The most commonly recurring issue in the NASCAR playoffs so far — right side tire failure — plagued this past Sunday’s race and caught up to Chase Elliott just over halfway into the Round of 12 opener at Texas Motor Speedway.
Leading the race starting around lap 140 of the 334-lap Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500, Elliott was having his most consistent race of the playoffs before his 44-lap stay up front was suddenly ended by a rear tire issue sending him into the wall in Turn 4.
His frustrations would be understandably shared by several other drivers Sunday afternoon, with nearly all of the 16 caution flags brought out for tire-related spin-outs and resulting damage.
“Something came apart. I could hear it flapping in the right rear fender well,” Elliott said. “We were actually decent here for once so that was nice while it lasted. We’ll go to Talladega and try to survive over there and get a win next week.”
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The general tension coming from drivers in recent weeks reached a boiling point at the 97-degree Texas race, where three leaders and many other contenders had their hopes dashed through no obvious fault of their own.
Ironically, the eventual winner of the race — Tyler Reddick — was recently eliminated from playoff contention due in part to the very issues that affected remaining playoff drivers such as Elliott and Christopher Bell.
Elliott began the race in much better shape than the first three playoff outings, starting sixth on the Texas grid.
He mostly remained in the back half of the top 10 before finding his way into second position for a period of time behind rookie Harrison Burton.
After Bell fell victim to tire issues, Burton’s car caught fire in his pit stall during the resulting caution. Elliott would then take the lead but would soon face flames of his own.
The lap 184 crash would be caused by the right rear tire but the most damage would be on the front right part of the car, which burst into flames after slamming the wall.
Elliott would be forced to take the car into the grass and pop out the window netting to signify that his race was officially over.
Much like after the Darlington race, Elliott now finds himself in both a challenging and fortunate position.
The points reset prior to the Round of 12 meant that Elliott would lead the playoff field heading into Texas based on points accrued during the regular season.
With his four race wins and other stage wins, he had a cushion that was nearly used up after officially finishing in 32nd position last Sunday.
He now sits at the cutoff position of eighth in the playoff standings, tied in points with Daniel Suarez but only four points ahead of ninth-place Chase Briscoe. Only 14 points separate Elliott from second-place Ross Chastain.
The next race in the Round of 12 will be at Talladega Superspeedway for the YellaWood 500 on Sunday, Oct. 2. It is set for a 2 p.m. start and will air on NBC.