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Did You Notice? … Chase Elliott Chasing Unrealistic Expectations

Did You Notice? … Chase Elliott’s bitter pill to swallow after losing the Daytona 500? Elliott, whose dry gas tank cost him the lead with three laps remaining, dropped from first to 14th at the finish. Leaving without an interview from a reporter, he issued a brief statement through Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet saying the end was “disappointing.”

“Just one of those things you can’t do anything about,” he said. “I’m happy with how the NAPA team performed, and we are going to learn from it.”

First off, I’m not sure what you can learn from in that type of situation. That race is NASCAR’s Super Bowl; every car in the lead pack was trying to stretch it on gas. Could Chase have really made it last three more laps by hanging out in back? I think it’s unlikely.

What’s becoming more common, though is the way in which this youngster has experienced close losses. It’s the third time in the last 11 races he has led 35 laps or more only to come up short.

Runner-up finisher Ryan Blaney, a close friend of Elliott’s was even asked about it after the 500.

“He’s very hard on himself,” Blaney said, admitting loyalties lied with Chase and the No. 24 car if he couldn’t win. “I mean, that’s the way he is.  He wants to do so well.  He does do a great job and everything.  You see him, he should have won two or three races last year.  Things didn’t work out.  Not his fault.  You get down on yourself.

“But he’s going to win tons of races in his career.  He’s going to win a lot this year.”

Chase, along with Martin Truex Jr. said that no media approached them after a reporter claimed in the postrace presser he was upset.

However, coming so close only to fall short of Victory Lane can paralyze a driver, creating the sophomore slump we’ve seen so often in promising rookies. Kyle Larson had it; so did Kasey Kahne. Heck, Kevin Harvick had as many suspensions as race wins (one) in his second season.

It puts Elliott at a crossroads early in his career, heading to his hometown track of Atlanta Motor Speedway. But the son of a legend and Jeff Gordon’s replacement shouldn’t be so down on himself. 42 starts into his Cup career, the stat line compares favorably to plenty of the sport’s great drivers in the modern era.

CAREER STATS – 42 STARTS IN

Driver                  Wins              Top 5        Top 10           Poles    Laps Led

Chase Elliott               0                      10                   17                   3          397

Jeff Gordon                 1                      10                   15                   2           326

Dale Earnhardt     3                    18                   25                   4          879

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.   2                      4                      7                       2          443

Denny Hamlin           2                      7                      22                     4          443

Kevin Harvick            2                      7                     18                      0          379

Jimmie Johnson        3                      7                     24                     4           838

Kasey Kahne               0                     15                    16                     4           693

Matt Kenseth              1                      5                      13                     0          162

Bobby Labonte           0                      0                      7                      1          33

Kyle Larson                 0                      8                      17                    1          54

Joey Logano                1                      4                      8                      0          37

Tony Stewart              3                     15                    26                     2          1,223

As you can see, Elliott falls somewhere in the middle. He’s not lighting it up like Earnhardt (who benefitted from lesser competition in the late 1970s) but he’s far more consistent than Logano or Labonte.

Most importantly, Elliott is right on pace with Gordon, the man he’s trying to emulate. The only stat that separates them is Gordon’s victory, one that was earned – you guessed it – in his 42nd career start.

A few extra drops of gas, then, and Elliott would be ahead of the curve. He’s still just fine, in position to win many races and challenge for a championship as soon as this year.

The key is for those close to him, right now to serve as a reminder of that. It’s easy for young athletes to fall down the rabbit hole if they’re not careful.

Did You Notice? … How quickly NASCAR’s entry list dropped to under 40 cars? Despite a handful of quality underdog performances in the 500, Atlanta has just 39 cars attempting to make the grid. Gone are Beard Motorsports, Gaunt Brothers Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, all of whom are planning on running just the plate events.

In Beard’s case, his small No. 75 team got rewarded with an 11th-place run. But they know that, despite the strong start, continuing on to Atlanta, an intermediate oval where raw horsepower reigns supreme would leave them at a decided disadvantage. Why play around at places where you’re guaranteed to run 35th?

2016 Richmond I NXS Brendan Gaughan vertical Russell LaBounty NKP
Beard Motorsports rode the back of Brendan Gaughan to an 11th-place finish at Daytona. But would such a run be possible at an intermediate track like Atlanta this weekend? (Photo: Russell LaBounty / NKP)

Therein lies NASCAR’s problem as it attempts to take the next step forward in recovery. Attracting new owners (and new manufacturers) will mean further tweaks to ensure the lower tier of teams can battle for top-10 finishes more frequently. This sport is an expensive proposition, and it’s easy to smell out the best way to spend your money is to do it the four times a year where you have an equal chance of winning the trophy and cashing in.

That number has got to be higher. Small teams thrived in the late ’90s because there were a handful of tracks they could focus their resources on to maximize success. Cale Yarborough’s team, for example, focused on the plate races with John Andretti because they knew it was a strength. Cutting costs for the rest of the schedule was worth it in order to have that one win.

NASCAR needs to create an environment where new owners feel they can take those chances and be successful. Where they won’t drown in debt if they want to test the water for 10-12 races and see how it goes.

But until those changes happen, we’ll see this pattern continue and have an unused spot or two on the grid. What a shame.

Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off…

  • Keep an eye on Kasey Kahne this weekend. Atlanta is one of his best tracks and Kahne had a solid Speedweeks under the radar. Seventh place was his highest Daytona 500 finish since 2008 and the veteran knows he’s already got JR Motorsports newcomer William Byron breathing down his neck.
  • Another guy to keep an eye on: Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing. Owner Barney Visser tried to deny it at Speedweeks but they showed all the signs of a team suffering through the growing pains of expansion.
  • You need to look closer at the sport’s Daytona TV ratings to understand the optimism. Ratings among Men 18-34 were up 10 percent, tying a four-year high; ratings among Adults 18-34 were up 13 percent. The fan base, like in last year’s Chase showed signs of trending younger and that’s a necessary evolution for what’s been an aging sport.
  • One interesting side note to this new system you may not have noticed yet: first place won’t always get the most points. Take the 500 as an example. Kurt Busch, who led only one lap, scored a total of eight bonus points in the first two stages. That left him with 48 points total. Blaney, who was third and 10th in the first two stages, earned 44. Had the sophomore been as high as third and fifth, he would have outpointed Busch despite failing to win the race for this first time in his Cup career.

Did you miss my column with Five Major Storylines To Follow After Daytona? Click here to access it at Athlon Sports. 

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kb

“Did You Notice? … Chase Elliott Chasing Unrealistic Expectations”

Oh yes I did, but it wasn’t the blah, blah, blah…narrative that is played continuously about him
being “hard on himself”. No indeed it was not!!!! LOL.

Tyler

Chase left without talking to reporters but responded on twitter that was because he was parked on the other end of pit road and no one approached him. Someone else (I think Truex) said the same thing.

DoninAjax

“Ratings among Men 18-34 were up 10 percent, tying a four-year high; ratings among Adults 18-34 were up 13 percent.”

Men 18-34 up 10%
Adults 18-34 up 13%
Non-Men Adults up 3%

I can’t wait to see the exaggerated spin Brian puts on that.

Steve

My guess is, its a combination of the 500 and people curious to know if the new stage format will work. I expect an increase for the first few races. If the stage format is a shown to be a flop, ratings will go right back down.

Jeffrey Wehrle

As Jeff Gordon said once you don’t interview losers.. Get them next race GO GO GO #24 AND #48…KEEP DRIVING HARD CHASE WINS ARE COMING ..GET THAT 8TH CUP JJ. GO GO GOOOO..

Sol Shine

Elliott is a phenomenal talent, I just wish he hadn’t gone to the dark side at Hendrick. But no doubt he IS going to win a ton of races and likely a championship or two along the way.

I’m surprised at why the low buck teams run the plate races, they are obviously ignoring that there has to be a much higher probability of having your car destroyed there than at most other tracks, except maybe Marty or Bristol.

I think the uptick in interest was probably due to the many changes in format, I suspect the year is overall going to reflect the downward trend. The hardcore fans do not like the tinkering with the race format, the Chase format particularly ticks hardcore race people off. Nothing they changed is going to draw that group back into the fold, if anything it will harden their opposition.

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