BROOKLYN, MI - JUNE 16: Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 NAPA Chevrolet, sits in his car during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 16, 2017 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Elliott exceeds expectations with second at Michigan — again

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BROOKLYN, Mich. — Finishing second typically hasn’t left a pleasant taste for Chase Elliott, who still is seeking the first victory of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. Sunday, a second-place run that exceeded his expectations was quite the consolation.

Elliott raced to a season-best, runner-up finish in Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway, finishing .993 seconds behind race winner Kyle Larson. The 21-year-old driver has made three premier-series starts at Michigan; he’s finished second in all three.

Elliott emerged from a cluster of three intense restarts in the final 15 laps to secure his fifth top-five performance of the season. Though he couldn’t catch Larson down the stretch, there was some salvation to be found in a finish he wasn’t sure he’d see at the start of the day.

“I didn’t think we had a very good car coming into the day and the guys made a lot of gains,” Elliott said of his Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet crew, adding he felt the team “overachieved” from the weekend’s starting point. “I was able to run just outside the top five and into the top five there toward the end. Had unbelievable pit stops on pit road today, which was great and hopefully we can carry some of that forward.”

Momentum has been a relatively new commodity for Elliott, who endured a dreadful four-race stretch from late April through May with a quartet of finishes of 24th or worse. That span included a pair of crash-related DNFs.

His most recent three-race stint boasts results of fifth, eighth and Sunday’s second.

“I look back to the month of May, and it’s not like we ran really, really bad,” Elliott said. “We had a lot of things that didn’t go our way. We had some fast cars through that month, didn’t have very good results to show for it. I don’t necessarily think that our performance has changed just in the past three weeks. I think we’ve had those kind of opportunities in the few race prior to that that just never really showed.”

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The result helped solidify his fifth-place stature in the series’ points standings, but he’s still among a host of other contenders lacking a regular-season win to fortify their playoff hopes. That crowded list of thus-far winless elite includes two drivers ahead of him in the points — Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick — with hopes of locking down their berths in the 16-driver postseason field.

Elliott insisted that playoff implications aren’t at the forefront during the course of the race, and that he’s not scoreboard-watching … yet.

“I guess you could get caught up in it. You can think about it, worry about it all you want,” Elliott said. “I mean, really, the people who run good, the people that put themselves in position are going to win, period. That’s the way it is. That’s the deal. You might as well just go ahead and count on the guys that consistently run well. You can pretty much count on them winning.

“Wherever that shakes out, it’s going to shake you out. I think if you run well enough every week, you’re probably going to get a (winner’s) sticker before too long.”