KANSAS CITY, Kan.—Chase Elliott first had to figure out how to win at NASCAR's top level.
Now that he's got that handled, the son of 1988 champion Bill Elliott is chasing a title of his own.
Elliott won at Kansas Speedway yesterday for his second victory in three races, cementing himself as a title threat late in a season in which mighty Hendrick Motorsports has lagged.
He needed 98 career starts and maybe a dozen near-misses before he finally closed out his first Cup victory.
The breakthrough victory 11 events ago sparked Elliott's performance in NASCAR's playoffs, the second round bookended by a pair of Elliott victories.
Elliott opened the round with a win at Dover and closed it with the Kansas victory.
“We're going to keep the hammer down,” Elliott vowed.
“I feel like we are among those guys that you have to beat, and I think that is all you can ask for.”
Elliott is the only Hendrick driver and single Chevrolet representative in the round of eight.
Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time champ, was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs while Alex Bowman was knocked out yesterday.
Also eliminated yesterday were Team Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski, both winners in the first round of the playoffs, and Kyle Larson.
Larson needed to win to make it into the third round and was chasing Elliott frantically in the closing laps but settled for third.
He was docked 10 points by NASCAR earlier this week for an infraction at Talladega, his team lost two appeals of the penalty, and he was in a must-win situation at Kansas.
“I'm actually glad that nothing stupid took us out of the playoffs this year—we had that battery come out at Dover a couple years ago, blew up an engine here last year,” Larson recalled.
“I would have liked to have made it into the next round but I'm glad [elimination] wasn't anything other than just us not performing where we needed to be that kept us out of the next round.”
Advancing into the third round of the playoffs were Elliott, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, and Joey Logano.
Stewart-Haas Racing has all four of its cars in the round of eight while Ford has five of the slots.
Toyota has two entrants in Kyle Busch and defending series champion Truex.
Elliott is the only representative from Chevy and Hendrick, which has struggled this year with a new Camaro and a young driver lineup.
NASCAR's so-called “Big Three” of Harvick, Truex, and Kyle Busch are still in the playoffs. Harvick, winner of the second stage yesterday, and Kyle Busch, the runner-up to Elliott, have looked like championship contenders all season.
Truex has been hot in spurts but was fifth at Kansas, where he swept both races last season.
“This stuff is hard man," Truex said. "It shows how difficult it is to win both races here last year, and run second in the spring and then come back trying to be better and struggle all day.”
Keselowski briefly flirted with a title run by reeling off three-consecutive victories, but he ran out of gas last week when Talladega went into overtime and it crushed his momentum.
He was sixth yesterday.
“We needed something to step up but it just wasn't there,” Keselowski said.
“I am proud of what we did down the stretch of the year," he added. ”We won three races. . . .
“But of course, the ultimate goal is to win a championship and we won't have an opportunity to do that this year.”
Elliott now has taken over Keselowski's slot as a late challenger to the “Big Three.”
“This is a huge time of year," he remarked. "We've got a lot of work to do and a long ways to go.”