AVONDALE, AZ — Chase Elliott’s bid for his second career NASCAR Cup Series championship was a rough one in seeing his No. 9 Chevrolet come home a disappointing 28th. It was a rough day as Elliott chased his car for much of the opening stage, then saw problems arise in Stage 2.
Everyone pit under the second caution of the day occurring on Lap 84. Elliott’s team didn’t think that they could make it to the end of the second stage so brought him down pit road on Lap 152. That put him a lap down. While he unlapped himself shortly after, the top 11 cars on track including the other three Championship 4 members were able to stretch their fuel and make it to the end.
Elliott made it back to 12th, but it was a strategy gone wrong. Luckily however, Elliott didn’t need as much fuel on the ensuing pit stop which allowed him to gain 6 spots on pit road in the process. He was back in the game. Joey Logano was one spot ahead in 5th and Bell and Chastain behind again.
Elliott had the title back in his grasps. That though, was short lived. He was spun on the Lap 199 restart by Ross Chastain which forced him to spend the rest of the afternoon coming from behind.
He’d not rebound.
“I felt like we just kind of peaked right there before we crashed, and I felt like we got our car driving pretty good, we just had our best pit stop of the day, so that was all really solid,” Elliott said. “And heck, we were right there next to the 22.
“I thought we had a shot at it all the way up until we didn’t, and that’s unfortunately the way it goes sometimes.”
If he could have gotten the track position to go into his favor, does Elliott feel like his car would have drove like Logano’s did?
“Yeah, maybe,” he questions. “I feel like we had gotten it driving about as good as it had been all weekend, honestly. When we split the stage and some of those guys stayed out and ran long and we went a lap down and made our lap back up there under green, that run, I thought our car was driving pretty good.
“We had been adjusting to that point, and I thought we had gotten into a decent spot. It’s hard to tell. We were out there on fresher tires, and other guys were on old stuff.
“I was looking forward to seeing if that held true, but from where I sat, obviously it’s difficult because you don’t have a lot to gauge off of pace-wise. But I felt like our balance was getting pretty close. That was good.
“But until you kind of get back in the mix and reset there, it is tough to say. Would have loved to see what it looked like on the front couple of rows. I felt like we just had, like I said a second ago, our best pit stop of the day, guys were rolling there on pit road. And yeah, would have loved a shot there at the end, but that’s the way it works.”
Winning a title in NASCAR is hard. Winning multiple championships is even harder. There’s a reason we only have 17 drivers to have ever won more than one title in this sport. There’s a reason in this format that we’ve also had just two drivers win multiple championships during it.
That’s the norm.
Elliott has witnessed it first hand. He’s been to five straight Round of 8’s and three consecutive final round appearances now. He has 1 championship to show for it.
This year’s demise was that he just wasn’t consistent enough. In a year of parity, it was hard to rattle off win after win. While Elliott won the regular season championship on the heels of 4 wins, he also went the final 11 weeks with just three top 10 finishes.
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.
With Phoenix being a single round winner take all race, could he avoid the problems and score another title?
The regular season champion has 3 titles in this era but all came in odd numbered years.