After claiming his first NASCAR Cup Sequence championship final 12 months, Chase Elliott made positive to let the media know there would be no title “protection” on his thoughts for 2021.
“There isn’t any defending,” he mentioned on Feb. 8. “We must be on offense. We have to preserve pushing. I feel should you’re again in your heels and attempting to guard one thing, I don’t suppose your thoughts is in the correct place.
“We would like extra. We’re not attempting to play protection. We simply merely need extra. That must be our outlook and preserve it so simple as that.”
Issues began out properly for Elliott with a runner-up end within the season-opening Daytona 500. The subsequent week on the Daytona street course, he confirmed that he stays the sequence’ prime driver in that self-discipline, even when the consequence didn’t present it.
That Twenty first-place end, nonetheless, began a five-race downturn that included 4 finishes of thirteenth or worse and a DNF at his residence monitor in Atlanta.
Elliott stopped the slide with a Tenth-place end on the filth at Bristol. And there’s an argument to be made that there are higher weeks forward for him.
Not solely have each earned wins, they’re additionally among the many prime 5 in lots of loop metrics.
Larson is tops in laps led (379), a lot of that coming from a dominant run at Atlanta that didn’t finish with a victory. He’s additionally main in quickest laps run (237), and high quality passes (446), that are passes made inside the highest 15 below inexperienced flag situations.
In common operating place, Larson (9.5) and Byron (10.7) are fourth and fifth respectively. Byron can also be fifth in laps led (129) and quickest laps run (99).
That Larson was in a position to shortly re-adapt to Cup racing wasn’t shocking. Byron, then again, seems to have made a giant step towards turning into a weekly fixture on the entrance (one thing he acknowledged as his objective again in December). Needless to say by means of the primary seven races final 12 months, he had a median end of twenty-two.1 and common operating place of 15.9.
Every part however the W
Final 12 months, Denny Hamlin was the clear No. 1 at Joe Gibbs Racing. However whereas he and the No. 11 workforce have carried that efficiency into 2021, they don’t have a win to indicate for it.
Maybe that’s why final Monday’s near-miss on the filth at Bristol appeared to sting Hamlin somewhat extra.
He hasn’t simply been banking sturdy finishes (series-high six prime fives; none worse than Eleventh). He’s additionally been banking stage factors at near-perfect effectivity.
He’s scored factors in 13 of 14 levels with three stage wins. Within the 13 levels the place he’s scored, he earned a top-five end in all however one. The outlier was a ninth-place end within the second stage at Atlanta; he went on to complete fourth within the race.
Hamlin can also be tops in a number of different statistics, together with common end (4.7), common operating place (5.9), and laps inside the highest 15 (1,549 in complete; 91.4%).
It’s added as much as a 58-point lead, almost a full race’s price, over Joey Logano within the common season standings.
By way of seven races final 12 months, Hamlin was eighth within the common season standings. However he was already within the playoffs with two wins.
After the Easter break, two of his strongest tracks traditionally are subsequent: Martinsville Speedway (5 Cup wins, avg. end of 9.9) and Richmond Raceway (three Cup wins, avg. end of 9.2.). Nonetheless, Hamlin hasn’t gained at Martinsville since March 2015 and Richmond since September 2016.
A downturn in efficiency throughout the board have left Stewart-Haas Racing in a diminished state after seven races.
Kevin Harvick sits Tenth within the playoff standings and has 5 prime 10 finishes in seven races. However the standard velocity of the No. 4 workforce has been lacking. Harvick hasn’t led for the reason that Daytona 500 (17 laps) and has solely scored factors in 5 of 14 levels.
It’s nonetheless higher than the place his three teammates are proper now. Cole Custer, rookie Chase Briscoe and Aric Almirola are all outdoors the highest 20 in factors and have didn’t document a single top-10 end between them. The trio’s finest finishes are a pair of Eleventh-place outcomes, one from Custer, one from Almirola.
However whereas Custer and Briscoe have at the least averted any DNFs, Almirola has already suffered three – the identical quantity he took over all of final season.
Custer, Briscoe and Almirola, like their champion teammate, have suffered from an absence of velocity however in a much more acute manner.
All three drivers are ranked outdoors the highest 25 drivers in inexperienced flag velocity – Custer in twenty sixth, Almirola in twenty seventh, and Briscoe in thirtieth. Even along with his personal points, Harvick ranks ninth on this statistic.
Hit and miss for Kyle Busch
Coming off maybe his finest race of the season at Atlanta, Kyle Busch needed to soldier to a Seventeenth-place end at Bristol after pitting early for overheating after which getting concerned in a multi-car incident shortly after the race’s halfway level.
It continued a string of up-and-down outcomes over the primary seven races. Whereas Busch has earned three prime 10s, he’s additionally had 4 finishes of 14th or worse.
Busch additionally was inconsistent by means of seven races final 12 months. He had 4 prime fives, but additionally had three finishes of fifteenth or worse. As we all know, he didn’t get to Victory Lane till October at Texas after he’d been eradicated from the playoffs.
Pace-wise, Busch has been first rate this season (ranked seventh in inexperienced flag velocity). Nonetheless, his common operating place of 13.9 lags behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Hamlin (5.9) and Martin Truex Jr. (9.1), and is simply barely forward of one other teammate, Christopher Bell (14.6).
It’s all left him in the course of an rising playoff “bubble battle.” Solely 15 factors separate him in thirteenth place and the primary driver out in Seventeenth, Chris Buescher.
Except the No. 18 workforce will get scorching popping out of the Easter break, Busch could also be in that group for some time.