In Sunday’s thrilling victory at his home track, Elliott became the first three-time Cup winner in NASCAR history, fending off Corey LaJoie’s bid to win. Sure, it’s been a wild NASCAR Cup season, with everyone in the field seemingly able to win.
As a result of all the chaos, one driver has emerged as the clear favorite.
Everyone is chasing Chase Elliott.
A timely block on the final lap fended off Corey LaJoie’s bid to become the most unlikely winner yet in a year filled with surprises, making the 26-year-old the first three-time winner in the Cup series.
With his win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Elliott joined his father Bill as the only Georgia-born drivers to win at the historic venue.
Elliott celebrated with a crowd that cheered every move of the No. 9 Chevrolet in front of the main grandstand.
In spite of the emotions, NASCAR’s steadiest driver delivered another masterful performance – the kind that has become the norm rather than the exception.
“I just saw a look in his eye all day,” said Jeff Gordon, now the vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports. “You could hear it in his voice. He was just very focused.”
At the Atlanta race, Elliott won the first two stages and led 96 laps, more than twice as many as anyone else on the treacherous, high-banked track. With just under two laps left, after surging by LaJoie and taking the white flag, he aggressively slipped up the track heading into Turn 1 to prevent LaJoie from doing the same.
As soon as the yellow flag came out, LaJoie stayed on the gas, ran out of room, and smacked the wall. Elliott sped away without incident, his victory assured.
There was a lot of motivation behind it, and a lot of confidence coming into it,” Gordon said. “And now the confidence is only going to increase along with the team. It’s a great combination right now.”
LaJoie had no complaints about Elliott’s closing move, but Elliott apologized for it.
It was just good, hard racing – and Elliott is one of the best at it.
“I hate throwing a megablock like that,” he said. “But we’re on our last lap. … The guy is coming at me with a massive run. Can I crash if I throw it up in front of him? Absolutely. I knew I wouldn’t get another shot at him if I let him take the lead right there.”
Along with his victories at Dover, Nashville, and Atlanta, Elliott has a runner-up finish at Road America, a fourth-place finish at Circuit of the Americas, and a fifth-place finish at Darlington.
In 19 races, he has only finished outside the top 20 four times. He has seven other top-10 finishes, just missing another at Phoenix.
As impressive as Elliott’s performance is, it comes in a season in which 13 different winners have already been crowned, including five first-time winners.
“There have been many winners,” Kurt Busch said, “but Chase Elliott has been consistent.”
As Elliott holds a comfortable lead in the point standings and has a playoff spot locked up, a second Cup championship is surely in his sights.
The crew chief, Alan Gustafson, said it’s still far too early to begin looking ahead. There are still seven races left in the regular season, beginning with next weekend’s race on the 1.058-mile oval at Loudon.
It is possible for a lot of things to happen,” Gustafson said. “Just try to improve. There are still things we can do.”
In eight Cup starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Elliott has never won.
The Dawsonville native had a similar record on his home track before Sunday’s victory.
Elliott, sporting a mustache reminiscent of Atlanta Braves rookie pitcher Spencer Strider, hopes to continue the winning streak in his native state.
In January, the Georgia Bulldogs won the national championship in college football. The Braves are the reigning World Series champions.
Elliott appeared in Atlanta with both teams’ championship trophies, along with the Cup he won two years ago, a few weeks ago.
“I am deeply grateful for the way the fans, the Atlanta Braves organization, and the University of Georgia have all treated me like a member of their family,” Elliott said. In the end, I’m just a fan of them. I’ve grown up watching them. I thought it was a great idea to include me and my teammates.”