Chase Elliott quite literally snatched his first checkered flag of the season on April 28 as he leapt from his Little Ceaser’s clad No. 9 Chevy to take the banner from the race announcer and celebrated his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Geico 500 victory with the jubilant crowd at the Talladega Super Speedway in Talladega, Alabama.
Of course, racing fans and even non-racing fans in Dawsonville have always had the inside scoop on Elliott’s NASCAR wins as the siren atop the Pool Room sounds across town to signal every victory by the hometown favorite.
Every Sunday afternoon during racing season, fans gather at the downtown eatery to watch the race, chatter about the latest news from NASCAR and enjoy one of the best burgers in town and this past Sunday was no exception, as fans continued to come into the restaurant after the race to celebrate their hometown favorites first victory.
That was the case with local racing fan Keith Ray and his wife Rebecca who, after watching the race at home, headed immediately to the Pool Room to be with other fans. After exchanging fist-bumps and high-fives with the nearby tables Ray explained the significance of the Talladega win and backed it with a bold prediction.
“This win is a big boost, with the team and with him. It’s building it all together and it’s going to happen,” said Ray. “(Elliott’s) going to win it all this year. You just watch.”
Starting from the eleventh position, Elliott maneuvered his way into the top five by the end of stage one and had jumped into the lead at the end of stage two as he captured his first stage victory of the season on lap 110. As the race entered the final laps, Elliott battled from seventh to fourth as he looked for his opportunity to move forward.
A four-car accident on lap 181 scattered cars and debris across the track and resulted in a red-flag that stopped the cars in place on the opposite side of the track while crews raced to clean-up the mess. The race restarted on lap 185 and No. 9 surged to the front of the pack to take the lead for the final four laps of the race.
Pushed by Hendricks Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman, and aided by fellow Chevrolet drivers Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric blocking down the final stretch, Elliott crossed the finish line for his and the team’s first win of 2019 and Chevy’s first win since October 2018.
As NASCAR continued its season-long experiment with vehicle aerodynamics, this year’s spring race at Talladega was the first race in 32 years to be run without engine restrictor plates, instead relying on a tapered spacer and a combination of spoilers and splitters to off-set the increase in power.
The resulting increase in speeds for the 2.66-mile course brought back memories of Bill Elliott’s 1987 record speed of 212.809mph. Although qualifying times came in slightly slower, as pole-sitter Austin Dillon came in at 192.544mph and the younger Elliott notched his career lowest starting position at Talladega with 190.753mph, the impact of the higher speeds on the race itself was noticed immediately in dramatically decreased closing times on the straightaway and more difficult bump-and-runs through the turns.
All but six drivers saw a top speed over 200 mph with Hemric’s 204.537mph topping the charts. The lead changed hands 15 times over 188 laps as Elliott led a race high 45 laps. Despite the higher speeds the race only saw six caution flags and four major accidents, with two of those accidents coming on the final lap of the race.
With less than half a lap to go contact between William Byron and Kyle Larson sent Larson’s car airborne and then into a series of rolls along the interior fence. Fans were excited to see Larson exit the car unharmed, but NASCAR has announced an investigation into the circumstances of the accident. It was a similar accident involving Bobby Allison at the 1987 running of Talladega that originally led to the implementation of restrictor plates.
The victory moved Elliott to seventh in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup standings as the team prepared for the Gander RV 400 on May 5 at the Dover International Speedway’s “Monster Mile” where Elliott recorded the first victory of his career in 2018.