Chase Elliott is the only Hendrick Motorsports driver yet to win with NASCAR’s Next Gen race car in the 2022 season. The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet isn’t ready to panic.
On the contrary, he leads the traditional points standings and thinks the first win could be right around the corner. On Friday, he won the pole for Saturday night’s race on the Martinsville short track. With the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt the next week, he believes the No. 9 team could be on the cusp of breaking through.
“I feel like there’s been times we’ve had the pace to contend for wins. We just haven’t put a whole race together,” he said. “We will be good at certain points in the race and not so good at other points. Unfortunately, that doesn’t pay. I think we’re very capable of getting it right, we just get to do it.
“Keep running like we have been, which I think has been a been a positive thing. I feel like a lot of like, all the keys of having success are kind of right in front of us, and we just haven’t maximized the opportunities.”
While he had a solid 10th-place finish in the 2021 Food City Dirt Race, it came with its challenges. He doesn’t take a ton of confidence from the day, although he sees changes with the car and track which gives him as good a chance as anyone.
“To be honest, that race was a bit of a nightmare,” he said “I thought we got pretty fortunate to run where we did. We had a lot going on there at the end of the race and was kind of hanging on. But this year, it’s going to be a completely different ballgame with this car.
“Goodyear had some surprises thrown at them last year with just how the track ended up being and potentially not being prepared for the surface in terms of tire life and longevity. I’m curious to see how they reacted to that, how they’re going to go about bringing another tire up there. It’s going to be a pretty large challenge and a pretty far departure from what we had last year.”
He ran a Super Late Model at the Bristol Dirt Nationals in 2021, but the difference in it and the heavier NASCAR machines didn’t translate. Another difference is having windshields in the NASCAR cars. Elliott, the 2020 Cup Series champion, likes the decision to make it a night race.
“Moving it to night I think is going to help with a lot of the issues we had keeping some moisture in the track,” he said. “And then, obviously keeping the dust down. I think everything that we learned last year has been a great tool of how to go about this season. It seems like we’re doing all the right things, and hopefully it can be a good show.”
At age 26, Elliott is already an accomplished racer with 13 career victories, along with championships in the NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series. He’s won on different types of tracks — intermediates, the superspeedway at Talladega and the short track at Martinsville. He has been particularly strong on the road courses with seven wins. He would like to add a dirt race to his record.
“I’m just excited to get up there and give it another shot,” he said. “Last yearm tried to kind of prep myself for it. It reminded me more of a very abrasive old asphalt race, more than it did any of the dirt racing I had done leading up to that. So I think just being able to adapt quickly is going to be the key.
“I think this year is going to be different and whoever hits on that quickly and figures out what it’s going to take to be fast is likely going to you know going to be rewarded for it.”
While Elliott’s teammate Kyle Larson entered as the pre-race favorite in 2021, Joey Logano ended up the race winner. Although Logano had very little dirt-track experience, his win didn’t totally surprise, Elliott, the son of NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott.
“There are lot of just really good race car drivers that may or may not have come up the dirt ranks,” Elliott said. “Joey’s a good driver and it’s no surprise that he won the race. He’s about as asphalt of a guy as it gets, but he was able to able to figure it out.
“That shows you it was a bit of its own animal and might not have catered to your typical dirt habits. It was really more of like a super abrasive track that was paved in 1950. You know, somewhere in Florida that sits in the sun all summer. It was what it reminded me of.”