Chase Elliott is in near desperation mode if he hopes to make this year’s Playoffs, and that won’t be easy.
The 2020 NASCAR Cup series champion missed 6 races with a broken leg. Then NASCAR suspended him for a race after they said he intentionally crashed Denny Hamlin at Charlotte making 7 races of the 16 run this season without him.
Elliott returned Sunday to racing at Sonoma Raceway. He Started 10th but was never really in contention missing out on points in the 2 Stages. That all changed late in the going when he nearly pulled off strategy, they hoped would get him that much needed win. It was all thanks to a roll of the dice by his Hendrick crew led by Alan Gustafson.
With no cautions for Stage breaks there were only two on the day. The second one came at lap 93 of 110. While the leaders pitted, three drivers elected to stay out during that final caution: Elliott who took over the lead, Tyler Reddick, and Ryan Blaney.
Martin Truex Jr. who had been the class of the field all day, restarted 4th with fresh tires and had the lead again a lap after the restart. Kyle Busch, who also took tires during the final caution was able to muscle his way to second and tried to stay with Truex. It wasn’t to be however, and Truex cruised to victory winning by 2.9 seconds after leading a race high 51 laps.
Elliott seemed satisfied to finish fifth.
“It’s nice to get a top-five, no doubt, so proud of that,” Elliott said. “We were trying to do something a little different with strategy. We had pit about six or eight laps there before that caution. We just felt like our only play was to stay out.
“I was really hoping that more people would do that with us so we’d have three or four rows. It still probably wouldn’t have been enough, but I do think it would have been nicer to have a couple more rows and a buffer for those with tires.”
Elliott will need to win or move into the top 16 in points to qualify for the Playoffs. With 10 races left before the field is set he will certainly have opportunities; but he came into Sonoma 28th in points, and leaves 27th. Meaning a win will most likely be the only way for him to make the Playoff field. Sunday night after Sonoma, Elliott seemed focused on getting that much needed win and taking the positives away his run Sunday.
“It was certainly a good fight for the No. 9 NAPA Chevy team,” he said. “It was one of our better runs there in the last couple of races, so always good to finish strong. It wasn’t an ideal situation, so to kind of fight through it there and come home with a top-five is good. Looking forward to build on that and hopefully contend for a win before long.”
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