Those are confident words for Elliott, a Cup rookie without a win who is driving for Hendrick Motorsports, a team in the middle of its longest winless streak (23 races) in more than 20 years.
But Elliott, ninth on the Chase grid and 16 points above the cutoff in 12th, feels good given the team’s display of speed in the first two Chase races at Chicagoland and New Hampshire.
“I definitely feel like we have an opportunity to get there for sure,” Elliott said Friday at Dover International Speedway. “I think we’ve been fast enough these first two weeks to get there … (But) just being fast doesn’t guarantee you to make it to this next round.”
Johnson, a six-time champion and 10-time winner at Dover, agrees with his teammate.
“I feel right now in my heart that we can be one of the final four,” Johnson said earlier this week. “But we still need some more work to go to (the season finale) and dominate the race and win as we think we’ll need to be the champion.”
Elliott says the recent on-track power has come from “improvements across the board” in the Hendrick engine department, which also makes engines for Chip Ganassi Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing.
“I think when you see an improvement in the engine shop you are going to see that across the board, and I think we’ve seen that the past couple of weeks,” Elliott said. “I think there is definitely something there. I know from the chassis side and some of the things we’ve had going on there, the body side, I know (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) and our group has been pushing really hard on that front trying to improve, trying to get the best stuff we can get pumped out of the shop and to the racetrack.
Johnson and Elliott combined to lead 193 of 270 laps at Chicagoland before a speeding penalty and a late caution took away their chances to win. At New Hampshire, a track he considers “terrible” for himself, Elliott started 10th and had an average running spot of 5.35 before finishing 13th. Johnson averaged a 6.35 running spot and finished eighth.
Elliott knows he could be in a worse position at Dover than he is, three spots above the bubble.
“I know we didn’t get the finish we were hoping for, but at the same time you’ve got to kind of look at the other outcome, you could have been wrecked and sitting in the garage there at the end,” said Elliott, who along with Chris Buescher are the first rookies to make the Chase since Denny Hamlin in 2006. “You kind of have to look at that both ways and when you are playing defense it is easy to be sitting in the garage pretty quickly. I 100 percent think our group or Jimmie’s group could make it. I feel confident in that. I think we’ve been fast enough these first two weeks to do it, but obviously you have to have some things go your way throughout this deal and you’ve got to execute your races and try to stay mistake-free.”