CONCORD, N.C. -- After Chase Elliott’s Cinderella-like championship run last season, he’s been peppered with the same question throughout this year's NASCAR Cup Series playoffs: Can he do it again? To Elliott, the answer is obvious.
The 25-year-old driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE has shown time and time again that he shines in underdog situations. His make-it-or-break-it wins at Martinsville Speedway and Phoenix Raceway in the last two events of the 2020 season proved that, and he’s thundered into the top 10 or top five multiple times from the rear this season, including doing so twice at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend.
“I think the biggest thing with that is it just really taught us a good lesson,” Elliott said of his 2020 playoff run. “It wasn’t until Martinsville that we were able to get through. Obviously, we’d love to get through this weekend, go ahead and get a win, but taking that lesson knowing, ‘Hey, look. It’s not over until it’s over.’ Anything can happen and I don’t think there’s ever really a safe place with points unless you have a win.
“So, to me, that’s the safest thing you can do is go compete for wins. I feel like we’re very capable of that this year, just like we were last year. I don’t see any reason why we can’t go and have a shot to win each of these next two weeks.”
The odds are in Elliott’s favor for the final two races in the Cup Series Round of 8. On Sunday, the field will head to Kansas Speedway, where Elliott has one win, five top-five finishes and seven top-10s in 11 Cup starts. He has finished inside the top 10 in five of the last six races at the 1.5-mile venue and holds the second-best average finish (10.5) among active drivers at Kansas, behind only Kevin Harvick (9.1).
Despite his impressive stats, Elliott feels that Kansas is a temperamental place for him. Especially this late in the season and with Elliott sitting fifth in the playoff standings and eight markers below the Championship 4 bubble, there is no room for subpar finishes at a playoff venue. Elliott and the No. 9 team have diligently been doing their homework to prepare for Sunday’s race with one goal in mind: A win.
“I think all you can do is look back at the prior races for us and kind of draw some conclusions as to what has potentially made a difference in us having a good day versus a bad day,” he said. “A lot of times there’s trends that show up – a path you might go down or something or something you’re chasing, or setup related that sends you down a bad road. (We’re) just trying to connect the dots and put the pieces of the puzzle together that correlate with good days there and try to put ourselves in the best position that we can to go and have a good day.”
In the event that Elliott is unhappy with his Kansas performance, he will have a chance to earn his Championship 4 berth at Martinsville, just like he did last season. He admitted that he struggled at Martinsville during his first couple of seasons in the Cup Series but leaning on Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson helped him understand how to run the track better. While he feels confident that he will do well during the next two races, a win will be the only way he can let out a small sigh of relief in terms of earning a spot in the Championship 4 event at Phoenix Raceway.
“Winning is the best through and I feel like we’re very capable of that,” Elliott said. “I think we’re just a capable now as we were a year ago. Points are tough – they’re kind of a tough thing to play in this round. You have three races and you could have three different winners who end up transferring through. That only leaves one spot for points, right? We weren’t the high points man coming in; I don’t think any amount of points is safe. I think you’re always wanting to try and get that win.”
Elliott and the No. 9 team’s question for a consecutive Cup Series title continues at Kansas on Sunday, Oct. 24. Drivers will start their engines at 3 p.m. ET and the race will air on NBCSN.