we certainly will have to win to have a shot next week.”
Elliott has been in this position before during the playoffs. He made the Round of 8 after just barely making the cut at Kansas Speedway, where he finished second while needing help from his competitors to take down Brad Keselowski, who held the eighth and final spot in the closing laps.
“We had some good fortune at Kansas. I feel like we were in a position where we had to win that race and we were in a position to battle for the win,” Elliott on his race at Kansas. “Obviously, we didn’t win, but things went our way enough to get through the round. That to me was a good opportunity for us to have our backs up against the wall and have to go perform. I thought we did a really good job of having to perform. We didn’t win, but I thought we made the most of an afternoon that really wasn’t going that well.
“We were struggling in the long runs, had lost a lot of ground. We had a couple of great pit stops there at the end and some good restarts to put ourselves in a position to win, and that’s what you have to do. I just think being put in that position is good, good experience.”
While riding around for 475 miles at Texas and ultimately finishing 32nd, Elliott’s preparation for Phoenix was all he was thinking about. He knew what he had to do to perform better after finishing 14th in the spring race.
“I deserved that really, to ride around for 475 miles and think about it. By I would say mile 400 of that, I was pretty much over it and I was really just thinking about Phoenix,” Elliott said. “During the race last week, I was thinking about Phoenix and thinking about what we struggled with here in the spring, and cruising around and just thinking about what we can do to be better.
“Obviously, we were just in a position where we needed to finish and my mindset had really moved on by the end of the race last week. I was really just thinking about this weekend, thinking about practice day today and what we could do to be really good. At the time, that’s about all I could do. I’m glad that I was able to do that and, no, I’m not dwelling on last week.
“At this point, we still have an opportunity ahead. The opportunity is here, right now, and we either make the most of it or we don’t.”
Knowing the adversity Elliott has dealt with this season, he and his entire No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 are ready for the 312-lap contest.
“Whether you are in that position where you have to win now or three weeks ago or if you make it to Homestead, you’re going to be in that position down there,” Elliott said. “I think just being comfortable with that is a necessity with the way this is and there is no cruising or pointing your way through at this point.
“When your back is up against the wall, you have to go perform. I think the better you feel about that situation and the more you embrace it, the better off you’ll be. As a team, not that we’ve had the choice, but I feel like we’ve definitely embraced it. We embraced it in Kansas and I’m really looking forward to the weekend. I’m not really concerned over it or anything. We’re just going to go and do our thing, have fun and try to put ourselves in a position to win.”
Live coverage of the cutoff race will begin at 2:30 pm EST on NBC. Kyle Busch is the defending race winner.