By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
Runner-up finishes have been the storyline of Chase Elliott’s sophomore season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, with the 21-year old Georgia native coming close to victory time and time again.
On Sunday at Phoenix, Elliott would fall just short of both the win and being able to advance to the championship race on a must-win day for him and his No. 24 team.
“We were so close to having another shot next week,” said Elliott. “But man, I can’t say enough for our team and our Hooter’s Chevrolet this weekend. We fought really hard today and gave ourselves a chance.
“Our car was really fast on those short runs after a caution and after pit cycles on tires. It fired off really good and we did pretty good on the short run all day and got really tight as the run went long. And once the rubber laid back down I was just hanging on and hoping I could get to traffic before I started going away.
“It’s just such a bummer. I was telling my guys we’ll get it right someday, or I’ll get it right someday. We’ve had so many good opportunities and at some point, we’ve just got to close.”
After a crash at Martinsville while leading and a top-10 finish at Texas, Elliott came into Phoenix () points out of the Championship 4 and needing a win to be able to advance. From the drop of the green flag, it was no holds barred for Elliott as he set his sights on getting to the lead and winning the race.
From his fourth place starting spot, Elliott made his way to the lead by lap 12, staying up front for 15 of the first 27 laps of the race. He would go on to finish third in the first stage and ninth in the second stage before surging back toward the front in the final 50 laps.
Racing hard with Denny Hamlin as the laps wound down, the two, whose contact at Martinsville led to a post-race confrontation, made contact a handful of times before bouncing off of each other off of Turn 4, causing Hamlin to get into the wall and eventually cut a tire a few laps later.
“I’m going to race guys how they race me and keep a smile on my face regardless,” Elliott added. “I’m happy to race guys how they choose to race me and that’s the way I see it.”
On the ensuing restart, Elliott was able to get past Matt Kenseth into the lead and looked to be in the catbird seat for the win and the final transfer spot to Homestead, but the handling started to go away on his car, allowing Kenseth to get back by with 10 laps to go. Once back in second, Elliott was never able to make the ground back up and had to settle for second, his fifth of the season.
With Elliott unable to advance and teammate Jimmie Johnson finding an early exit, Hendrick Motorsports ends the day shut out of contention for a championship for the first time in several years.