Chase Elliott almost pulled it off. The Hendrick Motorsports driver came within two laps of his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup win Sunday but was denied by Kyle Busch. Busch got past Elliott as the two came to the white flag and held on for his 42nd career win, his fourth of the season and his third at Dover International Speedway.
“Just we kept working on it all day long,” Busch said. “We kept making adjustments to it every pit stop, every chance we got and Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys did a really, really good job.”
Busch had led 29 laps early but faded in the middle portions of the race. His Joe Gibbs Racing crew kept making adjustments on his Toyota and Busch came alive in the closing laps.
“ I think the biggest thing there at the end was just having a little bit fewer, fresher lap tires than Chase (Elliott) did and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be enough when I got close,” Busch said. “I got within five lengths and I stalled out and I was like, ‘Oh, man, I think that was it,’ you know? But I got back to the top and got enough momentum back rolling. “
Elliott led a race high, and career high, 138 laps and had a lead of just over 4 seconds with 20 to go. Busch, who won last week’s race in New Hampshire, began chipping away at the lead and caught Elliott with two to go.
“I’m just so disappointed in myself,” Elliott said. “Golly, I couldn’t have had it any easier. It ran green from the stage break all the way to the end. And, I gave it away. I appreciate my team and their efforts today. The pit stops were great and they kept us in the ballgame. I didn’t.”
Jimmie Johnson was third, with pole sitter Martin Truex Jr. fourth and Kyle Larson, who led 137 laps and won Stage 2, coming home fifth.
“It was a really good race,” Larson said. “I won that second stage and was the leader off pit road and then my engine was kind of struggling firing up when I would cycle the engine and cool it down under yellows. It just didn’t re-fire that one time and had to restart fifth and feel back to sixth. Kind of hard to pass when I got back there I couldn’t really move up the race track because I would be in dirty air. We short pitted, got to third, but fell back and finished fifth”.
“I felt like if I could have restarted the leader I probably would have had a shot to win like the No. 24 (Chase Elliott), but once I had restart on the inside of the third row I was kind of done unless I had a caution, which there wasn’t any left the rest of the race.”
While Elliott was cruising at the front in the closing laps the battle was for the final transfer spot to the Round of 12. Four drivers were eliminated: Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne. The only driver with a chance to move on was Newman who was only one point below the cutoff much of the final laps. He was racing Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who struggled much of the day. Newman was in 13th and in danger of going a lap down in the final circuits, but was able to stay ahead of Elliott. He lost the lap to eventual winner Busch and finished 13th, but with Stenhouse’s 19th place finish still fell short.
“Well, we just weren’t good enough, as simple as that,” Newman said. “We didn’t have a fast-enough race car, we didn’t have the right strategy. We qualified better, that was a plus, but these first three races were a challenge for us. It seemed like everybody else stepped up their game and we didn’t.”
Kahne finished 14th, Dillon finished 16th, and Kurt Busch 20th.
The race ran relatively caution free with four; the first of two not at the end of the stage coming on lap 86 when Jeffrey Earnhardt spun entering the pits and hit the barrels at the end of the wall. The first caution came out, followed moments later by a red flag put out by NASCAR to replace the barrels, a task the took just over 15 minutes. Reed Sorenson blew an engine bringing out caution 3 came out on lap 167.
Clint Bowyer finished sixth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., seventh, Daniel Suarez eighth, Jamie McMurray ninth and Brad Keselowski who won the first stage 10th. Other playoff drivers: Matt Kenseth was 11th, Kevin Harvick 17th, Ryan Blaney 23rd, and Denny Hamlin 35th after a broken axle sent him to the garage late.
The Round of 12: Truex, Kyle Busch, Larson, Keselowski, Johnson, Hamlin, Stenhouse, Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth and McMurray.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the first race of the Round of 12, the Bank of America 500 next Sunday.
“We’ve got to win Charlotte” Busch said. “Apparently, I haven’t won there before, so I need to go get that win and check that one off the list and that will put us into the next round and we’ll go from there.”