Chase Elliott a late threat again with second top-five finish of season

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For the second race in a row, Chase Elliott had a chance. A chance that rookies don’t get that often to earn their first Sprint Cup win.

The Hendrick Motorsports rookie started 19th in the Food City 500 and in the closing laps was as high as second.

“Just had a really fast car I think was the biggest thing,” Elliott said after finishing fourth. “Guys brought a good car this weekend. We started a little slow, didn’t qualify as well as we’d like to on Friday, but I thought we hit on a couple things (Saturday) in final practice that, fortunately, carried over to today and was able to kind of work our way up through there.”

Elliott, like many others in the race, was plagued with a loose wheel during the course of the 500-lap event at Bristol Motor Speedway. The resulting vibration forced the No. 24 to pit, putting him two laps down and in 31st at the halfway point. Elliott returned to the top 12 by Lap 375 and was in seventh with 100 laps to go.

“Hate to have a loose wheel, but (the) guys did a good job overcoming that, having a fast pit (stop) under green only losing two laps,” Elliott said. “That was big to keep us in contention there and try to get back on the lead lap. Definitely a long afternoon but had a fast car, and that was the biggest thing that kept us alive.”

Elliott wasn’t the only Hendrick driver with an issue. Dale Earnhardt Jr. battled to finish second after a battery failed during the race’s start.

Elliott said he never was worried his car could fall prey to a similar issue because he wasn’t aware of it.

“I never asked, and they never told me (about it),” Elliott said. “Ignorance is bliss.”

That weight was nonexistent on the rookie’s shoulders while the teams of Joe Gibbs Racing fell one-by-one to tire issues. With 25 laps remaining, Elliott moved into second but couldn’t make a sound charge at eventual winner Carl Edwards.

A late restart put Elliott in third and on the inside lane, the weakest of the two. Like many veterans during the afternoon, Elliott couldn’t overcome the disadvantage, dropping to fourth during the final five-lap shootout.

“I didn’t feel like I did any better than anybody else did on the bottom,” Elliott said. “If I had, we would have got the lead. Unfortunately, we didn’t. That’s just a tough spot to restart. It seems like the banking kind of falls away a little bit off (Turn) 4 there, and the guy on top has got a little more grip up there. Whatever it is, seems like it’s easier to get rolling up there for whatever reason. Just hard to get going. Unfortunately didn’t do a good enough job down there.”

But he did good enough to earn his second top five of the season. It comes a week after claiming the first of his Sprint Cup career at Texas Motor Speedway.

Elliott leaves Bristol 12th in the points, seven spots ahead of fellow rookie Ryan Blaney.