For Chase Elliott, the Daytona 500 was ‘a devastating way to end a good week’

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HAMPTON, Ga. – On the brink of his latest soul-crushing disappointment in falling just short of his first NASCAR Cup victory, let’s revisit the last near-miss for Chase Elliott.

After losing a healthy lead when the yellow flew with a scheduled two laps remaining and subsequently finishing third Sept. 18, 2016 at Chicagoland Speedway in last season’s playoffs opener, Elliott said, “That’s life. You just have to embrace it and move on.”

Did his feelings change when he lost the season’s biggest race of the year when his No. 24 Chevrolet ran out of fuel Sunday while leading the Daytona 500 with three laps remaining?

“Um no, it is still kind of the same deal,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said Friday before practice at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “It’s disappointing. You learn through this stuff, and you just try to think about what you could have done differently.

“At Chicago, I don’t really know what we could have done about that, and I really don’t know what you do about running out of gas with just a couple of laps to go, either. In both of those cases, I felt like from a performance side, I thought we did a good job and we were close, just not close enough. I don’t know that it really changes my complexion or outlook on how I view things. It’s definitely a disappointing finish to a good day.”

Elliott has absorbed unwanted experience with stomaching the checkered flags that slip away. As a rookie, he also finished second twice at Michigan International Speedway.

At Daytona, he started from the pole position in a car that won a Thursday qualifying race.

“I mean we had such a great car down there and a great start to the week, a great Thursday night,” he said. “That was a devastating way to end a good week for sure.

“There are two things, I think, to look at when you think about Daytona for us. A. We had to play the cards we were dealt. I felt like we planned to the best of our ability. I think that is something to be proud of. B. We ran out of gas. Yes, we were leading and it’s easy to say, ‘Ahh it was ours to lose’.  In reality there were still three laps to go and three laps at Daytona is a long time. So, I think for us to sit back and think that we had it locked down is kind of foolish.”

Jimmie Johnson scored his first Cup victory in his 13th start (at Fontana, Calif., in April 2002), but he didn’t win the first of seven championships until his fifth season — a fact that he has drawn on in advising and encouraging his Hendrick teammate Elliott.

“I just keep telling him, ‘Man, you can’t change what you are doing.  You are doing such a great job,’” Johnson said. “He has learned so quick. Such talent that in my heart and from watching from the outside, I know (a win is) going to happen. We all know it’s going to happen. When he starts winning, he is not going to stop winning.

“I had a few championship opportunities slip away before we won one.  I just kept telling myself, ‘How many of these am I going to waste away?’  These opportunities don’t show up all the time.  So, I’m pretty confident that has been through his mind, but hopefully he is also telling himself — and I know that I’m telling him — ‘Man I’m young, I’ve got a lot of racing left.’  He is really doing the right things.  Sometimes you are just unlucky, and eventually that luck will come around.”

What are the “right things” that Elliott is doing?

“He just has such a good sense of the race and adjustments that he needs for the race,” Johnson said. “To watch him grow over the course of Daytona and understand the draft and the strength that his car had, he started to do things in the draft that nobody else was even thinking about.  So, it’s just an instinctive thing inside of him, that racing savvy that you can’t teach somebody.

” You can learn to be courageous, you can learn to go run one fast lap, you can teach yourself those things, but that in-race stuff you really are kind of born with that, and he has that.”

Some TV analysts have second-guessed whether Elliott’s team should have had him drop back in the draft to avoid running out of fuel with a dominant car, positioning himself to surge near the finish when several others also had expiring fuel tanks.

Elliott, who led 39 laps at Daytona, said it wasn’t an option that made sense.

“They said we were going to be really close, and that we were basically right there if not a little short,” he said. “And really the situation we were in, leading the race, we didn’t talk about falling back to try to draft because we all know as soon as I do that, the caution comes out, and then everybody makes it from there.”

After an attrition-filled race in which 35 of 40 cars were involved in crashes, Elliott said the “biggest disappointment is we were able to survive all the way to the end and that is a hard thing to do in itself. You don’t see a whole lot of superspeedway races come down to fuel mileage. I think that is the biggest thing is we made it to the end. Just not in the right manner.”

It’s probably little consolation, but Elliott’s Hall of Fame father, Bill, finished runner-up eight times before his breakthrough victory in the 1983 season finale at Riverside International Raceway.

“Yeah, he has brought that up a couple of times,” Elliott said. “He has mentioned that. It’s one of those things where it’s crazy. Obviously, that was back in the ’80’s, and things were a lot different, but it kind of just goes to show you if it’s not your day, it’s not your day. I guess whenever it’s meant to be our day, it will be, and hopefully that day comes.”

Race results, Truck Series point standings after Gateway

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Justin Haley survived two late-race restarts to win his first career Camping World Truck Series race in the Eaton 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park.

His victory was aided by a push into turn one by rookie Todd Gilliland, who finished second.

Johnny Sauter finished third to score his 10th top-five finish in 10 races.

Myatt Snider and Zane Smith rounded out the top five. Smith was making his first career Truck start.

Click here for complete results.

Johnny Sauter maintained his points lead with a third-place finish, extending the advantage to 73 points over Noah Gragson, who finished 10th.

Brett Moffitt is third in the standings and has two wins to his credit.

Grant Enfinger and Stewart Friesen round out the top five

Hayley climbed from eighth to sixth in the standings with his win, but more importantly that victory gets him a berth into the playoffs.

Click here for the complete points standings.

 

Justin Haley wins first Truck race at Gateway

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Justin Haley won his first career Camping World Truck Series in a three-lap shootout at the end of the Eaton 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park.

With seven laps remaining, then-leader Noah Gragson took the bottom line on a restart. That lined Todd Gilliland up behind Haley and proved to be the difference for both drivers on the front row. Gilliland pushed Haley hard into turn one, but contact between Gragson and Gilliland allowed Haley to gain the advantage.

A quick caution for debris forced Haley to survive one more restart – this time with Johnny Sauter lined up beside him. In a three-lap shootout to the end, Haley held onto the top spot.

Gilliland got around Sauter for second. Sauter finished third.

Myatt Snider finished fourth with Zane Smith rounding out the top five in his first career Truck start.

The race was red flagged on lap 119 to clean up fluid from John Hunter Nemechek. He ran over a piece of debris that punctured an oil line. Justin Fontaine spun in the oil with Tate Fogleman sliding in as well.

The incident had lasting ramifications. On lap 132, Brett Moffitt and Ben Rhodes were battling for fifth. Neither driver wanted to go high into turn one because of the speedy dry. Rhodes crowded Moffitt and both made contact with the wall. Rhodes stayed on track. Moffitt pitted, but was able to climb back into contention for a top 10.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Grant Enfinger

STAGE 2 WINNER: Christian Eckes

HOW JUSTIN HALEY WON: Haley lined up in the outside groove with seven laps to go and got a bump from Todd Gilliland that pushed him to the lead. From there, it was simply a matter of surviving one more restart with the veteran Johnny Sauter lined up to his inside as Haley led the final laps.

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: In his Truck debut, Riley Herbst scored a top-10 finish in eighth. … Jesse Little finished seventh, which was his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races. … In just his third Truck start and first since 2015, Chad Finley managed to stay out of trouble and finished a career-best sixth.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Dalton Sargeant cut a left front tire and pounded the wall with two laps remaining in stage one after contact from Todd Gilliland. … Matt Crafton developed an alternator issue at the end of stage two; they changed a battery and resumed racing, four laps off the pace. … On lap 76, Stewart Friesen got loose underneath Christian Eckes and spun him into the wall. … Battling for sixth on lap 98, Friesen and Johnny Sauter made contact on exiting turn two and Friesen spun into the inside wall. … Grant Enfinger started on the pole, led every lap of the first stage, but cut a tire in the closing laps and finished seven laps off the pace in 21st.

NOTABLE: It was a difficult night for Young Guns. In his second career Truck start, 17-year-old Eckes was wrecked during segment two after contact with Friesen. Making his first start in the Tuck series, 18-year-old Fogleman was collected in an accident triggered by Nemechek’s blown engine.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “We had to change the battery. The alternator’s done. I don’t know; they’re still trying to science it out I guess. You know, it’s a big cost for something we spend a lot of money on – and there’s just no excuse for it. Our day is pretty much over. We’ll use it as a test, go to Chicago and try to kick their ass there.” – Matt Crafton’s crew chief Junior Joiner after an electrical problem plagued them at the end of stage two.

WHAT’S NEXT: Overton’s 225 at Chicagoland Speedway at 9 p.m. ET on June 29 on FS1.

NASCAR broadcaster struck by car while jogging, suffers skull fracture

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Performance Racing Network broadcaster Wendy Venturini is recovering in a hospital after she was struck by a car while jogging Saturday morning in Novato, California.

Venturini suffered a skull fracture and a concussion, Doug Rice, president and general manager of PRN, told NBC Sports on Saturday night.

Rice told NBC Sports that Venturini’s prognosis “is very good. I was there (at Marin General Hospital) and heard the doctor tell her that.”

Rice also said: “She’s completely coherent and conversational, and I have talked to her on two occasions today. They told her she would have a really good headache for a couple of days.”

Rice said that Venturini is expected to be hospitalized for a day or two.

Venturini became the first female to serve as a co-anchor for a NASCAR Cup race in September 2014 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. She was in California to be a pit reporter for PRN’s radio broadcast of Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway. She also has served as a booth analyst for PRN broadcasts this season.

Venturini became the first female broadcaster to call an entire race on a national level during the July 2007 Cup race at Sonoma Raceway for DirecTV. She also has reported on NASCAR for Speed Channel and Fox Sports 1.

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Grant Enfinger wins Truck pole at Gateway

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With a speed of 138.867 mph, Grant Enfinger scored his second career Camping World Truck Series pole and will lead the field to green tonight for the Eaton 200. His first pole came on the restrictor plate Daytona International Speedway in February 2016.

Noah Gragson set a track record in round two of qualification with a speed of 139.035 mph. He slipped to third in the running order during round three.

Enfinger beat Christian Eckes (138.594 mph) by .064 seconds. Eckes is making only his second start in the Truck series. Last week he started ninth and finished eighth at Iowa Speedway.

Gragson (138.402), Justin Haley (138.325) and Ben Rhodes (138.211) rounded out the top five.

Johnny Sauter (137.358) failed to advance to the final round of qualification and will start 13th.

Camden Murphy and BJ McLeod failed to qualify.

Click here for the complete lineup.