El­liott takes check­ered flag at the Mon­ster Mile

Dorchester Star - - SPORTS - By DUSTIN HOLT dholt@ches­pub.com Fol­low Caro­line/ Dorch­ester Ed­i­tor Dustin Holt on Twit­ter @Dustin_ Star­Dem.

DOVER — Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports driver Chase El­liott turned heart­break into tri­umph Sun­day, Oct. 7, when the NAPA Chevro­let driver cap­tured to the check­ered flag in the Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries Gan­der Out­doors 400 at Dover In­ter­na­tional Speed­way.

A year ago in the same race, El­liott was passed for the lead by Kyle Busch while com­ing to the white flag. El­liott called the race the worst day in his driv­ing ca­reer, hav­ing lost what could have been his first ca­reer Cup Se­ries win.

But El­liott seized a late op­por­tu­nity Sun­day to earn re­demp­tion when crew chief Alan Gustafson kept his driver on the track with eight laps re­main­ing while the lead­ers pit­ted un­der cau­tion for fresh tires.

The bold move vaulted El­liott from third to first, but he had to hold off the hun­gry pack on worn tires. El­liott used two strong restarts to keep the lead, and passed un­der the check­ered flag 0.265 sec­onds ahead of Denny Ham­lin for his sec­ond ca­reer Cup Se­ries vic­tory. Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 5, re­spec­tively.

The win cat­a­pults El­liott into the Round of 8 in the Cup Se­ries play­offs.

“Last fall was prob­a­bly the tough­est day of my ca­reer,” El­liott said. “To put that be­hind you and win, I’m grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity.

“It def­i­nitely makes it sweeter, for sure,” El­liott added. “You don’t ap­pre­ci­ate it in those mo­ments. But, to come back here and have the day we had, and to move on to the next round; I don’t have to worry about Tal­ladega next week. Man, it’s a great day.”

El­liott started ninth and worked his way to fifth by the end of the first stage. An un­con­trolled tire penalty on the en­su­ing pit stop put El­liott at the end of the long­est line for the restart.

Driv­ing through the dirty air, El­liott still marched for­ward and ended the sec­ond stage in ninth. He cred­ited Gustafson for mak­ing bold ad­just­ments to help the car in traf­fic. The ad­just­ments paid off with El­liott crack­ing the top 5 with less than 70 laps to go.

Up to that point, the four Ste­wart-Haas Rac­ing driv­ers dom­i­nated the race with Kevin Har­vick in the lead, and his team­mates Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch round­ing out the top four.

The com­plex­ion of the race changed on lap 321 when Har­vick pit­ted from the lead for his fi­nal stop. Up to that point, Har­vick had led 286 laps and swept the first two stages. But a pit gun knocked off his left rear tire’s valve stage, and caused a flat tire, forc­ing Har vick to pit again. He fin­ished in sixth.

With Har­vick a lap down, Almirola in­her­ited the lead. A cau­tion on lap 340 brought the lead­ers back into the pits. Almirola restarted sec­ond, and quickly took the lead from Brad Ke­selowski.

Almirola was cruis­ing with 10 laps to go with Busch in tow, but El­liott was lurk­ing in third. Bowyer, who had run in the top 3 all race, suf­fered a tire is­sue, when he struck the turn four wall. The cau­tion came out with seven laps to go. Almirola and Busch ducked onto pit road for fresh tires, but El­liott stayed out to take over the lead.

El­liott restarted with Ke­selowski in sec­ond and Almirola, on four new tires, in sixth. El­liott got a strong restart on lap 397, but Almirola got loose in turn two, caus­ing a pileup on the back straight­away, which col­lected play­off con­tenders Ke­selowski, Martin Truex Jr.and Alex Bow­man.

Now in over­time, El­liott had Ham­lin on his in­side for the restart. He made an­other strong restart, and cleared Ham­lin com­ing off turn two. El­liott main­tained the lead over the fi­nal two laps to best Ham­lin by 0.265 sec­onds.

The NASCAR Cup Se­ries re­turns to Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way Sun­day, Oct. 14.

Driv­ers restart on lap 349 in the the Gan­der Out­doors 400 at Dover In­ter­na­tional Speed­way Sun­day, Oct. 7.

Aric Almirola (10) nudges Brad Ke­sel­woski (2) out of the way to make the pass in the Gan­der Out­doors 400 at Dover In­ter­na­tional Speed­way Sun­day, Oct. 7.

PHO­TOS BY ASH­LEY EA­SON

Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports driver Chase El­liott, left, holds the Miles the Mon­ster tro­phy in vic­tory lane with his crew chief Alan Gustafson af­ter El­liott won the Gan­der Out­doors 400 at Dover In­ter­na­tional Speed­way Sun­day, Oct. 7.

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