Chase Elliott has the trophy from last year’s Pocono win, but not the flag

LEBANON, TENNESSEE - JUNE 24: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, looks on during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Ally 400 - Qualifying at Nashville Superspeedway on June 24, 2023 in Lebanon, Tennessee. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott smiled and bristled a bit when asked if he returns to Pocono (Pa.) Raceway this week feeling like the reigning track champion after being declared last year’s Pocono race winner after the drivers who finished ahead of him on track – apparent winner Denny Hamlin and runner-up Kyle Busch – were disqualified following post-race inspection.

“He actually gave me the trophy, but he kept the flag – his little girl was kind of married to the flag and it was all good,’’ the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion Elliott said. “I appreciated him sending me the trophy. We didn’t win it out-right I certainly would have preferred winning it the way he won it.

“A little bit of a different vibe,’’ Elliott added. “Certainly not in my NASCAR time I don’t remember being gifted a win like that.”

Ironically, Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, returns to Pocono for Sunday’s 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) in desperate need of a trophy.

After missing five races with injury and another because of a NASCAR disciplinary penalty, Elliott is ranked only 23rd in the NASCAR Cup Series points standings with six races remaining to set the 16-driver Playoff field. He is 60 points behind Michael McDowell in 16th place; the final Playoff eligible points position.

Elliott has that win at Pocono last year and is a two-time race winner at the Watkins Glen, N.Y. road course. The series visits Aug. 20 – the iconic road course in upstate New York is where Elliott earned his first career NASCAR Cup Series win in 2018.

Although he has solid statistics to lean on at these next six races, Elliott would obviously rather secure that Playoff position sooner than later and extend his championship-eligible run to eight consecutive seasons – every single year he’s competed fulltime at the NASCAR Cup Series level.

“I hope [we win] here this weekend,’’ Elliott said. “My thought process since all this happened was that we would have to win and that’s what everyone was saying until we had a few good weeks of points and then everyone was like, ‘he can point his way in.’ The storylines can change pretty fast.’’

“Didn’t have the run we wanted to have last weekend [at New Hampshire] obviously, but I thought the prior three to four weeks were certainly better and in the ballgame so that was good. It’s in there, we’ve just got to extract it.’’