NASCAR & Auto Racing

Winless rookie Chase Elliott needs ’Dega ‘W’ to keep title hopes alive

Chase Elliott is in the Chase, but has a 36-race winless drought to start his Sprint Cup career.
Chase Elliott is in the Chase, but has a 36-race winless drought to start his Sprint Cup career. AP

NASCAR veteran Jimmie Johnson feels for his teammate, rookie Chase Elliott.

Elliott is a budding star in the sport and his hopes are still alive to become the first rookie to win a Cup championship in history. But he has not won in 36 career races.

Elliott has come close, leading a lap and finishing fifth in April’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. He’s gone on to post two runner-up finishes at Michigan and three third-place runs.

But a visit to Victory Lane has remained elusive for Elliott.

“They’ve been so close,” Johnson said. “I feel he’s had two or three he should’ve won by now. Unfortunately the taste of the near-miss just makes you want it more and put more pressure on yourself, the team and the situation.

“But once he rings that bell or they sound that horn, however you want to say it, whenever he figures it out, he’s going to do a lot of it.”

Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway would be a good time for Elliott to break through. If he wins the Hellmann’s 500, Elliott assures himself a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Round of 8.

Anything short of a win and Elliott’s championship dreams are essentially done, because he’s last in the point standings among the final 12. Elliott had a strong showing in his debut Cup race at Talladega in May, sitting on the pole and finishing fifth.

Elliott is not lacking confidence going into Sunday’s race, nor has he given up on possibly becoming the first rookie to win the title.

“I 100 percent think if we can advance through this weekend, I without a doubt, feel like we can be a contender,” Elliott said. “If you don’t feel that way you need to go home. I definitely feel that way. I think we have been running well enough the past couple of weeks to be a contender. Obviously, we haven’t had the finishes to show it, but I feel like the way we’ve been clicking, pit road, practice, the race, I feel like all that stuff has been going in the right direction.

“I definitely think that we could be one of those guys if we can make it through this weekend. A lot of it, you have to have things go your way for sure.”

Things haven’t gone Elliott’s way. He’s strung together good finishes to advance to this point, but finds himself on the brink of elimination with how the first two races this round have gone.

Elliott was running in the top five when a wreck caused him to finish 33rd two weeks ago at Charlotte; and then he struggled with tire issues in a 31st-place finish last week at Kansas.

“I’m disappointed. It’s a bummer, I hate it,” Elliott said. “You hate to have things go like they have, but I think I’m more encouraged by the way we have been running. At the end of the day, that is the most important thing.”

Visiting Victory Lane would cure all this weekend and, as Johnson said, it seems like only a matter of time for Elliott.

Johnson, NASCAR’s active leader in Cup wins with 78, didn’t have to wait as long as Elliott. He won his first race in his 13th career start.

A better comparison for Elliott might be Jeff Gordon, the guy who preceded Elliott in the No. 24 Chevrolet.

Gordon went winless in his first full-time Cup season and didn’t win until his 42nd career race. Gordon, of course, went on to win 93 races in his career.

So all hope is not lost for Elliott. Not for a win, or for a championship. At the end of the day, it’s not too complicated.

“It’s a simple position that we are in,” Elliott said of his win-or-bust situation. “We are up for the challenge and looking forward to Sunday.”

Drew Davison: 817-390-7760, @drewdavison

Hellmann’s 500

1 p.m. Sunday, NBCSN

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