CONCORD, N.C. – Just three races stand between Chase Elliott and a shot at a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I think we have just as good a shot as anybody,” Elliott said, “and that's our approach these next three weeks.”
The Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs kicks off this weekend at Martinsville Speedway followed by a race at Texas Motor Speedway and an elimination race at ISM Raceway.
Elliott has finished inside the top 10 a combined 62.5 percent at the three tracks, the best of all playoff drivers. He has finished inside the top five at the tracks a combined 31.25 percent, which is the second-best of all playoff drivers.
“Before the (Kansas victory), I felt like we were going to have to win one of those three to move on,” No. 9 team crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “I don't know that my opinion's changed a lot. Certainly going to have to be in contention to win one of those three. I think we have a good shot at it.”
In evaluating the upcoming slate, Gustafson pointed to his own success at Martinsville, a track where he has won twice. Elliott has finished inside the top 10 in two of the last three races at the track, and in the one outside of the top 10 – a 27th-place result in the playoff race at Martinsville last season – he was leading with three laps to go before he was spun from behind.
At Texas, Elliott has never finished worse than 11th in his five Cup Series starts, including four top-10 results.
The round closes at ISM Raceway, another track where Elliott has finished inside the top 10 in four of his five Cup Series starts. He has an average running position better than ninth in all five of his starts at the track.
“I'm looking forward to all of them,” Gustafson said. “You all watched it, right? Anything can happen.”
Elliott enters the round fourth in the standings with 4,018 points. But the driver doesn’t plan to rely on points in his quest to advance to the Championship 4 at Homestead.
“The points game is nice, I guess, to play,” Elliott said. “Really, you just need to care about winning. If you're trying to win, putting yourself in position to win, that's way more important than just barely trying to squeak through.”
The driver said that is the No. 9 team’s mindset because a “must-win scenario” is almost inevitable at some point in the final four races of the season. Whether the team gets “into a bind” in the Round of 8 and needs to win to advance, or even if Elliott moves on to Homestead, the team will essentially treat the championship race as a “must-win.”
It certainly helps that Elliott is coming off two wins in three weeks.
“Momentum is nice – I'd rather have it than not have it,” he said. “At the end of the day, yeah, it does reset. You have to go back to work. I think you have to have that mindset, keep the pressure on yourselves individually as a race team every week, try to kind of keep your mindset in that must‑win situation.”
The key, Elliott said, will be to make sure the No. 9 team builds on its recent success and continues to hit on all cylinders.
“These next three weeks, there is no room for mistakes,” he said. “We just need to be on our game in all aspects. I look forward to the challenge.”