For better or worse the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series careers of Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney will be linked.
Elliott and Blaney share many similarities with a pair of former NASCAR stars in Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth.
Like Earnhardt and Kenseth the duo of Elliott and Blaney are friends and began racing full-time at NASCAR’s top level at the same time. When it was all said and done Earnhardt had two Xfinity Series titles and 26 Cup wins while Kenseth laid claim to the 2003 Cup Series championship and 39 wins. Both drivers won the Daytona 500 and Earnhardt had no issues claiming most popular driver awards year after year.
Since Earnhardt retired, Elliott has ascended to be NASCAR’s most popular driver. Blaney is not far behind. Both drivers began racing full-time at the Cup level in 2016 and have already found victory lane. After coming so close, Elliott finally punched his way to victory lane last year at Watkins Glen. He would go on to win two more times over the next ten races having his best season at the Cup level.
Blaney’s first win came in 2017 at Pocono with the Wood Brothers as he was on loan as part of a partnership with Penske Racing. Last year he was in the right place to capitalize at the Charlotte Roval earning his second career win.
Thus far in 2019 both drivers have run good enough to make you think they could pull off a win, yet somehow have not been able to close the door. On Sunday at Martinsville Brad Keselowski dominated the STP 500 but both Blaney and Elliott were in a gaggle of cars which included Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch who could have scored a win if something unfortunate were to happen to Keselowski.
Making the playoffs is no longer the goal for either Elliott or Blaney as they compete in their fourth season of full-time MENCS action. It is time to score wins. Elliott has finished 10th, fifth and sixth in the overall driver standings the last three years. Blaney has finished 20th, ninth and 10th.
The thing that both Blaney and Elliott know is that though the last 114 MENCS races they combined have five wins. That is not going to win a MENCS championship.
Dating back to the 2014 season winning has been the key to claiming the MENCS championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Since then Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex and Joey Logano have all won the final race of the season. The last race which is supposed to be a whoever finishes best, has been a who wins the race competition. Five years in a row the best finishing championship contender has been the car who went to victory lane. For Elliott and Blaney to win a championship they need to get to get to victory lane.
Before anyone mentions the “Big 3” of a year ago of Busch (8 wins), Harvick (8 wins) and Truex (4 wins) consider they made up three-fourths of the championship group for Homestead. Logano who ended up winning the championship won three races himself on the season. When Harvick won the championship in 2014 he won five races just as Busch won five in 2015 in a season he missed 11 events. Likewise Jimmie Johnson won five races in 2016 while Truex scored an eye popping eight wins in 2017.
Logano won as many, or more – in the case of Blaney, races in 2018 than Elliott or Blaney have scored in their Cup careers. After winning a rain shortened race in his Rookie season, Logano waited almost three years to go back to victory lane. Since then he has pulled off 20 more Cup wins.
The arrow is certainly pointed up for both Elliott and Blaney but to really get to the top of the Cup Series wins are needed. Those wins are going to come but one has to wonder who starts the breakout first? If NASCAR wants a wave of new drivers to take the sport to the next level its going to be drivers like Elliott and Blaney that need to find victory lane.