After leading the pack for 112 of 367 laps in the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Sunday night, Dawsonville NASCAR Driver Chase Elliott was forced into a 20th place finish after a late race wreck.
With 15 laps left to go in the race, victory seemed certain for Elliott, when fellow NASCAR Driver Martin Truex Jr., tried to pass Elliott for the lead and caused a collision, sending both drivers into the wall. Elliott continued to lose speed until the end of the race. Truex Jr. finished in 22nd place.
NBC Sports Network commentators said Elliott was furious at the move that Truex made, and could be heard shouting expletives at the crash.
“He had a run on me off the four,” Elliott said to NBC Sports reporter Dave Burns after the race. “He was close but he wasn't all the way clear obviously. We needed a little pace there to keep our lead rather than play defense. That’s what gave him the run.”
Starting the race in the pole position, Elliott held the lead for the first 81 laps of the race when a caution flag came out. He lost the lead coming off the pit road and the lead to Truex.
Elliott finished Stage 1 in third and started Stage 2 in second after gaining a spot on pit road. But made contact with the wall and started losing speed at lap 150, falling in the standings, saying that he was “falling off of a cliff” to his crew chief Alan Gufstafson.
At lap 174, Elliott took a pit stop with the pack leaders to stay on on their schedule. He came back out of the pit in 13th place and stayed in 13th for the rest of Stage 2, trying to replicate the speed the number 9 team had at the beginning of the race.
Elliott started the final stage in 8th place, but moved up to sixth place with 100 laps left in the race. He continued to push and pass drivers and found himself passing Kevin Harvick for the lead on lap 323.
A caution flag came out, causing the race to restart, but Elliott stayed in the lead and held the lead in the race until Truex made contact with his car. Before the accident, Elliott tried taking the low side of the track to make sure Truex could not pass him, a decision that NBC Sports commentators questioned.
“I just wanted to make sure there was nothing left down there,” Elliott said. “Thought I had a gap. But hey, it’s par for the course here.”
A win on Sunday night would have solidified Elliott’s spot in the next round of the playoffs. Now, Elliott will have to fight to earn a spot in the top 12 throughout the next two races. Elliott is 12 points above the cutoff line after Sunday night’s race, putting him in seventh place.
The next stage in the 16 Nascar Cup Series Playoff races will be held Saturday, Sept. 12, with the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Va. The race will start at 7:30 p.m.