For the second consecutive year, Dawsonville native Chase Elliott will race for a Nascar Cup Series title after qualifying for the Championship 4 at the end of the race in Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, Oct. 31.
Elliott finished in 16th place, but led for 289 laps in the race, the most laps he has ever led through a Cup Series race.
“Well, we’re moving on and that is all that matters,” Elliott said. “I had a really fast NAPA Chevy early and I made a couple of mistakes and kind of led us down the wrong path there for those last couple of runs, unfortunately. But the pace was certainly in the car.”
On Sunday afternoon, Elliott lined up second for the Round of 8 finale. He dropped to third until he was able to use traffic to his advantage and reclaim second on lap 41. Not long after that, the NAPA driver was pressuring his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson for the lead and eventually took the top spot before the competition caution on lap 61.
The 25-year-old driver lost a position on pit road after he received four tires and fuel. He fought for second place in the first couple laps after the restart before ultimately hanging on by the time the next caution flag waved. With less than 35 laps left in the first stage, Elliott bypassed Larson for the lead again. He remained out front for the remainder of stage one.
Elliott continued to lead early in stage two until a caution on lap 197 brought the leaders to pit road. He pitted for four tires and fuel but lost the lead on pit road. The team restarted second and Elliott quickly regained the lead. Elliott remained out front for the final laps of Stage 2 and Elliott earned enough points to clinch his spot in the Championship 4.
“At the end of the day, having a shot next week is really all that matters,” Elliott said. “Frankly, I feel like you make it to Phoenix, it’s anybody’s game.Getting out there and being a part of the Final 4 is a really big deal. It’s really hard to do. I’m really proud of my team for continuing to push through and battle some adversity. Just keep fighting. I got a great group. I don’t want to go to battle with anybody else.”
Elliott led the field to the start of the final stage and continued to pace the field until another caution flag waved on lap 339. While Elliott came to the attention of his NAPA team, one driver remained on the track. The No. 9 Chevy lined up second for the restart and Elliott wasted no time moving back into the lead within 10 laps.
The ninth caution of the race allowed Elliott to pit for fuel and tires, but he restarted sixth after varying pit strategies left some cars ahead of the previous leaders. Elliott eventually began rallying back towards the front as he was up to third on lap 396.
With 45 laps to go in the race, Elliott was running third when contact from a competitor sent the No. 9 Chevy spinning in Turn 3. During the resulting caution, the No. 9 team pitted to make repairs to the left-rear fender damage on the NAPA Camaro. Elliott dropped down to 21st when the race resumed, and he was able to make it back up to 16th before the checkered flag waved.
“It was a great day for Hendrick Motorsports; got two cars going to Phoenix and [Bowman] getting the win here. Wish we could have won it. Hate to be so fast all day and it not work out, but obviously next week is what matters and that is where our heads are at. Excited to get out there and have another shot at it.”
For a chance to win back-to-back Cup Series championships, Elliott will race against his teammate Kyle Larsen, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin. The Cup Series has not had a back-to-back winner since Jimmie Johnson ended his string of five championships in a row in 2010. Elliott and Truex Jr. are the only two drivers left who have won a Cup Series before, with Truex Jr. winning the title in 2017.
Sunday’s championship race will be at Phoenix Raceway and start at 3 p.m.