Chase Elliott didn’t enter the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs as a championship favorite.
A regular season of mixed results and a lack of speed among the four Hendrick Motorsports teams with the new Chevy Camaro ZL1 led many to expect similar struggles in the final 10 races.
After rebounding from a crash in the playoff opener at Las Vegas with two top-10 performances at Richmond and Charlotte, Elliott advanced to the Round of 12 where he became a serious championship contender.
He capitalized when Kevin Harvick made two costly mistakes late at Dover and Kansas and scored both victories to put himself in the Round of 8 for the second consecutive season.
Now he will look for redemption this fall after narrowly missing the Championship 4 in 2017.
After pacing 123 laps and leading with three laps to go at Martinsville Speedway last year, contact from Denny Hamlin sent Elliott spinning, costing him a shot at an automatic spot in the final four.
Elliott bounced back in the season’s penultimate event at ISM Raceway, pacing the field for 34 laps and leading late before Matt Kenseth passed him with 10 laps remaining to take the win.
Those opportunities were coupled with the pressure of securing his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory. However, that pressure has been alleviated entering this season’s Round of 8.
While the No. 9 team has yet to dominate a race en route to victory like Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have, a combination of momentum and increased speed places Elliott on the championship radar.
After struggling for much of the season at 1.5-mile tracks, Kansas showed an improved intermediate performance for Elliott. Demonstrating that again at Texas will be crucial to set up for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Reaching the Championship 4 remains the challenge at hand for Elliott. However, the playoffs reward performers who execute under pressure and Elliott has proven that through six races.
Seeing if he can maintain this performance in the Round of 8, advance to the final four and rise above the competition at Homestead will ultimately decide his fate in 2018.
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