For most of the NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway, Chase Elliott was mired around 20th position in his first race after recovering from a leg injury that kept him out for six weeks.
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In a race that was dominated early by all four Stewart-Haas cars, the Hendrick Motorsports contingent needed patience.
After Ryan Preece and Kevin Harvick won the opening two stages, it was Chase Briscoe who looked to have the strongest car on the track late in the race.
But during a green flag pit cycle with just under a hundred laps remaining, debris on the track triggered a caution flag and significantly shuffled the field.
Suddenly, Kyle Larson and Joey Logano found themselves up front for the first time all day after having stayed out while others pitted.
While Larson had been running around 10th for most of the race, he now had an opportunity to capture his second win of the season.
Another caution came out with under 50 laps remaining, and Larson elected to put just two tires on his car — a decision that would soon pay off.
By saving those precious few seconds, he was able to keep up with and eventually pass Logano.
For Elliott, it was after this final caution that he was able to find some speed, rocketing from 19th during the lap 354 restart to 10th by the end of the race.
“It was definitely a tough, tough race,” Elliott said to Frontstretch after the race. “It was really good to get in the top 10 there. That was something to be proud of … a good fight and way to finish strong.”
Larson held onto his late lead and found victory lane at a track that had been one of the few rough spots in his bright career.
Elliott and the No. 9 team earned 27 points at Martinsville and will be looking forward to next week’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, April 23. The race will be broadcast at 3 p.m. on FOX.