Late cautions help Chase Elliott to yet another runner-up finish

Leave a comment

Chase Elliott‘s Cup career will always be measured against Bill Elliott’s, his Hall of Fame father.

Saturday night at Richmond Raceway, the third-year driver matched his father in a stat both impressive and underwhelming.

Elliott, who remains winless, finished second for the eighth time in 86 Cup starts.

Bill Elliott was a runner-up eight times before visiting Victory Lane.

But Chase Elliott, whose result was aided by a series of late-race cautions, was the first to admit it wasn’t a product of the team having turned the corner completely in a mostly disappointing season.

“A very fortunate (set of) circumstances there at the end for us with the way the restarts went and having a short run there at the end, definitely in our favor,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “It’s nice to be on the good end of things for the first time in a while. We have to be realistic about how we ran tonight. The result shouldn’t weigh in to how hard we worked this week because we have some work to do.”

Though he started a season-best second in the Toyota Owners 400, Elliott wasn’t a factor in the race’s outcome until he restarted in the top five for two restarts during final 11 laps. He finished seventh in Stage 1.

The second place was his second top five of the season (third at Phoenix) and just the fourth for HMS overall.

The No. 9 Chevrolet pulled off the feat despite not having crew chief Alan Gustafson, who was completing a two-race suspension for an L1 penalty after the Texas race.

In the first race without him, Elliott was involved in a Lap 3 crash at Bristol and finished 29th, 27 laps off the lead.

“I think we’ve been getting better, for sure, over the course of the past handful of weeks,” Elliott said. “I thought last week was really probably our best effort as a company. Obviously we crashed at the beginning. I felt like our car was solid throughout the whole weekend. Obviously, our teammates ran well.”

But Elliott said the team needs to be “realistic” about how the first night race of the season went.

“I think anybody amongst our team would say the same thing,” he said.  “I’m not knocking anyone, anybody on my team or whoever, but we all know we need to do better.”

 and on Facebook

Round of 8 playoff drivers by the numbers at Martinsville and more

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Then there were eight.

That’s how many playoff drivers are left after Sunday’s Cup elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Eights drivers – Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola and Martin Truex Jr. – will compete in the next three races for a spot among the championship four.

Here’s a look at some interesting numbers for the remaining playoff drivers ahead of this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

0 – Career wins on short tracks by Martin Truex Jr.

1 – The number of wins in the first six playoffs races by the “Big 3” of Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick.

2 – Wins by Chase Elliott through the first six playoff races. He’s the only driver with multiple wins in the playoffs this season.

3 – Top fives Kurt Busch has in 36 Martinsville starts, two are wins.

4 – How many Stewart-Haas Racing drivers remain in the playoff field: Harvick, Almirola, Busch and Bowyer.

5 – Martinsville races since Matt Kenseth intentionally wrecked Joey Logano in 2015.

8 – Different winners in last nine Martinsville races.

20 – Times in the last 22 playoff races the driver who led the most laps failed to win. Kyle Busch was the most recent driver to lead the most laps and win, doing it last year at Martinsville.

22 – Aric Almirola’s average finish at Martinsville in 19 starts.

190 – The race winless streak Clint Bowyer snapped in the spring at Martinsville Speedway.

Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski see title hopes end in Kansas

1 Comment

KANSAS CITY, Kansas — They had won four of the last six races entering Sunday’s event at Kansas Speedway.

But Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney won’t be racing for a championship. That leaves only Joey Logano left at Team Penske to race for a championship. 

Keselowski and Blaney were eliminated from title contention (along with Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman). Blaney failed to advance by six points. He was the closest of those eliminated to the cutoff line.

Blaney’s title hopes faded after he hit the wall while running third with about 60 laps left in the race.

“Sorry, trying too hard,” Blaney radioed his team after the incident.

He soon fell back and finished seventh.

“Obviously it was a mistake I made trying to work hard to catch those guys and I pushed too hard and got in the fence,” Blaney said. “It is all my fault.

“Whether it would have worked out for us or not, I don’t know. I don’t think we had the speed (Chase Elliott) or (Kevin Harvick) had. (Elliott) was super fast. I don’t know. I messed up and cost us a shot. The whole 12 team deserves better than that. That was unfortunate on my part.”

Keselowski didn’t have one incident that held him back. He just wasn’t fast enough. Keselowski led two different times for 26 laps but that was because he stayed out longer while others pitted during a green-flag cycle and moved to the lead. He was never fast enough to race his way to the front.

“I would say about the end of that first stage it was pretty obvious that we needed something after I saw some things on the other cars,” Keselowski said. “We needed something to step up but it just wasn’t there. We just weren’t as good today as we were (Saturday) and I am not sure why.

“Everyone else seemed to find a little from practice and we were about the same, maybe a little worse than we were in practice. I am proud of what we did down the stretch of the year. We won three races and did all that. I feel like we can go win Martinsville next week, so I am excited about that but of course the ultimate goal is to win a championship and we won’t have an opportunity to do that this year.”

What drivers said after the Cup race at Kansas

Leave a comment

Chase Elliott — Winner: “Yeah it was awesome. I just enjoy racing with (Kyle Busch). I obviously got lucky with Kevin (Harvick) having his penalty, I thought we were really, really equally matched there. I wish we could have raced him straight up obviously, but had a great car today. … It’s been a great couple of months so we’ve got to keep it rolling. This is the time of year that counts.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 2nd: “We got too tight there on that long run. I knew it was going to get tight, it was just a matter of whether or not I could get there and get by him (Chase Elliott) first. Running the top like that, it just inherently creates tight in the race car. The sooner you get up there, the longer you’re up there and it just gets that much tighter. Chase did a good job of having that big of a gap that he didn’t have to go up there so early and he had a little bit better tire there when I got to him and he was able to move down a little bit and keep rolling with the speed. I just couldn’t do it that way. We come home second today. That’s just kind of all there is it to it. I didn’t think we were going to have to a second place car. When we here at the test, the 9 (Chase Elliott) was actually right on line with us – maybe even a tick better at times during the test when we were here, so they’ve had a fast car here for a while.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 3rd: “Fought the balance a little bit early in the race, but we made it better and better throughout the race. I felt like the last run especially was our best run handling wise. Just needed the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) to catch the No. 9 (Chase Elliott) to maybe battle him some, but as he got closer he kind of lost the air on his nose. Just wish I could have stayed in second there after the green flag cycles and not let Kyle (Busch) get by. I felt like maybe if I could have been behind Chase there at the end with the line he was running maybe I could have done something with him. But, all in all a good effort today. We did everything we could just came up a couple of spots short”

Erik Jones — Finished 4th: “It was good. We had a really fast car. Our Craftsman Camry was I think a car that could have contended for the win. We just struggled on pit road. We lost a lot of spots and it just took a long time to get them back. That long green run helped us at the win and we were able to pick them up and get back towards the front, but not enough time. Good car. Just got to keep working and keep getting closer.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 5th: “It was definitely a tough day – a blue collared day for sure. We worked hard. The guys never gave up on the car, they just kept working on it for me and I just kept trying to get all I could out of it. Pit crew really saved our butts today man, they were unbelievable. That’s definitely something you need going down the stretch here for a championship and we’ll regroup and go to Martinsville next week and try to go get a win.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 6th: “I would say about the end of that first stage it was pretty obvious that we needed something after I saw some things on the other cars. We needed something to step up but it just wasn’t there. We just weren’t as good today as we were yesterday and I am not sure why. Everyone else seemed to find a little from practice and we were about the same, maybe a little worse than we were in practice. I am proud of what we did down the stretch of the year. We won three races and did all that. I feel like we can go win Martinsville next week so I am excited about that but of course the ultimate goal is to win a championship and we won’t have an opportunity to do that this year.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 7th: “Obviously it was a mistake I made trying to work hard to catch those guys and I pushed too hard and got in the fence. It is all my fault. Whether it would have worked out for us or not, I don’t know. I don’t think we had the speed the 9 or 4 had. The 9 was super fast. I don’t know. I messed up and cost us a shot. I want to thank Wrangler and Menards and Ford for doing what they do. The whole 12 team deserves better than that. That was unfortunate on my part.”

Joey Logano — Finished 8th: “We did a great job this round with two top-fives and a top-10. A stage win here today and we finished third in the other stage. We were scoring points which is good enough to get you through these rounds but I feel like this next round we are going to have to get a win to get through. Maybe they will have enough issues that you can build up enough points but I think we need to win. It was a solid weekend with the pole and stage win, I am proud of that, we just have to focus hard on getting more.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 9th: “We had to fix damage throughout the day. I’m a little frustrated. We had a better car than that. I don’t know that we had a race-winning car. I thought the No. 9 (Chase Elliott) was super good on long runs. We were, I thought, much better than him on the short runs. But on the long runs he just ate us up. Congrats to him. We’ll move on to next week.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 10th: “I will take it, another top-10 finish today. Really proud of my team. We had another fast Ford and the guys did a good job too. Now we advance on to the next round and at this point I just feel like we have nothing to lose almost. I feel like we are playing with house money. We are relaxed and looking forward to these next three weeks, they should be fun for us.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 11th: “I’ll be honest. I didn’t feel like we had a very good Dow Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 all weekend, so I am proud of this team and our 11th-place finish at Kansas Speedway today. It was hard-fought. We weren’t very fast from the time we unloaded from the hauler on Friday, so we will have to work on that going forward. We started off Sunday’s race with a tight-handling condition, but the Dow Racing Team worked hard on adjustments all race long. By Stage 2, we had solid lap times, and by Stage 3, we were able to enter the top 10. I’m proud of this team’s hard work all weekend.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 12th: “Today wasn’t great from my standpoint. Our Busch Lite Ford was really fast and leading the race there and I got a speeding penalty. That was my fault. I tried to get a little too much and wound up going too fast. We will take it one week at a time. We have had fast cars and whether it is speeding on pit road or flat tires or valve stems or fuel, we haven’t put together a full day except for Richmond. Hopefully we have gotten all that out of our system and we can go to Martinsville and start off good.” 

Clint Bowyer — Finished 13th: “It was enough, barely. We were lucky really. It was ugly. I wanted to be better than that. I don’t know. I don’t know what I am missing here. It isn’t my guys. They are giving me good cars. They are fast. I just can’t figure out how to get around this damn place. I definitely have to be better than that. I knew this was going to be the one and we were lucky enough to get through Talladega and get some points going into this with a little bit of insurance and I am damn glad we did.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 15th: “All weekend long our Caterpillar Chevrolet favored long green-flag runs. Our balance was pretty good, but for whatever reason we just lacked take-off and overall speed. Our biggest issue was in traffic. Our car just plowed but we kept up with it as the track changed throughout the race. We ran as high as 10th and as low as 16th. crew chief Luke Lambert did a great job keeping up with the track. We just needed a little more speed to be a force to contend with the top-10 cars consistently. There’s four more to go so we’ll keep doing our best to close out the season.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 18th: “I am really happy. It is exciting for us. It is our goal to win the championship. We are an elite eight team when we started Daytona and here we are, we did it. It was a rough day in the pits and on the track but we had enough points from the Roval and our stage races. It was a rough day and we need to put it quickly behind us. We are back on even ground. We are in the top-8 and Martinsville is the path to the championship down in Homestead.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 22nd: “I just ran too close to the wall, I guess, in (Turns) 1 and 2 and it just brushed the wall and it sucked me in. That was it. I didn’t think I did anything different than other laps. I’d been running really close to it. I just did something wrong on that lap and hit on the right side and ended our good run.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 25th: “This was a benchmark race for our Geico Camaro ZL1 team. We didn’t have the performance that we wanted here at Kansas Speedway back in the spring. Our cars have evolved a lot since then, and we’ve been working hard on our intermediate program. We came back here this weekend wanting show improvements from where we were in May, and we did that. There’s still more work to be done, but little gains will become big gains as this team keeps grinding. We have four more races left this season, and we are working as hard as we can to get everything out of them.”

William Byron — Finished 38th: “That was the best car we’ve had. Usually, that seems like how it works. But we were making pretty good ground. We came out after our green flag stop, in a decent spot. We were kind of mired between the two guys we were before, so overall the car was good and the motor just blew-up. But, there’s nothing you can do but look forward to the next race.”

Clint Bowyer advances to Round of 8 after ‘ugly’ day at home track

Leave a comment

Clint Bowyer had “enough, barely” on Sunday to advance to the third round of the Cup playoffs after an “ugly” day at Kansas Speedway, his home track.

Bowyer, who finished 13th, said his team was “lucky” in the elimination race. He exits as the fifth seed in the Round of 8 with 4,015 points and joins his three Stewart-Haas Racing teammates in the round.

He advances after he had to race his way into the Round of 12 at the Charlotte Roval.

“I wanted to be better than that,” Bowyer said. “I don’t know what I am missing here. It isn’t my guys. They are giving me good cars. They are fast. I just can’t figure out how to get around this damn place. I definitely have to be better than that. I knew this was going to be the one and we were lucky enough to get through Talladega and get some points going into this with a little bit of insurance and I am damn glad we did.”

Bowyer started the race in 14th and managed a seventh-place finish in Stage 1. But he finished outside the top 10 in Stage 2.

On a Lap 168 restart, Bowyer suffered minor damage to his left-front fender after he made contact with Jimmie Johnson.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver could have had an uglier day.

On Lap 213, Bowyer pitted. During his stop, the tire taken off his right rear was rolled back to the pit wall near the front of his No. 14 Ford. It then rolled into the adjacent pit box.

It was not called as an uncontrolled tire penalty.

A NASCAR spokesperson said tires are allowed to cross into the adjacent pit boxes on the inside of the car as long as they do not impede another car or go passed the halfway point of the adjacent stall. 

Had a car been pitting in front of Bowyer or if it had rolled past the pit stall number painted on the pit wall, it would have been a penalty.

Had he been penalized, Bowyer likely would have lost a lap. Bowyer finished as the last car on the lead lap. Kurt Busch finished 18th as the last car one lap down. The penalty would not have been enough to keep Bowyer from advancing.

Bowyer leaves Kansas with just one top 10 in his last 11 starts at the track. Now the series returns to Martinsville Speedway, where Bowyer ended a 190-race winless streak in the spring.

“For whatever reason Kansas isn’t my best track,” Bowyer said. “I am way more comfortable on the short tracks. If I can put together Martinsville and Phoenix like I am capable of and run Texas like we are capable of, I think we can be in Homestead (for the championship). Now it is getting down to the nitty-gritty. Now it is eight good teams. There are 16 good teams but there are eight damn good teams. All eight of these teams have found victory lane and things like that. Now you are starting to pick up the pace or go home.”

Bowyer didn’t get to spend much time ruminating on his day. He quickly made the short trip to Arrowhead Stadium to watch the Kansas City Chiefs compete on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.