This weekend Chase Elliott returns to Martinsville, sight of an inauspicious Cup debut last spring where Elliott quickly learned some lessons about driving Cup cars. Clearly, this lesson, along with many others, was not for naught, as Elliott enters the season’s sixth race 16th in points, but already with three top ten finishes. I could go on and on about how impressive he has been to start the season, but I’ll get into that a later date, this is about looking ahead to Martinsville where Elliott will debut the 3M colors.
As mentioned, Elliott’s debut at Martinsville didn’t exactly go like he wanted, and in looking at his history at the track, it might be, outside of Talladega, his worst track among NASCAR’s top three divisions.
Aside from last year’s Cup race, Elliott has made two Camping World Truck Series starts at the paperclip shaped half mile, and his best finish was 6th in 2013. He finished 20th in his other start at Martinsville, though it wasn’t completely reflective of how he ran that day as late problems hampered his day.
All totaled though, Elliott has an average starting position of 15.7 and average finish of 21.3 in his three total starts at the Virginia track. Last year’s race hardly ever got started as Elliott fell victim to the accordion effect of an incident in front of him and plowed into the back of a car early in the going. The incident was a lesson on the impetus of track position, as back in the back, bad things can happen.
But don’t let this fool you regarding Elliott’s short track prowess. When it comes to getting around tracks under a mile in length, Elliott is clearly not his father’s son.
Elliott has made 19 starts on short tracks in NASCAR’s top three series, and 15 of those starts resulted in top ten finishes, with two of the four finishes outside of the top 10 coming here at Martinsville.
Elliott’s career numbers at short tracks include an average start of 9.2 and an average finish of 9.4. His driver rating at short tracks is an impressive 100.4, and that’s with those Martinsville showings weighing the number down.
Factoring in his performance in ARCA and in the K&N series at tracks that NASCAR’s top three series also visit, Elliott has 30 starts on short tracks. He’s finished in the top ten in a remarkable 25 of them.
Elliott probably wanted the week off least of all, as he and his team had really picked up some momentum at the end of the west coast swing, and had clearly established themselves as a weekly contender and top ten, maybe even top five car. But Martinsville is as different from the tracks we’ve just run on as Daytona was, so it’s an entirely new animal.
But confidence should be sky-high, despite his woes in the past at Clay Earl’s little racetrack. The organization he races for, Hendrick Motorsports, absolutely dominates Martinsville. And his particular 24 team was victorious with Jeff Gordon the last time the Sprint Cup Series visited here last fall as Gordon took home an immensely popular victory securing himself into NASCAR’s version of the Final Four.
I don’t expect Elliott to win on Sunday, but I also don’t expect him to continue on the trend he’s been on at the track either. Martinsville is a grueling track and some veteran NASCAR stars still haven’t mastered it. But one of Elliott’s biggest strengths is the ability to manage his car, tires, and equipment, and that could be a big key on Sunday.
Look for him to hang around the top 15 all day, and if he can stay on the lead lap, look for him to be strong at the end and push for a top ten finish. That first win will likely have to wait, but there’s another short track in Virginia we’ll be visiting soon that may be ripe for that to take place.