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June 16, 2024

Chase Elliott excelling but eyes more: ‘We haven’t reached our full potential yet’

Editor’s note: This story was updated after the conclusion of Sunday’s race at Iowa Speedway.

NEWTON, Iowa — Chase Elliott is in the midst of a career year at the NASCAR Cup Series level.

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Perhaps that’s hyperbolic considering the 28-year-old won the championship in 2020 and collected 18 wins from 2018-2022 alone. But the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has been outstanding — nearly to the point of flying under the radar despite being the sport’s six-time defending Most Popular Driver.

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One year after the first winless season since 2017, Elliott’s average finish through 17 races in 2024 is a staggering series-best 9.1, a career-best mark for the ninth-year veteran. His April win at Texas Motor Speedway snapped a 42-race drought, and the No. 9 car has yet to finish worse than 19th all season.

He leaves Sunday’s inaugural race at Iowa Speedway as the regular-season points leader, eight points atop Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson.

“I just think we have a really solid group top to bottom, and everybody has been just super committed to finding that 1% each week and whatever that is, it is,” Elliott said Saturday before his third-place finish. “I just think collectively, we’ve been solid. And I feel that we haven’t reached our full potential yet — and I think that’s exciting.

“And I think that’s OK too, because it’s only halfway through the year and, as we all know, the way this playoff situation is now, you want to be good in those last 10 — and really like the last five.”

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The Georgia native collected five wins in 2022, the debut season of the current Next Gen vehicle, but an off-track injury and a later suspension derailed much of the rhythm Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson sought to build while others learned the car quicker and more effectively.

That gap has closed significantly, and Elliott is seemingly in the hunt every week, evidenced by his fourth-best 11.71 average running position this season entering the Hawkeye State, behind only Larson, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr.

Including his charge to the championship four seasons ago, Elliott strung together three consecutive appearances in the Championship 4 with a chance to win the title. He and his crew know the formula it will take to get back there in November.

“The trick is being good enough to get you to like the Round of 8, and in your mind, not be spectacular yet — and then really try to be spectacular in those last three or four weeks,” Elliott said. “So it’s really just about having a solid enough base to get you through there and then really try to hit home runs in those last few if you can.”