Chase Elliott said following his engine expiring just seven laps into the opening race of the Round of 12 that the next two weeks would be good practice for getting to the Homestead-Miami Speedway in November with championship aspirations still.
He knew his Hendrick Motorsports team would be tested at Talladega and Kansas. It was the upmost practice to find a way to get to victory lane in order to then get themselves into the Round of 8.
Despite not winning over the last two races, their toughness was tested this weekend at the Kansas Speedway and they passed the test with flying colors.
Elliott, was involved in a Lap 87 crash on Monday at Talladega but his team was able to get his car repaired enough to still limp home in eighth. That resolved got him by. He entered Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas 22 points behind the final position to make it to the Round of 8 on points.
They thought all day that they had to win Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 in order to get to Martinsville with their title hopes still alive. Instead, a second place finish in a wild ending would suffice.
Elliott, advanced out of the second round and onto the third round by just a mere three points over Brad Keselowski. The Georgia native made up 25 points and advances to the third round of the playoffs for the third straight season.
But, it wasn’t easy on Sunday.
Elliott, came into the final stage 14 points behind Keselowski still. He gained 17 points in one stage. Keselowski, was already battling a terrible handling race car and even fell a lap down with 40 laps-to-go in regulation.
Still, Elliott wasn’t doing quite superb himself as he was running eighth with Keselowski 19th. As long as Keselowski was within 14 positions of Elliott when the checkered flag flew, Elliott would be eliminated.
Eighth to 19th was 11. Keselowski, was still good by three points. Then, came the Lap 252 caution for Ryan Blaney cutting a tire after he got into the Turn 4 wall a lap prior. The leaders, Elliott included, hit pit road for new tires and fuel. Keselowski, had to take the wave around and risk not hitting pit road and stay on old tires in trade for getting his lap back.
Elliott, would restart eighth but had four tires. Only three cars in front of him had four fresh tires. Everyone else had just two tires.
As a result, Elliott immediately came from eighth to third and was not only in position to now advance on point and not having to win, but in position to win the race outright.
Elliott, got by Kyle Busch for second and had his sights set on Denny Hamlin for the win. Then, Bubba Wallace’s tire literally came off of his car and caused himself and Matt Tifft to crash at the exit of Turn 2 with just four laps remaining in regulation.
Here we go again. Another restart. Plus, Keselowski could hit pit road and have fresh tires now. He and everyone else that took the wave around hit pit lane which now saw Keselowski gain three spots. He went from 18th to 15th and had fresh tires.
Elliott, was second. As you can see, Elliott went from +2 to -1 in that one caution. With Keselowski sure to gain spots on new tires, Elliott now had to win again.
But, Keselowski still had that bad handling race car. The fresh tires didn’t matter. He had to push too hard and it got him in trouble. He and Daniel Suarez made contact exiting Turn 4 on the first overtime which sparked a crash. Elliott, faded to third on the restart but had one more chance.
Keselowski and now Joey Logano were in trouble. They were +4 but Logano had a crashed car and Keselowski a bad handling one.
Elliott, would charge up to second on the final restart and finish there while Logano and Keselowski faded to 17th and 19th place finishes respectively. Elliott, would advance on, Keselowski not.
It was Elliott’s fourth top four finish in his last five Kansas tries as he heads to Martinsville with a shot at this year’s championship still. He did so and never had to win after all.