After leading a career-high 51 laps at Pocono last weekend en route to a fourth place finish, Chase Elliott came into Sunday’s race at Michigan looking to improve on that as he continued to be in the hunt for his first win.
Elliott started the day in 10th and flexed his muscle early and often, working his way to the lead over Joey Logano on a restart at lap 117 and looked to be one of the cars to beat as the laps clicked off. 32 laps later, Elliott remained in the lead with his No. 24 Chevrolet when the sixth caution of the day came out for debris.
Swapping the lead with Joey Logano on pit road at lap 149, Elliott’s team was able to get him off pit road first, but the team had some issues during their pit stop and there were concerns that Elliott may not have enough fuel to make it to the finish. However, the team had to put their fuel concerns on the backburner as the field got set to go back to green at lap 153.
On the restart, Elliott and Martin Truex, Jr. made contact dropping Elliott from the lead and allowing Logano to regain the top spot. Elliott fell out of the top-three, but quickly regained his composure and was back up to second by lap 161. Though Elliott would have two more restarts over the final 39 laps to try and get around Logano, the youngest member of the Hendrick Motorsports stable would run out of time as Logano went on to win the race, leaving Elliott with a runner-up finish.
Even though the finish was the best career finish for Elliott and his sixth top-five finish of the season, the rookie was still hard on himself after the race seeing a chance for his first win slip away.
“I just did something dumb. You can’t do dumb stuff and win these races. Completely my fault. The guys gave me a great car today. This whole NAPA group has been working so hard these past few weeks and that one was on me. Like I said. You can’t do dumb stuff to win these things and I did today,” said Elliott.
“I had another fantastic car. My guys have been doing a really good job the past few weeks, and we’ve been just trying to give it all we can get to get one of these things. Had another fantastic opportunity today, and I feel like definitely messed that one up for my guys. As I said outside, you can’t do dumb stuff and expect to win. That’s just the way life is. That’s certainly the way this sport is, and I did dumb stuff today, so can’t expect to win.”
With the implementation of a new aero package at Michigan, Elliott was the only rookie to come out of Sunday’s race unscathed. His closest competitor in the rookie of the year race, Ryan Blaney, looked like he would be right in the mix with Elliott in the top-10, but the second half of the race was not too kind to Blaney and his Wood Brothers Racing team.
Blaney pitted under green just prior to a caution at lap 103, trapping him a lap down. The untimely caution may have hurt Blaney at the time, but he eventually got his lap back and made it back inside the top-10, when he slid up into the outside wall in Turn 2 on lap 162, dropping him to 29th as the team worked to get the car repaired.
Back on track, Blaney was able to salvage a decent finish when the checkered flag flew, coming home 17th for his 11th top-20 finish of the season.
“It’s tough to get loose. I didn’t even get loose with someone to my outside. The 17 just came across my nose super fast and it completely took all the traction off my car and I slid all the way to the fence. It was the damnedest thing. That’s never happened to me before,” said Blaney.
The three remaining rookies also had issues in Sunday’s race at Michigan. Chris Buescher made contact with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in Turn 2 on lap 63, sending Earnhardt and AJ Allmendinger into the wall. Buescher was able to escape with minimal damage during that incident and brought his Ford home in 20th place, scoring his best finish since an 18th place run at Dover three weeks ago. Brian Scott ran into trouble with Danica Patrick and Casey Mears on lap 156 and he would end the race in 36th, 46 laps down.
As far as the fifth rookie in the race, Jeffrey Earnhardt, he found the wall twice in a span of six laps, with the first occurring in Turn 2 on lap 103 and the second in Turn 3 on lap 109. Earnhardt’s team got him back on track with minimal repairs after the first incident, which led to the second impact and Earnhardt’s car ending up and the start of pit road engulfed in flames. Earnhardt would escape the flames unhurt, but his No. 32 team was done for the day and he would wind up with a 37th place finish.