TALLADEGA, Ala. – With his win at Dover on Sunday, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Chase Elliott not only secured his second victory of the season, but he also punched his ticket to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Playoffs. Even though Elliott doesn’t have to worry about the unpredictability of Talladega Superspeedway’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 Sunday affecting his immediate postseason advancement, the Dawsonville, GA, native plans to go all-out in his return to NASCAR’s largest track this weekend because he knows his performance can certainly have long-term championship implications.
“I think it's nice to be able to know you're going to move on, but you can't get complacent in the fact that you are moving on,” Elliott said after his win this past weekend. “You can't let those points just sit out there and not try to go get them because those bonus points you get for winning or winning a stage or winning a race or whatever, that's huge, and you need as many as you can get.”
If the race at Charlotte to close out the Round of 16 was any indication, points are at a premium and even one position (worth one point) in any race can be the difference between a driver moving on to the next round and seeing his hopes to hoist the Cup dashed until next year. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson was eliminated from playoff contention after he lost a three-way tiebreaker for 11th and 12th place with Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson, who earned the final two positions after posting better finishes in the three first-round races. At the same time, Johnson would have been in and Larson would have been eliminated by one point if it had not been for Larson making a last-lap pass near the finish line to gain the additional spot to force a tiebreaker. And the outcome could have been different had any of those drivers won one more playoff point throughout the year or stage/race point during the Round of 16.
This is why Elliott is going to play the long game at Talladega and give it everything he’s got to grab stage wins and even a race victory. Elliott’s race and stage wins have pocketed him 13 playoff points, but he knows, barring a win in the Round of 8, that number might not help him reach the Championship 4 given that drivers like Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski have banked far more playoff points.
For Talladega’s 1000Bulbs.com 500, its stage segments will be divided at Lap 55, Lap 110 and Lap 188. Under NASCAR’s three-stages-racing format, there is an incentive for drivers to run hard every race in the playoffs even when championship contenders like Elliott clinch a berth in the next round via a win. Drivers can earn points by performing well throughout a race and finishing in the top 10 at the conclusion of each of the first two stages (10 points for first, nine for second, etc.). Additionally, stage winners receive a coveted playoff point.
At the drop of the checkered flag, the winning driver receives 40 points, five playoff points and an automatic berth in the next round (if the driver is championship-eligible). For the rest of the field, second place receives 35 points, third place earns 34 points and so on. Drivers carry through their season-long accumulation of playoff points when points are reset each round of the postseason.
“You know, I'm sure when we're at Talladega and the race is going on, I'll feel a lot better,” said Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson, who has five poles and a best finish of second in the 2012 fall event with Jeff Gordon as a crew chief at Talladega. “But we're going to have to be right in the middle of it, too. We can't just write those races (coming up, Kansas also) off. We've got to use that as an opportunity to go try to gain some more stage points and bonus points to put us in a better position for the Round of 8.
“I'm looking forward to Talladega,” Gustafson said. “We always have super-fast superspeedway cars … I've been doing this for 14 years and not won one of those races, which is something that bothers me. I'd love to win at Talladega.”
A win for Elliott this weekend would also have special meaning since his father, Bill Elliott, holds a special legacy at the 2.66-mile complex with the NASCAR official qualifying record of 212.809 mph as well as two victories, including one in 1985 in which he came back from two laps down during green flag conditions to capture the win. Chase has shown signs that he has inherited the superspeedway driving talents of his father, considering he won the pole and placed fifth in his first Cup start at the facility in 2016, as well as finished third in GEICO 500 earlier this year.
When the field takes the green flag at Talladega for the 1000Bulbs.com 500, Elliott will be the lone competitor with a spot clinched for the Round of 8. At the same time, he will have the chance to bolster his championship aspirations and create some historic moments for his team. Fans should expect Elliott to aggressively put the pedal to the metal this weekend because looking back and realizing a major opportunity was missed is not an option when he has both nothing to lose and everything at stake.
“One or two points could be the difference in you making the Round of 4 or not,” the younger Elliott said. “Just knowing that and not being complacent with the win and trying to go get another one or two before it starts I think is important.”
About Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega Superspeedway is NASCAR’s most competitive (record 88 lead changes in 188 laps), highest banked (33 degrees), and longest track (2.66-miles), as well as the most fun and fan-friendly. Talladega offers something for everyone, including hundreds of acres of free camping, amazing kids tickets and college student prices, along with special offers for military members and first responders, and teachers and educators. The historic venue, built in 1969, is deemed NASCAR’s “Party Capital” thanks to the track’s infamous infield, which features the traditional Saturday Night Infield Concert presented by Wind Creek Casino and Hotel and the world-renowned Talladega Blvd., home of Friday night’s “Big One on the Blvd.” party. It’s the site of the most comfortable seats in motorsports, large ISM Vision HD video boards lining the frontstretch and endless pre-race activities for fans on race day, including special Kids VIP opportunities. For ticket information, visit www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 855-518-RACE (7223).
The track, along with its parent company, International Speedway Corporation, recently announced Transformation - The Talladega Superspeedway Infield Project. The approximate $50 million redevelopment endeavor is part of ISC’s long-term capital allocation plan and reinvestment into its major motorsports complexes. The project, highlighted by a one-of-a-kind Garage Fan Zone Experience, will feature “up-close” access, interactive attractions and enhanced amenities for fans, sponsors, teams and stakeholders in the iconic Talladega infield. Full completion of the modernized project is scheduled for October of 2019. Fans can learn more about the project by visiting www.talladegasuperspeedway.com/transformation. The track, which opened in 1969, will also celebrate its 50th Anniversary next year.