Chase Elliott had to win to get in but is no underdog at Phoenix
Technically, Chase Elliott may be the biggest surprise of the four drivers vying for the NASCAR Cup Series championship but he is by no means a longshot.
Elliott is the first Chevrolet driver and first for Hendrick Motorsports to reach the Championship 4 in the season finale since 2016.
While his journey through the NASCAR playoffs to this point may be surprising, one would be hard-pressed to name him an underdog in Sunday’s title race at Phoenix.
Elliott, 24, has three or more wins in three consecutive seasons now and has advanced to the playoffs every year he has been a fulltime driver in the Cup Series.
In position to win it all
His victory Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway was not only dominant but showed his No. 9 HMS team at its best.
“This is the biggest win ever for us. I’m just so proud to be able to be backed into a corner like that and have to win,” Elliott said. I feel like that’s what we’ve been missing these past four or five years – perform when we don’t have a choice.
“I think when you’re able to be in a position that we were in, like we were (Sunday night), have to go to perform, go and do that, I think everybody gains a lot of confidence from it. We proved to ourselves that we can do it.
“I think we have always believed we can do it. But to go out there and achieve it certainly is something we haven’t experienced yet as a group.”
Elliott’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, agrees Sunday’s win has much more lasting potential than simply advancing to the Championship 4 this season.
“I never played in the Major Leagues or whatever, but you think about the World Series, you’re up to bat, this is it, right? Bottom of the ninth, two outs. It’s up to you to make it happen,” he said. “Those pressure situations in sport are great.
“I think that’s what draws so many fans and gets everybody so excited. It’s such a special moment. That’s what you have to do. You have to be able to deliver. That’s it, it’s your last shot. It’s time to go, time to do it.
“There’s no tomorrow.”
Looking ahead to Phoenix
This time for Elliott and the No. 9 team there is a tomorrow when it comes to having the opportunity to cap a strong season with their first series title.
The momentum from Elliott’s win will help, of course, but is his fairly brief Cup Series career, Elliott has had some impressive performances at Phoenix Raceway.
In nine career starts, Elliott has five top-10 finishes, including finishes of second and third and seventh mostly recently this spring in a race in which he also led a race-high 93 laps.
Of the four Championship 4 drivers this season, only Joey Logano – who won the race – finished better than Elliott in the spring Phoenix race.
“To win a championship in this series, you have to make the final four. We’ve seen the same crowd make the final four since this deal has been implemented,” Elliott said.
“We want to assert ourselves amongst the people who can make it consistently.”
This season, Elliott and his team have taken that first giant step
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