Chase Elliott is on the clock.
In the last 10 months, young NASCAR Cup series drivers Chris Buescher, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney have picked up their first career victories. Only Larson in that group can match Elliott’s talent, and none of them has equipment as consistently strong as his, and yet all have been somewhere he hasn’t – Victory Lane.
Chase Elliott’s lack of Cup Series victories isn’t for a lack of fast cars. In 55 races, he has led 527 laps.
To be sure, to measure success only by victories over a time span as short as Elliott’s year-plus in the Cup Series is too reductive. Elliott has made just 55 starts in his Cup career, and of those five drivers, only Buescher got his first win prior to that, in career race 27, in a fog-shortened event at Pocono last August.
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By most measures, Elliott’s career is off to a good, if not great, start. There is little doubt that he remains the sport’s Next Big Thing, with a long and successful career ahead of him. Still, the first win is a huge step for a young driver, and Elliott, driver of the No. 24 Chevy for Hendrick, Motorsports needs to take it.
This weekend’s race at Michigan would be a good, and perhaps likely, place for him to do it. Nobody scored more points there last year than he did – he finished second in both races and led a combined 66 laps.
Elliott’s lack of victories isn’t for a lack of fast cars. In those 55 races he has led 527 laps. That’s 99 more than Buescher, Stenhouse, Dillon and Blaney combined. And it would be unfair to say Elliott has given away any races in his young career. But he hasn’t capitalized on several opportunities – he has led at least 25 laps eight different times but didn’t lead the most important lap in any of them.
“We definitely need to execute races – even on the days that your car is not driving like you want it to,” Elliott said earlier this season. “That execution and doing everything correctly on pit road, restarts, giving the right information, can turn a bad day into a pretty good day.”
Michigan is a wide open, relatively flat track where races follow a familiar pattern – long green flag runs with the race winner often determined by fuel mileage and/or pit strategy.
Elliott has been good, but not great, at tracks similar to Michigan so far this season. He finished fifth, third, 10th and ninth at the first four intermediate tracks. He crashed at the next two and finished 29th and 38th.
Elliott is 12th in points when wins are taken into consideration. The top 16 make the playoffs, so his position appears safe, as five non-winners would have to win to knock him out of the postseason.
That’s unlikely, but not impossible: The first five drivers behind him all have at least seven career wins.