A well-timed pit stop started Dawsonville native Chase Elliott’s run back to the top of the pack on Sunday, March 14, leading the driver to finish in fifth place at Phoenix Raceway.
The Instacart 400 was Elliott’s first time back at Phoenix Raceway since he won the NASCAR Cup Series championship last November. Though he had lulls throughout Sunday’s race, Elliott moved through the pack of drivers swiftly at the end of every stage, finishing in the top 10 of each.
Elliott was slated to start the race in sixth place but was sent to the back of the pack after his team made adjustments to the car post-race inspection. By the competition caution on lap 30, Elliott had not cracked the top 20.
However, with 20 laps left in stage one Elliott moved into eighth place, and on lap 59 he swiftly moved past two cars ahead of him to take over fifth place. Elliott battled Denny Hamlin for fourth place on the final lap of stage one, but could not complete the pass.
Elliott started stage two in fourth place but quickly moved into third place and stayed there comfortably, even through another restart. He started to lose speed halfway through the stage and fell from third place to seventh place in just 10 laps.
A green flag pit stop on lap 141 to try to fix steering issues that Elliott complained to Crew Chief Alan Gufstafson about deemed important for Elliott, salvaging stage two and finishing in eighth place.
Along with two other drivers, Elliott received a speeding penalty onto pit road. Once again, Elliott had to go to the back of the pack. He did not crack the top 10 by the time he went back to pit road with 60 laps left in the race.
The pit stop was great timing for Elliott when a caution flag came out just 11 laps after his pit stop. Elliott restarted in 13th and was in 10th place with 41 laps left in the race. Another caution flag moved Elliott to sixth place and he passed teammate Kyle Larson to finish Sunday’s race in fifth place, his second best finish of the 2021 season so far.
Elliott lost two places in the standings, falling to ninth place. The Cup Series has five individual winners through five races and Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano currently have more points than Elliott.
NASCAR will come to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the first time this season next Sunday, March 21, for the QuikTrip Fields of Honor 500, starting at 3 p.m. Elliott started on the pole at Atlanta last June but finished the race in eighth. His best career finish is fifth.