On a day that saw several of the contenders suffer issues throughout the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookies saw the opportunity to pounce and came close to claiming victory, only to fall just short.
Leading the way for the rookie class was Chase Elliott, who had his work cut out for him to start the day, but found himself hunting for the race lead and the win in the closing laps. Elliott started 13th after qualifying was washed out on Friday and struggled with his No. 24 car for much of the first half of the race, dropping to 16th at one point. As the race entered the final 100 laps, Elliott found himself in the top-10 and was working hard to climb up the leaderboard.
When the 18 car pileup broke out on the lap 355 restart, Elliott was able to narrowly avoid being swept up the crash and cracked the top-five as a result of the crash. While eventual race winner Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson battled for the race lead over the closing laps, Elliott saw his opportunity to enter the fray and closed in on the two leaders. Elliott and Larson had a fierce battle for second place before Larson eventually gained the upper hand and set his sights on Kenseth and the race lead. Elliott settled into third, where he would finish the race, notching his best career Cup Series finish, as well as his fourth top-five finish and eighth top-10 finish of the season.
“It was definitely wild from my view. If the fans didn’t get what they wanted to see today then they need to go do something else. That was a heck of a race in my opinion. Obviously, wish we could have come out on top. Matt (Kenseth) and Kyle (Larson) were racing really hard for the lead. I tried to steal one from them. They were a little better than we were, but we worked hard and tried to stay in the ball game today and fortunately came out with a decent finish, just not close enough,” said Elliott.
Elliott’s closest competitor in the Rookie of the Year race, Ryan Blaney, was also able to escape the lap 355 melee unscathed and brought his No. 21 car home in eighth place. Like Elliott, Blaney was relegated to an 18th place start after qualifying was washed out and struggled through the first half of the race before his No. 21 team was able to get a handle on his Ford.
Blaney followed Elliott’s lead in the lap 355 crash and was able to avoid damage in the carnage breaking out around him, holding strong in the top-10 as the last run of the race was set to get underway. Blaney improved to eighth by the time the checkered flag flew for his third straight top-10 finish and fifth top-10 overall this season.
“It was a long day. We got better throughout the day. I don’t know what happened to us in that last run, we weren’t nearly as good as we were the runs before that. I was confident we would finish better than that but we will have to look back and see what we changed and what happened. Not a bad day for us. It was a good solid run and hopefully we can start stringing together some of these good finishes,” said Blaney.
“It got wild there for a while and there were a couple big wrecks. We missed the big one. I don’t know how we missed it but somehow we did. It was definitely a strange day and definitely a strange first Dover Cup race for me.”
Starting 30th on the day, Chris Buescher slowly but surely moved up through the field and looked to be well on his way to breaking into the top-20 when he spun through Turn 2 on lap 344 as a result of the oil laid down by Tony Stewart. Despite the spin, Buescher was still able to make his way into the top-20 by the end of the race, finishing 18th on the day, his best finish of the season.
“I feel like we made some progress through the race with our Dockside Logistics Fusion. We were on both sides of it and found some things that worked and some things that didn’t work. We had a lot of incidents to avoid and were in one when we got into the oil. It was a long day but in the end it was a positive result and I am proud of the guys for hanging tough today,” said Buescher.
The other two rookies in the race, Brian Scott and Jeffrey Earnhardt, also had their hands full with the Monster Mile, finishing 24th and 35th, respectively.
Image: Sean Gardner/Getty Images