NASCAR America: Pit road woes a familiar refrain for No. 4 team

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Kevin Harvick continues to be plagued by pit road problems. Last week on Lap 321 of the Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Speedway, a lug nut knocked a valve stem off his tire during a green-flag stop, forcing the No. 4 back into the pits on the following lap. He lost a lap to the leaders in the process.

It was an instance of bad luck, but it underscores a problem the driver and team have had before.

“All of these issues that we talk about and have for four years now is always things happening in the pits,” Dale Jarrett said on Tuesday’s NASCAR America. “The pit crew makes mistakes, they make a call, they have things like lug nuts flying off and hitting a valve stem. … With the level of competition and as these rounds move forward, you can’t have these types of mistakes and expect to win the championship.”

Stewart-Haas Racing has made substantial changes to the pit crew since Harvick won his first – and so far only – championship in 2014. Only two members (Mike Morneau and Justin White) who went over the wall that year remain with the team. Still, the problems persist.

“What they do … and what constantly amazes me … is they dominate a race, they let it slip away, but they come back and get something out of it,” Kyle Petty said.

On Sunday, Harvick got back on the lead lap when an axle came out of Ross Chastain’s car on Lap 339. The race restarted on Lap 349 and in the final 55 laps, Harvick was able to climb back to sixth as the checkers waved.

For more, watch the video above.

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NASCAR America: Chase Elliott’s restart skill was key to Dover win

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Before last week, Chase Elliott had a reputation he wanted to shed.

In several races during the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Elliott lost the lead on late-race restarts.

Notably, he was in position to win both Michigan International Speedway races of 2016 before finishing second to Joey Logano in June and Kyle Larson in August.

“The Chase Elliott of a couple of years ago got spanked on restarts,” Kyle Petty said on Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America.

Elliott put that behind him at Dover. On Lap 393, he stayed on track along with Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. while the remainder of the field pitted. Most of the top 10 cars on the restart had two fresh tires. Aric Almirola in sixth had four.

With four laps remaining in regulation, Elliott beat Keselowski on the restart and watched as a multi-car accident erupted behind him. The crash collected Keselowski and Truex, leaving Elliott as the only driver without any fresh rubber.

Elliott was forced to prove his new found skill was not a fluke. On a green-white-checkered restart, he held off the two fresh tires on the No. 11 of Denny Hamlin to take the win.

“On Sunday though, he did an outstanding job at one of … the most difficult places,” Dale Jarrett said of Elliott. “He’s on old tires … on a concrete surface but did two restarts almost to perfection.”

For more, watch the video above.

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Denny Hamlin gives Chase Elliott room, earns best finish of season

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During the overtime restart Sunday at Dover International Speedway, Denny Hamlin was very much aware of the last time he and Chase Elliott ran 1-2 in a playoff race.

Hamlin, who finished a season-best second to Elliott, did not want a repeat of last October’s race at Martinsville. 

That saw Hamlin punt Elliott from the lead with just two laps left in the scheduled distance and an angry Elliott confront Hamlin on the track afterwards.

After a “pretty uneventful” Dover race for his No. 11 team, Hamlin kept it that way over the last three green-flag laps around the 1-mile track.

“After last fall, I was really making sure I didn’t make any contact, to be honest with you,” Hamlin said.

Chase Elliott said “I haven’t really had an issue with him since then,” but in the closing laps “I can’t say that I singled him out.”

Hamlin restarted on the inside of Elliott.

There were in that position after Elliott’s team elected to stay out of the pits during a late caution and Hamlin took two tires. They then survived a multicar wreck involving five playoff drivers, which set up the overtime finish.

“The outside line was the preferred groove for the restart guys all day,” Hamlin told NBCSN. “We ran a 23.70 (seconds) on that last lap. (Elliott) was a 23.60. (Doing that on older tires) is amazing. I ran as hard as I could through (Turns) 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and just couldn’t get beside him there. Proud of the whole FedEx Team. Definitely a step in the right direction. We chipped away at it all day long, kept moving up through the field. This is kind of where we deserved. Proud of this finish.”

Hamlin added, “Glad to see me and Chase could finish 1-2 here in a playoff race and not have any controversy, so happy for those guys.”

The finish is Hamlin’s best through 30 races this year and comes after he was eliminated from playoff contention last week at the Charlotte Roval. The runner-up finish is also his best Dover finish in 26 starts.

His previous best Dover result was fourth (2007, 2010).

The result is his second top five since the Coca-Cola 600 in May.

Points after the Cup Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover

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Chase Elliott had an uncontrolled tire during the pit stop at the end of Stage 2. He make up his lost ground and got back into position to win. Gambling on older tires, he held off the field to win the Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover and locked himself into the Round of 8.

Kevin Harvick dominated the race, winning both stages and leading 286 laps. He had a valve stem knocked off with approximately 75 laps remaining. He was forced to pit a second time and lost a lap. Harvick finished sixth.

Kyle Busch started from the pole but faded early. A speeding penalty in Stage 3 dropped him to the back half of the lead lap. He finished eighth.

Martin Truex Jr. had a speeding penalty during a pit stop with 57 laps remaining. Truex was then hit by Brad Keselowski during the caution with four laps remaining in regulation. He finished 15th.

Joey Logano hit an axle from Ross Chastain‘s car with less than 60 to go. He missed the late-race accident and finished third.

Kurt Busch squeezed past Truex, Keselowski and Alex Bowman in a multicar accident with four laps remaining in regulation. He finished fifth.

Keselowski took two tires with 57 to go. He was collected in a multicar accident with four laps remaining after Aric Almirola bounced off the backstretch wall. Keselowski finished 14th.

Ryan Blaney almost made it through the Lap 396 caution but sustained damage to his right rear and placed 11th.

Outside the Top 12 Cutoff Line

Aric Almirola took the lead on a late race restart and was leading with eight laps remaining when Clint Bowyer wrecked.  After pitting, Almirola restarted in sixth and bounced off the outside wall, collecting Keselowski, Truex and Bowman. He finished 13th.

Bowyer pitted for a loose wheel with 19 laps remaining. Eleven laps later, he pounded the wall and retired in 35th.

Kyle Larson dropped off the lead lap for part of the race but finished 12th.

Bowman lost a lap early in the race and struggled to regain it. He was swept into a multicar accident with four laps remaining. Bowman finished 28th and is 34 points below the cutoff line.

Click here for complete points standings.

What drivers said after the Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover

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Chase Elliott — Winner: “I just feel like I’ve messed it up so many times. I was like, ‘Hey, here’s your opportunity to make it right and to do it right. I don’t know. Today just felt different. Like in those positions, I just felt more confident and just excited about the opportunity instead of unsure of what was going to happen. It’s just amazing, and I just love the opportunity that Mr. Hendrick has given me. I’m glad he was able to be here today for our second win of the year.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 2nd: “I ran as hard as I could through 1 and 2 and 3 and 4. I just couldn’t get beside him. … We chipped away at it all day long, kept moving up through the field and got here. This is kind of where we deserved. Proud of this finish, and we’ll move on to the next race. … Glad to see me and Chase could finish 1-2 here in a playoff race and not have any controversy, so happy for those guys. ” 

Joey Logano — Finished 3rd: “When you hit an axle, that’s a big piece that can do some real, real damage. It could hurt the driver in all honesty, so I’m glad we got through that and fixed our damage and got a good finish. Right at the end there, the two-tire call was good, and on that restart, we were able to make so many passes, and then they crashed, so that set us up pretty good. I honestly thought I had a really good shot at winning it but just came up a little short. I didn’t think (Elliott) could possibly win that race on old tires like that, but I think that red flag really helped him cool them off.”

Erik Jones — Finished 4th: “We were about a ninth-place car all day. We had that big wreck and then were restarting fourth. The Craftsman Camry was gifted a couple of spots, but we’ll take that. We stayed in and fought hard all day. We ran the best we probably ran here at Dover. We’ll need to figure out what we need to do to get up there and battle for the win but definitely a few steps forward.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 5th: “It was a really good day for us with the stages. We were just a little bit tight most of the day and felt like it came to us towards the end. I was giving it all I had chasing down Almirola, and the yellow comes out and from there it just changed the course of everything. It’s not even a ripple effect, it’s a tidal wave of things that happen. Once one yellow comes out that goes against what everybody thought was gonna happen, so Almirola could have won, we could have finished second. We ended up fifth. We have nothing to complain about.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 6th: “I don’t really care about points. I’d rather win.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 8th: “It worked in our favor a bit today with some other cars getting torn up. Which is unfortunate for them. Our day was not very good. Speeding on pit road took us out of the running for a top 10 and a solid finish. We got about what we deserved I guess.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 11th: “I thought we were OK all day. We were a seventh, eighth, ninth-place car, and it was hard to pass. We lost some spots on that last pit stop, and that put us in a bad spot, and we got kind of wrecked there. It wasn’t very good, but I don’t know. There are a couple good tracks coming up for us, so hopefully we can do a little bit better there, but we survived it.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 13th: “We’ve had so many opportunities and been so close and had the car to win and been in position, and I don’t know, it just seems to not come through. I don’t know. I’m frustrated and mad and angry. I don’t know. I could have been conservative and probably finished third or fourth like Kurt. It’s just track position is so tough, and it’s so hard to pass here. On that restart, I tried to at least go where they weren’t to the top, and (Hamlin) moved up to kind of block me, and I just got really tight off of (Turn) 2, and I bounced off the fence and got into Brad and tore up a lot of race cars along the back straightaway. I hate that for everybody that was involved, but it kind of killed our day, too. I don’t know. I feel like we should be over there in victory lane celebrating, but we’re not.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 14th: “I felt like we were gonna have a really great day for that, but we didn’t, so I feel really good about next week in Talladega. We’ll see what we can do there and see how it goes.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 15th: “The 5-hour ENERGY Camry was good all day, but the pit road issue put us in a place we didn’t need to be. Then we got caught up in someone else’s mess at the end. Frustrating for sure but all we can do is look ahead to next week.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 28th: “The No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) kind of got tagged and started wrecking. I thought he was going to get to the bottom of the racetrack faster than he did. Dover is typically so self-cleaning, but he slid a little longer than I thought he would, and I kind of just center-punched him. Watching the replay there was really nowhere to go. I wish I would have at least tried to go left, but part of it. Greg (Ives, crew chief) did a good job getting the car better all day today. It’s a bummer. It could have been a really good day for us.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 29th: “Dover is a tough racetrack, there’s no doubt about it. Our GEICO Camaro ZL1 was just so much tighter in the race than it was in practice. The balance started to improve towards the end of Stage 2, but I just needed more overall grip. We battled through the day to finish the race. It wasn’t easy, but my team isn’t ever going to give up. We’ll move on to preparing for Talladega. We were incredibly fast there in the spring, so I’m looking forward to going back and hopefully ending the day in victory lane.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 35th: “We broke, and I hit the wall. I’m just really disappointed. I’m frustrated with our day, obviously. We had a very fast race car. I got tore up passing a lapper and then all of a sudden we had a loose wheel. I think it was a loose wheel, and then we went back out and broke something in the front end, and it was two different things. When we pitted, it was something in the rear, obviously, the right-rear, the left-rear was loose, it was all out of control, and then all of a sudden we went back out it was fine, so I took back off and then I think something in the left-front broke. It just went straight, whether I ran over something, I don’t know. I’m just sick for Aric. He had that race won. It was his win and unfortunately his teammate had trouble and took him out of it.”