For Chase Elliott, the first seven races of the 2021 NASCAR Cup season were “eventful.”
That’s one way of describing only earning two top fives and finishing 13th or worse in four of the remaining five races, including one DNF.
So the Hendrick Motorsports driver was more than pleased with an “uneventful” Sunday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway, which ended with a second-place finish.
It’s a notable result for a defending series champion who remains winless through eight races and only has one stage win.
“Every week, it’s been one thing or another, a bad run, or just whatever,” Elliott said after finishing behind Martin Truex Jr. “Just nice to have just a smooth day. No damage, we didn’t break anything, everything was just smooth, it was uneventful. And that’s the days you have to have to compete for wins, ultimately. Some of that’s in your hand, some of it is not. Just really nice to have an uneventful day, so to speak. And get a solid finish, get some solid stage points. So it was definitely a step in the right direction for us.”
Elliott started fifth Saturday night and placed fourth in both stages after the race resumed Sunday from a rain delay.
After the final caution of the race, he restarted in the top five with 42 laps to go. He passed Denny Hamlin for second with six laps to go.
“The (final) run was kind of that right distance for me there at the end to maximize it,” Elliott told Fox Sports 1. “I feel like if it was probably any longer than that I was probably going to fade again like I had been all day. I really appreciate the effort. We worked really hard today to get back to second. I feel like every strategy call and circumstance just went the other direction for us. Had a couple of good restarts there at the end. Had a good pit stop and made a good last adjustment just for a short run …. We’ve had a very eventful year I feel like, so it’s nice to have a solid day, got some stage points and got a good finish.”
Elliott was a driver to watch at the half-mile track after he won last year’s playoff race, which secured him a spot in the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway.
But he’s been largely absent from the front of the field in 2021. After leading 73 laps through the first four events, he hasn’t led any laps since.
At this point last year (the second race at Charlotte Motor Speedway), Elliott had one win and three other top fives, plus an additional top 10.
Despite the lack of success, Elliott enters race No. 9 at Richmond Raceway (April 18) seventh in the standings.
Elliott called Sunday’s race at Martinsville “important” because of the track’s placement as the final cutoff race of the playoff.
“They’re all important, but for sure, when you get down to that Round of 8, if you’re still alive in that deal, a win at any of those tracks gives you an opportunity,” Elliott said. “As long as it’s where it’s at in the final 10, it will always be an important race.”