ARLINGTON, Texas — Chase Elliott could feel a little bitter at the NASCAR world, considering his on-track performance the past month.
He won two of the three races leading into the event Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. He left Martinsville, despite a respectable seventh-place finish, 31 points behind the cutoff with two races left in the third (semifinal) round.
But there is no time for bitterness as he faces a scenario where mathematically he could still point his way into being one of the four finalists at Homestead-Miami Speedway but more than likely needs to win. He needs to relish the moment.
“I like how simple it makes it,” Elliott said Thursday. “I do enjoy it, and I think you have to enjoy it because you almost need to treat every week like that.
“You need to create a culture within your team that embraces that and enjoys it. Because if you ever were to make it to Homestead, that’s what it’s going to be down there anyways. If you don’t embrace it or enjoy it any given week, then you’re going to be up the creek when you get to Miami.”
Elliott spent part of his day Thursday hanging out at the General Motors plant in Arlington. When things are running at their optimal levels, a new SUV rolls off the factory floor every 60 seconds.
Chase Elliott work for the day: Driving a Tahoe off the assembly line at the Chevrolet plant in Arlington, Texas. Video by Bob Pockrass
As Elliott drove a Tahoe off the floor Thursday, it probably seemed as if it took just that short of time for his season to take a turn for the worse. Joey Logano‘s win at Martinsville created a big margin in points for potentially only one playoff berth, based on points.
Elliott has won two of the past four races, and now he faces a situation in which he probably needs to win Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway or the following week at ISM Raceway in Phoenix to be one of the four finalists Nov. 18 at Homestead.
“We do, for sure — you think that way every week,” Elliott said of thinking about winning. “You can play the points game in general, but winning and getting those points and the ticket to the Miami, basically, now is the most important thing.
“We’re however many points out? I’m sure we need to have some really good runs and try to get a win these next two weeks.”
Sure, the Hendrick Motorsports driver knows that is the way this format works. Brad Keselowski won three consecutive races, including the opening race of the playoffs, only to be knocked out after the season round.
But actually living the reality of it can play with one’s emotions. The pressure is high, as indicated by the fireworks at the end of the race Sunday at Martinsville, where Logano executed the bump-and-run on Martin Truex Jr. for the win, somewhat controversial in how aggressive Logano’s move was.
“That’s the world we live in, now,” Elliott said. “You saw this past weekend. … Martin was in a way better position on points than Joey was and Joey knew that. Our season is way too long and this playoff system is too edgy to not try to punch your ticket if you have an opportunity.
“I don’t fault him for getting aggressive and trying to win. Obviously, there is a right way to go about it and a wrong way, I guess. He didn’t crash him. If you can go about it the right way, it’s all good.”
Elliott has tried not to get too excited with the highs nor frustrated with the lows, if a seventh-place finish at Martinsville could even be considered a “low.” He celebrated the wins but admitted he could enjoy the Dover victory to open the second round more than he could enjoy the win at Kansas to end the second round.
“Winning Dover was way more enjoyable than Kansas was just because you restart the next week [after Kansas],” Elliott said. “That’s kind of the mindset that you have to understand. You have to enjoy those moments and appreciate them, and I certainly did.
“At Dover, you knew you were going to the next round and you had two more weeks to go race and not play the points game, which is awesome not to worry about it or think about it. Once we got to Martinsville, things restart. You have to stay even [keeled] in those times.”
Heading to Texas, Elliott feels he will need to be better Sunday than his previous Cup performances at the track that was the site of his first career Xfinity win. He has finishes fifth, fourth, ninth, eighth and 11th in his five Cups tarts. He has led nine laps total.
“Being good doesn’t really cut it when you get to the round that we’re currently in,” Elliott said. “You have to be running in the top-5 all day long to score and accumulate the points from each stage and the final race result to keep up because that’s what the competitors are going to do. … Nowadays, there’s really no room to be off in an area.
“Everybody is too good.”
So what if he doesn’t make it? He has won three races this year. Many drivers would take three victories and making it to the semifinal round as a fairly decent season.
“I’d much rather have three wins than none, but it just gives you more fire to want to go compete for a championship,” Elliott said. “You get to Homestead, you’re going to have to win [most likely]. So knowing that you’ve won a couple of more races, gives you more confidence to go do that.”