‘Best run in a long time’ helps Chase Elliott finish second

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JOLIET, Illinois — While Martin Truex Jr. celebrated his win in Sunday’s playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway, Chase Elliott could feel good about his runner-up finish and stage victory.

It has been a long summer for Hendrick Motorsports, which has not had the speed to contend for wins at many tracks. While Truex was clearly the class of the field Sunday, Elliott showed that he had a strong car, scoring his second consecutive top-10 finish. He last accomplished that feat in June.

“This is the best run we’ve had in a long time,’’ said Elliott, who continues to look for his first career Cup victory after 68 series starts. “We had the thing driving right, and we could adjust on it and make minor tweaks instead of swinging for the fence. It’s not easy by any means, but we’re getting there. Today was a step in the right direction.’’

Elliott’s performance, which included winning Stage 2, allowed him to score a race-high 53 points — the most points he’s scored in a race this year. His total was aided by 18 stage points, the most he’s earned in a race this year.

“Every race you’re scratching and clawing for every point you can get,’’ crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “The stage points we gained today were really significant. We wanted to get as many stage points as we could to help us close the gap on those guys (ahead). I think we did our job today. The one (playoff) point isn’t going to hurt.’’

The result is that Elliott climbed from 10th to sixth in the standings heading into next weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He’s 33 points ahead of the cutoff with two races left in the opening round.

Elliott’s performance Sunday mirrored what happened last year in this race. Hendrick cars hadn’t been as strong entering the playoffs but Elliott excelled and finished third. Gustafson said the uptick in performance wasn’t a coincidence.

“The track is probably a decent track for us, but I think it’s more of an indication of the effort of the team and (Hendrick Motorsports) to perform better,’’ he said.

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