After six years of driving in NASCAR’s highest racing circuit, Dawsonville native Chase Elliott won the Xfinity 500 on Sunday night and earned a spot in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship race.
Elliott will compete against Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin on Sunday, Nov. 8 at the Phoenix Raceway to close out the 2020 NASCAR season, with a chance to win the Cup Series.
This is the first time that Elliott qualified for a Cup Series Championship race.
“Biggest win ever for us,” Elliott said to NBC Sports immediately after the race. “Just so proud to be able to be backed into a corner like that and win tonight. I feel like that’s what we’ve been missing these past four or five years to perform when we don’t have a choice.”
Elliott’s previous best career finish was in 2017 when he just barely missed the Championship 4, after finishing in fifth place overall. Now, Elliott will remember 2020 as his first chance to win the championship after a fantastic performance at Martinsville Speedway.
The NBC commentating team said that before the race, Elliott was so confident they considered changing who their winner prediction was. NBC Nascar commentator Jeff Burton added mid race that this was a career defining race for Elliott.
“We proved to ourselves that we can do it,” Elliott said in the post race press conference. “I think we always believed we can do it but to go out there and achieve it is something we haven’t experienced yet as a group.”
Though he led for 236 of 500 laps at Martinsville, drama on pit road made it look like Elliott would be unable to secure a victory. On a caution pit stop, NASCAR issued the number 9 team a penalty for the pit crew jackman being in the pit box too early.
However, the pit crew member realized he had made a mistake and re-established his position on the pit wall before Elliott stopped in the box. Crew chief Alan Gufstafson appealed the penalty and won the call, avoiding Elliott having to go to the back of the group of racers.
“To not have to go to the back of the field...If he hadn’t had done that, I don’t know if we would’ve been able to win,” Elliott said in the press conference.
Elliott started the race behind every other Round of Eight driver after a 20th place finish at Texas Motor Speedway a week before. By lap 52, Elliott drove into second place and took the lead on lap 82. He decided to not go to pit road after a caution and lost ground to three other drivers who got fresh tires. Elliott finished Stage 1 in fourth place.
Elliott left pit road in first to begin Stage 2 and started the stage in 6th after five teams did not pit. Elliott passed three of those drivers in the first 15 laps of stage two and took the lead back from Kyle Busch on lap 163. Elliott kept the lead until another caution on lap 218.
Elliott came back to the track in 11th place but once again moved past the cars in front of him, passing all 11 cars in just 20 laps to take the lead back with 20 laps to go in Stage 2. Nobody could catch the number 9 Napa Auto Parts Chevrolet and Elliott won Stage 2 by three seconds.
The lead lasted until the trip to pit road on lap 352 that he was almost penalized on. Another slow trip to pit road on lap 366 caused Elliott to begin the restart in ninth place, but per usual for the race, Elliott made his way back to the front. Once again, Elliott needed 20 laps to jump from seventh place to third place.
Elliott’s move on the final restart of the race won him the chance to race for the title. Starting on row two of the inside lane with just 50 laps left in the race, Elliott took the inside lane and went three wide with Logano and non-playoff driver Corey Lajoie. Elliott sped past both of them and was back in second place off of the restart.
With just 44 laps left in the race, Elliott took the lead back from Martin Truex Jr. and kept it until the checkered flag waved, crowning him the winner.
“I didn’t think our car was driving as good there at the end as it was at the beginning of the race,” Elliott said postrace. “Had a good last restart. That was the difference. This is the piece we’ve been missing. I feel like we’ve had the group to do this, we just had to go make it happen and we did tonight.”
Elliott added that this was “hands down” the biggest win of his career.
“I think it’s huge for me personally,” Elliott said. “I think it’s huge for our team as a whole. I think when you’re able to be in the position that we were in and have to perform and go and do that, I think everybody gains a lot of confidence off of that.”
Truex Jr, Kurt Busch, Hendrick MotorSports teammate Alex Bowman and 2020 regular season champion Kevin Harvick were all eliminated after the race from championship contention.
Elliott competes for his first chance at a NASCAR Cup Series Championship trophy on Sunday, Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway. The race will be at 3 p.m. on NBC.
“We want to assert ourselves among the people that can make it [to the championship] consistently,” Elliott said. “We just have to seize the moment.”