RICHMOND, Virginia – It was driver error that put Chase Elliott in a deep hole Saturday night, but in his defense, the No. 9 Chevrolet driver also had “a lot going on.”
That was how the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion described a disastrous 36-second pit stop on Lap 181 that included contact with another car, a slide into the pit stall and a broken jack.
Though it dropped him a lap down, Elliott still rebounded for a fourth-place finish that put him in solid points position to advance to the second round (seventh in the standings, 19 points above the cutline) after a 31st in the playoff opener at Darlington Raceway.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver led 58 of 400 laps and battled throughout the first half with runner-up Denny Hamlin (who led a race-high 197 laps).
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“Not sure I’d have had anything for them but sure would have liked to have found out,” Elliott said. “Nice rebound. Everything about last weekend was miserable aside from our foundation efforts. Nice to come here and put together a solid night. We performed at a really high level I know we’re capable of every week. We perform like that the rest of the season, I know we’ll be just fine.”
The only blemish came on his second pit stop, which happened under the frenzy of a green-flag cycle. Elliott was entering his stall directly ahead of Ross Chastain, who was about to exit.
“I misjudged when they were going to get done on the left sides, but I’ve got a lot going on right there,” Elliott said. “It’s kind of hard to tell exactly when he’s going to get done, and I felt like I got to a point next to him that I had to go. There was no stopping anymore, so I tried to gas up and get by him.”
Super proud of our effort. Unfortunate what happened on pit road but we had a great rebound to secure P4. Onto Bristol. pic.twitter.com/dKMafq7Dnu
— Chase Elliott (@chaseelliott) September 12, 2021
Chastain and Elliott made contact, which damaged the left rear of the No. 9 Camaro. As a result, Elliott slid long into his pit box, and he was about whether he was over the line as the team began its stop.
Trying to avoid a potential penalty for service outside the box, Elliott hit reverse just after the pit crew lifted his car into the air. That resulted in a broken jack that necessitated a replacement prolonging the stop. When he returned to the track, Elliott had fallen from second to 17th.
Crew chief Alan Gustafson radioed Elliott that the team would let him know if he needed to back up in future situations, but Elliott later said he still wasn’t sure if he’d do anything different on the stop other than let Chastain go, but “it’s so close and always hard to tell when they’re going to get done on the left side” of the car.
#NASCAR … Chase tells Gustafson he didn't know what to do with 42 abut to exit pit stall the last time that led to all the issues and Chase backing up on his own thinking he was over the line. Alan says they'll tell him if he needs to back up in those situations.
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) September 12, 2021
“I knew I was way long,” Elliott said. “Obviously, it’s really hard to tell. I can’t see the line. I know our guys are off the top of the box to help with the pit stop. So I’m sitting there, and I know I’m deep. And maybe they didn’t have the ability to key up a mic because they had a lot going on, so I just kind of took it upon myself to back up.
“And (jack man) T.J. (Semke) had already hit the right-side jack, and that point, I should have known not to, but obviously I wouldn’t have broke the jack if I knew it was going to break the jack, so I just didn’t want to do the pit stop over the line. I felt like that was just going to make problems even way worse. Tried to be cautious, ended up hurting us worse.”
Elliott said his car was wounded by the damage from the incidents, but he still managed to claw his way into the free-pass position when the stage ended on Lap 235 and then motored to a gain of more than 10 positions over the final 160 laps.
It was the fourth top five in seven races at Richmond, which Elliott told NBC Sports earlier in the week had been a track that had stymied him recently.
“Prior to (the pit stop damage), I thought we were really solid,” he said. “It’s definitely good to come here and run fourth. This has been a tough place, so I was proud of that.”