Chase El­liott wins at the Mon­ster Mile

Times-Record - - NEWS - By DUSTIN HOLT dholt@ches­pub.com

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.

PHOTO BY DUSTIN HOLT

PHO­TOS BY DUSTIN HOLT

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.

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