Chase Elliott salvaged a lousy day for Hendrick Motorsports and interrupted a potential Toyota loss by winning the race in the rain at Nashville Superspeedway on Sunday night.
Elliott recovered from an early problem that left him in the field to take the lead with 38 laps remaining and hold off three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers for his second Cup victory of the season.
It took NASCAR’s most popular driver nearly seven hours and a late four-lap shootout to get to victory lane. NASCAR moved up the start 12 minutes due to oncoming bad weather, then held for an hour due to lightning in the area, followed by a subsequent rain delay that stretched over two hours.
“Very proud of our team,” Elliott said. “We kind of had a hiccup there about halfway through and we were able to dial the Chevy back in and get back in the mix. It was a long, fun day.”
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The race resumed right at the halfway point and the teams were unsure if the full 300 laps would be completed or if the race would be stopped early due to more rain. Toyota controlled nearly the entire event, four of its drivers combining to lead 253 laps, but Hendrick’s No. 5 team brought Elliott’s Chevrolet to life down the stretch.
“We were ‘(The) Bad News Bears’ at the beginning, and then at the end we did well and we were really good,” crew chief Alan Gustafson said.
He had the race on his hands when a caution came out with nine laps remaining and Elliott didn’t stop from the lead for new tires. Nine other drivers stayed on the road with him to create a backlog that prevented the Toyotas from catching up with Elliott after they stopped to change tires.
“I thought he was coming. I was hoping he wasn’t,” Elliott said of the caution. He led twice for 42 laps. But he pulled away on the restart and beat Kurt Busch, in a Toyota for 23XI Racing, by 0.551 seconds.
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“Getting a win is always huge. Doing it in a really cool city like Nashville is even better. I’m looking forward to that guitar,” Elliott said of Nashville’s traditional winner’s trophy.
“These things are hard to come by and you have to enjoy them. You never know when or if you’ll ever get another one. So I’m very grateful and looking forward to next week.”
Elliott’s only other win this season came at Dover, which like Nashville is a concrete track.
Busch, who led three laps for Toyota, said he should have been tougher on Elliott on the final restart.
“I went soft on him. He should have thrown some fenders and moved some momentum,” Busch said. “I just needed to keep our strength up and I made a mistake. The way we’re running, one second is great, but we’re here to win.”
Ryan Blaney was third in a Ford and followed by Elliott’s teammate Kyle Larson, the defending race winner. The JGR trio of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. dropped to sixth, 21st and 22nd after the late decision to stop for tires before the final restart.
MIXED HENDRICK DAY
The race went wrong for Hendrick Motorsports in a two-lap sequence shortly after it resumed following the early lightning delay.
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William Byron headed into the garage with a broken steering rack in his Chevrolet minutes after the race resumed, and a lap later Alex Bowman was badly damaged when contact with Corey LaJoie spun him around.
Bowman mocked LaJoie’s talent on her team radio, while LaJoie asked her team to apologize to Bowman on her behalf. During a lengthy rain delay hours later, LaJoie tweeted a T-shirt design that read “Really Good Race Car Driver” to mimic Bowman’s slur.
But the damage was already done for Bowman, who is sponsored by Ally, which has invested heavily in NASCAR’s return to the Nashville market. The company is the authorized sponsor of the Cup race and is very active in various downtown Nashville tourist locations.
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Bowman had returned to the event hoping to improve on last year’s 14th place finish, which he found unacceptable due to Ally’s significant presence on the circuit. He finished last in the 36-car field.
BUBBA BAD HUMOR
Bubba Wallace lost his temper with his 23XI Racing team when he had to stop from sixth due to a loose wheel. He cursed the crew at him and then said that he didn’t want to talk to them for the rest of the race.
“Leave her (expletive) alone,” he radioed to the No. 23 team. “Don’t talk to me for the rest of the race.”
Crew chief Bootie Barker tried to calm his driver, who has been all over the map in Nashville. He was fastest in practice on Friday, but then qualified 30th with team co-owner Michael Jordan watching from pit road.
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“We’re not out of this,” Barker replied. “I know you’re (angry) and you deserve to be.”
Wallace restarted 31st, the last car on the lead lap. He recovered to finish 12th.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
The NASCAR Cup Series races at Road America in Wisconsin for the third time. Elliott is the defending champion.