For the second year in a row, the opening race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs at Chicagoland Speedway has been just what the doctor ordered for Chase Elliott and his No. 24 team.
Heading into Chicago, just one point separated Elliott from the bottom four in the playoff standings, but when all was said and done in Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400, the 21-year old would be in a much more comfortable spot, scoring a runner-up finish when the checkered flag flew.
“Just a huge step in the right direction,” said Elliott. “Days like this are the days we are going to have to have. There is no way around that. I thought we had a solid day overall. Our car drove good, it had pace, our pit stops were good. I didn’t have anything for Martin (Truex, Jr.). I thought we made the most of our day without some luck I wasn’t going to get around him unless we had a late-race restart or something. I had a solid day and frankly, it is a lot better than we have been doing and we’ve got to have days like this to keep moving forward.”
“I think that’s a testament to this team and the lack of quit that everybody has. This is the time of year to go, and we gave it our all today.”
In the final eight races of the regular season, Elliott finished into the top-10 just once, but the No. 24 team seems to have hit on something at Chicago. Last season, Elliott was leading late and looked to be well on his way to his first Cup Series win before a late caution derailed those efforts and he had to settle for a third-place finish.
Elliott would start the day in eighth place and showed speed right out of the gate, finishing the first stage in third place.
The second stage would be much more lucrative for Elliott as he took over the lead on lap 125 and never looked back for the remainder of the 80-lap segment, leading the final 42 laps of the stage and all the way through the stage break to score his third stage win of the season.
Though he would give up the lead on the ensuing restart, Elliott still held steady in the top-five for the remainder of the race, but in the end, didn’t have enough to overtake eventual race winner, Martin Truex, Jr., finishing 7.179 seconds back.
The finish marked the first time Elliott has finished in the top-five since early July at Kentucky, where he finished third and equals his season best finish that came a few weeks prior to that at Michigan.
Elliott’s impressive performance gives him a boost to start the playoffs as he now has a 33-point advantage over 13th heading into next weekend’s race at New Hampshire.