NASCAR rookie Elliott looks to build on solid Texas finish

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The No. 24 just kept climbing the leaderboard at Texas Motor Speedway the other Sunday night. It started in 40th, the back of the pack, where driver Chase Elliott had to begin the race after a transmission change.

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Twenty laps later, it had climbed to 24th. By lap 100, it was in 11th and by lap 120, 10th. For one lap, it was leading the race.

The No. 24 finished in fifth in the Duck Commander 500, Chase Elliott’s first career top-five finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

“It was a solid night,” said Elliott, son of 1988 Cup Series champion Bill Elliott. “Obviously I hated to have to start in the back, but I think having a good qualifying effort allowed us to get good pit selection. I think that helped us try to gain spots throughout the night, but the biggest thing was just having a good car. I was really happy with it.”

It was an impressive performance for the rookie, but not necessarily surprising.

Before being sent to the back of the pack, Elliott qualified fourth. The night before, he’d finished fourth in the Xfinity race in Texas.

Elliott, 20, leads the rookie of the year standings with 87 points, 13 more than second-place Ryan Blaney. He’s ranked 14th in the point standings with four top-10s in seven starts, and he won the pole at this year’s Daytona 500.

“My guys have been bringing such fast race cars to the race track every week since Daytona,” Elliott said after finishing eighth at Phoenix International Raceway in March.

At Texas, Elliott, who became driver of the No. 24 car after Jeff Gordon’s retirement, was surrounded by his three Hendrick Motorsports team-mates in the top 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second, Jimmie Johnson was fourth and Kasey Kahne finished eighth.

“It was great to see Chase up there,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said after the Texas race. “I got to race with him a little bit, and his car was doing some great things, and he was driving a really good line.”

NOT CONTENT WITH LATEST RESULTS
Elliott and his team are not content with the success they’ve had so far. They want more. It showed in an aggressive pit strategy toward the end of the race in Texas.

During the next-to-last caution on Lap 289, Elliott got just two tires while most took on four. It got him up to second when the next caution came out at Lap 295. During that caution, Crew Chief Alan Gustafson brought Elliott in for four fresh tires with sights set on catching the leader in the final 32 laps.

But there was no catching Kyle Busch, who ran away from the field on the final restart.

“It was just Alan’s decision to come back, and it was a quick decision. He didn’t have a lot of time,” Elliott said. “Those crew chiefs are put in a position, they’ve got to make a call in a hurry. I respect them for what they do because that’s [a]tough, tough spot to be in, but as I’ve said, we’re a team. I’m going to support his decision, right, wrong or indifferent, so I was happy we did it and we tried to make the most of it.”

Up next: Bristol Motor Speedway, where Elliott finished in the top 10 of both Xfinity races last season.

“Definitely still have some work to do on my end, and we’ll keep digging at it,” Elliott said. “We’re definitely not content. We know we have some work to do, and we’d like to be contenders. So we’re going to keep working at it.”

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