It’s no secret, Chase Elliott is the new face of NASCAR. His popularity with the fans has resonated very well. His diecast cars fly off the shelves better than anyone else’s. He’s the new Most Popular Driver.
Now, can he help NASCAR finally take a step forward?
It seems like NASCAR is more popular for the way they’re trending down than anything else. The main reason, in my opinion, is the lack of star power or household names. NASCAR has always had names like Petty, Earnhardt, Pearson, Waltrip, Yarborough, Jarrett, Gordon, Stewart, Wallace, etc. Well, what happens when all of them step away?
Nothing against the drivers racing today. There’s some talent in the Cup Series garage right now. But, they’re just not the household names like before, which in turn, has hurt the series.
Elliott, 23, has the capability of being that household name. His victory at Watkins Glen last August was a popular as they come. In fact, his run in the playoffs helped immensely.
Now, can the Georgia native turn that into a full season of success in 2019?
“I think it’s nice to have won a couple races,” said Elliott on his momentum into 2019 from 2018. “I’m not sure how much of that you can really ride into the next year. It’s kind of a fresh start in a lot of ways. I mean, I think definitely there was nothing negative about the wins and things. I obviously wish we could have finished a little stronger those last handful, but it’s hard to piggy-back off of a win and the month of, what was it, September-October and then continue that in the end of February. But we’ll try our best and try to get rolling.”
Elliott, for whatever reason, just shines at his best towards the end of the year. While that’s the right time to do it, he’s just better in the playoffs.
Over the last two years (20 races), Elliott has scored nine top five finishes and 14 top 10’s in the playoffs. Among those nine top fives are six top two finishes. He peaks at the right time.
But, in the regular season, the success is more widespread. Elliott, only has three top two finishes in the last 52 regular season races. While he’s won two of the last three Daytona 500 poles, his finishes taper off.
What is a bit worrisome for him is his lack of success on restrictor plate tracks. Granted, take that for a grain of salt as it’s a plate race and anything can happen, but with this new aero package for 2019, it’s worth noting.
In 12 career plate starts, Elliott has just one top 10 finish. Six of those eight finishes have been 30th or worse.
If NASCAR wants to grow instead of decline in 2019, they need to root for early season success from Elliott.
Elliott Is Ready For Seat Time
With the new offseason testing rules, Elliott will have gone three months between on track activity. The last time he was in a Cup car was in the season finale at Homestead. The next time he will be in a Cup car is at Daytona for the Clash.
I think it’s definitely a good — I guess a good tune-up, especially for the guys that didn’t get selected to test throughout the off-season,” Elliott said on what he can take away from the season opening Clash next month. “You know, for me, I haven’t been back in the car since Homestead. It will be nice to get in a race and make sure everything looks right and feels right, and those cars are really similar to one another usually from the Clash to the 500. So yeah, I’m sure there’s things to learn.”
Elliott, says that Jimmie Johnson will be doing the testing for HMS at Vegas and that’s he’s interested to hear his feedback.
“I think Jimmie (Johnson) is testing this week, but I think it’s going to be a valuable test. Vegas comes up quick on the schedule, and I think Vegas will be a good indicator as to how the package is going to race at some of the — a little more freshly paved mile-and-a-halfs that we’ll go to. So I think it’ll be interesting to hear his take and honestly kind of let them do their thing and then digest it, and then talk to them after they’ve done all that. Yeah, look forward to talking to him about it, but I think it’ll be valuable for all of us, and Jimmie is a great asset to go test. He does the best of explaining things and feeling them in the car and then being able to put it into words for the rest of us to understand. So he’s a perfect candidate to go out there and do it.”
Elliott On Crew Chief Alan Gustafson
Last week, Gustafson raved on his driver saying that now that he’s won, if he can get Elliott’s cars right then skies the limit on their success. This week, Elliott raved back.
“Yeah, it’s definitely nice,” he said on his relationship and respect for him. “I have a lot of confidence in him, and nice to feel from his end it’s mutual. I think that goes a long way. But our relationship really has been pretty simple. As I’ve told a lot of people, I kind of let his do his thing and he lets me do mine, and we really just go about our business that way. Our friendship has grown, I think, over the past couple years. We’re by no means best friends. I think he would tell you the same thing. But we work well together, and I think that we enjoy the competition aspect at a similar pace, and he and I, I feel like, view a lot of things the same way from that aspect, and when you’re working with somebody and you’re in the roles that he and I are both in, I’m not real sure that there’s a much better fit or a better way to go about it.
“We keep things very simple or as simple as we possibly can, and we believe in our process of how we prepare for races, and yeah, look forward to doing it some more with him this year.”