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Elliott rebounds at Sonoma, leads early before falling back
Chase Elliott leads the pack during Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

After three consecutive finishes outside the top 20, Chase Elliott got right back to his usual form with an eighth-place finish in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

The wine country road course played right into Elliott’s strengths as he qualified to start the race in second position, right behind defending champion Kyle Larson.

Those Hendrick Motorsports teammates would begin this year’s race much like they finished last year’s, running in first and second position for the opening 20 laps of the winding 110-lap race.

After electing to pit just three laps before the end of Stage One, Elliott would finish the stage outside the top 10 but would soon regain track position.

With Larson and many others waiting to pit until the caution between stages, Elliott moved his way up the pack and would be in first position at the Stage Two restart.

From there, he would maintain the lead over a resurgent Chris Buescher and looked to employ a similar pit game plan prior to the end of Stage Two at lap 55.

After leading 26 laps, all looked to be according to plan until another unexpected incident occurred during the pit stop.

As Elliott attempted to leave pit road, his crew recognized that he needed to immediately come back due to an issue with the rear left tire.

While the crew helped prevent a potentially dangerous situation, the car was not fully backed into the pit box during the additional adjustments, resulting in a major penalty. 

Having to restart from the rear of the field in 34th position, Elliott harnessed his experience on road courses to push himself back into contention. 

The seven-time road course winner of the Cup Series would gradually work his way up the pack, reaching the top 20 after lap 75.

Using another pit stop at that point, Elliott would move up to 12th position after just the second caution due to an incident that occurred at lap 83.

With 20 laps left in the race, he would make one more major push to get into the top 10.

Settling in at eighth position, he briefly moved into seventh before being passed by Ross Chastain with just two laps remaining. 

With the eighth-place finish, Elliott earned his tenth top-10 finish of the season, tied for second-most among all drivers.

His 26 laps led at Sonoma also kept him in second place for overall laps led this season with 471, still 99 laps behind William Byron but now 45 laps ahead of Chastain.

While Elliott remains the current leader of the points standings with 536, the fight for playoff positioning will be heating up as the season heads to its final 10 regular-season races. 

The Cup Series will take a break next week before heading to the Nashville Superspeedway for the Ally 400 on Sunday, June 26.