NASCAR & Auto Racing

Fifth-place finish not the goal for Cup rookie Elliott

Chase Elliott qualified fourth but had to start in 40th after switching his transmission.
Chase Elliott qualified fourth but had to start in 40th after switching his transmission. pmoseley@star-telegram.com

His best-ever finish in the Sprint Cup Series Saturday night at the Duck Commander 500 didn’t leave rookie driver Chase Elliott feeling great about his night at Texas Motor Speedway.

He wants more.

“Running fifth isn’t a contender,” the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet said. “You’ve got to be running higher. We’ll keep working at it.”

Elliott had a chance late in the race when crew chief Alan Gustafson opted to take two tires on a pit stop to get Elliott track position. That move didn’t work out though as a caution followed three laps later and Elliott was back in the pits for four tires, giving up valuable track position.

He still managed to rally for his fourth top-10 finish of the season. He also had no complaints about the decisions Gustafson made.

“It was Alan’s decision to come back and it was a quick decision,” Elliott said. “He didn’t have a lot of time. Pretty much after the caution came out the first time back pit road was open. Those crew chiefs are in a position where they have to make the call in a hurry. They definitely have my respect because that’s a tough spot to be in. As I’ve said, we’re a team. I’m going to support his decision right, wrong or indifferent. I was happy we did it and we tried to make the most of it.”

Elliott and his team made the most of the weekend from the get go. He qualified fourth Friday but ended up starting Saturday’s race 40th because the team had to change out the transmission.

But less than 100 laps into the race he was running inside the top 20. He even led a lap during a series of pit stops. That marked just the third time this year that Elliott has led a race for Hendrick Motorsports.

While he wasn’t thrilled with his showing, his teammates were impressed with what they saw from the 20-year-old son of Bill Elliott.

“It was great to see Chase up there,” second-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “His car was doing some great things. He was driving a great line.”

Jimmie Johnson felt like Elliott had a chance to win after the restart on two tires.

“He was ready to go green and on to Victory Lane,” Johnson said. “I’d go have a beer with him. I guess he can’t have a beer yet. I’d have a beer and tease him with it. When you see him perform at tracks like these I think it’s a good sign of what we’re going to see in his future.”

Tracks like TMS have already been good to Elliott despite his young age. His first-ever win in the Xfinity Series came at TMS in the spring of 2014. He’s finished in the top 10 in all four of his starts at the track.

His fifth-place showing Saturday also moved him up two spots to 14th in points. But again, that’s not his goal.

“It was a solid night,” he said. “The biggest thing is having a good car. I was really happy with it, especially on the long runs. We made some gains on our short-run speed. We definitely have some work to do. I’m not content. We’d like to be contenders so we’re going to keep working on it.”

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