CONCORD, N.C. -- For the fifth year in a row, Chase Elliott will be revving his engine for a chance to earn a Cup Series championship. The 24-year-old driver earned his playoff berth in May after he won the 310-mile race at Charlotte. Since then, he took home his first All-Star Race victory and made history by winning the inaugural DAYTONA Road Course race.
Despite his success this year, which includes two Cup Series wins, 10 top-five finishes, 15 top-10s and 530 laps led, Elliott knows the playoffs are a completely different beast.
“I think the pressure of being (in the playoffs) is a good thing,” Elliott said. “I think you have to embrace that and recognize that. I would much rather be in the position of having a chance than not. So, it’s a good opportunity and you turn that into motivation to try do better.”
Elliott made it all the way to the Round of 8 last season, and this year he was statistically better in the regular season than he was in 2019. Despite this, Elliott still knows better than to get complacent as the final 10 races of the year approach.
“I think there is a lot of room for improvement,” Elliott said. “There’s been some inconsistencies and areas that I think we can clean up. Proud of how we started the year. We’ve had some downs since then but to know when we’re at our best we can compete is encouraging, and I look forward to giving it a good run.”
This year’s playoffs will run a little differently. The first three races will be shorter tracks at Darlington, Richmond and then Bristol. Elliott had up and down successes at Darlington and Bristol during the regular season. During the doubleheader at the track “Too Tough to Tame” he placed fourth in the first race, but was regulated to a 38th-place finish after he was turned in the final laps of the race. For the regular-season race at Bristol, he placed 22nd but won at the track during the All-Star Race.
Elliott has had more success at Las Vegas, Talladega and the Charlotte roval – the tracks selected for the Round of 12. In his career, Elliott has won at Talladega and the roval, although he said that doesn’t mean he can relax at those venues.
“I don’t think it necessarily gives you any more confidence,” Elliott explained. “This sport is all about recent times and what is going on lately. I think you have to be on currently. Good runs somewhere in the past don’t equal a good one next time.”
At the end of the day, Elliott knows it has to be a group effort from the No. 9 team to win. The No. 9 pit crew has been impressive in 2020 and boasts of the third-best average time for four-tire pit stops at 13.96 seconds through 26 races.
“I think pit crew performance is pivotal to the playoffs and making it through,” he said. “Luckily, our guys have been doing a great job and been putting in some great stops – really all year, not just the summer. Hopefully, we can carry that through the playoffs. I think we have a great group, so I don’t see why not.”
Catch Elliott make his fifth playoff start at Darlington Raceway on Sunday, Sept. 6 at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.