Chase Elliott has been running better and better every weekend with his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team, but despite his improving runs, he has yet to win a race in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, almost two full seasons in.
Will Elliott win a race this season in the No. 24 car before switching to the No. 9 next season?
You Can’t Rush a Good Thing
Chase Elliott and his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team have been dramatically improving their performance weekly and have found another gear so far in the playoffs.
But he’ll have to wait until 2018 when the number on the side of his car is No. 9 and not No. 24 to earn a trip to Victory Lane.
The reasons he won’t win before the season comes to a close are twofold: time and competition.
There are only five races left this season, and it just so happens that they’re the five most important for every team still eligible to win the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. What does that mean? Teams are bringing their best stuff every week, every practice session, every round of qualifying, every stage, every lap, every race.
Numbers never lie, so let’s look at Elliott’s numbers at the remaining tracks so far in both his Cup and XFINITY career. This season, he has amassed nine top fives and 17 top 10s in the No. 24 Chevrolet. He’s also already led 402 laps, more than his rookie season.
For comparison, in Jeff Gordon’s sophomore season, he actually earned fewer top fives and top 10s than Elliott (seven and 14, respectively). He was 22 years old in 1994, his second full-time season in Cup. Elliott is 21 years old this season, so the comparison is not far off. The only difference: Gordon won two races that season, whereas Elliott has none.
At Kansas Speedway, Elliott has finishes of ninth, 31st and 29th in his career. Nothing to get overly excited about, for sure. He does have an average finish of seventh in his NXS career, for what it’s worth. But this weekend, I have a feeling Kyle Busch, with his back somewhat against the wall, will be the man to beat.
Martinsville Speedway hasn’t been too kind to the Dawsonville, Ga., native, either. He finished third at the Paperclip earlier this season, but finishes of 38th, 20th and 12th earlier in his Cup career aren’t anything in which to take pride. The bright side: he’s on the upswing, and the No. 24 has won at Martinsville many times. But that was from a savvy veteran and first-ballot Hall of Famer, not Elliott.
At Texas Motor Speedway, he might have his best shot. Elliott hasn’t finished outside the top 10 at TMS so far, with results of fifth, fourth and ninth. His average finish in the NXS is also a sporty 6.67, and he also got his first ever win in that series at the track in his championship season in 2014.
The desert has been pretty solid for Elliott, too. Phoenix (or ISM Raceway, if you really want to call it that) has produced finishes of eighth, ninth and 12th in his MENCS career. In XFINITY, he has an average finish of 6.33. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate for next season, Alex Bowman, dominated the event there one year ago in the No. 88, so a No. 24 win for Elliott at Phoenix isn’t far off.
And finally, Homestead-Miami Speedway has elicited an 11th-place finish for Elliott in his lone Cup start (eighth in XFINITY). But if he doesn’t make the Championship 4, it’s highly likely he won’t end up in the winner’s circle, as the best tend to rise to the top and perform in the season finale.
So, those stats are all well and good. But there’s also one other thing standing in his way: everyone else.
I’m not a betting man, but if I was, I’d bet for perennial championship favorite Martin Truex Jr. to win at least one of these remaining races. Busch? Yeah, he can do that pretty easily too. And with three of these tracks being intermediate ones with progressive banking, Kyle Larson will be a favorite to win.
Who else? Well, there’s seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, among others who are trying to do the exact same thing week in and week out. And frankly, those drivers are just straight up better than Elliott right now.
Key words: right now.
Next season, I have no doubt Elliott will win multiple races. I might’ve said that about this season (nah, I did), but hey, we move on. But for this season, with so little time left and so many big name drivers running so well, I don’t see Elliott winning.
Is it a possibility? Sure. Is it probable? Maybe (although that’s an oxymoron). But will it happen? Unfortunately for Elliott and his loyal legion of fans, they’ll have to wait for 2018 and the No. 9. – Davey Segal
Chase-ing Down a Dream
The 2017 season is winding down, but Chase Elliott will pick up his first career win prior to its conclusion.
The only thing more ridiculous than saying that Elliott will not take the No. 24 to Victory Lane is saying that he will never win at all.
Elliott is a talented driver; he didn’t win the 2014 XFINITY Series championship by just being Bill Elliott’s son.
Despite going winless, Elliott has been on a tear as of late. He finished in second place in three of the four races prior to last weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. He may have won the Alabama 500 had Daniel Suarez not made a boneheaded move.
That wreck at Talladega was not Elliott’s fault. For some reason, Suarez decided to drift up an entire lane by himself and thought he could come right back down without someone in the draft being in the spot he formerly occupied.
The way that Elliott is running is exactly what most drivers do soon before their first win. They get used to running in the top five and leading laps, and next thing they know, they are a race-winner.
Even a veteran like Kyle Busch followed the pattern before picking up his first win of 2017. With the exception of the occasional flukes, winning a race is all about building solid momentum in the weeks prior.
Elliott has finally reached that point. He’s figured out plenty of ways to lose, and as hard as he is on himself, he has no doubt learned from his mistakes. All that is left is for him to win.
The Georgian’s team is getting better as well. Year after year, Hendrick Motorsports snoozes during the summer races but hits its peak in the playoffs. The No. 24 is getting faster and faster every week, and speed is another pure way to find yourself in Victory Lane.
There are two tracks coming up on the schedule where Elliott will have an incredible opportunity to pick up his first win: Martinsville and Texas.
The 21-year-old won the Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville earlier this season. He won a stage and finished third place in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series there this spring.
The No. 24 is also historically good at Martinsville, with former driver Jeff Gordon winning there nine times, including his last career win in 2015.
Texas is a good track for Elliott because he placed in the top five in both races there a season ago. The track could be the place for two firsts for Elliott, as his first ever NXS win came at Texas.
Do not expect Elliott to win this year’s championship, but winning at Martinsville or Texas would make Elliott one of the Championship 4 at Homestead.
Regardless of where it happens, Gordon’s days of being the only driver in Cup history to win in the No. 24 are numbered. Elliott will get a win in that car before he moves over to the No. 9.
If Elliott does not get it done, and does not win until he gets in his dad’s former number, then William Byron certainly will when he takes over the reins of the No. 24. – Michael Massie