Head-to-head: Chase Elliott vs. Kyle Larson

Dan Beaver

Chase Elliott’s immediate future is set. Kyle Larson is in a contract year, but there is little doubt that these two will race head-to-head in the Cup series for a long time to come.

Chevrolet had its share of trouble in 2019. The body style approved for that manufacturer did not work well in the draft. And while we think of the draft primarily on the 2.5- aero-restricted superspeedways, it is even more impactful on unrestricted, intermediate speedways.

NASCAR’s heavy reliance on similarly-configured, 1.5- and 2-mile tracks created major problems as these drivers attempted to navigate dirty air – problems that existed for the other brands as well, but for some reason were not quite as extreme.

Elliott and Larson were Chevrolet’s saving grace.

The No. 9 team finished 10th in the standings. But they were that far down largely because of a disastrous Round 3 of the playoffs that saw Elliott finish in the 30s in all three races. Before that, he seemed to be the best hope to advance to the Championship Round.

Larson finished sixth in the points and was the highest-place Chevrolet driver. He achieved his position quietly and was often under the radar.

In his fifth season, Chase Elliott has been the dominant racer of 2020.

He has been at or near the top of the leaderboards in key metrics like Driver Rating and Average Running Position most weeks and in the year-to-date listings provided by NASCAR Statistical Services. Elliott climbed to the top of the Fantasy Power Rankings the week before the world was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic because he had a car capable of winning each week.

In terms of Driver Rating, Elliott has not yet scored a top ranking just as he has not yet scored a race victory, but he has been no worse than fourth. He has not yet landed first in the Average Running Position in a given week, but he has a perfect sweep of top-fives.

Bad luck has plagued Elliott this season. An accident while he was running up front in the Daytona 500 kept him from challenging for the win. He arguably had the best car the following week at Las Vegas before a valve stem got knocked off his tire during a pit stop and sent him outside the top 25. But he rebounded in the last two races to finish fourth at Auto Club and seventh in Phoenix.

 

Chase Elliott

Race

Finish

Start

Avg. Run

Phoenix

7

1

7.47

Auto Club

4

13

8.09

Las Vegas

26

10

7.36

Daytona

17

25

11.00

Average

13.50

12.25

8.47*

 

It is nice to get first-place finishes, but consistency is the bread and butter of fantasy sports. Elliott’s reliability comes in the form of how he’s run and not just in his results.

On the other hand, Larson has had the results.

He drew 10th in the Daytona lottery and followed that up with a ninth the next week. He was battling among the top 10 at Auto Club before he was bump-drafted into the wall early in the race by an impatient Denny Hamlin. It’s hard to imagine he would have failed to finish with the leaders on a course type that has been so kind in the past. Four of Larson’s wins have come on that track type.

Larson has been much less consistent in regard to Driver Rating and Average Running Position than Elliott, but he’s made up for that with three top-10s. Kevin Harvick is the only racer to have swept that mark though Week 4 of the season.

Larson can be patient at times, but he is prone to pushing too hard when he has the leaders in sight. Elliott’s Achilles Heel has often been restarts when a slight bobble drops him a few critical positions that costs him a race.

For both of these drivers, those are mistakes that can be exorcised with experience.

 

Kyle Larson

Race

Finish

Start

Avg. Run

Phoenix

4

4

9.92

Auto Club

21

9

23.3

Las Vegas

9

6

9.90

Daytona

10

8

22.5

Average

11.0

6.75

16.40*

 

Larson has been around longer than Elliott. In his seventh season, Larson has amassed 56 top-fives (25.1% of the time) and 101 top-10s (45.2%). Elliott has 45 top-fives (29.4%) and 76 top-10s (49.7%). The numbers over the past five years are much closer as they’ve raced head-to-head.

In the stat that matters most, both have six Cup victories.

There is the possibility these two drivers could wind up as teammates in 2020. Rick Hendrick needs a superstar to replace Jimmie Johnson, although he is unlikely to allow Larson the same free reign to run dirt races as Chip Ganassi has. After all, it’s likely Kasey Kahne would have loved to run in the World of Outlaws races more often than he did.

Then again, Larson might decide that the financial security the Cup series and the fame it affords is the more important factor than being happy during the off-season. If by some twist these two drivers do wind up as teammates, they will push one another even harder just as Jeff Gordon and Johnson did in their heyday.

* NASCAR Statistical Services Average Running Position through Week 4.

Previous Head-to-head matchups:

Joey Logano vs. Denny Hamlin
Aric Almirola vs. Alex Bowman
Jimmie Johnson vs. Kurt Busch
Kevin Harvick vs. Kyle Busch
Tyler Reddick vs. William Byron