Dawsonville native Chase Elliott finished 20th in the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 on Wednesday, Oct. 28 after having to return to pit road directly after a pit stop.
When Elliott went to pit road with only 11 laps left in stage 2, he was in 7th place. He stopped just to get fuel and went back out onto the course, but when he pulled back on the track, he immediately noticed that something was wrong with his right rear tire and came back to pit road after another lap around the track to change his right-side tires.
“I just didn’t realize the tire was coming apart and never really had any sensation that told me it was,” Elliott said in his post-race press conference.
By the time he was racing on the track again, he was down two laps and in 27th place. He apologized mid-race to crew chief Alan Gufstafson over the headset for not realizing the tire was falling apart and continued to race in the middle of the pack until the end of the race.
Elliott finished Stage 1 in seventh place. Joey Logano was the only other playoff racer to get stage points in Stage 1, giving Elliott an early lead on all competition.
By the end of the race, Elliott was tied with teammate Alex Bowman for fifth place in the playoff standings, 25 points behind fourth place Brad Keselowski. A 25 point deficit does not statistically guarantee that Elliott has to win at Martinsville to qualify for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship on Nov. 8, but more likely than not, a win will be his only way to qualify.
“For us, we need to go win and that’s really the bottom line,” Elliott said. “I’m not really even going to look at the points because in my opinion, it doesn’t really matter.”
Elliott’s history at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia is a dramatic one. In 2017, Elliott wrecked late with Denny Hamlin costing both drivers a victory and in 2019, an axle broke on Elliott’s engine, causing a top-five finish to turn into a 36th place race.
Though Elliott has never won at Martinsville, he seems to have the formula figured out to secure the number 9 team their first trip to the Cup Series Championship.
“I don’t think you have to hit home runs to win races,” Elliott said. “I think you can hit solid base hits and hit singles and doubles to put ourselves in a position to win.”
The final race of the Round of 8, the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway, will start at 2 p.m. on Nov. 1.