By: Ashley McCubbin
Although he was able to close the gap to the Joe Gibbs Racing duo in the run to the checkered flag, Chase Elliott was unable to track down Martin Truex Jr. for the win, resulting in a runner-up finish.
The reason why? The No. 9 car was lacking rear grip, which was “kind of the story of my day.”
“That was also the problem there at the end,” he told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “Just didn’t have the drive I needed to get up off the corner like I wanted and to be able to really get the power down early.
“Yeah, solid day, but just came up short.”
Although it was not the day many would have envisioned following his victory last November, it certainly marks a solid turnaround after a rocky beginning to his title defense. Through eight races in 2021, Elliott has only scored a top-10 in half of the events, plagued by incidents and mechanical issues throughout.
“Like I said earlier, just nice to have an uneventful day, so to speak,” he said. “Just have some nice stage points, have a nice finish, those things are always nice. I feel like we had a mistake-free day, which is what you have to have, so it was good.”
Elliott went on to say he feels if they can continue to have days like these, a win may be just around the corner as “that’s the days you have to have to compete.”
Certainly, they have shown potential to do so – leading laps in four of the eight races, and steadily having been a force inside the top-five through the early stages of the events. Though whether it’s something happening on-track, or losing the handle a bit, seeing the No. 9 fade through the later half has been the result.
The other hindering factor is failing pre-race technical inspection and having to start events from the tail of the field – as they have twice this year. While he was able to overcome the penalty to win the title last fall, it takes away your ability to score stage points and establish track position to set yourself up for the rest of the event.
With Hendrick Motorsports currently hitting on all eight cylinders – as evident by wins for William Byron and Kyle Larson with all four consistently running in the top-five weekly, capitalizing on the opportunity should be paramount. That is something Elliott knows all too well about, having done so last year in winning at Martinsville to make the Championship 4.
While he did not repeat the feat on Sunday, it was certainly “a step in the right direction” according to Elliott in asserting their title defense.