If you don’t believe lightning can strike the same place twice, ask Chase Elliott his thoughts on the subject.
In the first race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Round of 8 a blown engine in practice forced him to start from the back of the pack in the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway and a broken axle caused him to finish there as well.
After swapping out the engine, the No. 9 Mountain Dew Chevy appeared to be one of the fastest cars on the track. Elliott qualified second overall, although he started in thirty-second due to the mechanical failure. He worked his way into the top-10 in the first thirty laps of the 500-lap race finishing eighth in the first stage and starting stage two in the top-5.
Almost immediately after the second stage restart, on lap 145, Elliott radioed his crew-chief Alex Gustafason that he felt the car had a broken axle and re-entered pit row to give his team a chance to take a look. After a quick, track-side diagnosis the car was moved to the garage for repairs.
By the time Elliott re-entered the race he was over 50 laps off the lead and ultimately finished thirty-sixth to drop into last place in the Cup Series standings, 44 points off the bubble. That large a margin means the No. 9 team’s only true hope of qualifying for Homestead is a victory in one of the next two races at the Texas Motor Speedway or the ISM Raceway in Phoenix.
“Just disappointing for a day like that,” Elliott said. “We know better and we can do better than that.”
In the same 30 laps that Elliott went from thirty-second to eighth, Martin Truex Jr. went from third to first and held the lead for the remainder of the race, an eye-popping 464 laps. The only gap in his lead was a six- lap visit to pit-row during which Kyle Larson stayed on the track to briefly take the front spot. Pole winner, Denny Hamlin, led the first 30 laps, but got lost in the shuffle to finish fourth.
The dominant win marked a pair of firsts for Truex Jr. as it was both his first career win at Martinsville Speedway and his first win in a Round of 8 race. He also becomes the first driver to qualify for the Championship Four and secure his shot at the ultimate prize in Homestead.
“I don’t think anyone expected that performance. This racetrack in general, you don’t see that,” Truex Jr. said. “Hats off to my guys. Pit crew was stellar today, and we didn’t make many adjustments. We adjusted on it early and it came to life, and that was a lot of fun.”
Truex Jr. opened up a 20-point lead in the standings after winning both stages along with the checkered flag. Hamlin currently sits in second, followed by Kyle Busch (finished fourteenth) and Joey Logano (finished eighth).
Kevin Harvick’s seventh-place finish put him one point below the cut-line. Ryan Blaney sits two points below the line, while Larson holds the seventh spot, nine off the leaders.
The second race of the Round of 8, the AAA Texas 500, takes place Sunday, Nov. 3 at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth with the green flag scheduled to wave at 3:00 P.M.