After a strong start to the year, Chase Elliott didn’t emerge as a consistent front-runner in the summer. He performed well at times in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with three top-fives in June and July but wasn’t up to par with the strongest cars in the field.
Hendrick Motorsports seemed behind on speed in recent months as an organization, outside of Kasey Kahne’s victory at Indianapolis.
This level of performance was concerning heading into the Playoffs. While a summer slump followed by a post-season rebound has been characteristic for Jimmie Johnson, Elliott lacked experience under similar circumstances.
Not knowing how Elliott would respond excluded him from the conversation surrounding title favorites, but now he is looking to prove that he belongs in the discussion.
Elliott had one of his best runs of the year in Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400, leading 42 laps, winning Stage 2, and finishing second.
“Just a much-improved day from where we’ve been, which is nice,” Elliott said.
It’s the second consecutive year he has placed in the top-five in the Playoffs opener after finishing third last September. He went onto to make the Round of 12 before being eliminated after Talladega.
Now with a year in the Playoffs under his belt, the bar is raised, and Elliott met it at Chicagoland.
New Hampshire will be a better indicator of where the No. 24 team stands as it has been one of its toughest tracks on the circuit. In three starts, Elliott has never placed better than 11th.
If he runs well and has another strong day at one of his best venues at Dover, he could follow in the footsteps of Johnson with his ability to recover once the championship fight begins.
However, topping the Toyota’s and specifically, Martin Truex Jr., remains a major obstacle for Elliott.
“Obviously would have been great to battle with Martin a little bit more,” Elliott said. “We didn’t have anything for him.”
Compared to much of his season to date, Chicagoland was an excellent start to the playoffs.
While Elliott has been close to breaking through for victory numerous times in his young career, he believes the team is at its best right now, and it comes at the perfect time.
“From where we’ve been to where we ran today was a major, major step in the right direction, frankly where we need to be, where we deserve to be, to the potential we can run,” Elliott said.
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