By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Chase Elliott was outside the Round of 12 cutoff line heading into Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway, and he’ll leave the 0.75-mile oval just 10 points to the good after finishing fourth and leading 34 of 400 laps.
Elliott was on the outside looking in after an day-shortened 36th place finish due to a two-car crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sept. 16. It put him in a vulnerable position of playing catch up, trailing 12th place Alex Bowman by nine points and needed a solid night due to the unknown nature the Charlotte Roval Sept. 30.
However, he struggled finding grip on brand new tires, making the 22-year-old a long run guy for most of the night and when it was all set and done, he scored his ninth top-five of the season and sits ninth in the standings.
Although it wasn’t an improvement from his runner-up finish in April, its his third straight top-ten result at Richmond and Elliott said it was a good team effort after having one of his worst weekends this season.
“Yeah, just appreciate Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) making some good calls overnight,” said Elliott. “I feel like we changed about everything before qualifying yesterday.
“Typically, that does not work, so, just appreciate everybody’s efforts on my Hooters team to do that and put enough thought process and care into it to want to get better and for those guys to do what they did and make our car drive like it did tonight was really impressive.
“We had probably one of the worst practice days I’ve ever had throughout the season. We are in a position where we have got to run like that to get through.”
Fresh off Friday’s announcement that his primary sponsor for the race, Hooters, extending their partnership with Elliott and Hendrick Motorsports through 2021, Elliott was able to work his way inside the top-10 on Lap 36, thanks to making several adjustments after starting 18th.
In the closing stages, the No. 9 Chevrolet cracked the top-five and ultimately finishing fourth, earning him seven vital stage points. After a solid pit stop, Elliott gained one spot for the restart, but fell back laps later. The lack of cautions gave the team more chances to respond on an all-around loose car, and wrapped up the second stage in fourth, giving him another seven stage points to his resume.
Elliott hit his stride in the final stage, where he put himself in excellent position for the race lead against Aric Almirola. Then on Lap 215, Elliott was on top of the leader board for the first time and held on for nine laps until Brad Keselowski, who was on a quest for his fourth straight victory, took the lead away.
Scratching and clawing, Elliott regained the lead from Keselowski on Lap 244 and it seems his car was finally dialed in for a shot of career win No. 2, but after pitting two laps later than most of the contenders, he lost the lead and never battled for the lead again as he stayed inside the top-ten for the remainder of the race.
Elliott simply stated that he just didn’t have enough of catching the leaders, and had lost the long run momentum he had earlier.
“Yeah, I really wasn’t preserving, I just couldn’t go like those guys could,” said Elliott. “Their cars were certainly different than mine. I felt like as the race went on, my long run advantage kind of went away a little more and more as the race track rubbered-up.
“So, yeah, Kyle (Busch) does such a good job of when it rubbers down. That is not the first time we’ve seen him struggle at the beginning and then come on late. So, need to figure out whatever he does there and hopefully can keep up.”