El­liott back at Chicagoland after strong day at Sonoma

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Jay Co­hen

JOILET, ILL. » Chase El­liott ar­rived at Chicagoland Speed­way with a blis­ter on his hand and a cer­tain level of sat­is­fac­tion.

The blis­ter was the prod­uct of shift­ing with his right hand while driv­ing with his left on a hot, sweaty week­end at Sonoma. The pos­i­tive feel­ing stemmed from a grat­i­fy­ing fourth­place fin­ish on a chal­leng­ing road course that frus­trated him in the past.

Head­ing to the mid­point of his third sea­son on the NASCAR Cup Se­ries, the 22-year-old El­liott re­mains in search of his first win. But he is learn­ing more and more about what it takes to com­pete at the high­est level of stock car rac­ing.

“One thing I’ve re­al­ized this sea­son is when you have things that are on your side you need to make the most of them while you have them,” El­liott said Fri­day. “I feel like in my ca­reer thus far, I’ve had some por­tions of sea­sons that were re­ally good car-wise and we were re­ally strong, had some great things go­ing for us, things that if I knew then what I know now I would love an­other shot at them.

“I think that’s the big­gest thing is you just have to kind of pick your bat­tles and you know for us, there’s been races to this point through­out the year that we haven’t been the fastest car at the end of prac­tice or at the end of qual­i­fy­ing and you have to re­ally just kind of sit back and make the most of what you have.”

El­liott takes an­other shot at his first win this Sun­day when the Cup Se­ries re­turns to a mid-sum­mer date at Chicagoland for the first time since 2010. The track hosted the open­ing round of the play­offs the past seven years, but Las Ve­gas Mo­tor Speed­way gets the honor this sea­son.

The last time NASCAR vis­ited the 1.5-mile oval in sub­ur­ban Chicago, El­liott led for 42 laps and fin­ished sec­ond last Septem­ber. It was a nice mo­ment for one of rac­ing’s most pop­u­lar young driv­ers. Then, just like that, it was gone. El­liott’s Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports team was pe­nal­ized for an aero­dy­namic mod­i­fi­ca­tion that was dis­cov­ered dur­ing a post-race in­spec­tion. Crew chief Alan Gustafson was fined $25,000 and sus­pended one race, and the team was docked 15 driver points and 15 owner points.

El­liott, who won an XFin­ity Se­ries race at Chicagoland four years ago and fin­ished third in his first Cup race at the track in 2016, dropped from sixth place to eighth in the post­sea­son stand­ings. He took his sec­ond straight play­off ap­pear­ance all the way to Phoenix, where he was passed by Matt Kenseth with 10 laps left and elim­i­nated with an­other sec­ond­place fin­ish.

“The past two races here at Chicago have been re­ally good for us,” El­liott said. “I think that a lot of it is kind of cir­cum­stan­tial. We had some great things go­ing on. I re­mem­ber those two races were right at the be­gin­ning of the play­offs and we had from a car stand­point, we had some good things go­ing, some nice up­grades that were go­ing on aside from our penalty we had some good things go­ing.”

El­liott’s suc­cess at Chicagoland was part of 22 top-five fin­ishes in the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons. A sim­i­lar show­ing this week­end could pro­vide a big lift for the son of 1988 Win­ston Cup Se­ries cham­pion Bill El­liott.

Chase El­liott is just 13th in the se­ries stand­ings. But he ap­pears to be pick­ing up some mo­men­tum, fin­ish­ing in the top 10 in his last three races.

“Like I said a few weeks ago, there are some things go­ing on amongst our group that’s re­ally good and that you have to have to go and com­pete for race wins and I think we’re do­ing some of that,” he said. “Not ev­ery­thing, but we’re do­ing some of the things along the way that it takes. So, put all the pieces to­gether and hope­fully we’ll be there.”

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