JOLIET, Ill. — While rookie Chase Elliott’s third-place finish puts him in a good spot to advance to the next round of the Chase, it doesn’t put away any frustration with trying to score that first Sprint Cup victory.
For the second time in the last four races, Elliott lost the lead in the late stages of a race.
Sunday, Elliott was leading at Chicagoland Speedway when a caution came out for Michael McDowell’s blown tire, sending the race into overtime. Elliott went to pit but came out second. Three cars did not pit. That meant Elliott restarted fifth. Martin Truex Jr. restarted fourth and took the lead shortly after the green flag waved to win his third race of the season.
“There are some things you just can’t control with the amount of guys that stay out and where you line up on a restart,’’ Elliott said. “We played the cards we were dealt and came up short.’’
So when will Elliott win?
Maybe one should look at the driver he’s replaced in the No. 24 — Jeff Gordon.
Sunday’s race was Elliott’s 32nd career Sprint Cup race. Comparing his stats to what Gordon accomplished in his first 32 races (his 32nd career start was the 1994 Daytona 500), the results are eerily similar. Consider their totals:
Wins: Gordon 0; Elliott 0
Runner-up finishes: Gordon 2; Elliott 2
Top-five finishes: Gordon 8; Elliott 8
Top-10 finishes: Gordon 12; Elliott 14
Poles: Gordon 1; Elliott 2
Laps led: Gordon 237; Elliott 238
Gordon scored his first career victory in the 1994 Coca-Cola 600. That was Gordon’s 42nd career series start.
Will Elliott beat that?
Although Hendrick Motorsports saw its winless drought reach 22 races — tying its third-longest drought in team history — there was much for the organization to feel good about.
Three of its four drivers finished in the top 10 and its cars led 193 of 270 laps.
Chase Elliott led 75 laps and finished third.
Kasey Kahne finished seventh for his third consecutive top-10 finish.
Jimmie Johnson led a race-high 118 laps but finished 12th after a speeding penalty on pit road late.
WHAT HARKENS AHEAD?
One of the fascinating aspects about the inaugural Chase in the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series is that no one is quite sure what to expect.
This weekend completed the 12-driver lineup for Xfinity and eight-driver field for the Truck series. Their playoffs begin this week (Trucks in New Hampshire and Xfinity in Kentucky).
While many competitors professed excitement about the tracks in their Chase, some talked about being leery of the aggression surely to be seen in the coming races — just as it has in the Sprint Cup Chase, leading to driver confrontations on and off the track each of the previous two seasons of the elimination-style format.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see how everybody races,’’ said two-time Truck series champion Matt Crafton. “It’s going to bring a lot of different characters.’’
Said Timothy Peters: “I guess the unknown is that the Trucks are already aggressive anyway and the Chase is adding that to boot. The unknown is how many people want to be play bumper cars.’’
There’s also that feeling among some in the Xfinity Series, especially with five of the seven races on 1.5-mile speedways. Track position will be critical.
“I feel like restarts are going to be really important,’’ Brennan Poole said.
Justin Allgaier said aggression could be a key in the Chase but not how much.
“The aggression level is really high right now,’’ he said. “I don’t think it will elevate a whole lot, but I think you’re going to have to manage that through the Chase. You watch a guy get too aggressive and get himself in trouble, then you’re going to have to back yourself down to make sure that you are going to capitalize.’’
Most drivers anticipate the aggression will increase as it gets closer to the championship in Miami.
“Most of these young kids understand the Chase format because they’ve watched it,’’ Brendan Gaughan said. “The problem is understanding it. They see John Hunter Nemechek do what he did a couple of weeks ago (vs. Cole Custer ). They see Ryan Newman at Phoenix (move Kyle Larson out of the way two years ago to reach the final).
“They see all the exciting things. You can make the Chase pretty exciting.’’
— Martin Truex Jr. had three wins in his first 369 Sprint Cup starts. He has three wins in his last 27 Cup starts.
— Denny Hamlin’s sixth-place finish extended his career-best streak of consecutive top-10 finishes to nine races.
— Trevor Bayne was Roush Fenway Racing’s top-finishing driver Sunday at Chicagoland. He placed 23rd.
— Clint Bowyer finished 22nd for the third consecutive race.
— Austin Dillon (14th) has placed between 12th and 16th in each of the last four races.
— Jimmie Johnson led 118 laps Sunday. He had led 120 laps in the previous 22 races combined.
— Through 27 races, Kasey Kahne has led 0 laps this season.
— Tony Stewart (16th) has failed to finish in the top 15 in each of the last five races.