Chase Elliott continues hot streak at Kansas
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
With NASCAR’s Big Three of the 2018 season off their usual pace in the Monster Energy Cup Series playoffs, Chase Elliott has stepped up as the hottest driver on the circuit of late.
In Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, Elliott took his third win of the season — and the third of his career — after Kevin Harvick was penalized for speeding on pit road on his final stop of the race.
With Harvick out of the picture, Elliott took the lead when the cycle of pit stops ended and led the final 44 laps to take the victory over Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr. Harvick recovered to finish 12th.
Sunday’s race also was the cutoff race for the Round of 12 in the Playoffs, and the four eliminated from championship contention were Larson, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Alex Bowman.
But the Big Three of Harvick, Busch and Truex are still in the driver’s seat as far as the playoffs are concerned, largely due to the playoff points they accumulated throughout the season via race wins (five points each) and stage wins (one point each).
The Big Three combined to win 17 of the 26 regular-season races, with Harvick winning seven, Busch six and Truex, the defending champion, four.
Since drivers carry playoff points all the way to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, they’re still atop the standings due to those points. Busch leads all drivers with 55, while Harvick has 54 and Truex 38. Elliott is fourth with 18.
So far in the playoffs, of the Big Three, only Busch has won, at Richmond, while Elliott has won at Dover and at Kansas. Brad Keselow-ski won the playoff opener at Las Vegas, with Ryan Blaney winning on the Roval at Charlotte and Aric Almirola victorious at Talladega.
Elliott’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, said in the winner’s interview at Kansas that the points advantage that Harvick, Busch and Truex enjoy will be hard for Elliott and others to overcome in the next four races.
“The 18 [Busch] and the 4 [Harvick] have a pretty significant point advantage,” Gustafson said. “As well as they run, getting past them via points is probably a stretch. I mean, it’s possible, but probably a stretch.”
Even so, Elliott’s recent performances indicate that he’s not only getting some breaks in races that didn’t go his way early in his career, but also becoming a driver capable of winning multiple races and contending for championships. Elliott can assure himself of a spot among the four who will race for the championship at Homestead by winning one of the next three races.
Gustafson said his young driver is poised to do just that because, among other things, he now has the confidence he can win after finishing second eight times before his first victory came at Watkins Glen in August.
“I don’t feel like [Elliott’s] personality has changed, this, but I think now when he looks at that opportunity, he is looking at it more: ‘Yes, I can do this,’ [instead of thinking about] the hundred things that can go wrong.”
Elliott acknowledged he needs to win a race in the Round of Eight to advance to the championship round at Homestead. And if that happens, he’ll need to win there to be the champion.
“I think that needs to be the mindset, for sure,” he said. “I think every week has to be pressure-packed. You have to keep the pressure on yourselves. If you were to make it to Homestead, you have to pretty much win Homestead. I think you have to have that mentality every week.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Chase Elliott celebrates in Victory Lane following his triumph in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
PHOTO CREDITS: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images for NASCAR