Heading into Sunday’s Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover, it was the tale of two races for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookies as just one of them left the Monster Mile with a good run, while the others left disappointed.
Chase Elliott, who came into the day without a win but a decent point advantage over the Round of 12 cut-off did exactly what he needed to throughout the race, starting ninth and running a clean race, staying out of trouble over the course of the 400 mile event.
By the time the checkered flag flew, Elliott found himself well within the top-five bringing home a third place finish to move on to the Round of 12 in the Chase.
“We were just trying to do our jobs, I think is the biggest thing, and not overcomplicate it. I think if you get too worried about where you’ve got to finish and what you’ve got to do, I think sometimes you can run the error. Luckily for us, we just had a solid day and I think that’s what we needed to do. Proud of this Mountain Dew group, really cool to carry their colors this weekend. It’s a different scheme for us, but very cool brand and we’re excited to be a part of it, said Elliott.
“I’ve been excited about it (Round of 12). I feel really confident in this group of guys. Alan Gustafson has been doing such a good job. That guy is unbelievable. I couldn’t ask for a better guy on top of the box, really, really proud of him and this entire team. They’ve been working their tails off to get to where we are. I’m proud of the way we’ve been running. I think we’ve been building and gaining on some things we’ve been missing, and this is a good time to do it.”
Meanwhile, the other rookies all had different struggles of their own on Sunday afternoon.
Chris Buescher’s struggles in the first two races of the Chase left him in a must win situation at Dover to be able to advance to the next round of the Chase, but unfortunately for Buescher, his struggles continued at the Monster Mile. He would start the day in 16th as a result of the starting lineup being set by points, but that was the highest he would run all day, as he dropped back to the mid-20’s, where he would remain until the checkered flag flew. Buescher’s 23rd place finish left him in 16th place in points and he would be eliminated from championship contention.
“It wasn’t a bad day for our CSX Ford. We made some good adjustments, but had one run that just wasn’t quite there and almost felt like it was a bad set of tires. The way the race played out with long green runs, we didn’t really have a chance to recover from that one,” said Buescher.
“It was great to be in the Chase. To even be in the running and be participating in it was a really special deal, especially for our first season, so that’s pretty awesome. These three races never really rolled our way. We had long green-flag runs in all three of them and we just haven’t had a chance to really dial it in. This weekend was especially tough without getting hardly any practice. We never made a long run, so we didn’t really know exactly where we were gonna be. It wasn’t bad. The car drove pretty decent, but those leaders set a blistering pace.”
After finishing fourth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race earlier in the day, Ryan Blaney was looking for another strong run behind the wheel of his No. 21 Ford in the Cup Series race, but that was not to be for him and the Wood Brothers Racing team. On lap 105, Blaney blew a right front tire, causing him to slam into the outside wall, which ultimately sent him to the garage, where he would end the day in 38th.
“I think we just blew a right-front pretty bad. We were running pretty good before that and I wasn’t really getting tight, I was kind of just riding around, and blew a big hole in it. We’ll have to look at it and see what happened, but it’s a shame. We got our car pretty good that second run and were driving up through the field pretty good. I would have liked to see what we would have had if we had a couple more chances to work on it, but we’ll try to get it fixed and make some laps. It’s a shame we couldn’t run good today but it’s a testament to our team of not starting very good and getting a lot better in one pit stop, so that’s something we can take away,” said Blaney
The other two rookies in the field, Brian Scott and Jeffrey Earnhardt, would finish 21st and 36th, respectively.