Chase Elliott pulled off what many said was impossible Sunday. A week after an eighth please finish at Talladega left the Hendrick Motorsports driver outside the top 8 in the Playoff standings, he needed a win, or a miracle Sunday at Kansas.
He got the latter.
After starting 14th, Elliott was able to race his way forward and finished second in Stage 1, earning valuable points.
He began to fade a bit managing a fifth in Stage 2.
In the second half of the race the final cutoff spot belonged to Brad Keselowski. Elliott’s mission became keeping enough of a gap between him and Keselowski to make up points. Fortunately for Elliott Sunday’s race was a struggle and the winner of this race in May spent much of the day one lap down.
When the final caution came out setting up a second overtime run to the checkered flag, Elliott was third, Keselowski was 18th. Having taken the wave-around during the caution before, Keselowski pitted for fresh tires and came out 15th with just enough of a cushion to keep Elliott from advancing.
Elliott clawed his way forward nearly getting to eventual race winner Denny Hamlin but finishing second. Meanwhile Keselowski faded to 19th. The 17-car gap was enough to give Elliott the eighth and final spot in the Round of 8.
“Honestly, I was just trying to win the race and the rest of it just kind of fell into our hands a little bit, with the 2 (Brad Keselowski) having a misfortune….” Elliott said. “Luckily, we got a good bit of stage points in that first one, got five more in the second stage, and battled for the win. I was proud of that. We weren’t the best car by any stretch, but I did feel like we came here with the mindset to win and I was proud of the fact that we came here and fought for a win.”
Elliott said that while focusing on racing, he wasn’t trying to do the math.
“I’m not. I’m just trying to move forward,” he said. “Obviously, three points is three positions, two points is two positions and one is one position. That’s pretty simple, but obviously it’s just about trying to get as many as you can get. In our case, I was under the impression that we had to win all the way up to the end of the race. It was a lot of good fortune for us there at the end, a lot of luck and just being in the right place at the right time. There was a great pit stop there at the end to put us into position.”
Elliott is the only Hendrick Motorsports driver to transfer into the Round of 8. Teammate William Byron was fifth on Sunday but missed the next round by 16 points. Alex Bowman suffered early damage and rallied to run 11th, but he finished the race 20 points behind Elliott for the last spot.
“I’m just proud of the effort today,” he said. “I’m just excited we get to fight another race. With our backs up against the wall here and battle for a win, that’s what you have to do when you’re in the position that we were in. If you ever get to Homestead, you’re going to have to fight for a win down there. So, I’m proud of the effort. I learned a lot. To be able to come out here, and like I said, have to win, or in our minds have to win, and come and fight for one and finish second, I think is a step in the right direction for us. So, I’m excited to move on.”