Five days after a disappointing end to his Daytona 500, Chase Elliott was back at work at his home track, Atlanta Motor Speedway, preparing for Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 and doing his part to get a so-far elusive first Monster Energy Cup victory.
Sunday’s race is Elliott’s 43rd in NASCAR’s elite series, a relatively short period in a sport that runs 38 points-paying races a season.
And while his near victories over the past two seasons, including at Daytona a week ago, where he led 23 of the final 26 laps before he ran out of fuel, have disappointed Elliott and his fans, they’re not uncommon for NASCAR newcomers.
Back in the B.C. (before Chase) era of the Elliott family racing history, his father, Bill, had 20 top-five finishes, including eight second-place finishes before scoring his first win, at Riverside, Calif., in 1983 in his 116th start.
Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne had six runner-up finishes before getting his first win in his 47th start.
So far, Chase Elliott has two runner-up finishes and eight other top-five finishes.
He said in a media session Friday that his dad has pointed out that his own career saw a lot of near-wins before finally breaking into Victory Lane.
“Yeah, he has brought that up a couple of times,” Elliott said. “He has mentioned that.”
Elliott went on to say that he and his dad raced in different eras, but there are similarities.
“It kind of just goes to show you if it’s not your day, it’s not your day,” he said. “As well as they ran, for him to not have a win until he did there at Riverside. …
“I guess whenever it’s meant to be our day it will be, and hopefully that day comes.”
Elliott also said that having the lead in the late stages of a race at any track, but especially on the restrictor-plate venues Daytona and Talladega, is no sure sign of victory.
“Yes, we were leading, and it’s easy to say, ‘ah it was ours to lose,’” he said. “In reality there were still three laps to go, and three laps at Daytona is a long time.
“So, I think for us to sit back and think that we had it locked down is kind of foolish. For us, it’s disappointing for sure, but there are some positives to take from the day and again, we were faced with circumstances that we really couldn’t control, and I felt like we played what we had the best we could.
“Some days that is all you can do.”
As he continues to pursue that first win, Elliott said that while there are things he learned in his first Cup season, there are others situations yet to be experienced.
“Of those things that we have seen, I feel good about, and I feel great about our team,” he said. “I think we made some good changes over the offseason. I feel like everybody’s moving in a positive direction and I feel like I’m just kind of real proud and happy to be where I am. …
“At this point in the season that is kind of all you can ask for until you get started and kind of see what you are missing and where you need to go.”
The challenges in Sunday’s 500-miler include trying to figure out how NASCAR’s new format of dividing races into three stages will play out on Atlanta’s worn racing surface, which will be repaved after Sunday’s race.
“I will be honest with you I’m kind of curious myself to see,” Elliott said. “The biggest thing I looked at with Atlanta is tires are at such a premium.
“You run just a couple of laps, and you are going to want tires again because that is going to allow you to move forward.”
He said tire wear and track surfaces will continue to be factors as the season goes on.
“The track surface is going to have a big factor in the stage racing as the year goes on and what you can do on a set of tires, how long you can stay out,” he said. “I think that will change it a good bit.”