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.”