DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In Chase Elliott’s Rookie of the Year campaign in 2016, he earned two pole positions, led 358 laps and amassed 10 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes.
But Victory Lane eluded him.
“He had a few races I think last year, like everybody else, that he thinks he probably should have won,” Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “As far as I see, it’s a natural progression. I was not surprised by the struggles and I was not surprised by his success. And I expect to see him continue to get better.”
Elliott finished inside the top three on five separate occasions in 2016, coming tantalizingly close to capturing the checkered flag for his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory.
Teammate Kasey Kahne recalled seeking out Elliott after those events.
“I talked to Chase after almost every race that he just about won last year, or had a really fast car. I told him how good of a job he does, and it will come,” Kahne said. “He’s in the position he is in for a reason. He is going to be really solid in the Cup series for a long time.”
Sitting on the Daytona 500 pole for the second consecutive year, Elliott’s first chance to grab that first win comes this Sunday in “The Great American Race.”
And when it finally comes, Jimmie Johnson expects more wins will follow in bunches.
“He's going to win. He's going to win a lot,” Johnson said. “Once he rings the bell the first time, he's not going to stop, and then championships will be next on his radar.”
But Elliott is taking it all one step at a time, and he said that while he certainly thinks about his near-victories last season, he hasn’t let them affect him negatively.
“I obviously look at those races, and you're disappointed that you had missed opportunities, but I kind of use it to motivate you to try to go and do a better job next go‑around,” he explained. “Those are mistakes that you need to learn from, and if you can correct it, hopefully those opportunities will be there again and you can capitalize on them again next go‑around.”
Sunday’s Daytona 500 is scheduled for 2 p.m. and will be broadcast on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Elliott will lead the field to the green flag, with Earnhardt beside him on the front row as the outside pole-sitter.
“I'm just happy we have him at Hendrick Motorsports,” Johnson said of Elliott. “I'd hate to race against him.”