There is only one Hendrick Motorsports driver in its four-car garage who has not won a race in 2021, and he just so happens to be its winningest contender from 2020.
William Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet punched through first in this season’s third event at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which is a big timeline change from scoring his first career win in last year’s regular-season finale. Alex Bowman won one race last season in the No. 88 and then returned the No. 48 to Victory Lane this season at Richmond Raceway. Kyle Larson is new to the organization and already won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the No. 5 entry.
Chase Elliott, however, has yet to punch the No. 9 team’s ticket into the playoffs. And he’s the sport’s reigning champion.
Of Elliott’s career 11 wins, five of them came in 2020 — the third-highest mark in the NASCAR Cup Series, only behind Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick (nine) and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin (seven) — and of those five, the first came in the eighth race of the season.
Now, 10 races into 2021, Elliott has three top-five and four top-10 finishes. No wins. And there have been nine different winners so far.
Overall, there have been 2,785 laps run this season, of which Elliott has completed 2,680 circuits (96 percent; one DNF). During that span, he has spent 618 in the top five (ninth best in the series) and 1,421 in the top 10 (also ninth best). His average running position is 11.79 – eighth best – and his average finishing position is 14.1 – 10th best.
For comparison, Elliott’s 2020 average running position was 9.21 and his 2020 average finishing position was 11.7.
That was after a full 36-race schedule, though.
For better comparison, Elliott’s average running position through 10 events last season was 7.59 and his average finishing position through 10 events last season was 12.9.
Clearly, Elliott was running better at this point in 2020 during races, but his end results weren’t all that different, just slightly better than 2021. Things got better finishing wise, too, as the season progressed.
Elliott currently sits eighth in the point standings — 140 points behind the leader (Hamlin) — then 11th in the 16-driver provisional playoff field — 89 points above the current cutoff line, though there are still 16 races left in the regular season.
Speaking of, up next is Kansas Speedway (Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Elliott is set to fire off 17th after the lineup was set by a performance-metrics formula due to COVID-19 protocol. BetMGM has his odds to win at 9-1.
Elliott won at Kansas in 2018, but his results on 1.5-mile tracks haven’t been so hot as of late. In the last nine races at the track type, Elliott has just one top-10 finish — Kansas in the spring of 2020, when he placed sixth. He hasn’t won on a 1.5-miler in his last 12 attempts.
OK, but that last 1.5-mile win also doubled as his first win of a season (Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2020), so Kansas could very well be the spark Elliott needs for 2021.