Chase Elliott’s late surge falls short of victory, advancement in Phoenix

Russell LaBounty/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Driving with a Hooters paint scheme that invoked memories of the late Alan Kulwicki, Chase Elliott put together a masterful display of driving in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 to put himself in contention for his first-career win and a berth into the Championship 4.

But unlike Kulwicki’s magical 1992 title run, Elliott fell shy of his end goal.

Afterward he wasn’t sure which was worse – losing a title chance or missing out on his first win.

“I mean, I don’t know how you pick,” Elliott said. “You know, when one means that you have an opportunity to do the other, then I’m not sure how you differentiate the two.  But I don’t know, just very disappointing, and I just hate that ‑‑ I just hate so bad for my team.  They’ve been so close to winning a handful of races the past couple years, and just, like I told them after the race, at some point I’ve got to figure out how to close better, and I take responsibility for that.”

Elliott came into Phoenix Raceway 49 points outside of a position in the final four on points – in need of a victory to keep his championship chase alive.

For much of the day that seemed like a lost cause.

Elliott started strong, but spent most of the afternoon toiling around the back half of the top 10. With the race entering its last 100 laps he appeared to be a championship afterthought.

But with the laps winding down, that all changed.

The Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) sophomore rose into the top five as the race reached its final 50 laps, taking out championship rival Denny Hamlin with a controversial move in the process. After bumping Hamlin twice on preceding laps, Elliott dove under the Joe Gibbs Racing veteran before pinching him into the outside wall.

The move – seen by many as retribution for contact between the two drivers that left Elliott in the outside wall at Martinsville Speedway – ultimately ended Hamlin’s championship pursuit. His No. 11 Toyota cut a tire, sending him careening into the wall and ending his afternoon after 275 laps.

“A wise man once told me that he’ll race guys how they race him with a smile on his face, so that’s what I did today,” Elliott said of the incident. “I raced him how he raced me, and that’s the way I saw it.  That’s about all I have to say.”

By the time the field hit the race’s final 30 laps, the Georgian was challenging Matt Kenseth for the lead.

Elliott finally took the top spot on Lap 284 of 312, and began driving off into the distance. For a time, it appeared that he might drive off into the Arizona sunset with a legendary first win.

Then Kenseth came back.

In what might have been his penultimate race as a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver, Kenseth chased Elliott back down. The Wisconsinite passed Elliott for the top spot with 10 laps remaining and drove off to an emotional 39th win.

Elliott held off a hard-charging Martin Truex Jr. for second, but was unable to deliver a victory. After leaving everything he had on the track, the fan favorite had fallen short of his goal.

“I felt like I gave my 110 percent today,” Elliott said. “Although (I’m) very disappointed, again, to be so dang close to winning and having a chance to race for a championship.  Learning the hard way, I guess, in some ways, but it’s hopefully making me a better person and making us better down the road.”

Elliott was one of four drivers eliminated from the playoffs after the Round of 8, joining HMS teammate Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney and Hamlin.

However while Elliott failed to advance in the playoffs, he did earn one thing with his impressive 2017 playoff run – the respect and admiration of the sport’s fans. He’ll get one more shot to deliver them a victory this season next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“That means a lot to me to have great support and great fans” Elliott said. “You know, I want people to pull for whoever they want to pull for and it be genuine, and if that’s me, then I certainly will take all the help I can get, so I appreciate each and every one of the folks here that came out, that had the right hats and shirts on and even the ones that didn’t.

“Happy to have them, and hopefully we can ‑‑ I just want to make them proud someday and tried to do it today.”

One Comment

  1. pj wood

    November 14, 2017 at 3:57 pm

    I don’t think I could be any prouder of Chase if he had won the race. He handles difficult situations way beyond his years. Bill and Cindy did a great job.Go get them Chase. Wins by the truckload are just around the corner….And thanks for the #9…

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