Dover Notebook: Despite third-place run, Elliott wants more

DOVER, DE - MAY 15:  Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, leads Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, and Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway on May 15, 2016 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

DOVER, DE – MAY 15: Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, leads Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, and Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway on May 15, 2016 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

DOVER, Del. – Chase Elliott needs to do a better job.

Not of driving a race car, mind you. He needs to do a better job of enjoying his own accomplishments.

When he arrived in the media center after finishing a career-best third in Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, Elliott seemed almost disappointed. After all, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate hadn’t converted his first real opportunity to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

Elliott was close. On Lap 381 of 400, during the final 35-lap green-flag run, he passed Kyle Larson for second and set his sights on leader and eventual race winner Matt Kenseth. Instead, Elliott lost second place to Larson three laps later and had to settle for third.

“Well, I hope I’m close,” Elliott said when asked if he felt his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team is on the verge of a victory at NASCAR’s highest level. “Doesn’t really matter what I say. Till you go get it done, it really is irrelevant.

“For me, I think I have a team that’s capable of doing it. The way I see today, we had our shot, we had a chance to do it today, (and) I didn’t do it. It’s as simple as that. Either you do or you don’t, and we haven’t yet…

“Had a lot of fun racing with those guys at the end there. Like I say, hate to not get the job done and be so close, but we’ll keep digging at it and try to get a little better.”

Another bizarre Dover failure for Johnson

On Sunday, as Johnson led the field to green for a restart on Lap 355, an uncooperative transmission kept his car from surging forward and ultimately started a wreck that involved half the remaining field in Sunday’s AAA 400.

As Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet failed to launch, the outside lane accordioned behind him, and Johnson turned sideways after contact from Martin Truex Jr.’s Toyota. Cars behind him bounced off the walls and off each other.

“As soon as I went from second (gear) and tried to go to third, I kind of got up into the neutral gate of the transmission and didn’t even go to third,” Johnson said. “It stopped before it ever went to third. And then I tried fourth and third and fourth and eventually I got hit from behind. There was a long pause there where I was trying to, I thought maybe I missed a shift; but it wouldn’t go in gear.

“Martin was good and patient with me. He gave me a couple of opportunities to try to find a gear, and it just locked out and wouldn’t go into gear for some reason. It was still that way at the end, and I couldn’t drive the car and I don’t think I’m all that damaged, but unfortunately I lost a shot at winning, and I hate to see all those cars tore up.”

From Johnson’s perspective, the malfunction was unprecedented.

“In my career, I’ve never had a transmission do that to me,” he said. “I’ve had them kind of lock out of reverse at a test session or even in the garage area or something, but to lock out and not go across the gate and then no gear available is something I’ve never had before.”

Bad luck continues to hound Truex

As was the case last week at Kansas Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. was in position to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

But Truex’s fortunes in Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway were no better than they were a week earlier at Kansas, where he led 172 laps only to be done in by a pit road gaffe.

After pitting on Lap 349 of 400, Truex ensured he would restart fourth in the preferred outside lane by letting the Carl Edwards precede him off pit road. But the outside lane proved to be unlucky when Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet failed to launch in front of Truex.

Sandwiched between the Chevys of Johnson and Kevin Harvick, Truex’s Toyota was damaged in the melee, and though he recovered to finish ninth, his winning chances were gone.

“Just one of those deals – wrong place, wrong time,” said Truex, who led 47 laps before the accident. “Frustrating, but we got a top 10 out of it, so not too bad. The guys on pit road did a great job fixing it. Just hate that it happened.

“I wanted to be fourth on that restart, but I didn’t want to be fourth that bad. I should have been third, so maybe I should have not let the 19 (Edwards) beat us off pit road. I don’t know how you can see those things coming. All in all, good day – just bad finish.”

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