By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
A Kansas City Miracle bestowed Chase Elliott in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway as a runner-up effort and massive circumstances advanced him into the Round of 8 by just three points.
For much of the afternoon, crew chief Alan Gustafson urged the popular racer to win after two gut wrenching Round of 12 races at Dover and Talladega end his races.
Elliott said he was trying his best to score his fourth win of the season but it didn’t worked out but understood that luck is part of the game sometimes.
“Honestly, I was just trying to win the race and the rest of it just kind of fell into our hands a little bit, with the 2 (Brad Keselowski) having a misfortune and the 22 (Joey Logano) being in that crash,” Elliott said. “Luckily, we got a good bit of stage points in that first one, got five more in the second stage, and battled for the win.
“I was proud of that. We weren’t the best car by any stretch, but I did feel like we came here with the mindset to win and I was proud of the fact that we came here and fought for a win.”
As the 277-lap race began to wind down, it appeared Elliott was going to end up with a top-10 result and miss the next round. Elliott’s target was Brad Keselowski, who held the eighth and final spot by the slimmest of margins.
Then Keselowski’s teammate Ryan Blaney cut a right rear tire in Turn 1, bringing out the caution on Lap 254 and Elliott’s championship bid saw a whole new light.
Both drivers gave it their all to gain the right track positions to advance, but again Keselowski was winning that battle as Elliott struggled catching race leader Denny Hamlin.
However, a wonderful save from both Erik Jones and Kyle Larson resulted in lost momentum. Therefore, Elliott took advantage of their frenzy and gained spots.
Keselowski on the other hand, began fading away as guys like Elliott’s teammate Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. put an immense threat on the playoff picture and were quicker than Keselowski.
Elliott caught another break when Bubba Wallace’s left rear ripped completely off his No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and resulted in a multi-car crash in Turn 2. When the caution came out, Elliott was two points ahead of Keselowski for the final spot.
Once Keselowski pitted and gained three spots off of pit road, Elliott was now out of the playoff picture again by just a single point.
Hamlin again had a stronger restart than Elliott while Keselowski frantically held on to the eighth playoff spot. As Hamlin was coming towards the white flag, the 7th and final caution came out for a three-car incident involving Daniel Suarez, who got loose and ran into Keselowski, pole sitter Daniel Hemric and Keselowski’s other teammate Joey Logano.
Consequently, Logano’s involvement shook the standings as Elliott must worry about both Team Penske drivers well being that could decide the fate of his season.
In what turned out to be the final restart, Elliott restarted in third with Keselowski and Logano restarting 13th and 20th respectively. Keselowski was now four points to the good while Elliott is three behind the now new final playoff spot holder of Logano.
The final two laps proved to be an absolute catastrophe for Keselowski as he was held up by Clint Bowyer and later Bowman, losing several spots. Keselowski’s fate was sealed when he made wall contact trying everything to make it into the Round of 8 but it wasn’t meant to be.
Back at the front, Elliott took second from Kyle Busch but couldn’t beat Hamlin as he went on to score his fifth win of the season. Despite finishing second, it was good enough to fight another day after claiming the final playoff spot.
During the last few laps, Elliott was focused on the bigger picture which was trying to focus on his own task instead of calculating how many points was he ahead or behind the Penske teammates.
“I’m just trying to move forward. Obviously, three points is three positions, two points is two positions and one is one position,” Elliott said. “That’s pretty simple, but obviously it’s just about trying to get as many as you can get.
“In our case, I was under the impression that we had to win all the way up to the end of the race. It was a lot of good fortune for us there at the end, a lot of luck and just being in the right place at the right time. There was a great pit stop there at the end to put us into position.”
Elliott will be the sixth seed at 4,024 points, trailing fourth seed Logano by six points. He’ll have a chance of getting a step closer towards his first Championship 4 appearance.
That’s if he wins or be inside the top-four within these next three race weekends, beginning at Martinsville Speedway October 27. The 23-year-old finished second in the spring which marked his first of now 12 top-fives this season.
“I’m just excited we get to fight another race,” Elliott on making the Round of 8. “With our backs up against the wall here and battle for a win, that’s what you have to do when you’re in the position that we were in.
“If you ever get to Homestead, you’re going to have to fight for a win down there. So, I’m proud of the effort. I learned a lot. To be able to come out here, and like I said, have to win, or in our minds have to win, and come and fight for one and finish second, I think is a step in the right direction for us. So, I’m excited to move on.”