Chase Elliott leads Hendrick team to decent finishes at Phoenix

AVONDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 14: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 UniFirst Chevrolet, waits on the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Instacart 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 14, 2021 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

To say Chase Elliott had an up and down day at Phoenix Sunday is an understatement. Elliott was to start sixth but unapproved adjustments prior to the race, NASCAR officials noticed something with the No. 9 Chevy’s side skirts and had the team effect repairs, forced him to drop to the rear of the field prior to the green flag.

He was joined there by his fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and William Byron whose cars had failed pre-race inspection Saturday night. Elliott, who had also started from the rear of the field last November and came back to win the race and his first Cup title, was fifth by lap 60. That’s where he finished in Stage 1. Elliott remained competitive and finished Stage 2 ninth.

During pit stops after the stage however, Elliott was penalized for speeding and again had to start at the rear. He made a valiant effort but could make it no higher than fifth when the checkered flag fell for race winner Marting Truex Jr.

“We struggled really bad all the way up to that very last run, to be honest,” Elliott said. “We got better and had a good pit stop there at the end. Proud of the effort that the Unifirst team put in to pull out a top-five.”

Teammate Larson overcame two speeding penalties including one during a round of green flag pit stops and finished seventh.

“Yeah, I hadn’t felt loose in all day and that last run, I got loose in and just couldn’t get in the corners as aggressive as I needed to,” Larson said. “I ended up guarding my entry zones; my angles for exit aren’t great. It just kind of made everything harder.

“It was weird that I hadn’t had it all day, but all-in-all, I had a really fast car again. That’s very promising and just have to clean up mistakes on my end and have a smoother race.”

William Byron finished just behind Larson in eighth. The fourth Hendrick driver Alex Bowman finished a non-drama filled day in 13th after starting the day 28th.

Greg Engle