Pres­sure’s on El­liott, and he’s fine with that

Star-Telegram (Sunday) - - Sports - BY AN­THONY ANDRO Spe­cial to the Star-Tele­gram

It’s not enough that Chase El­liott comes from rac­ing roy­alty thanks to hav­ing one of the all-time greats, Bill El­liott, for a fa­ther.

Add to that El­liott is the only hope tra­di­tional rac­ing power Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports has at win­ning a ti­tle as no other team car sur­vived to the round of eight in the Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries play­offs. If that wasn’t enough, El­liott is also the lone Chevro­let driver stand­ing for a com­pany that has won more than twice as many ti­tles (39) as the next man­u­fac­turer (Ford, 15).

Hav­ing to live up to all of that would seem like a tall or­der, but it’s a chal­lenge that El­liott has met head on and has de­vel­oped into one of the big­gest stars in the sport at the ripe old age of 22.

“It’s im­por­tant for the sport that he has suc­cess,” Texas Mo­tor Speed­way pres­i­dent Ed­die Gos­sage said. “I read where Dale [Earn­hardt] Jr. used to read that about him­self and it of­fended him be­cause he took it as it was he wasn’t do­ing well enough. He said now he’s come to re­al­ize what it meant was peo­ple all wanted him to win. Chase can lift our whole sport be­cause the fans have taken to him so closely, and he’s de­liv­ered this year – three wins. If he wins three races every year for the rest of his life that’s per­fect.”

El­liott was Gos­sage’s choice to win the cham­pi­onship a few weeks ago so he may have been a lit­tle bi­ased. Or maybe he was onto some­thing.

In this third full sea­son in NASCAR’s top se­ries, the driver of the No. 9 Chevro­let has emerged as one of the top stars in the sport. He earned his first Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries win at Watkins Glen, put­ting him 43 wins be­hind his fa­ther. Once the play­offs started El­liott closed the gap even more with wins at Dover and Kansas.

“I def­i­nitely had some more con­fi­dence af­ter get­ting to Watkins Glen,” said El­liott, who toured the Gen­eral Mo­tors plant in Ar­ling­ton on Thurs­day along with his fa­ther. “That was a ma­jor hur­dle. There were some try­ing times to get to that point. But the big­gest thing since then is just know­ing that to win those races we haven’t changed our ap­proach at all to do that. From my rookie year to ’17 to this year from week-to-week our ap­proach in meet­ings and prepa­ra­tions haven’t changed a bit. I think that’s great to know that the process we use works. That’s en­cour­ag­ing.”

El­liott may have to tin­ker with his ap­proach a lit­tle ei­ther Sun­day or next week in Phoenix. He’s on the out­side look­ing in in the race to se­cure one of the four spots in the sea­son fi­nale at Home­stead. A win guar­an­tees him a spot, and that’s what he may have to rely on as he’s sixth in points and 31 out of the play­off pic­ture.

He knows that’s go­ing to be a tough task given the ex­pe­ri­enced driv­ers ahead of him. Four of the five ahead of him in the stand­ings have won cham­pi­onships and the lone ex­cep­tion (Joey Logano), who is guar­an­teed a spot at Home­stead af­ter last week’s win at Martinsville.

That’s go­ing to make out­ma­neu­ver­ing the com­pe­ti­tion tough.

“You can get ag­gres­sive here and there but through­out the sea­son ev­ery­one is ag­gres­sive all the time,” he said. “Gutsy pit strate­gies that we used to think were gutsy five years ago are the norm now. That’s just what we see every week. Gas only. Two tires. You do what you do to put your­self in the best po­si­tion you can.”

El­liott hasn’t fin­ished worse than 11th in his five starts at the track. Those are good num­bers, but good isn’t good enough at this point. He strug­gled in prac­tice Fri­day and will start 16th.

“Hon­estly, be­ing good doesn’t cut it in the round that we’re cur­rently in,” said El­liott, who did win his first Xfin­ity Se­ries race at TMS in 2014. “You have to be run­ning in­side the top five all day to score and ac­cu­mu­late the points from each stage and ob­vi­ously the fi­nal race re­sults to keep up be­cause that’s what the com­peti­tors are go­ing to do.”

A three-win break­out sea­son would be enough for a lot of driv­ers. But not for El­liott.

“Sure, win­ning is great,” he said. “I’d rather much have three wins than none, but no I think it just gives you more fire to want to com­pete for a cham­pi­onship be­cause you know when you get to Home­stead you’re go­ing to have to win. And that you’ve won a cou­ple of races gives you some con­fi­dence to go do that.”

Chase El­liott

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