Elliott all busi­ness in quest for re­peat

Hen­drick driver ex­pect­ing ‘tough’ bat­tle at The Glen

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SCOREBOARD - By John Kekis

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Chase Elliott is back at Watkins Glen In­ter­na­tional where he won for the first time at NAS­CAR’s top level. Rest as­sured that last year’s vic­tory on the speedy road course in New York’s Fin­ger Lakes re­gion is not on his mind.

“Ev­ery­body wants to talk about last year and that’s great,” the Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports driver said Satur­day be­fore Cup qual­i­fy­ing. “I’m glad last year hap­pened, for sure. Proud of it. But we cel­e­brated it when it was time to cel­e­brate it and now is not re­ally the time to cel­e­brate it.

“It’s out of my sys­tem. It’s time to come back and try to run good,” Elliott said. “... It’s tough. Ev­ery­body’s real close.”

Last year, Elliott had been mired in a con­found­ing los­ing streak since the start of his Cup ca­reer in 2016. His vic­tory at The Glen came in his 99th Cup start and as­sured him of his first spot in the play­offs. It also gave him a big dose of con­fi­dence af­ter lead­ing a race-high 52 laps, out­du­el­ing Kyle Busch to win the sec­ond stage, and hold­ing off Martin Truex Jr. at the end.

In the post­sea­son, Elliott won twice more — at Dover and Kansas — though he failed to make the final four.

“More than any­thing, be­ing fast last year was nice,” said Elliott, who passed Busch in a scin­til­lat­ing sec­ond seg­ment as the crowd roared and didn’t have to worry about him at the end be­cause of a faulty fuel probe that took Busch out of con­tention af­ter a dom­i­nat­ing open­ing seg­ment. “That’s what helps more than any­thing. Just know­ing that we had some de­cent pace. I think that’s the most im­por­tant thing. If you have pace, then the rest of it can come. Hope­fully, we can have that again.”

Elliott has al­ready qual­i­fied for the post­sea­son with his win at Tal­ladega in May, but af­ter four straight top­fives he hasn’t had a top-10 fin­ish in the No. 9 Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports Chevro­let since June at Po­cono, seven races ago.

The race over the 2.45-mile nat­u­ral ter­rain lay­out at Watkins Glen on Sun­day of­fers a chance to gain some mo­men­tum af­ter that tough stretch.

“The frus­trat­ing ones are the ones you can con­trol. Mak­ing mis­takes that we shouldn’t make and I shouldn’t make. Just clean­ing that stuff up,” Elliott said. “It hap­pens. I can’t say I’m bogged down by it, but I cer­tainly want to get things go­ing on the right path. We still have time to do that. This would be as good a place as any to get things go­ing in the right direction.”

Un­like the re­laxed sur­round­ings in Cal­i­for­nia at the road course at Sonoma in June, the at­mos­phere at Watkins Glen of­fers a dif­fer­ent vibe as the play­offs loom. There are only five races re­main­ing in the reg­u­lar sea­son, and the points are bunched-up at the cut­off line. Ryan New­man is ranked 16th and tied in points with Clint Bowyer, and lurk­ing 12 points be­hind them is seven-time Cup cham­pion Jim­mie John­son. The top 16 driv­ers make the post­sea­son and John­son has never failed to qual­ify for the play­offs since they were in­sti­tuted 15 years ago.

Just be­hind John­son are Daniel Suarez, Paul Me­nard, Ricky Sten­house Jr. and Chris Buescher, and among the four only Suarez has not won a Cup race. But Suarez has been stout at Watkins Glen with an av­er­age fin­ish of 3.5 and the third-best driver rating.

Elliott won the pro­vi­sional pole for Sun­day’s race with a speed of 127.297 mph in the sec­ond round of group qual­i­fy­ing to score the top spot.

The pole marks Elliott’s third of the sea­son, pend­ing his pass­ing of in­spec­tion Sun­day morning.

Elliott will be joined on the front row by his Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports team­mate Wil­liam By­ron, who pi­loted the course with a lap of 127.144 mph.

DERIK HAMIL­TON/AP

Chase Elliott earned his first ca­reer Cup Se­ries vic­tory at The Glen last year.

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