Chase Elliott believes playoff field is "as strong as it’s ever been"
Chase Elliott has qualified for the playoffs in the NASCAR Cup Series in all three of his seasons but this one stands out a little more than the rest.
“The big thing I’ve noticed this year about the playoffs is that it didn’t seem like we had as many random winners throughout the season,” Elliott said Friday at Richmond (Va.) Raceway.
“It seemed like the people who won, I thought were guys who have run pretty well throughout the year for the most part. So, your field of 16, to me, is probably as strong as it’s ever been since I’ve been doing this.”
To Elliott’s point, through the 26 races of the regular season, three drivers – Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. – combined to win 17 of the events.
Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer had two apiece, which left single victories for Elliott, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon and Erik Jones.
That left six drivers in the playoffs without wins, but among those are seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, 31-time race winner Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson, who has finished second six times this seasons.
Not exactly slouches.
“Typically, your first round is not too bad because those guys that might have not had a very good day going and had a weather delay get them a victory, or whatever, and get them in; they were the first ones out, typically,” Elliott, 22, said.
“I think this round is going to be tough. I expect (Saturday) night to be hard fought.”
Drivers like Elliott, Hamlin, Jones and Johnson are trying to fight their way out of cutoff danger with Saturday night’s race at Richmond, a short track, and next weekend’s inaugural race on the Roval course at Charlotte Motor Speedway to do it.
That may be a daunting task.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of rooting and gouging next week and real easy to pick-up some damage on your car. As fragile as these cars are, we saw last week guys were just barely touching the wall and three or four laps later they’re crashed,” Elliott said.
“So, it’s important to run good here, absolutely. I would love to go and have another (winner’s) sticker Saturday night and not have to worry about next week.”
Elliott received some good news on Friday as one of his team sponsors, Hooters, agreed to a three-year contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports and would increase its primary sponsorship of Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet from two to three races each season.
“I feel like it’s been a really good partnership and very natural,” he said. “They’ve done such a great job activating. They only have a few races a year. But, they’re important to them and they’re important to us.”
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