By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
The finish of Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 from Darlington Raceway came down to two cars: Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr.
And unfortunately for both of the night’s dominant drivers, it didn’t end with them up front.
While racing nose-to-tail for the lead in the closing laps, Truex Jr. attempted a slide job on the No. 9 of Elliott in Turn 1. This was when the No. 19 Toyota came across the nose of Elliott, turning both himself and the leader into the outside wall.
BOTH OF THE LEADERS HIT THE WALL HARD! pic.twitter.com/xJzIYz3SSP
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 7, 2020
Despite coming out with the race lead, within three laps, Truex was forced to hit pit road after cutting a right-front tire down on his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He finished one lap down in 22nd.
“Just not enough room there for the both of us,” Truex said of the contact. “I thought I had enough of a run to clear him. I think it was close, obviously. I thought I had enough momentum and distance on him that he was going to let me in there. I didn’t expect him to be on my right-rear corner.
“I was committed. Once I figured he was still there, there was nothing I could do.”
Elliott soldiered on, falling to 20th after running off-pace for the final 15 laps.
“He had a run on me there coming off of Turn 4,” Elliott said. “He just cleared himself going into Turn 1. He was close, but he wasn’t all the way clear.
“I ran the bottom in [Turns] 3,4 just seeing if there was anything left down there. That’s what gave him the run. Just slid up into my left-front it felt like. On we went.”
Combining to lead 311 of 367 laps Sunday, Truex and Elliott were clearly the top two drivers of the night. For Truex, the move came following a lengthy pursuit following the race’s final restart with 41 to go.
“It’s Darlington and typically you don’t want to go in side-by-side,” Truex said. “I felt like I had enough of a run and enough space there that the last foot or so he was going to understand that if I was committed, we both weren’t going to make it. Typically, here that’s kind of how you race. If a guy gets a run on you and he’s just about got you cleared, you have to give that last little bit.
“Now obviously, the end of the race, probably the pass for the win, he wanted to drive it on in there and I was committed to being clear and there was no way we were both going to make the corners. Basically, when I made up my mind and I was driving it in there and then he drove in on my right-rear quarter, there was no possible way that we both weren’t crashing. That’s what happened.”
For Elliott, the potential victory at Darlington ended with a wrecked racecar for the second straight time at Darlington. This one, however, occurs during the playoffs, adding to the sting of the loss.
“I hate it,” Elliott said. “Obviously we had a fast NAPA Camaro, fast enough to contend. We needed a little pace there to extend our lead instead of playing defense. Regardless, I thought we were in a good spot.”
As the sport next hits Richmond Raceway for Race No. 2 of the opening round of the playoffs, Truex sits 16 points above the cutline, while Elliott sits 10 points above.