Down to the final elimination race before Homestead, it’s win or go home for NASCAR’s most popular driver.
Chase Elliott’s playoffs have been a nightmare of wrecks and blown motors, broken axles and driver error. And now he has to win at Phoenix, where he’s never won before, with five other desperate drivers ahead of him, all trying to join Martin Truex and Kevin Harvick in the “final four.”
He’s the last of the Hendrick drivers still in the Chase, but he’s running worse than any of his teammates.
This is as shocking as anything we’ve seen since Jimmie Johnson stopped winning, also in a Hendrick Chevy.
Something’s not right, and while it might be the Chevy design itself, in comparison with the Fords and Toyotas, it seems deeper. Sales of the 2019 Camaro have dropped off, now behind the Mustang and Dodge Challenger in the “pony-car” race. That’s under Rick Hendrick’s skin, probably more so than the race team’s problems.
But it’s as if the sport has moved on and left what was once the most stable and successful team in the marbles.
The scoreboard headed into Phoenix is simple. After the two leaders, there are six drivers with varying degrees of requirements:
Kyle Busch needs 53 points and a new winner. Joey Logano needs 55 points and a new winner. Denny Hamlin needs a win or help to get in on points. The same is true for Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson.
Neither Blaney nor Larson has won at Phoenix, a track dominated by Busch in recent years and Harvick in the years before that. Logano won there in 2016 and Hamlin in 2012.
Elliott hasn’t won in Phoenix in any series.
So it’s win or else now, and nothing since he won at the Roval (after wrecking) suggests he has a shot at the win this week or next.
The team was forlorn after previous incidents with axles and tires and motors. But at Texas, it was Elliott himself.
“Obviously, today was very self-inflicted,” Elliott said last week after crashing by himself on the ninth lap. “I made a mistake that there’s really no excuse for and that’s what you get. You make mistakes, you put yourself in a bad position and that was all on me today. I hate that it happened, but it did and we’ll just go onto Phoenix and try to get a win out there.”
You get the impression that he just wants the year to be over. You get the impression that Chevy and Hendrick and all the Chevrolet teams from Lake Norman to Welcome want to start over.
Preferably with a new design. One that wins on Sunday and sells on Monday.