Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: He’s Back! But When Will Chase Elliott Win Again?

1. When and where does Chase Elliott get back into victory lane?

You may not have heard about it, but Chase Elliott is back.

Last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series Most Popular Driver made his first start since his leg injury prior to the Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March. Even better, despite making his return at a physically demanding heavy braking short track, Elliott even scored a top-10 finish.

See also
Chase Elliott Exhausted After Earning Top 10 in Return After Leg Injury

But earning a top 10 won’t get you into the playoffs, and after missing six races, you can forget about trying to point your way into the postseason too. No, there’s only one thing this No. 9 team should care about right now.

Winning.

With the need to be within the top 30 in points to remain playoff eligible removed and a playoff waiver granted to Elliott by NASCAR, a victory for the No. 9 team will grant it immediate access into the postseason. However, among the remaining 17 points races and tracks before the playoffs begin, which one is Elliott’s next best chance at winning?

How about next weekend at Talladega Superspeedway? Well, that’s not impossible, but it’s a heck of a wild card. That’s also goes without mentioning the Ford dominance on the recent superspeedway racetracks, and we’ll get to that in a minute.

Instead, let’s look at another one of his tried-and-true circuits – Dover Motor Speedway.

In two weeks, the Georgian will join the Cup field when it heads to the concrete mile-long circuit in Delaware. There, Elliott not only has two wins – including last year’s race – but he also boasts the impressive statistic of finishing outside of the top five in only three of his 12 total Cup starts. That’s doesn’t always mean a win, but with Hendrick Motorsports being as dominant as it is this season, any HMS Bowtie running near the front is a threat for victory.

The cherry on top is that Dover isn’t a heavy braking circuit either, meaning Elliott’s leg condition – although by that time it will surely be healed regardless – shouldn’t have much effect on his driving ability.

There’s also the road course elephant in the room.

Elliott has seven career victories on the road courses, making him the winningest active driver in the Cup Series. While his last victory on the winding circuits came in 2021 at Road America, he finished in the top five at both Road America and Watkins Glen International in 2022, both tracks are among the four road courses remaining in the regular season.

Who won at Watkins Glen last year, however, is who he’ll need to compete with to earn his playoff spot this year too.

2. Kyle Larson has already tied Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton in Cup Series wins; just how high will he go?

He’s already up to 21 Cup Series victories in only his ninth full-time season, so when Kyle Larson finally hangs it up in the distant future, where will he rank among the greats in stock car racing’s highest level?

As of now, the Californian dirt racer’s average win count during those nine seasons is at 3.0 wins per year. (Keep in mind, that’s also including this year’s win rate so far, which is on track to reach 8.0) It’s simple now, right? All you have to do is assume he will keep that winning average over the course of his career and multiply that number.

Not exactly, because let’s not forget that for a majority of those seasons, the Elk Grove native was driving in the No. 42 for what was then Chip Ganassi Racing, which was not the most competitive team during that time.

To be more realistic, you have to account for his recent uptick in success over the last three years, which of course came after being hired by the better equipped Hendrick Motorsports, and since Larson began his tenure at HMS, he’s at a whopping win rate of 7.0 wins per year. That’s including 2023 so far.

So, let’s do the math. Let’s say Larson’s career will be 20 years total and retiring at 40-years-old since that’s around the normal amount for a career NASCAR driver. With nine full-time seasons and his cut short 2020 year completed already, Larson may likely compete for another 10 years after 2023, in which he is on track to have 27 victories when the season ends.

All said and done, if Larson stays as successful as he’s been since joining HMS, that’s 97 wins by retirement.

That would put him third on the all-time wins list and just above his boss Jeff Gordon.

It certainly isn’t likely that his success will linger for such a long period of time, and it’s also likely that as time passes new drivers will enter the headlines and have 10-race winning seasons of their own. That said, it certainly puts on display the level of dominance the No. 5 team and HMS is currently demonstrating every weekend.

3. Rain tires worked at Martinsville for the Trucks; how do we use them at future rainy short tracks?

If you watched any of Frontstretch’s content from Friday night last weekend (April 14), you may have noticed a reoccurring question among NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers.

“Why didn’t we keep racing?”

With the way some experiments in NASCAR have gone in the past, can you blame race officials for wanting to stop?

Racing in the wet hasn’t always gone well for NASCAR in years’ past. Almost every time it’s attempted, it usually ends with social media or fans from outside motorsports laughing at stock car racing as a whole. One of the most infamous and recent examples is the first Cup race at COTA in 2021. The series’ first venture to Austin resulted in cars spinning every which way, millions of dollars in equipment destroyed and plenty of angry drivers, team owners and fans alike.

So, it really isn’t that surprising that NASCAR wanted to only dip its toe into wet racing on ovals this one time. That said, at least it went well.

But where do we go from here?

It’s already been proven on Friday night that these new treaded wet weather Goodyears will work in the, at the very least, damp racing conditions. Even better, the tire fall off shown caught the eyes of many Cup Series drivers in the garage.

There are a couple different avenues that NASCAR can go from there. One, when the next damp opportunity presents itself for the NASCAR Xfinity Series at a short track in the wet, perhaps it’ll be time to promote the new treaded Eagles into the second-tier racing series and observe how it handles. Two, wait until a short track is even wetter than it was Friday, which wasn’t much to begin with, and slap on those wet rubbers and see how they last in a longer distance in a Truck Series race. In other words, yes, NASCAR’s next test for those new tires could’ve been right then and there for the remainder of those 76 laps on Friday night. Although, with the way things were going, perhaps it’s best that NASCAR stopped while they were slightly ahead.

Friday was only the beginning of the wet oval racing saga of the NASCAR experiment drama, and the next chapter likely will be just a little more exciting -and hopefully not embarrassing – edition.

It probably won’t be long until we see it either. After all, it only took nine weeks for the perfect weather conditions to finally present itself to NASCAR, so it likely won’t take long before we find ourselves having this conversation again.

See also
NASCAR Mailbox: Tires, Tires, Tires

4. Which Ford drivers have the upper hand this weekend at Talladega?

You saw them dominate at Daytona International Speedway in February, and you saw them dominate at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March. In all, the Blue Ovals have led 71.6% of all laps so far on the superspeedways in 2023. So, maybe it’s obvious that these Ford teams have figured out the Next Gen superspeedway package.

The question now remains, which one is the best of the bunch?

When looking at both races this year, there is one common denominator – Brad Keselowski. The Michigan native led the most laps at Daytona with 42 and was in contention to win alongside his RFK Racing teammate Chris Buescher in the closing laps of the event before being caught up in a late-race incident. At Atlanta, Keselowski led 47 laps and lost the lead on a last-lap pass putting him runner-up to the only other driver that was faster than him all day – Joey Logano.

There’s also the fact that the driver of the No. 6 boasts six victories at the Alabaman superspeedway as it stands, meaning he’s tied for second all-time alongside NASCAR Hall of Famers Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. His most recent Cup win even came there in 2021. Of course, that was when he was still driving for Team Penske.

How about them? Logano won at Atlanta in March and is the only Ford to reach victory lane so far in 2023. Ryan Blaney, who has been winless in the Cup Series since his victory at Daytona in the Summer of 2021, has two wins at Talladega. Austin Cindric, the remaining horse in the Penske stable, has only one career win, which came at Daytona in the 2022 Daytona 500.

They certainly can’t be counted out, but Keselowski still has more wins at Talladega than the whole trio does combined. With the Fords being as fast as they have been in pack racing so far in 2023, it’s not a matter of if the No. 6 will reunite with his old team at the front of the pack, but a matter of when.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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