HAMPTON, Ga.- The clock is ticking in the Hendrick Motorsports camp, with only eight races remaining to get Chase Elliott into the playoffs.
Due to missing seven races after breaking his leg in a snowboarding accident and getting suspended for wrecking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600, it looked like Elliott needed a victory to make the playoffs.
He likely still will.
Elliott made significant gains in the points department, earning a 10th place finish in his return race at Martinsville. He also tallied a top-five finish in four of the last five points races.
He currently sits 24th in the standings, with seven drivers ahead of him below the cut line.
With eight races to go in the regular season, where could the No.9 car find that elusive victory?
This weekend’s Quaker State 400 in Atlanta comes at a good time for the streaking Elliott. Although he missed the spring race while on the mend this year, he won this summer race last season.
Beyond Atlanta, New Hampshire, Pocono, Richmond, Michigan, Indianapolis road course, Watkins Glen, and Daytona remain.
Apart from Atlanta this weekend, Watkins Glen is the only other track where he has a Cup Series win. He has two wins there, in fact.
Elliott finished third last season at Pocono, but won after first and second place finishers Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch failed post-race tech inspection.
Watkins Glen is the obvious choice for Elliott to secure his win. However, a sleeper pick could be Michigan. Elliott hasn’t won there but, of any oval on the schedule, it’s where he has his best career average finish.
Who could shake things up?
A win from any driver below the current cut line would only further steepen the hill Elliott has to climb.
Seven of Elliott’s 18 career Cup Series wins have come on road courses. The issue with that, however, is three of the drivers currently right below the cut line excel on them as well.
Michael McDowell, Daniel Suarez and AJ Allmendinger have all proven themselves to be excellent road course drivers in recent seasons.
The most worrisome of those three should be Allmendinger, who has won at both Watkins Glen and Indianapolis road course.
Hendrick teammate Alex Bowman could also spoil Elliott’s party.
Bowman, who missed time of his own due to a back injury suffered in a sprint car race, has won at both Pocono and Richmond. All things being equal, his Pocono win did come thanks to Kyle Larson blowing a tire on the final turn.
Two drivers that could be a threat at Daytona’s regular season finale could be Corey LaJoie and Austin Cindric.
For Cindric, he’s been largely uncompetitive dating all the way back to his Daytona 500 win at the beginning of last season. Lightning could strike twice for him at Daytona though or on a road course, where he excels.
For LaJoie, Atlanta and Daytona will likely be his only shots and it’s not entirely in the dark either. Drafting tracks tend to be an equalizer and LaJoie has often been up front at crunch time on those tracks.
For Elliott, all of this talk can be quickly erased with a win at Atlanta this weekend.
Another winless week, though, will only further move the clock towards midnight on his championship aspirations.