Truth be told, Chase Elliott says he was already over a tough playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway and looking ahead to this weekâs Bluegreen Vacations 500 at Phoenixâs ISM Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) by the time the checkered flag flew on the Texas high banks last Sunday.
A single-car accident only nine laps into the race relegated Elliott to a 32nd-place finish. The week before, a mechanical issue with his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet left him 36th in the final order. And now Elliott enters the final race of this playoff round 78 points behind fourth-place Joey Logano in the championship standings â making Sundayâs race a must-win situation at the Phoenix one-miler for a shot in the Championship 4 next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
RELATED: Full schedule for Phoenix
And as disappointed and frustrated as Elliott may have been last Sunday in Texas, he appeared very much up for the tall task this week, calm and thoughtful while speaking with reporters at ISM Raceway.
âI had 475 miles to think about it last week,â Elliott said, shaking his head. âI deserved that, really â to ride around 475 miles and think about it. And Iâd say by mile 400, I was pretty much over it and thinking about Phoenix. I was cruising around just thinking about what we needed to do to be better (at Phoenix). Obviously we were just in a position we needed to finish. My mindset had moved on.
âAt the time, thatâs about all I could do. Iâm glad I was able to do that. Iâm not dwelling on last week. We still have an opportunity ahead right here and right now and we either make the most of it or we donât.â
Looking ahead to the final regular-season race at the historic track in the desert, had to have given Elliott something positive to take his mind off things.
The 23-year-old Elliott has an average finish of 11.3 in the three ISM Raceway playoff races heâs competed in, including a career-best showing at the track of runner-up in the 2017 edition. He answered that with a third-place showing in the 2018 spring race.
In all, Elliott has four top-10 finishes in seven starts. He sat on the outside pole and led a personal-best 106 laps in the 2017 spring race, finishing 12th.
Elliott, a three-race winner this year, realizes the odds may be against him. But he has battled through a tough playoff round already this year â rallying to a runner-up finish at Kansas Speedway in the Round of 12âs final race. It was just enough to advance him to the Round of 8 and give him opportunity to try and make his career first Championship 4.
âWe were in a tough spot in that second round too, so itâs definitely not where you want to be in any means, but I do think we still have a chance this weekend,â Elliott said. âI feel like our team has worked really hard to get us this far. We could have very easily not made it past Kansas and been out then.
âThereâs three races in every round for a reason and you just canât let those first two weeks affect your mindset, your approach, your aggressiveness and your will to want to win in this last opportunity,â Elliott continued.
Certainly itâs been a boomerang of a playoffs for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Seriesâ 2018 Most Popular Driver. Through the first eight races, Elliott has four top-10 finishes, highlighted by a win at the Charlotte Roval. He also has three finishes of 32nd or worse.
As a whole, heâs turned in a career season. He tied his previous best seasonâs win total (2018: three wins), and has earned four poles this year, also a career-best feat.
Elliottâs No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team has shown the ability to rebound all season. After a 38th-place finish at Pocono Raceway this summer, he won the very next week at Watkins Glen International. Then after a second 38th-place finish â at Dover International Speedway â Elliott won the pole position at Talladega and finished eighth.
Known for being his own worst critic, Elliott instead seemed especially motivated on Friday â ready to turn this season into a championship opportunity.
âWe still have an entire race on Sunday,â Elliott reiterated. âI think you have to make sure you keep that in mind. It can definitely be challenging to look and say, âI crashed on lap eight last weekâ and thatâs not good obviously.
âBut you just have to approach this week as a new one and know if we win on Sunday, we can race again next week and have a shot at the title.
âItâs just not over until itâs over.â
Since the inception of the elimination-style playoffs in 2014, Kevin Harvick is the only driver to race his way from the eighth position in the standings into the Championship 4 with a win at Phoenix. Harvick went on to win the 2014 championship a week later.