Ninety-nine tries later, Chase Elliott finally has that golden ticket: his first NASCAR Cup Series victory.
And with it comes a basket of gifts. The monkey off his back, for one. A guaranteed playoff berth. Forget the obvious ones, like money. Imagine how good it must have felt to hear that ‘ole Dawsonville (Ga.) siren again.
But, as with any NASCAR driver who captures that first win — superstar-to-be or one-hit-wonder — there’s no resting on your laurels. Elliott said via conference call Tuesday afternoon that Sunday night was a heck of a party, but now? He’ll be back at work in two days time.
Still, there was at least some time for reflection for the 22-year-old. Not necessarily of any magnitude, or how this one win will catapult the rest of his career. But as for this season? It’s only natural to think that first win would be a switch-flip moment for young Elliott. ... Or not.
“It doesn’t change my mindset, I don’t think, for the rest of the year,” Elliott said Tuesday. “Since the day I got here, my first Daytona 500 ... we’ve had the same procedures each week that we go through for these races, and nothing has changed.
“To know that that process and all those things worked to compete for a win just kind of confirms that that’s a good way to go about things.”
Fair enough. It’s a reasonable, mature assessment for such a young driver, but when it takes almost 100 go’s before your first win, there’s something to be said for trusting your process.
Now, that doesn’t mean Elliott won’t do anything differently the last four weeks of this regular season. Now that he’s locked into the playoffs rather than fighting for his role, any extra points he earns from here on out are gravy. A bonus. And that is where you might see some difference.
“The only thing we are thinking about a little more is just trying to get some more playoff points and get to that next bracket of guys that are still ahead of us,” Elliott said. “They’re certainly within reach, and if we can keep running good, I think we can track them down.”
That next bracket — drivers like Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, and Denny Hamlin — haven’t recorded a win yet this season, but to date, they have shown more consistency than Elliott has. And while a win is nice, it doesn’t do much for you in the long run if you can’t parlay it into other quality finishes.
Just ask Austin Dillon, who hasn’t finished in the Top 5 since winning the season-opening Daytona 500.
Compare that to Elliott, whose second-half surge has him on the verge of a legitimate playoff push.
So these last four weekends, starting at Michigan in a few days, don’t be surprised if Elliott is pushing at the end of those stages. Each and every playoff point he collects is a step closer to advancing in the playoffs.
As someone who came within 10 laps of a championship appearance last season solely on the strength of playoff points, Elliott understands better than most.
“I don’t think anybody really expected us to go and battle as far as we did into the Chase (in 2017) and to be pretty dang close to making it to the Final Four if we had been able to finish one off there,” Elliott said.
Only now he has finished one off. Only time will tell if it carries him as far this season.