Twelfth place in NASCAR’s Chase standings isn’t a good place to be.
But that’s where rookie Chase Elliott finds himself this weekend, heading into Sunday’s Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, the third and final race of the second round of the playoffs.
It’s an elimination race, with the field being cut from 12 to eight drivers for the third round, which begins next week at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
“It’s a simple position we are in,” Elliott said Friday.
Simple to grasp, perhaps, but difficult to escape.
For Elliott to advance automatically, he would have to win Sunday, something he has yet to do during his first season in the Cup series. Failing that, Elliott will have to somehow make up the 25 points that separate him from the eighth-spot in the standings, which is shared by Joey Logano and Austin Dillon.
But I would rather fight through whatever kind of issues you’ve got to have if you are running well to make it through.
The first two races of the second round weren’t kind of Elliott, who comfortably qualified for the Chase on points and made the second round the same way.
He finished 33rd after a late-race wreck at Charlotte, despite leading 103 laps. He had a strong car at Kansas last week, leading four laps before tire problems knocked him down to a 31st-place finish.
That’s translated to 12th in the standings, where he’s also 18 points behind Brad Keselowski in 11th.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed by the outcome the past couple of weekends,” said Elliott. “I think anybody would be and should be. The biggest piece of it I think is the encouragement of how we have been running. But I would rather fight through whatever kind of issues you’ve got to have if you are running well to make it through.”
Chase Elliott needs to make up 25 points to climb up to eighth place in the standings.
Although he is working from behind everybody else, Elliott isn’t the only one who needs something special to happen Sunday. Keselowski and 10th-place Denny Hamlin also need to race their way into the top eight or win. Dillon would lose a tiebreaker to Logano for eighth (Logano’s third-place finish last week at Kansas being the difference – for now).
But Elliott will be able to count on teammate Jimmie Johnson for help – to a point. The nature of Talladega’s restrictor-plate racing makes it possible for drivers to push and pull others along.
32.0 Elliott’s average finish in two second-round Chase races.
“I think from an on-track standpoint Talladega is about the only place I could help him and could work with him,” said Johnson, who clinched a spot in the third round by winning at Charlotte two weeks ago.
“We have all been leaning on each other tremendously, so that will also be there. But come race time we still have to race. Talladega is probably the one place I can help him.”
“It’s great to have teammates, especially when you come to the (restrictor-) plate tracks,” Elliott said. “We have seen groups or teams work together in the past to try to help a guy have a good run or help an organization to have a good run as a whole. We have had some small conversations. The biggest thing is just to not hurt one another. You can be in situations and it can be hard to help somebody, but there are times where you could hurt them a lot easier.”
1. Jimmie Johnson*
2. Matt Kenseth
3. Kyle Busch
4. Carl Edwards
5. Kurt Busch
6. Martin Truex Jr.
7. Kevin Harvick*
8. Joey Logano
8. Austin Dillon
10. Denny Hamlin
11. Brad Keselowski
12. Chase Elliott
Note: Four drivers will be eliminated after Sunday’s race at Talladega
* Clinched spot in round of 8