A Star is Born: With Kansas win Chase Elliott shows he is a definite championship contender

KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 21: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Mountain Dew Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on October 21, 2018 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

It’s no fluke. Chase Elliott held off the best of the best Sunday keeping Kyle Busch at bay in the closing laps to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Elliott took the lead after a round of green flag pit stops on lap 224 and had a lead of over three seconds. Busch in second cut into that lead in the waning laps cutting it to under a second with 10 to go.

Elliott would not be denied and staged masterful final laps to win his third race of the season.

“I got really tight that last run and especially the second half of the run he was catching me,” Elliott said. “He was making a lot of time right against the wall and I was just afraid to get up there and put it in the fence and really ruin it.  I felt comfortable running down just slightly.  I could move up a little bit to make some time when I had to, I just really didn’t want to do it if I didn’t absolutely have to.”

Busch tired to go all he could but fell short by just over a half a second.

“It didn’t surprise me he was that fast,” Busch said.  “I don’t think it was necessarily us getting our cars better throughout the race as much as it was track position played a role.  It was so hard to pass once everybody got around the top and rolling the wall.”

In the bigger picture four drivers were eliminated from the Playoffs. Chief among them Kyle Larson. Larson struggled all weekend. Crashing his primary car in practice, Larson was forced to start in the back of the field Sunday. He staged a valiant effort to finish third, but it wasn’t good enough to stave off elimination.

“Coming from the back like that, able to be aggressive, get to 15th or so pretty quickly.,” Larson said. “Then you’re starting to get to the faster cars that are hard to pass. I was able to get a couple good restarts that helped us out, a couple decent green flag pit cycles, too, that helped us out.  I don’t know.  It’s not like it’s a short race, we have to be crazy aggressive.”

“I mean, obviously I would have liked to have made it into the next round,” he added.  “But I’m glad it wasn’t anything other than just us not performing where we needed to be that kept us out of the next round.”

The event featured only three cautions, two of those for the ending of stages.  The only non-stage caution came on lap 227 when William Byron lost an engine. Polesitter Joey Logano was in control and led the most laps, 100, along with the first stage.  He would fade in the closing stages and finished 8th.

“A stage win here today and we finished third in the other stage,” Logano said. “We were scoring points which is good enough to get you through these rounds but I feel like this next round we are going to have to get a win to get through. Maybe they will have enough issues that you can build up enough points but I think we need to win. It was a solid weekend with the pole and stage win, I am proud of that, we just have to focus hard on getting more.”

Kevin Harvick would take over the lead and win the second stage.  A speeding penalty during a round of green flag pit stops on lap 216 sent him a lap down in 18th.  After leading 76 laps, he ran out of time and finished 12th.

“Today wasn’t great from my standpoint,” Harvick said. Our Busch Lite Ford was really fast and leading the race there and I got a speeding penalty. That was my fault. I tried to get a little too much and wound up going too fast.”

Erik Jones was fourth with Martin Truex Jr. fifth.  A sixth-place finish wasn’t enough to avoid Playoff elimination for Brad Keselowski, nor was the 7th place finish for Ryan Blaney.  Behind Logano in 8th. Alex Bowman, who was also eliminated, and Aric Almirola rounded out the top 10.

The drives in the Round of 8: Kyle Busch, Harvick, Truex Jr., Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Almirola.

The series heads to the first race in the Round of 8, Martinsville Speedway in Virginia for next Sunday’s First Data 500.

“I’m excited about Martinsville,” Elliott said.  “It’s been kind of hit or miss, had a great run there last fall, wasn’t so good there this spring, so I’m kind of… I feel like that one has a little bit of a question mark for me and certainly was not very good at Texas in the spring, had a good run at Phoenix though, so I’m excited about Martinsville and Phoenix.  A little unsure about Texas, so we will see.”

Heading into the final races of the championship Elliott is showing why he is one of NASCAR’s “Young Guns” and is gaining the confidence to go with it.

“I feel like we are amongst those guys that you have to beat and I think that is all you can ask for,” he said.  “We are getting better.  I think we still have room to improve, but the last month or two has been way closer to where we need to be. “

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