CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) – Chase Elliott first had to figure out how to stop losing races before he could find his way to victory lane.
It probably took a dozen losses in the NASCAR Cup Series before Elliott went up. The road at Watkins Glen to finally close his first victory. That August victory locked him in the playoffs, and he closed the second round of the championship chase with victories in Dover and Kansas.
Now Elliott is in the third round of the playoffs, winning two of the last three races. and three of the last 11 date from his advance at Watkins Glen, and he may be a legitimate candidate for the title. Once the first win was out of the game, Elliott switched to another gear knowing he could win at the highest level.
Team leader Alan Gustafson compared it to a change in mental focus that all athletes face.
"I always feel that when you're in a situation, whatever it is, if you shoot a foul shot, hit a golf shot, compete in a car, when you get to the foul line, it's your mind that tells you to yourself: "I'm going to do it?" "I'm going to lose it." That psychology is a big part of success, "said Gustafson.
"As you gain confidence and you win, you make free throws, when you get to the line, you know you're going to achieve them." I do not feel like his personality has changed, but I think now, when he sees that opportunity, he sees it more. How? Yes, I can do this & # 39; instead of the 100 things that can go wrong. "
And many things Elliott went bad after he won the Xfinity Series championship in 2014, when he was 18 years old and was finally eligible to run a full season of NASCAR. The plans were formed in 2015 for his move to the big leagues with Hendrick Motorsports as a replacement to retire four-time champion Jeff Gordon. Elliott was in the seat shortly after turning 20 years old.
He is the son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, NASCAR champion in 1988 and a 16-time record winner of the most popular driver award. Chase Elliott joined NASCAR with an integrated fan base that he wants to match his father's success. Because he's with Hendrick, on Gordon's old journey, the victories should have been immediate, right?
Elliott won the pole for his Daytona 500 debut, but finished 37th. His rookie season he scored five finishes of second or third, a tenth place in the standings and no win.
The second year was like a bad repetition. The pole again at Daytona and nothing to show for that effort. Even worse? Five finalists and almost a sure win took Martinsville Speedway. Elliott led at the end of the race on the Virginia track with only a few laps remaining before what would have been her first victory and an automatic place in the championship final.
Elliott was destroyed by Denny Hamlin. He did not win, did not advance to the final four and two weeks later in Phoenix he retaliated to make sure that Hamlin would not compete for the title either.
Last year's foul remains emotional for Elliott and his team as NASCAR returns to Martinsville for the opening race of the third round of the playoffs on Sunday. Four drivers will compete for the title next month at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and Elliott believes he can be one of them.