Home » FEATURE STORY, NASCAR

Elliott Set To Enjoy More ‘Big Moments’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 5 2021

Defending Cup champion Chase Elliott is back in the Playoffs. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Chase Elliott enters this year’s playoffs as the NASCAR Cup Series reigning champion, but the 25-year-old driver says he doesn’t feel any different than he did last year.

“To me, the message is really no different than it was last year,” Elliott said. “To me, it’s just about enjoying those big moments. If you don’t enjoy them, you’re never going to thrive in them. I mean, it’s nice to have seen some of those circumstances and to have gone through some of those things that you’re faced with mentally, just some of those challenges as you step through that last round and get to Phoenix.” 

This year, like in 2020, Elliott is seeded fifth. However, last year he wasn’t considered a favorite to win the championship even though he entered the playoffs with two victories, six Stage wins and 20 playoff points. This season it’s entirely different despite again having two victories, but only three Stage wins and 21 playoff points.

Elliott and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates have been considered title contenders the entire season as the organization once again regained its strength. The four Hendrick drivers enter the playoffs with a total of 11 victories in the first 26 races and the regular season championship with Kyle Larson’s five-race victory performance. Together they possess 18 Stage wins. In the playoffs, winning is the key to success since the race victor in each round automatically advances, but Elliott notes that winning in big situations is critical.

“I feel like that’s the single most important piece of how this playoff format works,” the Georgia native said. 

###

Veterans Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick are prime examples of how quickly the tide can change in racing. Last year the two dominated the regular season, winning half of the first 26 races. Harvick claimed seven victories and the regular season championship, while Hamlin finished second with six wins. They were seeded first and second and possessed seven Stage wins each. Both were considered shoo-ins to reach the championship four. Only Hamlin made it as Harvick stumbled in the Round of 8. 

This year, both drivers enter the playoffs winless. The 40-year-old Hamlin is seeded seventh for his 15th venture into the playoffs while the 45-year-old Harvick is seeded 16th

“Some years just don’t go exactly how you want them to go and I think those are the years that you’ve got to dig down and do the things that our guys have done this year,” Harvick said. “We’ve still got some work to do with some things on the balance side of the car to start these races. Those numbers could have been a lot better if it weren’t for three or four ill-timed accidents at the end of a few of the races.” 

###

In the 1980s, NASCAR driver Neil Bonnett noted that race car drivers normally peak between ages 35 and 45 when most other professional athletes had retired or were considering it. By that time, he said, drivers have learned when to be aggressive and when to be patient. Since the Cup Series made its debut in 1949, only a dozen drivers have won that series championship before celebrating their 30th birthday. When Elliott won the title last year he became the first driver to record the achievement since Joey Logano in 2018. 

With drivers now beginning to race as children, one can’t help but wonder if the ages where competitors reach their peak hasn’t declined. In this year’s playoffs more than half of those seeking the championship are in their 20s. Five of the 16 title contenders are in their 30s, while only four are in their 40s. William Byron is the youngest at age 23, while Kevin Harvick is the oldest at age 45. Still half of this year’s 16-driver playoff drivers are in the 35- to 45-year-old age group. 

Only time will tell if Bonnett’s statement remains true.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 5 2021
No Comment

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.