Strategy game earns Chase Elliott a top five

LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 31: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway on May 31, 2019 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

With three laps left in the second stage of Sunday’s Pocono 400, Chase Elliott tossed away 10 stage points and a Playoff point.

But it wasn’t a mistake. Though Elliott held the lead at Pocono Raceway at the time, pitting was a big-picture decision, because it produced a significant gain in track position when most of the lead-lap cars came to pit road after the stage ended.

Elliott restarted fifth on Lap 106 and improved one spot by the time the race ended 55 laps later. Elliott’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, had the luxury to make that call, given that Elliott already had a race win at Talladega and a guaranteed spot in the postseason Playoffs.

“Playing the strategy game was really important,” Elliott said. “Pitting before the stages (ended) was giving up stage points doing that, but ultimately having track position in the back half (of the race) was where it was worth it. Luckily, Alan and our group saw that earlier in the race, and we kind of jumped on board with that strategy.

“It worked out for a top five. I’m proud of the effort. We’ve had some good NAPA Chevrolets the last couple of weeks. We’ve been good, just not great, and you have to be great to win these things. I’ll go to work and try to do a better job, and we’ll see what we can do next week.”