Elliott In Need Of Texas-Sized Win

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 2 2018

Chase Elliott celebrates after winning in Dover. He may need a win at Texas this weekend to keep rolling along in the playoffs. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Andrew Coppley)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas – NASCAR’s multi-tiered Cup Series Playoff system has cast Chase Elliott as a conundrum _ the driver who can’t win for winning.

Despite a pair of Playoff victories, Elliott stands sixth in points among the Round of 8 drivers prepping for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. Unfortunately for the rising Hendrick Motorsports star, Elliott’s victories at Dover International Speedway and Kansas Speedway were scored during the previous Round of 12.

Sporting an average Playoff finish of 12.3 _ third among all eligible contenders _ Elliott will be dealing with a near “must-win” situation Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth in order to advance into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway later this month.

“That’s the world we live in now, you know?” Elliott said during a promotional visit to the General Motors Assembly Plant here on Thursday morning. “I think

Bill and Chase Elliott paid a visit to the GM plant in Arlington, Texas this week. This weekend, Chase will try to keep his championship hopes alive with a good finish at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. (RacinToday photo by Martha Fairris)

yeah, we do (need to win) for sure. You think that way every week. I mean, you can play the points game in general but winning and getting those points and the things that come with it _ getting a ticket to Miami basically now _ is the most important thing. Yeah, we’re however many points out…we need to have some really good runs and try to get a win these next two weeks.”

Only Sunday’s 334-lap/501-mile event around TMS’ 1.5-mile oval (3 p.m., EST, NBC Sports Network, PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio) and the following weekend’s race on the reconfigured 1-mile ISM Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., outside Phoenix, remain before Cup’s Final 4 is booked.

Joey Logano’s victory for Penske Racing last Sunday in the Round of 8 opener at the half-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway proved impactful not only for himself but also the majority of the eight drivers in title contention. The win gave Logano an automatic Championship 4 slot. Regular-season champion Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing still leads the standings, now by a healthy 21-points over both Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing and Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing _ both mathematically tied for the first time this season.

SHR’s Kurt Busch, who posted a solid sixth-place run at Martinsville, surpassed Elliott in the standings. Busch is in fifth, 25-points behind Harvick and Truex. And Elliott, who finished seventh last Sunday, is 31-points back. SHR teammates Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola are 42 and 50-points out of fourth place, respectively.

“Yeah, it’s tough, definitely tough,” said Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. “You’ve got to take it a week at a time. I mean the big one is you’re rewarded for running well throughout the regular season. For us, if we had got some more wins before the Playoff started we’d be in a better spot. It’s tough man. It’s a grind and honestly being good really doesn’t cut it when you get to the round we’re currently in; you have to be running in the top-five all day long to score and accumulate the points from each stage.

“You saw this the past weekend with Joey and Martin _ Martin was in a way better position on points than Joey was and Joey knew that. Our season’s way too long and this playoff system is too edgy to not try to punch your ticket if you have an opportunity.”

Truex was leading Logano when the white flag flew at Martinsville’s famed “Paper Clip” layout. Racing down the backstretch and into Turn 3, Logano bumped Truex and moved him slightly up the track. Logano wheeled his No. 22 Ford Fusion under Truex’s No. 78 Toyota Camry to exit the final turn side-by-side. They banged sheet metal and Truex slipped sideways as he fought to regain control. Logano fish-tailed to the finish line, while JGR’s Denny Hamlin snuck to the inside to claim second.

“I don’t fault him (Logano) for getting aggressive and trying to win,” Elliott said. “Obviously, there’s a right way to go about it and a wrong way, I guess. He didn’t crash him, so if you can go about it the right way it’s all good.”

The son of NASCAR Hall of Famer “Awesome Bill” Elliott, Chase said he actually has no complaints about the Playoff format.

“I like how simple it makes it,” said Elliott, 22, who was accompanied during the plant tour by his father.  “I do, I do enjoy it and I think you have to enjoy it because you almost need to treat every week like that. And I think you need to create a culture within your team that embraces that and enjoys it because if you ever were to make it to Homestead, that’s what it’s going to be down there anyway. So to me, if you don’t embrace it and don’t enjoy it then you’re going to be up the creek when you get to Miami.

“For us, everybody asks and it’s like, ‘What do you do different when you have to win?’ You can get aggressive here and there but honestly like throughout the season, everybody’s aggressive all the time. Pit strategies that we used to think were ‘gutsy’ five years ago are the norm now.  That’s just what you see every week.

“I look at the year that Brad (Keselowski) won the championship (2012 for Penske Racing) and some of the calls (crew chief) Paul Wolfe was making for him. To me, after that I felt that everybody kind of got a little bit ‘gutsier’ and started doing some different things and I feel like it’s always been that way to an extent, but now it’s just the norm. Gutsy calls on pit road and staying out, two tires, gas only _ all that stuff _ you do what you’ve got to do to put yourself in the best position you can. Everybody’s too smart not to make the right decision.”

Elliott began his day at the plant with a meet-and-greet with a group of about 25 employees who work the assembly line at the 4.375-million-square-foot facility that occupies 250 acres. The plant, which opened in 1954, has rolled out a variety of GM nameplates and models over the decades but currently is the worldwide producer for all of The General’s full-size SUVs. Employing more than 4,000 with an economic impact of more than $1-million in wages daily, the plant averages a vehicle off the line every 60 seconds. That equates to 1,400 daily throughout a three-shift, seven-day work cycle.

“It’s been great,” said Elliott, who drove a dark grey Chevrolet Tahoe carrying a price tag of $77,840 off the line during a photo op. “I met a lady a minute ago that’s been working here for 41 years, and it’s just amazing the time and effort they put in here to produce as many cars as they do every day. Just crazy to think how much production goes into this factory. You have an operation this big, you’re affecting a ton of people _ not just the people who work here but their families, kids, grandkids _ so it’s a big deal.

“It’s just amazing to see the passion people have for their jobs and especially when you’re affiliated with that kind of passion I think it gives you a lot of confidence and makes the partnership easy.”

Elliott scored his breakthrough Cup victory on the famed Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International road-course in August, mirroring his father’s first Cup win at the defunct Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway nearly 35 years earlier. Chase had recorded eight runner-up results in his previous 98 career Cup starts prior to winning at The Glen.

“There definitely was more confidence after Watkins Glen and just getting to Victory Lane,” said Elliott, who is paired with crew chief Alan Gustafson. “Obviously, that was a major hurdle, some trying times to get to that point. But honestly, I think the biggest thing since then is just knowing that to win those races we haven’t changed our approach at all.

“From my rookie year (2016) throughout 2017 through this year, our week-to-week approach in meetings and preparation has not changed a bit. I think that’s great to know, that the process that we use works.”

Chase since has emerged as GM’s most consistent driver during a season that has seen the manufacturer switch from the Chevrolet SS  sedan to the Camaro ZL1 coupe.

“Anytime you make a change it’s just time-consuming to get things where you want them to be,” Elliott said. “I mean, we’re night-and-day better than we were in say, March. We had some embarrassing days throughout March and April and to be able to turn things around like we have _ to actually be as competitive as we’ve been the past month or two _ is a testament for sure for the hard work at HMS and a lot of people putting in a lot of time to get to where we at. It’s something to be proud of.”

Elliott’s best finish in five Cup starts at TMS is fourth in the 2016 fall race, in which he posted three of his career nine laps-led around “The Great American Speedway.” For the record, Elliott also earned his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win at TMS in 2014. Chase has four top-10 finishes in five Cup starts in Cowtown, with a worst showing of 11th in April’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.

“I enjoyed it (TMS) more and I had better runs before they paved it,” said Elliott, referring to the repaving and reconfiguring completed after the 2016 season. “Anytime the racetrack ages it’s a lot of fun for us. We get to move around and do some different things, and it just takes time for a racetrack to get back that way. I know they put a lot of effort into trying to make the racetrack age, so I do feel like it is widening. And I think as it widens, I hope that’ll suit me a little better.

“I don’t know why the repave has been so bad for us _ and we haven’t finished worse than 11th _ but I just feel like we’ve run bad since they repaved it. Hopefully, we can turn that around this weekend.”


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, November 2 2018
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