By: Ashley McCubbin
In his rookie NASCAR Xfinity Series season, Chase Elliott utilized a strategy move of four tires late to score the win at Darlington Raceway. In May, a similar strategy had the No. 9 charging forward late in the NASCAR Cup Series event up to second until contact from Kyle Busch sent him into the wall.
It’s safe to say, the Lady in Black has treated the Georgia native well in the past, something he hopes continues this weekend as the Cup Series begins the playoffs.
“We had a couple of good runs there in those first two races back, which was nice,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “Again, like I said, I think a lot has changed since then. So, I’m really curious to see how we stack-up this go-round. But Darlington is always kind of one of those things where the two ends of the race track are just so different, that it’s hard to get them both perfect. But it happens. And people do it all the time. And I look forward to trying again.”
Elliott will start off the day in the right position, as he earned the pole award for the Southern 500 courtesy of his performance at Daytona International Speedway. He will also have some good luck on his side, racing a paint scheme that previously took his teammate Jimmie Johnson to one of his seven championships.
“I’m excited about it and the car looks great,” he commented. “What a cool opportunity to drive one of Jimmie’s paint schemes; one of my favorites, too, that I remember watching him in. So, I think that’s really cool. The starting spot is great. It’s great to get the pole. It’s always an encouraging thing; I think even a bigger deal to have that first pit box, which is super valuable. Hopefully we’re fast enough for it to matter and we can put that thing to use.”
While a good run matters this weekend, Elliott’s chances in the playoffs look strong, considering the strength of his season to date. With two victories and 10 top-five’s, he enters the postseason as the fifth seed, and statistically the strongest pre-playoff run of his career.
“I feel like we’ve had some really good runs at the beginning of the year and then got into a little bit of a dip there over the last couple of months,” Elliott reflected. “And then I thought Dover was back competitive again. So, I think for me, I just look at a little bit of the inconsistency. I think we need to be more consistent across the board. I’m encouraged by the fact that when I feel like we have things going, we can compete for wins at a lot of different style race tracks, which is awesome. So that definitely give me confidence.
“But this deal is all about what has happened lately, what your performance has been up to this date, and what you have ahead to try to improve on and how much you need to improve. So right now, I’m just thinking about having had a good run at Dover, I thought a fast car, and that was a style race track that I felt like is more of the direction of a 1.5-miles. So, I look at that and I’m encouraged. And I have confidence, like I said, that when things are good, I think we can compete with whomever. So, I think from that side, it’s a good thing.”
Although this marks his fifth straight year in the postseason, he has yet to make the Championship 4, which is something he hopes to change in 2020.
“You can’t win the championship without making that final four; and that’s been that point of the Playoffs that we haven’t been able to bust through yet,” he commented. “So, I feel like we’ve been really close at times, to doing it. I think we’re very capable of making the final four. So, at the end of the day, if me being confident and knowing that we can do it, and my team knowing that (too), is the case and it is, then I think that’s really all that matters to me. But it’s certainly the goal.
“Certainly, if you want to win a championship, you don’t have an option. You’ve got to make it. We know that and look forward to the challenge.”