Chase Elliott‘s playoff fortunes took a slight, but positive turn roughly an hour after Sunday’s Cup race Talladega.
Thanks to NASCAR, which rescinded a penalty against Elliott for illegally passing below the yellow line at the bottom of the track, Elliott wound up finishing fifth instead of 22nd.
That gave him 44 points instead of 27 for the race.
Benefitting from the NASCAR equivalent of a Monopoly “bank error in your favor” card, the Hendrick Motorsports driver enters the elimination race on the Charlotte Roval (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC) 44 points above the cutoff spot instead of 27.
“That’s a huge deal for us,” Elliott said Monday. “That’s massive when you’re talking these three-race rounds and where we are in the points situation.”
Had the 22nd-place finish held, Elliott would be sixth in the playoff standings instead of fourth.
Despite being awarded a larger cushion to the cutoff, Elliott is heeding the words of one of his high school teachers when it comes Sunday’s race and the prospect of advancing to the Round of 8.
“I feel like the worst thing you can do is just sit there and play the numbers game,” Elliott said. “It’s like I had a teacher tell me in high school one time – don’t come into my final exam just figuring out what you have to make to pass. I feel like that’s what I’m doing when I start sitting here and thinking about what to do on points. So, I’m going to take her advice and try not to do that this week and just focus on trying to run good.”
Elliott has plenty to be confident about. He’s the winner of the last three road course races the Cup Series has competed on – last year’s events at Watkins Glen and the Roval and the Aug. 16 race on the Daytona road course.
But Elliott is mindful of the stout competition he must compete against in order to advance and make it to the championship race.
“If you’re going to go out and beat the people that are champions and who’ve been running well – we see the same five or six people in the final four every year, so unless you want to run behind them like we have been doing, we need to focus on trying to beat them,” Elliott said. “To get there, you’ve got to be amongst them and put yourself in position to win because they are winning every week – one of just a handful it seems like. So, we need to be amongst them more often. I think we’re very capable of doing that. I think we’ve shown that this year, especially at times. We just need to do it more often and we don’t need to treat this week any different.”
While Elliott has five top-five finishes in the eight races since he won at Daytona, Kevin Harvick has three wins, Denny Hamlin two and Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch have one win each. William Byron, who has been eliminated from the playoffs, has one win as well.
Busch and Hamlin have advanced in the playoffs with wins at Las Vegas and Talladega. Elliott trails Harvick by 24 points and has a three-point advantage over Keselowski.