By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
After Hendrick Motorsports was ‘out to lunch’ a week ago, Chase Elliott rebounded with a top-10 in the Pennzoil 400 Presented by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver went to battle on track, avoiding several close calls in the incident-free race.
In the final 100-lap stage, Elliott’s No. 9 Hooters Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 restarted inside the top-10. With the new aerodynamic package on display, drafting, especially side-drafting was key. Elliott battled with Aric Almirola throughout the first half of the stage. The duo almost made contact in turns one and two with Almirola pinned to the apron. Although Elliott took the position at that time, he slowly fell back in the strategy battle.
During the 40-lap run after green flag pit stops, Elliott battled Martin Truex, Jr. and Denny Hamlin after losing positions on pit road. In the close racing, he swapped positions with his competitors. Just as the leaders did towards the front of the field, Elliott gained ground when others were in lapped traffic, and he lost ground when in lapped traffic. When the checkered flag waved, he found himself in ninth.
“It really wasn’t anything more than that unfortunately,” Elliott admitted. “Definitely a lot better than last week. There were times throughout the day where we were better than that. That run there at the end was one of our worst of the day, I thought, which is never a good way to end it. So, just needed to finish a little stronger and I think we could have been maybe a few spots better.
“I don’t think we had anything to win, but could have maybe grabbed a few more spots there. Really important to have track position and hard to pass at times. You had to be really good and really think about your passes to get them done. The really fast guys could do it, so it’s not impossible, but definitely have to think through that a little bit.”
Just one week ago, Hendrick Motorsports struggled to finish inside the top-15. Their four cars were inside the top-10 for much of the Pennzoil 400 in comparison. Although Elliott was the only one to earn a top-10 finish, the organization appeared to have bounced back from a disappointing start to the season.
Elliott believed that the organization as a whole had more speed this weekend.
“Well, I definitely think so. I mean as a whole we ran inside the top 10 the majority of the day and ultimately finished inside the top 10, which is nice. Yeah, a lot better than last week and a step in the right direction. We just have to keep that going. This is a war not a battle, so we have to think about getting better for 38 weeks and we’ve got 35 left. So, better keep pushing and hopefully take another chunk like we did this week next week.”
The ninth-place finish is the first top-10 for Elliott this season. The top-10 moves him from 18th in the championship points standings to 14th. Elliott is 52-points behind points leader Joey Logano and 15-points ahead of the cutoff for the playoffs, held by Hendrick teammate William Byron.