By Jerry Jordan, Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Chase Elliott went into last week’s race at Watkins Glen International with perhaps his best opportunity to get a must-needed win to make the NASCAR playoffs and he ran out of fuel. Now, he is at the mercy of racing luck as he either wins tomorrow night in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway – a race known for chaos – or he sits out the playoffs and focuses his efforts on finishing as in the points as he can.
Elliott was nowhere to be found after last week’s race but Jeff Gordon visited the media center because Elliott’s teammate, William Byron, has been the star of the Hendrick Motor Sports garage and parked his Chevrolet in Victory Lane at The Glen. Gordon said the feeling was bittersweet as the No. 24 team, for which he used to drive, leads the Cup Series in wins.
“Yeah, it’s sort of the agony sometimes of a four-car team when one of them does so well, has just an absolute flawless day, and I think with what William in the 24 and Rudy (Fugle, crew chief) and that team did, it shows you that you just can’t make any mistakes. You have to, these days more than ever, be flawless, and it means that a whole weekend has got to come together, from qualifying to restarts, pit road strategy, as well as pit stops and restarts. Those guys did it flawlessly.
Unfortunately, we had some mistakes. The 48 (Alex Bowman) was just off. I haven’t really downloaded with them. They were off. I’m not sure how they lost some of the track position. But clearly a miscalculation with the 9 car (Elliott), and that was huge. He was stretching – he came in a little bit short the first stop and so they were trying to stretch it to get closer on the strategy of the others. You always want to pad yourself here just in case there’s a lot of restarts at the end. The fuel just wasn’t there. It was really unfortunate.”
Gordon, who is a four-time champion, didn’t seem too phased by the fact that Elliott is in a must-win situation, saying the sport’s most popular driver has been in that situation for a while.
“I think we’ve felt like we’ve needed a win for a few weeks, so I think that you always race to win, so it doesn’t really change your mindset,” Gordon said. “It just puts a little bit more pressure because of what is at stake. But I also know that they can certainly win there.”
When asked ahead of last week’s race, Elliott was pretty direct with his response to a question from Kickin’ the Tires about needing a win and having to get it at Daytona.
“Well, I mean, Daytona is, umm, to show up there and be in a must-win situation is like going to Vegas and having to hit the nearest slot machine for the jackpot,” Elliott said. “That’s just silly.”
He felt, at the time, that his best shot in a must-win situation was at The Glen and he was candid about the fact that he put himself in the current situation. Now, he just has to go out and do all he can to get to Victory Lane.