KANSAS CITY, Kan.—Chase Elliott hopes to pick up at Kansas Speedway right where he left off last October—in Victory Lane.
But it’s a new season, with a new aerodynamic and engine package. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will race in the Digital Ally 400 at night. Elliott won in the afternoon.
Still, he likes his chances.
“A lot is different,” Elliott said. “Obviously the rules and being a nighttime race versus being an afternoon race here in the fall. And it’s pretty cool here this weekend.
“Obviously the race is going to look different from what we saw here then. So I’m excited to see what it is. It’s definitely been a different practice session than what we’ve seen at these other places where we’ve have a big spoiler and high drag and stuff.”
Until recently, Hendrick Motorsports had not been setting the world on fire. Kurt Busch actually led the Chevrolet charge behind the wheel of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Camaro. Then Elliott finished second at Martinsville. He won the pole for Bristol. And, finally, he broke through with his first victory of the year at Talladega Superspeedway.
“The biggest takeaway for us is just having a victory this early, which is nice,” Elliott said. “Aside from that, we’ve had some mediocre runs. We’ve had a couple of races where I felt like I had an opportunity to win and some races where we didn’t have a fighting chance to win. So having a victory is nice, and that’s our biggest take-away right now.
“I think it’s better, for sure. I still think we have room to improve and do a better job yet. But definitely the performances over the past couple of weeks have been nice. And yeah, I think that helps."
In his first three starts on intermediate tracks, Elliott’s average finish was 13.6, with a top result of ninth at Las Vegas. On Friday, Elliott ran sixth in Happy Hour and was also sixth in Best 10 Consecutive Lap Average. He qualified fifth behind the four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers, led by Kevin Harvick.
With competition being so tight among the top 15 teams, drivers are finding it nearly impossible to pass. Even the best racers are searching for an edge. Elliott led 145 laps at Dover International Speedway last weekend but couldn’t work his way back to the point when it counted.
“I think you’re going to have to be smart with everything,” Elliott said. “That’s where pit road and the sequence of pit stops and when you pit and how you get on and off pit road; those are the details I think are even more important now. But, it was tough last weekend, for sure; especially there at the end. It was very difficult to make something happen.
"So it just puts more emphasis on situations like restarts and pit road and pit stops. It’s not just how fast your pit stop is, but how fast you get down pit road and how fast you get inside your box and get stopped and let your guys go to work and how close you are to your mark and all those things are just that much more important. That’s why you see the guys who are really good at that stuff typically towards the front because they’re gaining spots at times or people tend to forget about.”
A couple of drivers—and team owner Bob Leavine—were quite vocal about the racing last week at Dover. Other drivers, such as Harvick, have insisted the inability to pass is nothing new. But don’t expect Elliott to join the debate or take his concerns to NASCAR. The second-generation driver is more judicious when it comes to picking his battles.
“I think there is certainly a right way to maybe bring it up,” Elliott said. “Frankly, I’ve tried to voice my opinion at different times or in those meetings that we’re supposed to voice our opinions in. And at the end of the day, I’ve come to the realization, and maybe this will change as time goes, but I just don’t think that my opinion matters to the people who make the rules.
“Really and truly, I’m not sure that it should, right? Why do the owners and the drivers and the teams even have a voice in some of that stuff? When it comes down to it, just make the rules and be done with it. We’re racing. Either you like it or your don’t.”