Chase Elliott wins at the Monster Mile
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 of f with Elliott cracking the top 5 with less than 70 laps to go.
“We made some really good adjustments there as the race went along,” Elliott said. “I felt like the beginning of that first run by the end of that first stage I thought we had fallen off some. Actually, when we fell back as we were making our way back through the field I thought that we made some adjustments that really were the difference maker in being able to pass some more guys.”
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 completion 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 Harvick 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.
“I really thought it was the right move to be honest with you,” Elliott said of staying out late in the race. “I was shocked those other guys pitted with that few laps left. I just knew if we had a bunch of cautions it was going to be hard to hold those guys off if they kept leap frogging forward.
“Just a great effort, a lot of perseverance today, had a penalty there at the beginning, fell back and was able to climb back forward and ultimately move on,” he added. “To have this race slip away last year makes the day that much more sweet.”
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Talladega Superspeedway Sunday, Oct. 14.
Chase Elliott, left, celebrates in victory lane after winning the Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Speedway Sunday, Oct. 7.
Chase Elliott crosses the finish line to win the Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Speedway Sunday, Oct. 7.