Motorsport News

Is It Time to Worry About Chase Elliott?

NASCAR Cup Series driver Chase Elliott prepares for the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, NKP

Did You Notice? … Chase Elliott remains the only Hendrick Motorsports driver without a top-five finish in 2024?

Through six races, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver has run no better than eighth, leading only 18 laps on the year. Compare that to Elliott’s three HMS teammates, who have combined for three wins, seven top fives and 291 laps led.

HMS also has a pole, earned this weekend at Circuit of the Americas, courtesy of William Byron before he went out and laid waste to the field. While Byron coasted to victory, Elliott found himself a distant 16th, spun out midway through and never in position to be a serious contender. His winless drought is now up to 40 races, the worst of his Cup career since beginning it a frustrating 0-for-98.

But once Elliott broke through, he got over the hump of early near-misses in a big way. Looking back, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver posted a five-year stretch from 2018-22 most drivers would envy. The 2020 Cup champion, he earned a total of three Championship 4 appearances, 18 wins and nearly 4,000 laps led. He appeared the de facto heir of the HMS dynasty following the full-time retirements of Jeff Gordon (2015), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2017) and Jimmie Johnson (2020).

Instead, since that Hall-of-Fame-level performance, Elliott has regressed. The Kyle Larson signing in 2021 led to a title run that displaced Elliott atop the HMS food chain. 2022 was initially a bounce-back year that ended with an inconsistent playoff run; Elliott limped into the Championship 4 only by virtue of his regular season performance. A crash left him a disappointing 28th in the finale, as Elliott ended that season both emotionally and physically worn out.

“When the time comes, we’ll go to work on it,” Elliott said after Ross Chastain contact ended his title hopes. “But that’s not today. I can assure you that. We’re going to enjoy a little time off, just like a lot of you guys [the media] are. It’s a long season. A lot of effort goes into this deal.

“When we get back to Daytona next year, we’ll be ready to go, and we will put the focus on the things that we feel like we need to put them on and see where we stack up then.”

Of course, everyone knows what happened after that; Elliott broke his leg in a snowboarding accident last March, missed six races and never got back in rhythm. An added one-race suspension for intentional contact with Denny Hamlin during the Coca-Cola 600 sealed the first…

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