CONCORD, N.C. – As the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs move on to the Round of 12, Chase Elliott and the No. 9 team enter the next three-race stretch with plenty of momentum on their side.
A trip to Victory Lane at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course last Sunday gave the entire series more evidence that the No. 9 team is a force to be reckoned with.
“I think we're a stronger team now than we've ever been,” Elliott said. “I honestly feel like we're really close to being able to assert ourselves among those top teams. I feel like we have that in us. I don't say that because we won today, I say that because I believe it.”
In the past eight races, Elliott has amassed two wins, four top-five finishes and six top-10s, leading the field in five of those races for a total of 169 laps.
But he also turned in a 19th-place finish at Darlington and a 13th-place result at Richmond in that span, and the driver said the No. 9 team will need even more consistency if it wants to accomplish its goal of battling for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway at the end of the season.
“We definitely have our work cut out for us and trying to get better,” he said. “But I think we are the type of team and we have a good enough group of guys that we can run with those guys.”
The second round of the playoffs begins this weekend at Dover International Speedway followed by trips to Talladega Superspeedway and Kansas Speedway.
Elliott has won at each of the venues in the past year, starting with Dover and Kansas last October then at Talladega earlier this season. He led the most laps and scored the most points of all drivers at the three tracks in 2019 and holds the second-highest combined average finish of 3.3 behind only Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman’s 2.0.
But while the No. 9 team knows it can perform well at the Round of 12 tracks, nothing is guaranteed in the playoffs.
“These rounds are tough – they're going to get tougher, and with Talladega looming, you never know what's going to happen there,” No. 9 team crew chief Alan Gustafson said.
That’s why the extra playoff points Elliott earned last weekend with a stage win and race win at the “roval” are even more important.
“Those six points stick with you, and you can't put a price tag on that,” the driver said. “You hope it doesn't come down to six points. You hope that you're cruising there and you're able to run good enough or better yet win, but they're nice to have, for sure.”
Half of the 23-year-old driver’s six career Cup Series wins have come in the playoffs, and last weekend’s trip to Victory Lane made it his second consecutive season with a playoff win.
The driver, his team and Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick hope that trend continues as the Round of 12 gets underway this Sunday.
“The organization is getting better, all the cars have got speed, and Chase has got so much confidence,” Hendrick said. “I'm just looking forward to Dover and Kansas. I think they're going to be great races for us, and I think Chase can go all the way.”