Heading into Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Chase Elliott clings to one of the last three points positions to be able to make it into the playoffs for a second year in a row, but with three races still to go and the unpredictability of racing on the high banked half-mile, the fact that Elliott has yet to win a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race looms large over the 21-year old Hendrick Motorsports driver.
As the points sit, Elliott holds a 62 point advantage over 17th place in points, but noted that even a buffer of that many points doesn’t make him comfortable going forward.
“You are never comfortable,” said Elliott. “We are certainly in a tight spot. We are there towards the back. I don’t exactly know 100% where we are, but I know we are one of the last few spots of non-winners that are still in. That is not a comfortable position to be in because there is always an opportunity for a guy on the outside to win a race and bump you back another position. So, it’s tight for sure where we are at. We feel like we need a victory to feel good about it. I mean, heck, we are not many from having a full playoff list of winners. So, yeah, no, we aren’t real comfortable with it just because in that position you are not really guaranteed anything.”
Through the first 23 races of 2017, Elliott is having a statistically better season than last, with more top-five finishes and top-10 finishes thus far, but still has not found himself in a position to be able to capitalize late and score his first win.
Could that first win come this weekend at Bristol to lock Elliott in as the third Hendrick driver to make the playoffs? It’s a very good possibility. With three Cup Series starts at the track under his belt, Elliott has scored one top-five finish and two top-10 finishes for an average finish of 9.3. Though he finished 15th in last year’s night race, he did finish seventh in the spring race at Bristol earlier this season after starting second.
“We had some really strong runs to this point in the season last year,” Elliott added. “We have had some strong runs this year, but I don’t feel like quite as many as we did last season. It’s not for a lack of effort or a lack of trying harder or trying to run well. Things just haven’t worked out as many times as they did last year for us to have some great opportunities to go win races. We are working hard to try to get back in those positions more often and hate we didn’t capitalize on the opportunities we had last year because looking back it’s like, man I would love to have as god of a chance as we had some weekends last season.”
Elliott has been known as a driver that is very hard on himself if things don’t go quite to plan, especially if he has been in a position to win a race only to see it slip away. Despite the lack of a visit to victory lane two seasons into his Cup Series career, Elliott noted that this year, he has kept a positive frame of mind week in and week out.
“I think I’m in a good place mentally. I just think for a lot of things that you go through, the good and the bad, you do have to let some of it just go because there’s going to be days where you’re giving it all you have and it doesn’t work out for you. Some days that’s your fault. And if that is my fault, those are the emotional days and those are the ones I’m going to be really frustrated with, as we’ve all seen. I want to hold myself accountable. And there are some days where we might have just all missed it as a team.”
“We’re going to run good together and run bad together, regardless. So, you really have to let all the days go whether they were good or bad. But no, I don’t think it’s eating at us per se. I feel like we’re all in a good place mentally. I am.”