For Chase Elliott, what happened at Talladega stays at Talladega

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS - OCTOBER 19: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, waits during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on October 19, 2019 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Talladega wasn’t good to Chase Elliott.

As a matter of fact, it was so unkind that it left the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ reigning most popular driver in a probable must-win situation in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Last Saturday, Elliott won the pole for the 500 at Talladega. From that point on, however, the weekend went south in a hurry. Despite starting up front, Elliott failed to collect points in the first 55-lap stage of the race.

Three laps from the end of Stage 2, he was caught up in a 10-car wreck. Again, no stage points. Though Elliott recovered to finish eighth in the event, third best among the Playoff contenders, he left Talladega 22 points below the cut line for the Round of 8—the residue of a blown engine early in the opening Round of 12 race at Dover.

“I knew that, after we didn’t score any points in that first stage on Sunday, that we pretty much needed to win that second stage and probably finish in the top five to still be in the points situation to points our way through,” Elliott said.

“We knew then that we were going to be in trouble. After we crashed coming to the end of the second stage, we pretty much knew our fate was going to be to have to win the race or win at Kansas. It didn’t work out at Talladega, but we have an opportunity here, and we just have to embrace that. Hopefully it works out.”

Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Alex Bowman and William Byron are in the same leaky boat. Bowman is 18 points out of the last Playoff-eligible spot, currently held by Joey Logano. Byron is last among the Playoff drivers in 12th place, 27 points behind Logano.

The odds are that the three Hendrick drivers at best are competing for one spot in the Round of 8.

“Obviously, one of us could make it through, and the rest of us couldn’t,” Elliott said. “So there’s definitely more at stake. I’m not really sure it changes how we do things, though. I feel like our weekly routine has been the same all year long. It’s going to stay the same.”

Elliott starts 14th Sunday.

Greg Engle