By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
A battle for the win between the two best drivers turned into real disappointing results due to late-race fender bender dashed Chase Elliott and Martin Truex, Jr.’s bid of a Cook Out Southern 500 triumph Sunday.
Truex ended up winning the first two stages, but Elliott was the only one who responded effectively to his dominance as the duo led a combined total of 310 of 367 laps. With pit stops out of the way, the bout began to unravel and with 15 laps to go, their worlds collided.
Truex went low on Elliott and tried clearing him for the race lead in Turn 1. That didn’t work out as both hungry competitors slammed the outside wall.
BOTH OF THE LEADERS HIT THE WALL HARD! pic.twitter.com/xJzIYz3SSP
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 7, 2020
Both soldiered on without totaling their cars, but their shots of winning were already gone as they reported over the radio about their tires were deflating. Elliott would be the one who stayed out while Truex’s right rear tire was dead and was forced to take a gut punching trip down to pit road.
When the dust settled, it was Kevin Harvick who scored his eighth Cup win of 2020 while Elliott finished 20th, the last car on the lead lap. Truex on the other hand, he lost a lap due to his stop and crossed the line in 22nd.
After the race, Elliott made it known that Truex wasn’t clear when he made the costly pass as Sunday marked the second time this year a great result at Darlington Raceway was taken away from a Joe Gibbs Racing competitor.
“He had a run off me in Turn 4 and then he just kind of cleared himself into Turn 1. He was close, but he wasn’t all the way clear,” said Elliott, who led 114 laps. “I hate it because I had a NAPA Camaro fast enough to contend. We needed a little pace there to extend our lead instead of playing defense. Regardless, I thought we’re in a good spot.
“I ran the bottom there in (turns) 3-4 to see if there was anything left out there and that’s what gave him the run. That’s what kind of gave him the run. Then he slid up into my left front I felt like. Yeah, on we went.”
Truex admitted that at a track synonymous for being difficult to battle side-by-side, a run strong enough to pass Elliott was key if he was going to win his second Southern 500.
“I felt like I had enough of a run and enough space there that the last foot or so he was going to understand that if I was committed, we both weren’t going to make it,” said Truex, who led a race-high 196 laps. “Typically, here that’s kind of how you race. If a guy gets a run on you and he’s just about got you cleared, you have to give that last little bit.
“Now obviously, the end of the race, probably the pass for the win, he wanted to drive it on in there and I was committed to being clear and there was no way we were both going to make the corners. Basically, when I made up my mind and I was driving it in there and then he drove in on my right-rear quarter, there was no possible way that we both weren’t crashing. That’s what happened.”
Truex elaborated the difficulty of getting by someone when inches dictate the outcome, especially when he wasn’t expecting a lot of giving from Elliott when the race and advancing into the Round of 12 was on the line.
“A few inches either you wreck, or you give it to the guy. I feel like I was on the right side of things, but again I’ll have to go back and look at it and see if there was something, I could have done different,” said Truex. “Again, really proud of everyone and obviously had the car to beat and just try to work over the 9 there. Obviously track position is really important here and it looked like we were going to get the lead there and that would have been big. I don’t know, sometimes things just don’t work out and we gave it our all and came up short.”
Due to their disappointing results, Truex and Elliott will head to Richmond Raceway (Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) sixth and seventh in the standings respectively. As far as their gaps of being above the cutoff line is concerned, they’re 16 and 12 markers to the good over 13th place Clint Bowyer, the first one out after the Round of 16 opener.