By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series headed to the newly repaved and reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway, Chase Elliott was riding a wave of momentum. Elliott has yet to finish worse than 14th all season, and earned his fourth Top 10 of the season last weekend at Martinsville Speedway.
In the first practice for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, Elliott placed his No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet SS 20th on the charts. He improved to fifth fastest in the second practice.
However, Elliott drifted wide off turn two, tagging the outside wall. The contact sent him spinning into the inside wall where he suffered major damage. Elliott’s team, led by crew chief Alan Gustafson, immediately went to work on their backup car.
As a result, Elliott did not make a qualifying attempt and ended up 33rd. The backup car proved to be fast as he was second fastest in the final practice.
The race started off as expected with many diving for the bottom line. Early on, the new pavement offering only one groove for competitors to race in, despite efforts by Texas Motor Speedway in the hours before the race.
An early caution on lap four bunched the field back together. In those four laps, Elliott had climbed to the 25th position.
When the race restarted, the field once again dived for the bottom of the racetrack. Elliott continued to move forward, climbing to 20th before the caution waved once again on lap 11.
Elliott once again returned to his march forward when the race restarted. Although early on, it seemed that passing would be at a premium. In the 20 laps between the second caution and the competition caution, he only moved up to the 17th spot.
Under the caution, Elliott ducked onto pit road with the rest of the field. Ahead of him on pit road, Chris Buescher was spun, causing Elliott’s line to slow. He restarted in the race in 22nd.
After the competition caution, the race calmed down as the field settled into single groove. Elliott moved forward, but the progress was slow. When the first stage came to an end, he was unable to move inside the Top 10 and did not gain any extra Championship points.
Stage 2 was better for the racing surface as a second groove slowly began to develop. It also proved to be a quiet one for Elliott who took the green and white checkered flag in the fifth position. He gained six Championship points for his Stage 2 finish.
When the race restarted for the final stage, Elliott found himself outside the Top 10. A long green flag run began to take shape as the second groove became less treacherous. Elliott slowly moved up, working his way just inside the Top 10 by the time final caution flag waved with just under 30 laps to go.
While some of his competitors could make progress on the restart, Elliott was not. When the checkered flag waved, he found himself in the ninth position. This is his fifth Top 10 finish of the season. For the fourth-straight week, Elliott finds himself second in points, 17 points behind Kyle Larson.
Elliott was disappointed that he could not improve his position further,
“Had a good car, just didn’t get back up through the field as well as I would have liked to that second time. Good effort, just not good enough.”
He was also surprised by the way the track surface evolved over the course of the race,
“It actually became pretty racy as the day went on. I was surprised. Hopefully, that is a good sign.”
Elliott, Gustafson, and their Hendrick Motorsports team will now hold their heads up high as they head to the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 23.