Chase Elliott goes from Playoff zero to Playoff hero with last lap pass at Talladega

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA - OCTOBER 02: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 02, 2022 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

A week removed from disaster at Texas, Chase Elliott locked himself into the next round of NASCAR’s Playoffs Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Elliott crossed the line .046 of a second ahead of Ryan Blaney after a two-lap dash to the end and a furious final lap that saw Blaney and Elliott swapping the lead with Elliott pulling ahead coming out of Turn 4 and scoring his fifth win of the season.

It comes a week after Elliott’s race at Texas came to a premature and fiery end and left him hanging on to a Playoff spot.

Sunday Elliott became the first Playoff driver in NASCAR’s 2022 Playoffs to win in the Playoff and leaves those worries behind.

“It was a wild last couple of laps,” Elliott said. “Fortunately, I was able to get just clear enough off of turn two to get up in front of Erik.”

Blaney was in control in the race’s final stage, one that had no cautions until lap 183 of 188 brought out when Daniel Hemric’s Chevy stalled on pit road. The restart came on lap 186 with Blaney, who led 31 laps on the day to that point, leading the bottom line and getting a push from Michael McDowell.

The top line at that point was being led by Erik Jones who led 23 laps on the day. But it was Elliott who had restarted fifth, making an aggressive move from third behind McDowell and jumping up in front of Jones as soon as he cleared Jones on the bottom. Jones pushed Elliott towards the front and as the field took the white flag, Elliott and Blaney were side by side.

Elliott had a slight advantage on the backstretch, but Blaney drew even as the pair entered Turn 3. By Turn 4 Elliott was far enough ahead to lead, and as the field broke up behind them, Elliott was able to dive down and hold off one final charge from Blaney for the win. Blaney said he considered throwing a block on Elliott when he saw him charging forward.

“I thought about it,” Blaney said smiling. “The second lane was kind of the strongest, like, definitely the second half of the race. I thought about it. But when you go to the middle and you don’t have a Ford or teammate behind you, your chances of getting split are just so high.

“As much as I trust Chase, I don’t trust him not to take me three-wide and leave me in the middle. I just chose to stay down in front of Michael (McDowell) and he was awesome at pushing me the last restart, giving me great shots. Just a little bit too late.

“Maybe I could have faked the top, gone to the bottom on the front stretch. I don’t know if I would have got there anyway.”

Behind Blaney, McDowell held on for third with Playoff drivers Ross Chastain, who tied Aric Almirola for the most laps led 36, and Denny Hamlin rounding out the top five.

“I feel like we executed a pretty good day,” Hamlin said. “Our goal going into the day was five stage points. If we got more than five in the first stage, we were going to punt in stage two, try to get a good finish. That’s what we did.”

The race was relatively clean by Talladega standards. The first of 6 on the day coming for Ty Dillon whose Chevy lost a side window on lap 9.  The only multi-car crash happened on lap 25 set off by Harrison Burton who was turned by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. touching off a melee that involved a total of eight cars highlighted by Playoff driver Austin Cindric and included Noah Gragson who was subbing for Playoff driver Alex Bowman who suffered concussion like symptoms after a crash at Texas and sat out Sunday’s race. Burton and Ty Gibbs were both scored with DNFs while the rest were able to continue.

The only other caution for an on-track incident came on lap 46 when Corey Lajoie lost a tire and spun.  He joined Burton, Gibbs, and Hemric as the only 4 cars not to finish the race.

Jones had to settle for sixth after leading 23 laps, Todd Gilliland was a noteworthy seventh and Playoff driver Daniel Suarez was eighth. Cindric recovered for ninth, and Chase Briscoe kept his Playoff hopes alive with a 10th place run.

Playoff driver William Byron was 12th.

Polesitter, and Playoff driver Christopher Bell never led a lap, and failed to score any Stage points. He suffered several issues starting on lap 99 during green flag stops when he spun coming into the pits, then was penalized for speeding during the ensuing stop. He would go a lap down on lap 107; but despite getting his laps back had to settle for a 17th place finish.

Bell was ahead of Playoff drivers, Joey Logano who was 27th, and Kyle Larson in 18th.

Elliott and Blaney won the Stages, Elliott Stage 1, and Blaney Stage 2. And Aric Almirola, who tied Chastain for leading the more laps on the day was 14th.

The race had an astonishing 57 lead changes, the most this season and tied for the same number of lead changes in the 2020 race, won by Ryan Blaney.

Blaney can find some consolation as he leaves Talladega second in the standings, 32 to the cutoff line. He’s followed by Chastain, Hamlin, Logano, Larson and Briscoe who is tied with Cindric for the final spot but would win the tiebreaker with a better finish. Byron, Bell, and Bowman join Cindric below the cutline as the final race of the Round of 12 looms next Sunday with the Charlotte ROVAL. Kyle Larson is the defending winner.

Sunday however, it was Elliott, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, who knew that for now, he is the only Playoff driver guaranteed to move to the next round.

“That’s all you can ask for, is to have more opportunities,” Elliott said. “That’s really what this is about. We got six more Playoff points to go with that win today. That’s a big deal.

“We’re excited for these final handful of events. Hopefully we can make it out to Phoenix and give them a run.”


Photos: NASCAR at Talladega Superspeedway Sunday Oct. 2, 2022

NASCAR Cup Series Race Results YellaWood 500
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega, Alabama
Sunday, October 2, 2022

1. (16) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 188.
2. (19) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 188.
3. (29) Michael McDowell, Ford, 188.
4. (6) Ross Chastain (P), Chevrolet, 188.
5. (3) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 188.
6. (12) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 188.
7. (34) Todd Gilliland #, Ford, 188.
8. (14) Daniel Suarez (P), Chevrolet, 188.
9. (17) Austin Cindric # (P), Ford, 188.
10. (5) Chase Briscoe (P), Ford, 188.
11. (33) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 188.
12. (9) William Byron (P), Chevrolet, 188.
13. (20) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 188.
14. (4) Aric Almirola, Ford, 188.
15. (21) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 188.
16. (27) Bubba Wallace (P), Toyota, 188.
17. (1) Christopher Bell (P), Toyota, 188.
18. (2) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 188.
19. (7) Noah Gragson(i) (P), Chevrolet, 188.
20. (26) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 188.
21. (28) Cole Custer, Ford, 188.
22. (25) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 188.
23. (30) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 188.
24. (18) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 188.
25. (23) Chris Buescher, Ford, 188.
26. (22) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 188.
27. (11) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 188.
28. (8) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 187.
29. (24) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 187.
30. (31) Justin Allgaier(i), Chevrolet, 186.
31. (36) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 184.
32. (37) Cody Ware, Ford, 184.
33. (35) BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 182.
34. (13) Daniel Hemric(i), Chevrolet, Electrical, 180.
35. (32) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, Accident, 44.
36. (15) Harrison Burton #, Ford, Accident, 23.
37. (10) Ty Gibbs(i), Toyota, Accident, 23.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 153.569 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 15 Mins, 23 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.046 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 6 for 25 laps.
Lead Changes: 57 among 17 drivers.
Lap Leaders: C. Bell (P) 0;A. Almirola 1-2;R. Chastain (P) 3-5;A. Almirola 6-7;R. Chastain (P) 8-13;E. Jones 14-15;R. Chastain (P) 16;E. Jones 17-20;R. Chastain (P) 21-22;E. Jones 23-25;C. LaJoie 26;K. Busch 27-29;D. Suarez (P) 30;C. Elliott (P) 31-33;D. Suarez (P) 34;A. Almirola 35;D. Hamlin (P) 36-38;A. Almirola 39;D. Hamlin (P) 40-42;A. Almirola 43;D. Hamlin (P) 44-50;C. Custer 51-52;D. Hamlin (P) 53-55;W. Byron (P) 56;D. Hamlin (P) 57-59;R. Blaney (P) 60-61;M. Truex Jr. 62;K. Larson (P) 63-64;E. Jones 65-66;R. Blaney (P) 67-71;E. Jones 72;A. Almirola 73-76;T. Gilliland # 77;E. Jones 78;A. Almirola 79-103;T. Reddick 104-110;K. Larson (P) 111-112;T. Reddick 113-115;K. Larson (P) 116;T. Reddick 117;K. Larson (P) 118-119;C. Elliott (P) 120-122;L. Cassill(i) 123;C. Elliott (P) 124-126;E. Jones 127;C. Buescher 128;R. Chastain (P) 129-152;R. Blaney (P) 153-160;D. Hamlin (P) 161;K. Larson (P) 162;R. Blaney (P) 163-168;E. Jones 169;R. Blaney (P) 170;E. Jones 171;R. Blaney (P) 172-179;E. Jones 180-186;R. Blaney (P) 187;C. Elliott (P) 188.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Ross Chastain (P) 5 times for 36 laps; Aric Almirola 7 times for 36 laps; Ryan Blaney (P) 7 times for 31 laps; Erik Jones 10 times for 23 laps; Denny Hamlin (P) 6 times for 20 laps; Tyler Reddick 3 times for 11 laps; Chase Elliott (P) 4 times for 10 laps; Kyle Larson (P) 5 times for 8 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 3 laps; Daniel Suarez (P) 2 times for 2 laps; Cole Custer 1 time for 2 laps; Corey LaJoie 1 time for 1 lap; Landon Cassill(i) 1 time for 1 lap; Martin Truex Jr. 1 time for 1 lap; William Byron (P) 1 time for 1 lap; Todd Gilliland # 1 time for 1 lap; Chris Buescher 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 12,11,9,2,22,47,18,5,48,43
Stage #2 Top Ten: 9,31,5,99,43,1,77,17,16,14

Greg Engle