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Career-best fifth in Sprint Cup good, but Chase Elliott wants more after Texas

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 - Qualifying

FORT WORTH, TEXAS - APRIL 08: Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 8, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Sarah Crabill

It didn’t take long for Chase Elliott to overcome a tough start to his rookie season in Sprint Cup.

Elliott finished 37th (Daytona) and 38th (Las Vegas) in two of his first three races of the 2016 season.

But since then, Elliott has been on a roll. He finished a career-best fifth in Saturday night’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

“It was a solid night,” Elliott said. “Obviously, I hated to have to start in the back, but I think having a good qualifying effort allowed us to get a good pit selection.

“I think that helped us to try to gain spots throughout the night, but the biggest thing was just having a good car. I was really happy with it, especially on the long run, and we made some gains throughout the night to try to help our short-run speed. I thought we did that.”

In doing so, Elliott now has three top-eight finishes in his past four starts and has climbed from 28th after Las Vegas in the Sprint Cup standings to 14th after Saturday’s race.

“Definitely still have some work to do on my end, and we’ll keep digging at it,” Elliott said.

Perhaps part of the reason for Elliott’s success at Texas is its similarity to sister track Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Elliott, who grew up north of the track in Dawsonville, finished eighth there in the second race of the season, continuing a family legacy at his home-state track. His father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, is steeped forever in AMS history, having earned 13 top fives and 19 top 10s in 62 career starts at the 1.5-mile track.

“I feel like Texas is becoming more and more like Atlanta, at least the past two or three times I’ve been coming here,” Chase Elliott said. “So I think the longer we go, I think you’ll see the racing improve as the racetrack wears out like it has in Atlanta.

“To me, the surface and the tire wear and the change throughout a run is very similar to what I saw in Atlanta a few weeks ago.”

The younger Elliott will make his Sprint Cup debut at Bristol Motor Speedway this coming Sunday. While he’ll wear a rookie stripe at the high-banked bullring, Elliott is no stranger to competing at BMS, either.

He made four career starts there in the Xfinity Series and had four top 10s (ninth, third, sixth and seventh). He also made one start at the 0.533-mile track in the Camping World Truck Series, earning the pole and finishing fifth in 2013.

Given how his season has turned around, you’d think Elliott would be happy for a fifth at Texas. But the 20-year-old holds himself to high standards. A fifth was all well and good -- but not good enough.

“For us, we’re excited to run in the top five,” he said. “We’re also not content, and we want to be contenders, and running fifth isn’t a contender. You’ve got to be up a little higher. That’s our goal, and we’ll keep working at it.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski