Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott is winless through this season’s first eight races.
Time to sound the alarm? Hardly.
“No, I’m not concerned with it,” Elliott said on the subject Wednesday in a media teleconference. “I would love to win, for sure, before now. But at the same time, I feel like we have a great team. I feel like I’m in a good place.
“I don’t feel any different today than I did approaching the end of the season last year. We just have to continue to push and work hard to focus on what makes us go fast and what makes me comfortable behind the wheel.”
Elliott isn’t the only winless big star as the series heads to Richmond Raceway (3 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox). Fellow champions Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, as well as regular season points leader Denny Hamlin, are in the same situation.
However, compared to this point last season, Elliott’s overall performance has tailed off somewhat.
Through the first eight races of 2020 – a stretch with a two-month pause due to the coronavirus pandemic – Elliott picked up a win at Charlotte Motor Speedway and four top-five finishes. He was ranked first in green flag speed, as well as third in both average running position (8.2) and laps led (280).
Through the first eight races of 2021, Elliott has three top fives, including a runner-up last week at Martinsville Speedway. He’s ranked ninth in both green flag speed, sixth in average running position (10.7), and ninth in laps led with only 73.
Elliott acknowledged the up-and-down start to this season, which has included a victory getting away from him at the Daytona road course and an engine failure at Atlanta. But he insists that the off days are motivating him and his team.
“We’ve had pace at certain times this year that I feel like was good enough to contend for a win,” Elliott said. “We’ve also had races where we were really bad and didn’t have pace. But that’s racing and that’s part of it, right? Those tough days and slow races push you to want to be better.
“… We all want to win, but I feel no different today than I did at the end of last year and the results were just fine then. So, I know we can achieve it. I know we can go out there and accomplish our goals. And we believe that as a team. Outside of that, it really just doesn’t matter.”
While Elliott isn’t worried about being winless right now, he knows how vital wins and the playoff points that come with them are.
He said that playoff points “however you get them, are the most important thing.” So far, he only has one, from a stage win at the Daytona road course. Martin Truex Jr., last week’s winner at Martinsville, leads all drivers with 11.
Can Elliott bank some more this weekend at Richmond? The 3/4-mile track hasn’t been a historically strong track for him. While he has three top-five finishes in 10 Cup starts there, he’s only led a total of 36 laps.
In Elliott’s eyes, the “straightforward” driving style at Richmond belies another challenge.
“What makes it really hard there is to just be different,” he said. “Everyone is doing the exact same thing. Obviously, you have to have your car balance really good there and it has to be perfect. You’re riding that really razor-thin edge much like you do at Martinsville.
“…Martinsville is different, where guys really attack that race track differently. Whereas at Richmond, I feel like everyone is just in the exact same boat and it’s hard to be different. I think that’s what makes that place tough.”