Chase Elliott hopes to erase painful Martinsville memories

When he entered five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races as a preview to his rookie season, then-19-year-old Chase Elliott got a baptism by fire.

His debut came at Martinsville, one of the toughest tracks on the circuit to master. Other trips included Richmond, Charlotte, Indianapolis and Martinsville – not exactly a gentle collection of speedways.

Elliott would just as soon erase the maiden run at Martinsville from his memory. He qualified 27th and went downhill from there.

When he took the checkered flag in 2015, he was 38th in a 43-car field, 73 laps down.

“I’ve been trying to forget about that day,” Elliott said on Saturday at Martinsville. “Actually, (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) had a lot to do with choosing those races. I think he tried to pick really tough races, races that I was going to struggle at, and they were terrible, to be completely honest.

“I’m glad we did it when we did it. I didn’t have a whole lot of fun at the time, but I’m glad he chose the races that he did. Alan had a big hand in it, and I was told the races they were thinking about. I’m not going to say no – I said it sounded good, and off they went.”

Since his debut, Martinsville has been kinder to Elliott. He finished third in the spring race in 2017 and ninth this past March. He was contending for the win in last year’s Playoff race until Denny Hamlin knocked him into the Turn 3 wall in the late going.

But if Elliott is to achieve a personal best at the paper-clip-shaped track and enhance his prospects for a Championship 4 berth at Homestead, he’ll have to do so from the 21st starting position he earned in Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session for the First Data 500.