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Chase Elliott: Defending NASCAR Champion

The defending NASCAR Cup Series champion, Chase Elliott, could become the first driver since the legendary Jimmie Johnson to go back-to-back on Sunday. Admittedly, Elliott hasn’t achieved as much as the regular-season champion, Kyle Larson,; however, he has shown enough to be considered as a serious threat.

Can Elliott deliver and win his second title, or will he flop, as many defending champions have done in the past?

Chase Elliott – The Defending Champion
Logan Riely/Getty Images/AFP

How they got here: Wins, Top 5s, Top 10s

Elliott was by no means the top driver of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season – a tag claimed by Larson – but he has been one of the most consistent drivers in the field. The 25-year-old had a solid start, finishing second in the season opener in Daytona, but has quickly cooled down and finished the next three races in 21st, 145th, and a 13th-place.

However, as the season progressed, Elliott found his stride and racked in two wins,14 top-5s, and 20 top-10s by the end of the year. Elliott has won only two races, less than Larson (9) and Martin Truex Jr. (4), but was overall very consistent, which earned him a spot in the final four.

2021 Stats and Finishes

  •         Wins: 2
  •         Top-5s: 14
  •         Top-10s: 20

Championship History 

The Hendrick Motorsports driver is the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion, having won the title in 2020 after four years of middling success. Elliott made his NASCAR debut in 2015, but it wasn’t until 2016 when he participated in all races of the season.

In his first full-season, Elliott showed a lot of promise and claimed eight top-5s, including two runner-up finishes, but was unable to win a race and ended the year in 10th. Elliott further improved in 2017, finishing the season in fifth, albeit again with a single-race win.

It wasn’t until the 2018 Go Bowling at the Glen that Elliott finally locked in his first W, to which he added two more by the end of the year. Unfortunately, the 25-year-old ended the year in sixth, with 2,350 points, 27 fewer than a year prior.

In 2019, Elliott struggled, and while he has won three races, his lack of success and consistency saw him finish the season in 10th place, marking his worst placement since 2016. But despite his mediocre success over the years, Elliott found a new gear in 2020, when he had an exceptional season, culminating in Elliott joining his father, Bill, on the list of NASCAR Cup Series champions. 

Past Record at Phoenix Raceway

As the youngest driver of the remaining four, Elliott is also the least experienced driving on the Phoenix Raceway, where he has made only 11 starts over his relatively short NASCAR career. However, unlike Larson, Elliott had won here in 2020.

Adding to that, Elliot has four top-5s and seven top-10s in Phoenix and has led for a total of 402 laps. His average start (4.7) is also the highest of the remaining four and boats the second-best average finish (11.2).

While Elliot’s strong averages should be taken with a grain of salt, since he has only 11 starts, there is no denying that Elliot usually delivers on the track.

Stats at Phoenix

  •         Starts: 11
  •         Top Finish: 1st (2020)
  •         Top-5s: 4
  •         Top-10s: 7
  •         Average Start: 4.3
  •         Average Finish: 11.2

Why Elliott Will Win the Title

If he has done it before, why wouldn’t he do it again? That’s definitely a question that is worth answering, and while Elliott was by no means as successful as Larson over the 2021 season, he has shown enough to earn our trust.

He might have won only two races, but his 14 top-5s and 20 top-10s more than compensate for that and indicate that Elliott is always in the running to finish the race up front. It’s also worth noting that Elliott has led 858 laps over the year

Why Elliott Won’t Win 

Elliott might be the most popular NASCAR driver and the defending champion, but his lack of wins over the season suggests that he might not be able to defend his title. And it’s not even Elliott’s lack of success, but rather the fact that the remaining three drivers have done more in 2021.

Most concerning is Elliott’s lack of impressive showings in the playoffs, seeing how he has managed only three top-5s in Richmond (4th), Las Vegas (2nd), and Kansas (2nd). Although solid showings, they get overshadowed by Elliott’s 25th,18th, 12th, and 16th place finish on Bristol, Talladega Roval, and Martinsville.

Odds

Elliott is priced at +250 to win the NASCAR Cup Series Championship.

Prediction

Elliott won the title in 2020, and while he has known less this season, there’s a chance that he can go back-to-back. Some people might be skeptical about Elliott’s chances to go back-to-back, and rightfully so, but we wouldn’t be surprised if he manages to do it.

The final field is incredibly stacked with Larson, who has had an exceptional season, and Truex Jr. and Hamlin, who are far more experienced than Elliott on the track. Still, Elliott has proven that he can compete with the best, and as long as he can show what he is capable of, the 25-year-old should be in an excellent spot to claim his second NASCAR Cup Series title.

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