They were not the first runner-up finishes of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, but Chase Elliott said he believes he learned a lot more from this year’s near-misses than those of 2016.
“Absolutely,” the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports said. “Learning the hard way for sure, but you definitely do learn things from those situations. I definitely have.”
The 2016 Sunoco Rookie of the Year, Elliott scored 10 top-five finishes in his debut season with HMS, including runner-up results at Michigan in June and again in August. He qualified for the Playoffs and finished 10th in points. His first victory, it seemed, was just around the corner.
While 2017 saw continued improvement from Elliott, the second-place finishes continued to mount. But still no breakthrough victory. Twelve top-five results, this time five that saw him finish one spot behind the race winner.
Again, he qualified for the Playoffs and this time nearly made it to the Championship 4. But not quite.
His most recent second-place finish? That came at Phoenix, the final race of the Round of 8. His final landing spot in the points was an impressive fifth.
“A lot of those situations were very different from one another,” Elliott, 22, said of the runner-up results. “I think back to some of the races and the races I was more disappointed in – being in the lead in some of those situations and losing it in the closing laps. Others being kind of on offense in the closing laps and being able to set to second (place).
“They’re all different and I think you can learn from each one of them. I definitely think I have.”
The son of 1988 series champion and NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bill Elliott, Chase has inherited something of a veteran status among the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers heading into 2018.
The past three seasons have seen the departure of Hendrick staples Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne.
At 42, seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson is the group’s elder statesman. He returns for a 17th season to try and add to his 83-win total and break a championship tie with fellow seven-timers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
Alex Bowman, 24, has two year’s Cup experience with BK Racing but spent the last year doing simulator work after filling in for 10 races in ’16 in the No. 88 of HMS driver Earnhardt Jr. The three top-10 finishes and a pole at Phoenix put him in the driver’s seat, literally, as the frontrunner for taking over the seat once Earnhardt Jr. announced he was stepping aside for good.
Elliott has four fewer starts in the series than Bowman, but won the Xfinity Series title in ’14 while the fourth member of the group, William Byron has yet to make his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start.
The 20-year-old Byron does have a championship in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and seven victories in the Camping World Truck Series.
After piloting the No. 24 entry in ‘16-17, Elliott will field the No. 9 for HMS in ’18, a nod to his father’s racing success. It’s a move that will take the No. 5 entry, which was the first for team owner Rick Hendrick, out of the rotation.
Byron will compete in the No. 24 previously attached to Elliott.
“Definitely it’s going to be different,” Elliott said of the group’s new look.
“Bowman and Byron have ‘proven they know how to race’,” he said. “They don’t need any help to be good race car drivers. They’re going to win races and be contenders, I have no doubt. Alex proved that last year; he proved it again in just a couple of Xfinity Series starts this season. Give that guy what he needs to go fast and he’s going to go fast.
“William too. The run he made this year to win that (Xfinity) championship was impressive. I think it surprised a lot of people. I don’t think people expected him to go and do that. I loved seeing him prove people wrong. As a racer, there’s nothing better.”