Is it too early to pencil in Chase Elliott as one of the four finalists who will be in the running for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship at Homestead Miami Speedway next month?
At the moment, the Hendrick Motorsports drivers appears to be as good of a bet as anyone and better than most.
Elliott won for the third time this season Sunday and the second time in three weeks when he won the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Most folks seem to think it will be Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex in three of the four slots available for Homestead and a shot at the championship. The three have combined to win more than one-half of this season’s races and are the top three in laps led. They have also won three of the last four Cup championships.
Kick in a healthy number of bonus points earned through stage and race wins and while the three can’t coast into Homestead, their biggest concern is not beating themselves during these next three weeks.
With those matters seemingly settled, it’s been that fourth playoff spot that’s drawn the attention for much of the season. Kyle Larson was an early favorite, then fell out of favor for a bit, then resurfaced as a likely candidate.
But the Chip Ganassi Racing driver’s hopes and dreams came to an end Sunday at Kansas when he finished third and needed to finish first.
Brad Keselowski was another driver penciled in at the No. 4 spot and his late summer run only seemed to cement his place at the table. The Team Penske driver won at Darlington and then the regular-season finale at Indianapolis and then the opening playoff race at Las Vegas. Impressive stuff even if the 2012 champ warned that his group still had some catching up to do.
Unfortunately for Keselowski, time ran out at Kansas as well.
There were others – Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones and Jimmie Johnson. But some only got as far as the first round while others fell out Sunday.
In the meantime, Elliott and the No. 9 team seem to have stepped up their game.
Not to dismiss Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola, other drivers who are just as much alive as Elliott.
But Logano hasn’t won since April, Bowyer since June. Kurt Busch won at Bristol in August and Almirola at Talladega earlier this month but none of the remaining tracks bear any resemblance to those two layouts.
Any one of those four could move on instead of Elliott. But it will probably require winning races and right now, Elliott’s the one doing that.