Chase Elliott stabilizes playoff path with Talladega victory

TALLADEGA, Ala. — If documenting Chase Elliott’s starts so far in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs were done by line graph, the resulting chart would resemble a jagged connection of points with high peaks and precipitously low valleys. Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway marked another striking zig.

Elliott righted the ship in a big way Sunday, earning safe passage into the next round of the Cup Series’ postseason with a convincing final charge to a narrow victory in the YellaWood 500. The outcome tamped down the heartache of his early crash-out in the Round of 12 opener at Texas, enhancing his chances at a second Cup Series championship and taking the pressure off for Sunday’s elimination race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval.

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The undulations along the way? For Elliott, that’s almost part of his job description.

“Yeah, I mean, I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” Elliott said. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal. So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.”

Elliott cruised to the Cup Series’ Regular Season Championship this year, with few blips in his chain of consistency. The playoffs have presented quite the reset, especially in round-opening races.

A Stage 1 crash in the postseason opener at Darlington Raceway left Elliott with a last-place finish. The Hendrick Motorsports driver overcame that dent with an 11th-place run at Kansas, followed by a runner-up result at Bristol to keep his title hopes alive.

The second-round opener at Texas dished Elliott another finish outside the top 30, with a downed tire and subsequent crash dropping him to the edge of the elimination line with only a four-point buffer for Talladega. Sunday’s pivot in the right direction left a positive impression on team owner Rick Hendrick, who noted and lauded Elliott’s ability to withstand the buffeting of ever-oscillating playoff winds.

“We had a lot of momentum going, then we had the tire failure. We just kind of hit a bump,” Hendrick said. “So this is good momentum to have the points now to go into the Roval where he’s really good, get into the Round of 8 and move on. This is great momentum for him. This race means a lot to Chase. It was great to see the fans excited. Boy, it was a heck of a race.”

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While the victory buoyed Elliott’s playoff hopes, it also provided another momentous point in his climb up the all-time Cup Series win list. Elliott’s 18th win places him near Hall of Fame-caliber company, drawing him even with a handful of drivers with connections to his Hendrick Motorsports team.

Career win No. 18 has pulled Elliott even with current teammate Kyle Larson, but also has him all square with Hendrick forebearers Geoff Bodine and Kasey Kahne. Bodine scored win No. 1 for Hendrick’s fledgling All-Star Racing outfit in 1984; Elliott’s most recent win marked the team’s 290th.

“That’s really cool. Kind of hard to believe honestly, I mean, 18,” said Elliott, who is just one win behind the career totals of Hall of Famers Davey Allison and Buddy Baker. “Yeah, I’m super proud of that honestly. Just knowing how hard one was, to have 18 now is really special. I would love to keep adding to that obviously as time goes on. Very grateful for the 18 that we have.”

“Proud that we’ve been able to grow together and give ourselves that many opportunities to grab checkered flags. Hopefully we can get some more.”