HAMPTON, Ga. — Chase Elliott continued his upward trend at Atlanta in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, but failed to find victory lane at his home track for the fourth season running.
The Dawsonville, Georgia native had a strong car all day, finishing third in Stage 1 and second in Stage 2 to gain 17 points by the halfway point of the race. For much of the day, he appeared to be one of the few cars — if not the only one — that might be able to challenge Kevin Harvick for the race win.
Then, on lap 212, the speeding bug — which had already hit the likes of Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., and Jimmie Johnson — got to Elliott. He was forced to come down pit road for a pass-through penalty.
It was unfortunate for Elliott, but he kept his composure and fought through it.
“We had a good car and were able to stay on the lead lap,” he said. “We caught a caution at the right time to bunch everybody back up and had a good pit stop. We jumped three or four guys on pit road and had a good restart, and I think the outside lane got stacked up so we were back up in fifth and luckily right back in the game. It was a little bit of luck and a little bit of good pit stops and it kind of worked out, it just didn’t work out when it counted.”
As the late-race cautions kept piling up, Elliott was able to work his way back up to the front of the field. When the final caution came out with 14 laps to go after Austin Dillon’s No. 3 car lost power on the front straight, Elliott was running second. He came down pit road for four tires and fuel, as did everyone else.
But a slightly slower pit stop meant that Elliott came out third, behind Harvick and Larson. After Harvick was served his crucial speeding penalty, Elliott was moved up to second on the restart, but couldn’t get through the gears quickly (as was the case for nearly everyone who restarted on the outside lane all weekend) and slipped to sixth by the time the first lap after the restart had been completed. He battled in the final run to finish fifth.
Elliott said that in that moment, he had the same problems that other drivers had had all weekend restarting on the outside. “It was tough, the outside lane in the restart box is really slippery,” he said. “I saw that all weekend and I don’t have a good answer as to why that is, but it just is. It made it tough on the guys up top.”
It was a case of what might have been for Elliott — had he held on to second during the final round of pit stops, he would have restarted first after Harvick’s penalty and likely would have gone on to a very popular first victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at his home track.
He freely admitted post-race that he was frustrated with the result, especially after he had been running down Harvick all day. “It was frustrating. I thought our car was as good as Kevin’s car was, I just think he did a little better job of driving then what I was doing,” Elliott said post-race. “I thought we could run second to him through the majority of the day – I thought Brad at times was a little bit better than us, and at times, I thought we were a little bit better than him. On that last stop, we had a little bit of a hiccup there that lost us second.”
“I thought we could run second to him through the majority of the day – I thought Brad at times was a little bit better than us, and at times, I thought we were a little bit better than him. On that last stop, we had a little bit of a hiccup there that lost us second, unfortunately, and after Kevin’s misfortune that would have put us in a really good spot. It’s hard to be frustrated at the pit crew because those guys did a really good job all day long. We made spots up all day and gained time on Kevin, with those guys having that first pit box they didn’t have to go all that far, but every time I thought we were inching closer to his back bumper as we came off pit road. I think we have a great foundation on pit road to build off of – I think we’re much improved. We had a hiccup at the end of the day, but I don’t think it’s something those guys should be discouraged over.”
But that thought is something that Elliott is not dwelling on.
“You know, we ran really well, which is positive. We just needed a little bit more to get Kevin,” he said. “I think our car was as good as Kevin’s was. I think he just did a little better job driving there around the bottom and being consistent. So, that’s something for me to work on and we’ll get ready for Vegas.”
His hope instead is to return to Atlanta next year with the old pavement still intact, so that he might be able to take another crack at victory on the historic surface.
“I think the way it currently is better than the alternative myself,” he said after the race. “I know everybody kind of has their own opinion. I guess it depends on how they repave it if they’re gonna do it and how the process would work will kind of determine how good or bad it would be.”
“But I like it the way it is – I think it has a lot of character and to me, it puts on good racing and allowed you to move around and kind of do some different things, especially as the sun went down. I thought that offered up some more opportunity for moving around the race track and making it work.”
About the Writer
James Pike is a multi-faceted reporter for Race Chaser Online and an analyst on the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
He is the lead correspondent for Race Chaser Online’s coverage of Australian Supercars and also covers regional touring series events in the Carolinas. He is a graduate of the Motorsports Management program at Belmont Abbey College and currently resides in Winston-Salem, N.C.
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