NASCAR Pocono Notebook: Chase Elliott Moving Closer To Breakthrough Victory

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Chase Elliott (Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Chase Elliott (Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

LONG POND, Pa. – If you’re looking for the next first-time winner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Chase Elliott just might be your best bet.

The numbers don’t lie. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year points leader has recorded nine top-10 finishes in the first 13 races of the 2016 season, matching Jimmie Johnson’s 2002 rookie performance in that statistical category.

As Johnson did in his rookie year, Elliott won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500. And like Johnson, Elliott won a second pole in the first 13 races. The difference? By race 13, Johnson had two victories to his credit.

Driving the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet that was the exclusive province of four-time champion Jeff Gordon for 23 years, Elliott is still looking for his first win, but he feels the team is close to a breakthrough.

“Obviously, there are so many good cars each week,” Elliott said during media interviews in advance of Sunday’s Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 (1 p.m. ET on FS1). “It’s not easy anywhere you go. As I’ve said, I feel like I have a team and a group of guys that are capable of winning if I do my part for them. I truly believe that. When I come to the race track each weekend, I really have the strong belief that our team can win. I think that’s something that’s important for all of us to believe.

“And if we didn’t believe that, we might as well stay home. That’s the mind-set we have coming into each race weekend, regardless of where it is. And that’s our mind-set here (at Pocono Raceway), just as it is everywhere else. We’re working hard at it. If I could tell the future, I’d tell you. But, we’re going to give it our best effort to do that and if we do, great. If we don’t, it sure won’t be for a lack of effort.”


Before last week’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Martin Truex Jr.’s 2016 season could have been summed up with a lyric from the blues standard “Born Under a Bad Sign.”

“If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all,” could well have been Truex’s theme for the current campaign.

He lost the Daytona 500 to Denny Hamlin by six inches. He led 141 laps at Texas and finished sixth. He won the pole and led 172 of 267 laps at Kansas, only to have a pit road snafu drop him to 14th at the finish.

But Truex’s luck changed at Charlotte, where he turned in one of the most dominating performances in the history of NASCAR racing, leading an event- and track-record 392 laps and a single-race record 588 miles.

All told Truex has led a career-high 809 laps this season—18.8 percent of the 4,303 laps he’s completed.

And though Truex is quick to credit his Furniture Row team and the organization’s move to a factory-supported role with Toyota, the driver of the No. 78 Camry deserves plenty of credit, too.

“I’d have to give most of the credit to the team,” Truex said on Friday at Pocono Raceway, where he is the defending winner of the Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400. “I’m different. I’m doing things different. I feel different. I feel like I’m a better driver than I’ve ever been, but unless you have a great team and all the things around you it takes to be competitive at this level against these drivers against these teams … you’ve got to have it all.

“We just have to stay focused, and I think we know what it takes now. My guys are really, really smart about focusing on the right things, the right areas, giving me the information I need to be a better driver, so just got to keep focused and make sure we’re ready when the last 10 races start this year.”

Though Truex qualified 17th on Friday, failing to advance to the final round of knockout time trials, he was fourth fastest in race trim during final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice on Saturday.


The Busch brothers topped the speed chart in Saturday’s final practice for the Axalta 400. Kyle Busch posted the fastest lap of the session, covering the 2.5-mile distance in 50.876 seconds (176.901 mph). Kurt Busch was close behind at 176.800 mph. … Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Greg Ives worked on their car throughout practice but finished the session 17th on the speed chart at 174.795 mph. Pole winner Brad Keselowski was sixth fastest at 175.792 mph.

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