For a driver below the cut line at the start of the Round of 8 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, taking the green flag at the back of the field doesn’t portend well for the prospects of advancing to the Championship 4.
That’s the problem Chase Elliott will have to overcome, starting with Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The silver lining is that Elliott has already been in that position in the Playoffs this year.
Five laps into Saturday’s opening practice at Martinsville, the engine in Elliott’s No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet exploded, turning the car into a fireball. The chassis was salvageable, but because of the necessary engine change, Elliott will start from the rear in Sunday’s race.
Coincidentally, Elliott blew also blew an engine eight laps into the opening Round of 12 race at Dover and finished 38th, but with a second-place run last Sunday at Kansas, he overcame a 20-point deficit entering the elimination event and squeaked past Brad Keselowski into the next round of the Playoffs.
Now Elliott will have to make another comeback. He comes to Martinsville sixth in the standings, six points behind fourth-place Joey Logano.
Elliott doesn’t think the causes of the two engines failures are related.
“I don’t think they’re related, based on what happened,” Elliott said on Saturday at the .526-mile short track. “I don’t think they are related—I don’t know if that’s good or bad. But anytime you have two engine problems in four weeks, that’s not good, for sure. I do know that we’ll do a diligent job of trying to figure out what the problem was and hope that we can find the problem.
“Sometimes with engine failures or with parts failures, in general, when you break something, the worst thing that can happen is you don’t know why or what broke. So we just need to make sure we do a good job of trying to figure out what caused the failure, if we can find it. And I think if we can do that. I think we can correct it.”
The engine issue at Martinsville has crystallized Elliott’s approach to Sunday’s race. Given the difficulty he’ll face in trying to accumulate stage points from the rear of the field, his focus is on trying to be up front at the end of the event.
“I think, just to keep things simple for us, we need to try to win,” Elliott said. “And if you’re not in a position to win, just get as many points as possible. I think that keeps things simple for you. I’m going to be trying to be as far forward as I can be at each particular moment and try to make the smartest decisions that I can throughout the day to get us there.
“Obviously, stage points are important, but I’m going to try to get as far forward as I can and get the most points possible at any given point in time. Yeah, starting in the back will be unfortunate for that first stage, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.”