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Magic man: Chase Elliott’s playoff run marked by remarkable recoveries

NASCAR America analyzes the likelihood that Chase Elliott will be able to qualify for the Championship 4 for Hendrick Motorsports.

In a postseason that has seen a title contender go to the garage before the green flag, a championship hopeful start last after passing inspection and then failing, and another title contender spun by a lapped car while leading before going on to win that race, it makes one wonder what could be next.

Oh yeah, the Cup series races Sunday at Martinsville Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

You know, the place where the last two playoff races featured last-lap passes for the win, including Joey Logano’s bump-and-run of Martin Truex Jr. last season. Two years ago, it was Denny Hamlin’s hit that put Chase Elliott in the wall and forced the race to go to overtime where Hamlin lost to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch.

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So, it only makes sense that in this unpredictable Cup playoff season that Martinsville is next.

Yet, for all the craziness, there’s something to think about. Is this Elliott’s year to win the title?

While the talk has been about Hamlin’s prowess at Martinsville, how this could be his year to win a championship for the first time and the likelihood that Joe Gibbs Racing will put multiple drivers in the championship race, Elliott has his own story.

Think about it. He went nose-first into the wall while leading on a restart at the Charlotte Roval and came back to win.

Who does that?

Had Hamlin gotten to the finish line about a tenth of a second quicker last week at Kansas Speedway, the race would have ended instead of going to a second overtime. Elliott would have been eliminated. The second overtime gave Elliott one last chance. He benefitted when Brad Keselowski chose the wrong lane and lost six spots (and points) in the final two laps. That allowed Elliott to advance by three points and keep his title hopes alive, while Keselowski was eliminated.

The way things are falling into place for Elliott, it lends itself to wonder if this is a sign of a magical season?

“No,” Elliott said, noting the engine failure eight laps into the Dover race that put him in a near must-win situation at Kansas to advance. “I feel like we were obviously in a bad spot leaving Dover, which was self-inflicted. We knew what we had to do the next two weeks.

“Magic, luck, good fortune, whatever it was, I’m happy we were able to get through. But these last two weeks to go through all these stuff we did … and still move on, it’s a wonder that’s for sure.”

Now the focus turns to Martinsville. Elliott finished seventh in the playoff race there last year and was leading when Hamlin spun him two years ago in the final laps of that playoff race.
A victory at Martinsville — where Elliott made his Cup debut in March 2015 — would only add to the feeling of this being a magical playoff for the Hendrick Motorsports driver.

“Martinsville has been hit or miss for us,” Elliott said last weekend at Kansas Speedway. “Ran good there in the spring. Ran bad there last fall. I don’t know. I feel we’ve had really good runs there, had bad runs there. Haven’t really done anything different.

“We just need to do our homework this week.”