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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

4 Burning Questions: Can Chase Elliott Keep This Up?

Can Chase Elliott Keep This Up?

With his second win in three races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Chase Elliott has become a popular choice as perhaps the fourth driver to join Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. as the so-called Big Three (Big Four, anyone?).

Elliott’s first three wins have come at three distinctly different racetracks. Watkins Glen International is a road course, Dover International Speedway is a fast concrete mile and Kansas Speedway is a typical D-shaped mile-and-a-half.

None of the final four racetracks match any of those specifications. Sure, Texas Motor Speedway is also a D-shaped mile-and-a-half, but it has significantly different banking than Kansas, and the cars get around there a little faster.

But all three of this round’s racetracks have been great for Elliott the last few years. He was already just a lap-and-a-half away from winning at Martinsville last year before, well, Denny Hamlin happened. So if Elliott is going to get a fourth win this season, the best chance he has may come this weekend. And with Martinsville not being a phenomenal track for the Big Three (Harvick hasn’t won there since 2011, Busch has multiple wins recently but can also be inconsistent and Truex has still never won on a short track), Elliott might be able to not have to get lucky to get the win.

Even if Elliott can’t win this week, there’s still a great chance for the young driver to point his way into the final four. He has an average finish at Texas of 7.4, and his worst finish was this spring’s 11th, while Elliott has two straight top-three finishes at ISM Raceway. With a lot of question marks beginning to show for two of the Big Three, there might just be a pathway for Elliott to end up in the final four come Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Will Harvick and Truex Bounce Back in the Round of 8?

Speaking of the members of the Big Three, both Truex and Harvick’s recent performances don’t spark a whole lot of optimism for the two competing.

Harvick has shown a lot of speed. He was by far the best at Dover and seemed to have the win in hand at Kansas. But pit road penalties ended up dooming the 2014 champion to not even being able to contend for wins at either track.

Pit road penalties aren’t new for the No.4 team; it’s almost a yearly tradition for Rodney Childers and crew to beat themselves at Dover. But now that it happened again at Kansas, it’s going to be replaying in that team’s mind over the next month.

Truex’s problems have been more internal. He did a whole lot of nothing at Kansas, a track type he dominated just a year ago, before ending the day fifth. As many predicted, the No. 78 seems to have lost speed ever since news broke about the team’s demise following this season.

What’s more is that Truex does not have as large a points cushion that Harvick does. Instead of 39 points ahead of the current cut-off spot, Truex is just 23 ahead. If some of the drivers who have been building a lot of momentum recently, like Aric Almirola or Joey Logano, win a couple of races and automatically advance to Homestead, Truex is in serious trouble of advancing.

Although I lean on Harvick making it into the final four despite those issues, Truex may have a much rougher time. And if Truex does make it to the final four, I don’t buy him being able to beat Busch or Harvick or maybe even Elliott at Homestead.

What Will Come of Daniel Suarez?

At this point, the lack of word over Daniel Suarez’s future in the NASCAR Cup Series has become a bit concerning.

A lot of the reason we’re waiting on announcements from Joe Gibbs Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing on the fates of both Truex and Kurt Busch is simply that both are still competing for championships. Once either the season ends or after ISM, the puzzle pieces should come together for both pretty quickly.

But Gene Haas has already said that he doesn’t think Busch will be back in the No. 41 next year. And the fact that it sounds like Suarez going in the ride is not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination would be completely illogical in any other sport.

Suarez’s main problem in his young Cup career so far is that he isn’t as good as Carl Edwards — which is completely unfair. Suarez jumped in the No. 19 with just a month’s notice after Edwards unexpectedly retired, and he has been fairly adequate in the ride. He’s had some good runs and probably deserves a third full-time season in the series, just to see if he can take the next step like so many young drivers do in their third season.

And the fact that Suarez may end up having to watch next season on the couch or in back-of-the-grid equipment should make everybody involved with the sport sick. This financial system has been a complete failure, and the fact that Suarez would probably still be racing in the NASCAR Peak Mexico Series if he didn’t have the support of Carlos Slim and ARRIS in the first place is just as disappointing. Or that other talented, international drivers such as Alon Day that are still waiting for their big chance in the major leagues may never get it because they might not catch the eye of some billionaire in a boardroom.

When Will This Season End Already?

The NASCAR playoffs are way too long.

No sport should take 10 weeks to determine a champion. Major League Baseball has a similar schedule length as NASCAR does, and it is already about to crown a champion after the playoffs started not four weeks ago.

This last month here is such a stretch for everybody. The drivers and crew are tired, teams want to move on to the next season and all the silly season moves that have already happened the past few months. Fans are tired, and ratings have long shown that most choose the NFL over NASCAR. Even reporters are tired after almost 40 nonstop weeks of doing almost nothing but writing about cars going around in circles.

The schedule should have less races, of course. But that’s not going to happen any time soon; why take TV money out of everybody’s pockets? Instead, the playoffs are stretched to almost three months just to try to retain a little bit of fan interest, which in turn devalues both the playoffs themselves and the teams in them. There seemed to be a lot more focus and exposure for everybody in the playoffs back when there were just 12 spots to them.

So the easiest solution to this problem would be to just cut the first round of the playoffs out while instituting some mid-week races in the summertime so that the playoffs still start at about the same time they do now.

Because right now, there’s really no point to the first round besides bloating the field up and prolonging the season, especially once playoff points became a thing.

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About Michael Finley

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Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).

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5 comments

  1. Avatar

    David, it became this way because Brian France said so and gee it has been ever so successful hasn’t it? Let’s see fan attendance has steadily fallen. The tracks have removed seats and are doing all kinds of things to bring fans to their “event”. Of course they are missing the point – the racing isn’t enough to get people into the stands. I’m all for upgrades for comfort but when the stands used to be packed and they didn’t have anything BUT the race to draw people, then obviously someone has made a series of errors but NASCAR never admits they are wrong.

    salb — never been into this chase/playoff whatever you want to call it. Phony silly way to define a champion.

    • Avatar

      Sorry guys but the racing is better now than when the stands were full! Look at the stats! I went to 508 of those Cup races from 1958 until 2014.

    • Avatar

      wildcatsfan2016 Brian may have wanted it to but it was the fans, along with the media which covered the sport which made it this way. Under the old system few people seemed to really care, and it certainly wasn’t the obsession that it is today.

      There is more than enough blame to go around, beginning with Nascar, for where the “sport” is today. But perhaps it doesnt matter. The circus goes on every week, ISC is still profitable, and I find interesting things to do every weekend in my old age.

  2. Avatar

    The question I continue to ask myself, and maybe I’m too old to understand, is why did the championship become everything and the races irrelevant? I suppose because the championship can be talked about all week and the race itself is old news an hour after its over.
    Still seems odd to me.

  3. Avatar

    If the playoff (that isn’t REALLY a playoff) is designed to pique fan interest, it doesn’t seem to be doing it’s job. I haven’t noticed a huge surge in viewership or attendance lately. frankly, unless Harvick or Kyle Busch win the (semi) title, it’s going to be hard to justify any other winner with the way the season has gone. Is there really any reason to watch any but the final race of the last 10? Not really. These 10 race champeens don’t seem to generate much interest or respect. Ask Jimmie Johnson why, in spite of his exceptional talent, his 7 titles are regarded by many fans as less than those of Petty or Earnhardt. Too much blind luck involved.