JOILET, Ill. — Chase Elliott arrived at Chicagoland Speedway with a blister on his hand and a certain level of satisfaction.
The blister was the product of shifting with his right hand while driving with his left on a hot, sweaty weekend at Sonoma. The positive feeling stemmed from a gratifying fourth-place finish on a challenging road course that frustrated him in the past.
Heading to the midpoint of his third season on the NASCAR Cup Series, the 22-year-old Elliott remains in search of his first win. But he is learning more and more about what it takes to compete at the highest level of stock car racing.
“One thing I’ve realized this season is when you have things that are on your side you need to make the most of them while you have them,” Elliott said. “I feel like in my career thus far, I’ve had some portions of seasons that were really good car-wise and we were really strong, had some great things going for us, things that if I knew then what I know now I would love another shot at them.
“I think that’s the biggest thing is you just have to kind of pick your battles and you know for us, there’s been races to this point throughout the year that we haven’t been the fastest car at the end of practice or at the end of qualifying and you have to really just kind of sit back and make the most of what you have.”
Elliott takes another shot at his first win this Sunday when the Cup Series returns to a mid-summer date at Chicagoland for the first time since 2010. The track hosted the opening round of the playoffs the past seven years, but Las Vegas Motor Speedway gets the honor this season.
The last time NASCAR visited the 1.5-mile oval in suburban Chicago, Elliott led for 42 laps and finished second last September. It was a nice moment for one of racing’s most popular young drivers.
Then, just like that, it was gone.
Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports team was penalized for an aerodynamic modification that was discovered during a postrace inspection. Crew chief Alan Gustafson was fined $25,000 and suspended one race, and the team was docked 15 driver points and 15 owner points.
Elliott, who won an XFinity Series race at Chicagoland four years ago and finished third in his first Cup race at the track in 2016, dropped from sixth place to eighth in the postseason standings. He took his second straight playoff appearance all the way to Phoenix, where he was passed by Matt Kenseth with 10 laps left and eliminated with another second-place finish.
Elliott’s success at Chicagoland was part of 22 top-five finishes in the previous two seasons. A similar showing this weekend could provide a big lift for the son of 1988 Winston Cup Series champion Bill Elliott.
Chase Elliott is just 13th in the series standings.
FORMULA ONE: Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were fastest in practice for the Austrian Grand Prix at Spielberg, Austria, after an upgrade to the aerodynamics of their cars paid off.