Elliott, 23, has now made the playoffs in each of his four fulltime seasons in Cup, but when this year’s 10-race battle for the championship kicks off Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it will be the first time he enters having earned wins in the regular season.
Thanks mostly to victories earlier this year at Talladega, Ala., and Watkins Glen, N.Y., Elliott begins the playoffs this year with 18 playoff points and is seeded seventh among the 16 drivers.
“I’ve never been in the position of having two wins going in, so that’s great. I would love to add on to that,” Elliott said Thursday during Media Day at South Point Hotel & Casino. “But, certainly, those guys that are ahead of you have three or four wins, which are potentially double the amount of playoff points that we have.
“So, to me, those are the key factors in getting those playoff points and what’s going to really help you get to Homestead without having to win round to round, or the have-to, I think you have to have the ability to each week, really, to be a contender, regardless.”
The first three Cup series wins of Elliott’s career came in last season’s playoffs, which helped Elliott to a sixth-place finish in the series standings but he failed to become one of the four drivers eligible to compete in the season finale.
To have a chance at winning his first title, Elliott must advance out of the semifinal round, which will not be easy against the likes of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and others who have won more consistently this season.
Elliott and Alex Bowman are the only Hendrick Motorsports drivers to earn victories so far this season. Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson failed to make the playoffs but William Byron – who is still looking for his first series win – made it in on points.
“I do think we can do it. I think our group has worked really hard throughout the year. I feel like we’ve had speed at different points throughout the year,” Elliott said. “Certainly there have been times where I feel like we’ve been much better than other times.
“Some of that, I feel like, has been our own doing. Some has been misfortune. I think just cleaning-up some of the days that we can control it, I think would be a great thing for us. And trying to be a little steadier.
“I know it’s in us and we’ve just got to execute these last 10 weeks. I really feel like when we’re at our best, we can run with those guys that you have to beat and I don’t feel any different right now.”