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NASCAR Cup Series — Chase Elliott looking to get elusive win, sew up playoff berth

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In revealing his Darlington Raceway paint scheme Tuesday night, Chase Elliott couldn’t help but to think about how well he did at that track the first time he raced on it.

He won.

It was part of an awesome couple of weeks for Elliott that saw him win back-to-back Xfinity Series races at Texas and Darlington, both coming the first time he had ever seen the track.

Winning is never easy, but it showed just how much talent Elliott had and his ability to win.

Since those first Xfinity wins in 2014, he has won three more times in Xfinity and once in a truck (he had a previous truck win in 2013). He still seeks his first Cup win, though, as he makes his 96th career Cup start this weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

He sits 14th in the point standings and 15th on the current playoff grid — a grid that will include 16 drivers when the field is set eight races from now.

Elliott feels his team has made progress this season, but a 19th at Chicagoland Speedway two weeks ago and a wreck Saturday night that relegated him to 34th at Daytona have put him perilously close to the playoff bubble, as he sits just 37 points ahead of the cutoff. A couple of upset victories by drivers outside the top 16 could put Elliott in a position where he must win to make the playoffs.

“You can’t wig out over it — it is what it is,” Elliott said. “I had no control over the crash Saturday night [at Daytona]. Chicago? Yes, I could have done a better job at the end of that race to improve our finish.

“But this past Saturday night, I don’t know what I would have done any different to keep that from happening. That stuff happens. Once we fall out of a race, I can’t control anything beyond that. We’re not freaking out by any means.”

The Darlington paint scheme Elliott will pilot in September pays tribute to his cousin Casey, who died at age 21 — two months after the 22-year-old Elliott was born.

Elliott can look at that paint scheme and have some perspective about his season, a roller-coaster ride of a year that seemed to be on an upswing just a few weeks ago when he competed in the top five all day at Sonoma Raceway, finishing fourth.

“If you do your job and you run like we expect to run and make the most of what we have, I think everything will work itself out,” Elliott said. “If it does, it does. … If we go execute our weekends to our fullest potential and do what we’re capable of, there’s no reason we can’t make the top 16.”

Elliott can think back to those 2014 Xfinity race wins and wonder why things don’t feel the same at the moment. He knows Cup races are much different than Xfinity races, that he stepped into a good situation at JR Motorsports in 2014, and if he did his part, his team would win races.

“I can go back [to tracks where I won] and I feel like I did the same thing I did the first time,” he said. “It comes down to how your performance is at a given time. This sport is so circumstantial. … The Cup side is much more difficult than the Xfinity side. That’s the biggest thing.

“But as far as the feel goes, I can’t say I’d do anything different now than four years ago.”

Just 22 years old, Elliott is expected to have a long career at Hendrick Motorsports. His demeanor shows no sign of cracking under the pressure.

His father, Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, knows racing has its ups and downs and knows there are times when everything goes right and everything goes wrong.

“You watch the race Saturday night and things unfold and you wonder why certain circumstances happen the way they do,” Bill Elliott said. “You can’t control it. I can’t control destiny. I can’t control any of us getting sick or healthy … or if the sun is going to come up or down.

“All I can do is just keep the faith and hope for next week. It’s kind of odd the way things have turned out this year, with Chevrolet coming with the new Camaro and HMS seems like it is a little bit off with their program.”

Chase Elliott’s teammates haven’t had great seasons. Jimmie Johnson is 12th in the standings, Alex Bowman is 15th and William Byron is 21st.

“You have to keep your head, keep your focus,” Bill Elliott said. “Chase has learned a lot. I think he is in a good spot right now as far as him and where he is at in his head and thinking about what he needs to do and work through it.”

In a sport of inches and milliseconds, Chase Elliott said he hasn’t felt helpless.

“We certainly have room to improve, and I think we have improved from where we started the season,” Elliott said. “There have been some weeks where we end practice on Saturday and we’re not in the same league as some of the other people, so you have to make the most of what you’ve got.

“It’s easy to over-reach sometimes and get yourself in more trouble. … Just trying to be realistic with what you have on a given weekend is something you have to do whether you want to deal with it or not. Our team has done a good job of that throughout the season.”



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