Chase Elliott came into last Sunday’s Xfinity 500 in a somewhat comfortable position. All he had to do was take care of business on Saturday and then maintain on Sunday. That gameplan worked. Elliott qualified on the front row for the 3rd straight time there by starting second. He then passed teammate and pole sitter Kyle Larson for the lead on Lap 68. Elliott would lead the next 52 laps before getting passed by Denny Hamlin for the top spot on Lap 120.
Elliott had a front row seat for Hamlin’s domination. Hamlin led the next 203 laps. Elliott was 2nd for all which included a second place in both stages. That gained him 18 stage points which took him from +11 to +35 entering the final stage.
Again, just maintain. That’s what he did. Elliott would finish 11th in his No. 9 Chevrolet for his third Championship 4 appearance, each coming in the last three years too.
“Yeah, super mixed emotions,” Elliott said. “We made the drivers side and didn’t make the owners side. Just would have loved to have gotten the boss two cars in there. So certainly excited from the driver standpoint, but would have loved to have gotten both those boxes checked. Unfortunately didn’t.
“But, yeah, looking forward to getting home and working through what we need to work through to get ready for Phoenix. Certainly we’ll be ready to go the best we know how next Sunday.”
Elliott however is backing his way into the final round with just two top 10 finishes in the last 10 races run. He’s also started the first race of each round terribly. He crashed in the Southern 500 and would finish 36th. He had a tire go down while leading in Texas and finished 36th. In Vegas, he was just off and came home 21st.
Despite that, Rick Hendrick, Elliott’s boss, doesn’t think that his slower playoffs will cause Elliott a problem on Sunday.
“You know, he’s won five races, and he’s had some situations where the car wasn’t as good as we thought it would be, and he was frustrated,” Hendrick said.
“But it’s one of those deals that just put all that behind you. You run good at Phoenix, you’ve won that race, you’ve won the championship there. So just go back, the car is going to be good and do your job.
“He’s excited. He’s ready. We’ll just put any of the bad luck or inconsistencies we’ve had leading up to this race behind us because it’s all about Sunday.”
Hendrick praises Elliott in his approach and that he never plays the blame game with anyone but himself even in situations to where he can.
“Yeah, Chase, if you’ve watched him, he’s always put the burden on himself,” Hendrick says. “When Chase Elliott can’t drive a car because we missed the setup, that’s not his fault. But he will never, ever, ever point a finger at the team. He always takes it on himself.
“I’ve talked to him a lot about it. I think he just feels like he can carry it; if he doesn’t, he’s failed. I admired that about him to a certain point. I see so many drivers get out and blame the car for everything, and he will never do that.
“But his confidence is high, and I think he’s so competitive, he just wants to be there for the team and the organization and for himself. He knows how good he is.
“And I’ve talked to him several times this week. He’s ready for this race. He wants to win another championship, and Alan is burning up to win another one, too.
“I think once he gets out of the car, you’re seeing just a little bit of frustration on where they’ve finished rather than — he’s just disappointed. But he does carry a lot of the load that he doesn’t need to carry.”
Elliott agrees with his owners stance.
“Yeah, I feel fine. I mean, honestly, I feel like we have as good of an opportunity as anybody,” he said. “Yes, our Playoffs has been up and down, probably more down than it has been up really for how we ran leading into it.
“But when I sit back and I look at this weekend, the way this format is, the way the Final 4 works, if you’re in, you have a shot, number one. Number two, we haven’t wrote the ending yet, right? The narrative is there for you to make it whatever you want to and however you execute your day into being.”
With Phoenix being a single round winner take all race, can he avoid the problems and score his 2nd championship in the last 3 years?
If Elliott accomplishes the feat the Elliotts (Bill: 1988 and Chase: 2020) would join the Pettys (Lee: 1954, 1958, 1959 and Richard: 1964, 1967, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1979), and the Jarretts (Ned: 1961, 1965 and Dale: 1999) as just the third father-son combo to win multiple NASCAR Cup Series titles.
Elliott’s talent was apparent early on in his career. The Dawsonville, Georgia native jumped in the national NASCAR scene in 2013 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on a part-time basis, making nine starts and winning at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in just his sixth start. He then climbed up to the NASCAR Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports and became the first rookie in series history to win the series championship in 2014. He ran one more season in Xfinity, finishing runner-up in the points in 2015 before moving up to the NASCAR Cup Series fulltime in 2016 with Hendrick Motorsports.
Elliott has qualified for the Playoffs all seven seasons he has competed in the NASCAR Cup Series, and this is the third straight season he has earned a spot in the Championship 4 Round (2020, 2021, 2022). Since running fulltime in the series, Elliott has made 256 starts putting up 18 wins, 86 top fives and 137 top 10s.
The regular season champion has won the title in 3 of the 5 years of this format (2017, 2019, 2021). Each time in odd years. Can Elliott become the 4th but the first to do so in an even numbered year?
“If we hadn’t had the regular season that we had, I wouldn’t be sitting here,” Elliott said. “So definitely it makes a huge difference. We’re fortunate to have been on the good end of that this year, being able to have a good regular season. Have never really had a regular season that good before, so that was great.
“Super proud of our whole team for accomplishing some race wins and ultimately that regular season points deal. Those 15 points combined with the wins that we had were crucial.”
Elliott has made 13 series starts at Phoenix Raceway in the NASCAR Cup Series, posting one win (2020), five top fives, eight top 10s and a pole. His average finish at Phoenix is a strong 10.7, best among the 2022 Championship 4.
Elliott is also near the top of the charts in several pre-race Loop Data categories at Phoenix with an Average Running Position of 7.861, series-best, a Driver Rating of 109.9, second-best, 397 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-best and 3,520 Laps in the Top 15 (86.4%), 10th-most.
Earlier this season at Phoenix, he started 19th and finished 11th.
“I think that’s the golden question, honestly, because a lot has changed since the spring,” Elliott said on how much from the spring race you can learn from and apply to this weekend. “I felt like we were solid. I didn’t think we were spectacular, but we were solid.
“But a lot has changed since then. I think setups have certainly migrated in different directions from where we were then. Everyone has gotten more similar as the year has progressed.
“Yeah, I don’t really know. That’s honestly a question I’m kind of curious to see, like, were the people that were good here in the spring going to be good this weekend? I don’t really have a good answer for that till we go try.”