Chase Elliott (24) drives at Chicagoland Speedway (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

JOLIET, Ill. -- Chase Elliott led 42 laps and made one of the more serious runs at a checkered flag in his career.

But his first career Cup victory is still on hold.

Elliott had perhaps his strongest outing of the season, finishing second in the NASCAR playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway. Elliott had his most laps led since he was out front for 106 at Phoenix and he scored his best finish of the year.

Elliott earned his way into the postseason in the No. 24 Chevrolet on points and had only one other top-10 finish this season.

But he knew down the stretch that race winner Martin Truex Jr. had the car to beat.

"It would have been great to battle with Martin a little bit more," Elliott said. "We didn't have anything for him. From where we've been to where we ran today was a major, major step in the right direction"

 

 

He just might be a contender over the final nine races of the season. Elliott, a two-time Daytona 500 pole winner, heads to New Hampshire where his best finish is 11th and then the first round wrap in Dover where twice he's finished third.

"I did fee like we peaked about this time last year," Elliott said. "But this isn't last year, so it really doesn't matter."