Chase Elliott and the No. 9 team just took first place twice in three races and did more than he needed to advance to the semi-final round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Playoffs. After winning Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, Elliott is making a case to be the favourite to win the whole thing at Homestead.
Chase Elliot just became the favorite to win NASCAR Cup Series Title
In a year where Ford has obscenely dominated its competition – five cars in the final eight compared to two from Toyota and Elliott’s lone Chevrolet entry – the No. 9 team found a way to advance, convincingly.
All it took was getting that first-win chip off of their shoulders.
Since Elliott won at Watkins Glen, he has an average finish of 10.18 – the third highest among playoff drivers still alive and was two position spots away from attaining the highest.
Over the stretch, Elliott has failed to finish outside of the top nine just three times – finishing P15 at the Brickyard, P36 at Las Vegas, and P31 at Talladega a week ago.
With all of the success that Elliott has seen over the past 11 races and the three tracks the series has left to go before its championship, it isn’t hard to envision the No. 9 car doing burnouts at Homestead.
The round opens up at Martinsville Speedway – a track where not only does Hendrick Motorsports have a long line of success, but one where Chase Elliott nearly captured his first win a year ago.
That is, until Denny Hamlin had something to say about it.
Going into the turn three, Hamlin got into the rear end of Elliott’s car and spun the Georgia native. The move spurred one of the most interesting finishes of all time and a memorable quote from Elliott.
“I thought that was funny because there was nobody within two car lengths of him into Turn 3 behind myself,” Elliott told Sporting News. “I don’t know what the deal was, but it is so disappointing. We had the best car I’ve ever had here at Martinsville. And had an opportunity to go straight to Homestead and because of him we don’t.”
Martinsville Flashback: Denny Hamlin wrecks Chase Elliott … and this fan on pit road is not happy. pic.twitter.com/QxwFnqKPY6
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) March 23, 2018
Over the years at Martinsville, Hendrick Motorsports has seen an amount of dominance at Martinsville – in fact, the team’s 24 wins at the track are the most of any track HMS has raced at.
The number is so high in large part due to the driver that piloted the No. 24 car – Jeff Gordon. Gordon has nine wins on the track stretching from his first victory at the track in 1996 to his last of his career in 2015 – the first year of the NASCAR playoffs.
Elliott has picked it up where Gordon left off for him. After his first start at the track ended in a P38 finish in his five-race pre-rookie season, Elliott started to figure things out.
The young buck earned a P20 and P12 during the pair of 2016 races in his rookie season. In the three races since, Elliott has finished third and ninth, with the exception of P27 after his run-in with Hamlin while in the lead.
All signs point to Elliott having more success at the track as the series will race there on Sunday afternoon, but what might stand in his way at Martinsville along with the other tracks.
What stands in Chase’s way
Elliott will be up battling against a barrage of Fords as he drives the lone Chevrolet in the field.
Stewart-Haas Racing has been so dominant in 2018, that it managed to land all four of the drivers on its roster in the semi-final round of the playoffs.
Kevin Harvick lead the way for the team with seven wins over the course of the season along with Aric Almirola earning his first with the team in the quarterfinal round at Talladega. Not to mention, Clint Bowyer earned two trips to victory lane this year, with one being at the Martinsville spring race.
Along with the four Fords from SHR, Joey Logano is bringing in a different sort of experience. Logano was left out of the playoffs in 2017 after making it all the way to Homestead in 2016. He was 10 laps away from winning the title back then, what’s to say the No. 22 team doesn’t get it done again?
Whatever the outcome may be this weekend, Elliott’s team is ready.
“That’s three [wins] and we are coming,” spotter Eddie D’Hondt said over the radio after the nine-car crossed the finish line last week at Kansas.
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