Chase Elliott proved on Saturday evening that he can run with the top teams after coming from the rear of the field to a fifth-place effort at Texas Motor Speedway.
After qualifying fourth on Friday, the No. 24 team led Alan Gustafson decided to change the transmission, giving up the fourth-place starting position. However, it didn’t take long for Elliott to charge toward the front.
By the competition caution at Lap 28, Elliott had piloted his Chevrolet into the top 20. For the rest of the night the No. 24 kept moving up the scoring pylon.
“A strong car would be the best way to put it,” Elliott said post-race. “We brought a fast car, had a good qualifying effort, hated that we had to start in the back. We had a really good pit selection and I think that played a role in us gaining spots throughout the night.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Rookie of the Year contender was quick the entire weekend. He won his first career XFINITY Series race at Texas back in 2014, en route to capturing the championship.
In four prior starts at Texas in the XFINITY Series, Elliott’s average finish was just north of fifth. In his first Cup race at the 1.5-mile speedway, he was able to tie his average finish in the lower series and in the process post his first career top-five finish in NASCAR’s premiere division.
Through a cycle of green flag pit stops Elliott led a lap and was one of just three drivers outside of the Toyota camp that led a single lap all night long. Late in the race, the No. 24 car raced its way up to second, but then pitted as others stayed out.
In the final 33 laps, Elliott drove the car up to fifth after restarting eighth. For him it was a confidence boost, but he still believes the team can improve.
“We’re happy about it, but were definitely not content,” Elliott said of his result. “We want to be contenders. We’re not satisfied with running fifth. We feel like we have a group of guys that can do better.”
Through seven races in his first full-time season, Elliott has one top five and four top 10 finishes. He currently ranks 14th in Sprint Cup standings and is in position to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup as a rookie, the first since Denny Hamlin in 2006.