Chase Elliott came within ten laps of his first career victory and spot in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway.
He entered the race needing a win to advance to the season finale and proved capable of pulling off the feat by taking the lead late before Matt Kenseth retook the top spot.
“It’s just such a bummer,” Elliott said. “I was telling my guys we’ll get it right someday, or I’ll get it right someday. We’ve had so many good opportunities, and at some point, we’ve just got to close.”
The second-place finish for the No. 24 team marked their fourth in the Playoffs, attesting to the championship-contender strength Elliott showcased throughout the first three rounds.
While a stout title run ended in a disappointing elimination, it won’t be what’s remembered most about Elliott’s sophomore year.
The growth the 21-year-old has shown throughout 2017 will be how the season is defined as it nearly led him to the championship race.
He made significant gains over his rookie campaign in the finishes column, earning one additional top-five and three more top-10’s with one race left to add to those numbers.
The No. 24 car has also paced the field for over 200 more laps this season, which contributed to an improved average finishing position of 12.2 over last year’s 14.6.
Aside from statistics, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has been a consistent challenger for much of 2017 and has especially shined in the last nine races.
After not having shown dominant speed for a majority of the regular season, not many expected Elliott to be as dangerous of a threat as he turned into as the Playoffs progressed.
Phoenix marked the third post-season event that he led late but couldn’t capitalize to earn his first career victory after falling short at Dover and Martinsville as well.
Elliott again expressed frustration on Sunday but being in a position to contend for wins in high-pressure races shows significant career progress.
Strong performances towards the end of the year highlight the strides Elliott has made since February, fulfilling his goal of improvement in each race.
“I hope we grow every week,” Elliott said. “I hope I grow as a person every week and grow as a racer every week. That is something I think everybody tries to do and I try to do better and do my job and came up short again, and that is frustrating, and I get it.”
After a hard-fought Playoffs effort, the focus is on what Elliott could have done differently.
However, the most significant takeaway will be that he established himself as a top contender and how hungry he will be for success in 2018.
“We just have to keep our morale high and go to Homestead next week and get ready to close out the season strong and bring everything we’ve got come next season,” Elliott said.
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