By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
Coming off three-straight Top 10 finishes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season, Chase Elliott was looking to improve on his 21st place finish in last year’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
The driver of the No. 24 Kelley Blue Book Chevrolet SS finished eighth in his backup car after a mistake with just minutes left in the final practice on Friday left his primary car destroyed, and his Hendrick Motorsports team scrambling.
Though he had no laps in the backup car, Elliott was fastest in the first round of qualifying on Saturday, with just a single lap. In the second round however, he only managed to put up the eighth fastest time.
A late caution in Stage 1 presented crew chiefs with a choice, pit before the stage ends, or after. Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson chose to bring his 21-year-old driver down pit road. Elliott was mired mid-pack heading into a 10-lap run to the end of the stage. Like many, he surged forward on fresh tires. However, Elliott ended the stage in 11th, one position away from earning additional Championship Points.
Stage 2, was a virtual repeat of Stage 1. Two cautions, one for an accident between Dale Earnhardt Jr., Danica Patrick, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and another for debris, separated the field into multiple pit strategies. Gustafson once again called Elliott to pit road under caution. Like before, he surged forward, but with the differing strategies, Elliott broke back into the Top 10 to finish Stage 2 in ninth netting two Championship Points.
Good pit calls all race long by Gustafson kept Elliott up front all day long, running as high as fifth with 10 laps to go. The race ended under caution after Elliott’s teammate, Kasey Kahne slammed the wall in turn one, destroying the No. 5 Microsoft Windows 10 Chevrolet SS.
Elliott credited his pit crew for the Top 10 finish on Sunday.
“Yeah, just a solid day,” said Elliott. “Good execution on pit road. Guys called great strategy and got us a decent finish. I don’t think I did a very good job. They made good calls on pit road that ended up getting me track position that we needed. That was key.”
This was Elliott’s 10th Top 10 finish of the season, and 27th of his career. Despite the finish, he dropped from fifth to sixth in the Championship Point standings. Elliott is now 150 points behind point leader Kyle Larson, and 86 points ahead of the cutoff for the Playoffs.
Now Elliott, Gustafson, and the entire Hendrick Motorsports team will look to carry their momentum into next weekend’s race at Daytona International Speedway.