Home track advantage or not, eyes on Chase Elliott at Atlanta
Home field advantage, and the discussion thereof, is part and parcel with sports culture.
But in NASCAR, the concept isn’t as straightforward. One driver must go up against 39 others, on a field of play that changes each week, in front of crowds with different allegiances.
So while reigning Cup Series champion and Dawsonville, Georgia native Chase Elliott may be the No. 1 fan favorite Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he’s not counting on having that home field, or rather, home track advantage that could swing the race in his favor.
“It’s definitely not like the Braves having home field advantage for their playoff run,” Elliott said Thursday during a media teleconference.
"(It’s) very different. I wish Atlanta was like that for me, but there’s a lot of people there who want to see other drivers do well too.”
Perhaps. But Atlanta is still Elliott Country.
His father, Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, was a five-time winner there in his Cup career. He remains the only Georgia-born driver to have an Atlanta Cup win.
Chase Elliott, who raced Legends and Bandolero cars as a kid on Atlanta’s quarter-mile, hopes to join him one day.
With four top-10 finishes in five Cup starts, his average finish of 10th is the best among active drivers at Atlanta. But in his own words, the weathered 1.5-mile oval has been “super hit or miss” for him.
“Frankly, I really don’t know why,” he said. “We’ve gone there and had some really good runs, a couple days where I thought we were capable of winning. And then, we’ve been there and been way out to lunch.
“I’m not exactly sure what that is all the time. Obviously, car configurations and rules and different packages play a role in it. Hopefully, this week, we can be more on the ‘hit’ side and execute a good race.”
His organization, Hendrick Motorsports, has had plenty of ‘hits’ at Atlanta. The team’s 14 wins there are the most all-time. However, Hendrick’s last Atlanta victory was over five years ago, when Jimmie Johnson equaled Dale Earnhardt Sr. with his 76th career Cup win.
But with better across-the-board performance than it’s had in recent years, HMS could be poised to end that drought. Two of its drivers have already claimed playoff berths with wins (William Byron - Miami; Kyle Larson - Las Vegas).
Elliott is sixth in points on the strength of top-five finishes in the Daytona 500 and last week at Phoenix Raceway. He attributes his organization’s early season success to a greater degree of openness between the four teams.
“I do feel like everybody is - I don’t want to say sharing information, because we’ve always done that but just working together a little more from all aspects. You might have some people that work really good together and other people don’t. I feel like right now, it’s super fluid. Everybody’s open about anything and everything, and I feel like it’s showing on track.
“Beyond that, I really feel it’s just fundamental upgrades - things that are important on track being improved upon in the shop, and I think each car is benefitting from it.”
Elliott also noted Chad Knaus, through his new role as the organization’s vice president of competition, working to get better cars in the hands of its crew chiefs before heading to the track.
“I think Chad has had a big impact in having that car show up in a manner that particular crew chief wants it to be in before he sees it for the first time,” he said. “That makes a big difference.”
It may not be a home track advantage per se. But perhaps it could be the one that gets Elliott to Victory Lane at a track that’s meant so much to himself and his family.