Amid the cheers and boos at Martinsville Speedway Sunday night, Denny Hamlin offered a slight olive branch to Chase Elliott after his front bumper helped put an end to yet another race-winning bid by Elliott.
“I hate it for his team,” Hamlin said, sounding eerily similar to Elliott after previous failures to win his first Cup race. “I understand they had a win for a long time coming, but this is a ticket to Homestead.”
For the second time in these playoffs, Elliott was within two laps of claiming a win until a Joe Gibbs Racing driver snatched it. Elliott wound up 27th, one lap down after an overtime finish. It was his worst result since finishing 39th at Indianapolis due to a blown engine.
Before Hamlin took Elliott out in Turn 3 Sunday, it was Kyle Busch passing Elliott on the outside at Dover International Speedway coming to the white flag in the third race of the opening round.
Elliot had led the previous 59 laps until lapped traffic slowed him, allowing Busch to take advantage. Elliott has finished in the top five in all four of his Dover starts.
“I gave it away,” Elliott said afterward. “I appreciate my team and their efforts today. The pit stops were great and they kept us in the ballgame. I didn’t.”
Elliott led 138 laps at Dover and 123 at Martinsville, his top totals for the season.
Between those races, the 21-year-old driver finished second at Charlotte, giving him four runner-up finishes for the season. He was only able to lead 12 laps there, 11 of them coming in the first 51 laps.
Three of Elliott’s second-place finishes have occurred in the playoffs, beginning with his encumbered finish in the opener at Chicagoland Speedway. He led 42 laps and won Stage 2 before Martin Truex Jr. dominated the final stage and won.
Since he made his Cup debut in 2015 at Martinsville, Elliott has earned 20 top-five finishes. Six were in second place.
Elliott was also near his first trip to victory lane last year at Chicagoland. The No. 24 was out front with five laps to go when debris from Michael McDowell brought out the caution.
Truex wound up with the win as Elliott finished third.
Elliott’s third runner-up result came at … Michigan.
In this season’s June race, Elliott once again finished behind Larson after a late restart, but it wasn’t due to a bad restart on Elliott’s part.
Of the eight remaining playoff drivers, he is the only one who has not earned a Cup win. Of the original 16 playoff drivers, he was the only one without a win. Three of them – Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – earned their first Cup wins this season.
With his six career runner-up finishes, Elliott sits behind C.J. Spencer (seven) on the all-time list for most without a Cup win. The most runner-up finishes prior to a win in Cup is 12 by James Hylton.