Following back-to-back disappointments for Chase Elliott at Darlington Raceway and in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the driver felt a little snake bit.
Though a lightning hold delayed the Alsco Uniforms 500, Elliott eventually found redemption on Thursday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
After passing Kevin Harvick for the lead on Lap 180, Elliott was unstoppable over the final 28 laps en route to his first win of 2020.
“It feels awesome,” Elliott said after scoring his seventh career win and his first on the Charlotte oval. “Man, it was a tough week for sure. We’ve had some tough losses but that deal on Sunday night was a heartbreaker.
“It’s not the Coke 600, but any win in the Cup Series is really hard to get. Alan made a great call there at the end to get it tuned up, and luckily the run went long, and I think that fell in our favor.”
With a last-lap pass of Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin finished second, 2.208-seconds behind the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Hamlin started 29th, a result of his finish from the Coke 600. On Sunday, ballast fell out of Hamlin’s car on the warmup laps and he was forced to pit. NASCAR penalized the team and Hamlin returned to Charlotte with a second-string crew chief, car chief and engineer.
For Hamlin, second-place was a victory of sorts.
“We started up front there when the pit crew got us out second (on the final stop) and ideally we would have stayed in front,” Hamlin said. “I knew the 4 (Harvick), his car typically drops like a rock in the long run. We made a good run at it, but it was just too late.”
Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon, Martin Truex Jr. and Harvick completed the top 10. Blaney’s third-place finish was his third podium this season.
“We got to second and the 4 (Harvick) was really fast getting going and the 9 (Elliott) got by me,” Blaney said. “I kind of messed up (turns) three and four and allowed him to get by me. I kind of thought I was equal with him when we were both running the 4 down and I just got tight.
“We just kind of burned the right-front off of it and couldn’t stay with the 9 there late in the run, and then the 11 (Hamlin) got by me. Overall, not a bad day for our Ford Mustang. We had two solid races here at Charlotte. We just need to find a little bit more speed, but we’re right there. I’m really proud of this team.”
The fireworks started early at Charlotte with teammates Garrett Smithley and Joey Gase tangling in Turn 3. When the race returned to green, Matt DiBenedetto was in command of the point. He led nine laps before trading places with Byron for two laps. Byron locked into the lead on Lap 12 through the Lap 20 competition caution.
As the leaders came to pit road, Byron shot out of the No. 24 pits following a two-tire stop and careened into the No. 32 Ford of Corey LaJoie, damaging both cars.
“I was fully committed to my box (expecting Willy to take 4) when I saw his jack drop and start to John Force it,” LaJoie tweeted. “It’s impossible to stop a 3500lb car going 45mph in 20 feet. Hopefully, we both can recover when we get back going.”
Byron dropped to 35th on the restart due to multiple stops for repairs. Logano assumed the lead on Lap 25. Four laps later, Brad Keselowski was coming to pit road with a flat right-front tire as Matt Kenseth spun off of Turn 2. As the third caution was called, NASCAR red-flagged the race for lightning.
Following pit stops on Lap 32, the race returned to green on Lap 32 with Logano in the lead. He held on to win Stage 1 followed by Blaney, Matt DiBenedetto, Harvick, Bowman, Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, Elliott and Chris Buescher.
Logano maintained the lead for the start of Stage 2 on Lap 62. As the field shook out, Kyle Busch collided with Aric Almirola and cut at tire. He dropped to 38th after pitting and finished 29th, one lap down.
Harvick took the lead for the first time on Lap 65 and led a race-high 63 laps. When Quinn Houff and Brennan wrecked to ignite Caution 5 on Lap 73, Harvick pitted and turned the lead over to Alex Bowman. The race returned to green on Lap 78. With four tires, Elliott vaulted from 18th to 10th in three laps. Bowman extended his lead over Blaney by three seconds before the end of Stage 2 on Lap 117. Logano, Elliott, Harvick, Kurt Busch, Dillon, John Hunter Nemechek, Christopher Bell and Bubba Wallace completed to the top 10.
Bowman held serve through the caution but with a masterful restart, Harvick jumped from third to second and closed in on the No. 88 Chevy. In three laps, the No. 4 Ford resumed the lead. Ten laps later, Bowman hit the Turn 4 wall and was forced to pit on Lap 137. After leading 51 of 208 laps, he finished 31st, two laps down.
Timmy Hill triggered the seventh and final caution on Lap 144 when he wrecked in Turn 4. Harvick, whose car was set up for a shorter run, was vulnerable with the race running green for the final 58 laps.
“It just falls off after lap 30,” Harvick said of his car. “We knew that’s what we had with our Busch Light Ford and it went straight 60-some laps. They did a really good job turning the car around. It was the total opposite of what we raced last Sunday, so it was a good test session for us. We just didn’t need a long run.”
Elliott, who restarted fifth, had cut Harvick’s lead to .313-seconds with 30 laps remaining in the contest. Three laps later, he passed Harvick for the lead—and the win.
“I was just waiting for the caution to come out, to be honest with you. I thought the caution was going to come out, I was going to break something or I was going to crash, one. Just after the last couple of weeks, I didn’t think, truly, it was going to go green to the end. I’m just glad it did and glad we’re, hopefully, back on the right path.”
Harvick retained his lead in the standings by 23 points over Joey Logano.