El­liott seeks play­off-sav­ing win

Needs a win to stay alive in Chase

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Jenna Fryer

TAL­LADEGA, ALA. >> Chase El­liott has been inch­ing to­ward his first ca­reer Sprint Cup vic­tory all year, only to come up short time and time again.

He needs it to come Sun­day at Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way, where any­thing but a win will likely elim­i­nate the rookie phe­nom from NASCAR’s play­offs.

There have been five times this year that El­liott has fin­ished sec­ond or third. He’s been in­side the top five a to­tal of nine times. He might have even won at Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way two weeks ago un­til he wrecked. Then a tire prob­lem at Kan­sas dropped him to last in the Chase for the Sprint Cup stand­ings and on the edge of elim­i­na­tion.

“We are ob­vi­ously dis­ap­pointed in the way the past two weeks have gone, hav­ing such strong cars,” El­liott said Fri­day. “Bu­tit­put­susi­napret­tysim­plis­tic sit­u­a­tion for this week­end.”

The third and fi­nal race of this leg of the Chase will trim the ti­tle con­tenders from 12 to eight, and Jim­mie John­son and Kevin Har­vick al­ready have spots locked down. There are no guar­an­tees for the re­main­ing six spots, as driv­ers have come to Tal­ladega the last two years in good po­si­tion only to be bounced out af­ter a bad day at the su­per­speed­way.

At the bot­tom of the stand­ings along with El­liott are Day­tona 500 win­ner Denny Ham­lin, who raced for the ti­tle two years ago, and Brad Ke­selowski, who was in a must­win sit­u­a­tion at Tal­ladega two years ago and got the vic­tory needed to ad­vance to the third round.

Also in shaky po­si­tion: Joey Sprint Cup Se­ries driver Chase El­liott, sits in his car and waits in the garage area be­fore prac­tice for Sun­day’s NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way, Fri­day in Tal­ladega, Ala. Logano, who won all three races in the sec­ond round last year, and Martin Truex Jr., win­ner of two races in the first round this sea­son but sud­denly is one sub-par day away from be­ing bounced out of the Chase.

Truex made it to the cham­pi­onship round a year ago and didn’t seem too stressed about his chances on Fri­day. He’s sixth in the stand­ings.

“You just go race, see what hap­pens,” Truex said. “We’re ei­ther go­ing to make it or we’re not. Wor­ry­ing about it, think­ing about sce­nar­ios, what do you have to do? All those things, it doesn’t do any­body any good.”

El­liott is re­al­is­tic about his chances. He fin­ished third in two of the first three Chase races and soared into the sec­ond round be­hind im­proved per­for­mance from Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports. Then he led 103 laps at Char­lotte, only to be caught in an ac­ci­dent that wasn’t his fault. He fin­ished 33rd and then 31st at Kan­sas.

Typ­i­cally very hard on him­self af­ter a poor fin­ish, El­liott was en­cour­aged by how well his Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports team has been run­ning. He said he be­lieves he can race his way into the third round — and race for the cham­pi­onship.

“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.”

Here’s a look at how some other driv­ers are ap­proach­ing Tal­ladega:

TRUEX

He’s a very good re­stric­tor­plate racer, and fin­ished sec­ond to de facto team­mate Ham­lin in the Day­tona 500 as the Toy­ota camp ran a well-strate­gized race. He’ll try to be smart again on Sun­day rather than risk his ti­tle chances af­ter mov­ing to the top of the list of fa­vorites at the start of the Chase. Truex has three wins in the last seven races and his Fur­ni­ture Row Rac­ing team has been one of the most con­sis­tent this year.

It is his in­tent to race to­ward the front all day and not drift back into the pack — a strat­egy some driv­ers use in an ef­fort to stay far be­hind ac­ci­dents. Truex be­lieves that’s a risky plan.

LOGANO

Tied for the eighth and fi­nal trans­fer po­si­tion, Logano finds him­self in an odd po­si­tion. He raced for the cham­pi­onship in 2014, then swept the sec­ond round last year.

But he’s win­less in the Chase this sea­son and finds him­self in dan­ger of elim­i­na­tion along with Team Penske team­mate Ke­selowski. Logano helped Ke­selowski to his must-win vic­tory at Tal­ladega two years ago, but with the sea­son on the line, each needs the best fin­ish they can get.

CARL ED­WARDS

Like Truex, he wants to race up front all day. He fin­ished fifth in the Day­tona 500 when the Toy­otas ex­e­cuted per­fectly to get four of the top five po­si­tions, but isn’t ex­pect­ing that team­work to work the same on Sun­day.

Ed­wards is fourth in the stand­ings, and Toy­ota driv­ers have five spots in the top 12. The man­u­fac­turer wants all five driv­ers to ad­vance on Sun­day, which will be Toy­ota’s 1,000th race in the Cup Se­ries.

Ed­wards isn’t sure how it will work.

“I feel like Day­tona was just a once in a ev­ery­thing aligned and that was un­be­liev­able how well it worked,” Ed­wards said. “More of­ten than not even if you have a plan, man, they fall apart so eas­ily here. I think you have to re­ally, re­ally be con­scious of the de­vel­op­ing race and dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances.”

BUTCH DILL — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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