StatWatch: Chase Elliott in select company after third win

Chase Elliott has become a title threat after capturing three wins in the past 11 races. Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Suddenly there are just four NASCAR Cup Series races remaining in the season. And what a left turn this season has taken.

Early on, it looked to be a competition to see just how many races Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick could win. Through 13 races (halfway through the regular season), Harvick had five wins and Busch four. Two of the four races they didn't win came at the highly unpredictable restrictor-plate races.

Then things changed.

  • Harvick has gone nine races without winning; Busch has one win in the past 11 races.

  • Chase Elliott went from hard-luck runner-up to three-time race winner.

  • Brad Keselowski went from winless in 24 races to winner of three straight ... and then eliminated from the playoffs.

Still, thanks to the gift of playoff points, Busch and Harvick (along with Martin Truex Jr.) have weathered their relatively cold streak into a semifinal appearance.

But now they're suddenly joined among the ranks of championship contenders by Elliott, who had never won a Cup race until less than three months ago.

Let's look at Elliott and the best notes from the Kansas weekend that was.

Elliott now piling up the wins

Remember when Elliott was the huge prospect who couldn't quite capture that checkered flag? Now he's won three of the past 11 races, and in doing so became the first driver to get his first three career wins in the same season since Carl Edwards in 2005.

It's not a common feat -- it's been done only eight times in the modern era (since 1972) -- and it's been done by some impressive names: Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton, Bobby Labonte and Geoff Bodine. Lot of champions in there.

Four is a strong possibility for Elliott. Edwards and Busch both won four times in their first season of winning. However, it will be impossible for Elliott to set the record. In 1965, a previously winless Dick Hutcherson won nine times. He drove only two more seasons in Cup after that, winning five more times, and then retired to concentrate on his business ventures.

Larson was close -- again

The best storyline as Sunday's race drew to a close was whether Kyle Larson could pick up the victory he needed to move on in the playoffs. He came up just short, finishing third, and remained winless on the season despite 10 top-5 finishes. But he can take some solace in knowing that he'll have some select company if he doesn't capture a victory this season.

Over the past four seasons, only one other driver has had a season in which he had at least 10 top-5 finishes without a victory: Elliott in both 2016 and 2017.

When you add in that Larson has led more than 700 laps this season, the feat becomes a lot more select.

Larson could become the fourth driver in Cup Series history with at least 700 laps led and 10 top-5 finishes in a winless season, joining Jeff Gordon (2010), Mark Martin (1996) and Harry Gant (1981).

Logano continues an odd streak

Joey Logano finished eighth on Sunday, despite leading 100 laps. Last week, Kurt Busch finished 14th at Talladega after hitting triple digits in laps led. The week before that, Harvick finished sixth at Dover despite leading 286 laps.

Each of the past eight drivers to lead 100 laps in a race has failed to win. That includes the August Bristol race in which three drivers led more than 100 laps and none of them won.

This season, 27 drivers have led at least 100 laps in a race, and only 10 ended up winning -- a rate of 37 percent. That seems low, but it's actually better than it has been in recent years.

Since 2011, only 34 percent of drivers have won races in which they led at least 100 laps.

But it didn't used to be that way. From 2005 to 2010, it was a much more reasonable 45 percent.