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Magic man: Chase Elliott’s playoff run marked by remarkable recoveries

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In a postseason that has seen a title contender go to the garage before the green flag, a championship hopeful start last after passing inspection and then failing, and another title contender spun by a lapped car while leading before going on to win that race, it makes one wonder what could be next.

Oh yeah, the Cup series races Sunday at Martinsville Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

You know, the place where the last two playoff races featured last-lap passes for the win, including Joey Logano’s bump-and-run of Martin Truex Jr. last season. Two years ago, it was Denny Hamlin’s hit that put Chase Elliott in the wall and forced the race to go to overtime where Hamlin lost to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch.

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So, it only makes sense that in this unpredictable Cup playoff season that Martinsville is next.

Yet, for all the craziness, there’s something to think about. Is this Elliott’s year to win the title?

While the talk has been about Hamlin’s prowess at Martinsville, how this could be his year to win a championship for the first time and the likelihood that Joe Gibbs Racing will put multiple drivers in the championship race, Elliott has his own story.

Think about it. He went nose-first into the wall while leading on a restart at the Charlotte Roval and came back to win.

Who does that?

Had Hamlin gotten to the finish line about a tenth of a second quicker last week at Kansas Speedway, the race would have ended instead of going to a second overtime. Elliott would have been eliminated. The second overtime gave Elliott one last chance. He benefitted when Brad Keselowski chose the wrong lane and lost six spots (and points) in the final two laps. That allowed Elliott to advance by three points and keep his title hopes alive, while Keselowski was eliminated.

The way things are falling into place for Elliott, it lends itself to wonder if this is a sign of a magical season?

“No,” Elliott said, noting the engine failure eight laps into the Dover race that put him in a near must-win situation at Kansas to advance. “I feel like we were obviously in a bad spot leaving Dover, which was self-inflicted. We knew what we had to do the next two weeks.

“Magic, luck, good fortune, whatever it was, I’m happy we were able to get through. But these last two weeks to go through all these stuff we did … and still move on, it’s a wonder that’s for sure.”

Now the focus turns to Martinsville. Elliott finished seventh in the playoff race there last year and was leading when Hamlin spun him two years ago in the final laps of that playoff race.

A victory at Martinsville — where Elliott made his Cup debut in March 2015 — would only add to the feeling of this being a magical playoff for the Hendrick Motorsports driver.

“Martinsville has been hit or miss for us,” Elliott said last weekend at Kansas Speedway. “Ran good there in the spring. Ran bad there last fall. I don’t know. I feel we’ve had really good runs there, had bad runs there. Haven’t really done anything different.

“We just need to do our homework this week.”

Chase Briscoe looks to move on after Kansas incident with lapped car

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Chase Briscoe admits he “kind of felt bad” for Garrett Smithley upon seeing the comments directed toward Smithley after he caused Briscoe and Christopher Bell to crash as they raced for the lead late in last weekend’s Xfinity Series race at Kansas Speedway, but Briscoe said that “it doesn’t take away from the fact that we should be locked into Homestead right now.”

Briscoe made the comments Tuesday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Briscoe and Bell were racing for the lead with 16 laps left when Smithley, who was running five laps behind the leaders, drifted up the track and into their lane. Bell and Briscoe made contact. Briscoe recovered to finish third. Bell finished 12th. Brandon Jones scored his first Xfinity win.

The race was the opener in the Round of 8, meaning a win would have locked a playoff driver into next month’s championship race in Miami. Jones was eliminated in the previous round. At least two of the final four spots in Miami will be based on points. Instead of winning to guarantee a spot in the title event, Briscoe is fifth in the points heading to the Nov. 2 race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Briscoe was asked on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio what the etiquette should be for cars laps down when the leaders approach:

“I think it’s so tough,” he said. “Those guys, they’re racing their own race, too. They’re trying to prove they deserve to be there. Obviously they aren’t racing for a championship, but they are racing for their lives. They have every right to use whatever lane they want to use.

“There is a certain etiquette, I think, that comes, especially when two guys are clearly batting for the chance to make it to Homestead. That was what kind of frustrated me. There were a couple of guys even before we got to (Smithley) that ran right on the fence right in front of us. It just made it tough for us to race it out.

“It’s one of those deals that you can’t change it now. You’ve just got to have general awareness of what is going on. It is tough to see out of these cars but we have spotters too. I heard that there was a little bit of a misunderstanding there. Just go on. Hopefully they’ve learned from it and we’ve learned from it and go on and just do better next time.”

Smithley said after the incident that he didn’t know the leaders were approaching.

“I just didn’t get the memo that he was coming,” Smithley said of the leaders. “(Spotter) Freddie (Kraft) usually does a good job, he always does a good job. I’m sure it wasn’t his fault. Something didn’t get transmitted or what.”

Kraft resigned as Smithley’s spotter after the incident, according to spotter Brett Griffin on the “Door Bumper Clear” podcast.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that officials talked with Smithley about his role in causing Briscoe and Bell to crash.

Smithley stated in a tweet after Saturday’s race that he took “full responsibility” for the incident with Briscoe and Bell.

Briscoe said that as of Tuesday morning he had yet to talk to Smithley.

“He texted me I saw (Monday) and I was so busy (Monday) I didn’t even have the opportunity to talk to him,” Briscoe told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “ I’m sure this week I’ll reach out to him and tell him to call me. I understand where he’s coming from, it’s a situation he certainly doesn’t want to be.

“I kind of felt bad honestly for him because he tagged us in that tweet and I saw a lot of people kind of ridiculing him. The fans can definitely be brutal. It was just a mistake. It’s obvious he didn’t do it on purpose. I understand that.

“It doesn’t take away from the fact that we should be locked into Homestead right now, but if we go do our job these next two weeks we can still do that and hopefully it doesn’t come back to bite us.”

Why Denny Hamlin let Jimmie Johnson back on the lead lap


KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Jimmie Johnson has been on a crusade to earn respect that he believes has eroded among his peers during a two-year winless skid.

Sunday at Kansas Speedway, the seven-time Cup champion was shown a major amount of deference by race winner Denny Hamlin, who slowed to allow the No. 48 Chevrolet to get back on the lead lap less than a mile before the end of Stage 2.

A sign of respect? Yes.

But maybe not quite the type being sought by the Hendrick Motorsports star, who recently spoke of once being “feared” on the track.

That wasn’t the case with Hamlin, Johnson said.

“Honestly, if he thought I was a threat, he wouldn’t have done it,” Johnson said with a laugh about Hamlin’s move. “So there is respect there. And I do feel there is respect off the track, but out there on the track, there is just another level of respect you have to earn through racing hard. And I guess because I didn’t seem like a threat, he let that slide.

“I’ll take it! I’m very appreciative. I don’t want to have it come across the wrong way, but if we’d been leading all day long, I don’t think he would have cut us that break.”

Johnson still made the most of it over the final half of the race. Restarting in 20th, he drove into the top five over the next 100 laps (capitalizing on a two-tire stop with 20 laps remaining.

He faded to a 10th-place finish over the last three restarts – but it still was a major improvement after running outside the top 15 for most of the first two stages.

“We just finally got the car tightened up,” Johnson said. “We were so loose, I just couldn’t run the amount of throttle needed.

“Once we got the car closer, I drove up to (the top five) and passed a ton of cars. That was cool. On the end with two tires, a lot of guys were on four, so that hurt us a little bit. We didn’t need those last few cautions. I think we were sitting in a great spot, and then the cautions started, and that caught us off.”

Still, the big break came from Hamlin. Though Johnson would have gotten back on the lead lap via the free pass, staying on the lead lap allowed him to avoid starting behind lapped cars on the ensuing restart.

“I’m just very thankful that he was so considerate,” Johnson said. “I’m not sure where that came from, but I’m very, very appreciative of it. He harassed me in a tweet a while back and mentioned something along the lines of the utmost respect, so there is a lot of respect there. I appreciate that.”

It was during the July 13 race at Kentucky Speedway when Hamlin complained about being held up by Johnson on track.

But as he has mentioned often this season (and often since his spin of Chase Elliott racing for the lead at Martinsville Speedway might have cost him a chance for the championship), the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has been rather chivalrous at times with his No. 11 Toyota.

“Just trying to be a nice guy,” Hamlin said of declining to keep Johnson a lap down. “Never can have too many friends out there, especially this point of the season.  You go a lap down, it changes your race.  Obviously he was up there racing in the top five there towards the end.

“Just putting another coin in the deposit box.”

Kyle Larson’s ribs feeling ‘pretty painful’ after disappointing finish

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – If finishing 14th with “a top-three car” didn’t leave Kyle Larson ailing Sunday at Kansas Speedway, there was also the matter of his aching ribs.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver took a prerace cortisone shot and put on a medicated patch to help manage the injury he sustained in an Oct. 14 crash at Talladega Superspeedway.

“I felt great to start the race,” said Larson, who didn’t think the ribs were broken. “I could barely feel any tenderness. And as the race went on, it just got more tender and more tender, and it’s pretty painful right now.

“I’ve got a cough, but I’m afraid to cough. We’ll maybe get it checked out this week and see if there is anything wrong with me. And if there is, if there’s anything I can do to get better.”

He’ll have a week to get ready for 500 laps at rough-and-tumble Martinsville Speedway, where he will enter the Round of 8 for the first time with a shot at the championship (by virtue of his Oct. 6 win at Dover International Speedway).

Larson is worried about racing well at the 0.526-mile oval that has frustrated him, but he is less concerned about how he will feel physically.

“Not really because the loads (at Kansas) are higher than at Martinsville with Gs pushing you into the side of the seat,” he said. “Martinsville, we don’t really have that. There’s a lot more slowing down and all that. You can slam on the brakes and things. So I don’t know if that’s going to hurt, but another seven days from now, I should be quite a bit better, hopefully.”

Larson also might need some time to recover from a missed opportunity at Kansas, where he led 42 of the first 46 laps. He stalled the car while pitting under green on Lap 47 but rebounded to retake first on Lap 59.

During a slow pit stop under a Lap 76 caution, Larson lost eight spots, and he fell outside the top 10 because of an uncontrolled tire penalty on the next stop (under yellow on Lap 117).

“Today was our roughest day that I’ve had in a long time,” said Larson, who also had a dustup with the lapped car of Joey Gase. “We had some really slow stops. My pit box was really slick, so I couldn’t get in aggressive enough (and) couldn’t leave fast enough. It made the pit stops seem worse than they were.”

Larson still managed to be in the hunt for his second victory in three races, climbing into the top five when the caution flew on Lap 254 of 277. Larson moved into second behind race winner Denny Hamlin with a two-tire stop, but he faded over the course of the final three restarts.

“Tough to have a day like that, but we had a fast car,” Larson said. “We tried to gamble on tires. Worked out for Denny, didn’t work out for us and got ate up on those restarts. Finished 14th with a top-three car.

“With him getting clean air (as the leader on the restart), I thought (Hamlin) would have a good shot. I thought if I could ever clear him, I’d have a good shot, too, but he did a good job with all the restarts holding them guys off.”

After being eliminated in the second-round cutoff race at Kansas the past two years, at least Larson could find solace at avoiding the playoff drama that led to Brad Keselowski’s elimination Sunday.

“It was pretty interesting keeping in touch with what was going on with the points,” Larson said. “The intensity just ramps up every round and every race really. Yeah, it’s going to get wild.”

Second proves to be good enough for Chase Elliott to advance

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Chase Elliott didn’t think finishing second would be good enough to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Then, suddenly, it was.

A chaotic overtime finish allowed Chase Elliott to overcome a three-point deficit and make it to the Round of 8 for the third consecutive season.

“I was under the impression that we had to win. All day,” Elliott said after his runner-up finish Sunday at Kansas Speedway. “I was just trying to do whatever we had to do to do that.”

Elliott was not aware of what happened behind him so when he crossed the finish line, he thought he had failed to advance.

But second proved to be good enough when Brad Keselowski lost six spots on the final two laps. That allowed Elliott to pass Keselowski in the points for the final transfer spot.

“I felt like for us to come here and battle for the win is what a really good team is made of and what you’re going to have to do if you’re going to make it to Homestead,” Elliott said of next month’s title race.

Before he could look ahead, Elliott had to maneuver through numerous obstacles Sunday.

At the end of the first stage, Elliott pushed Joey Logano — who entered the race holding the final transfer spot that Elliott sought — and helped Logano win that stage and gain 10 points. Elliott finished second and gained nine points.

Why help the driver he was racing at the time for the final transfer spot?

“At that point I was going to do what was best for me,” Elliot said. “Unfortunately, it helped him. At the point in time it was the best thing I could do for myself. In those situations, you have to be as selfish as you can. Unfortunately, it was the best option and he happened to be the guy in front of me. It wasn’t by dumb luck. He put himself in a good position. He’s pretty sharp on that.”

Elliott faced greater challenges later in the race. On the first of two overtime restarts, Elliott was surrounded by Joe Gibbs Racing cars. Denny Hamlin led and restarted on the inside, putting Elliott, who was second, in the outside line. The second row featured Kyle Busch on the inside line and Erik Jones on the outside line.

“To be honest with you, I feel like all those guys pushed pretty hard,” Elliott said. “I was a little surprised that (Jones) gave me as good a shove as he did on that restart so appreciate that. At the end of the day, those guys moving their lane forward is going to help them. It might not look right at first, but you never know what is going to happen on the backstretch or down into Turn 3 that could give that guy behind you a shot to win. You’re just trying to do whatever you can to put yourself in a better position.”

Elliott was second on the final overtime restart but couldn’t make a move to get by Hamlin for the win.

“Had a good restart … and gave Denny a good push, and I think William (Byron) didn’t get as good of a restart and he wasn’t pushing me and that’s was what I kind of needed, I felt like, to give Denny a run,” Elliott said. “Once we singled out, it takes more than a couple of laps to get the momentum up now, so it was going to be really tough. Denny did a good job of running the bottom and not making any mistakes. From there it was luck, whoever messed up … and gave us those three points we needed.”

Elliott’s title hopes continue. The Round of 8 begins next weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

“Martinsville has been hit or miss for us,” he said. “Ran good there in the spring. Ran bad there last fall.

“We just need to do our homework this week and focus on it. We can run decent at Texas. I think we can run really strong at Phoenix.”