Sweet redemption for Elliott at Charlotte

After the two previous races got away from Chase Elliott, he came back on Thursday evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway and found redemption. Following a late pass for the lead and benefiting from a green flag run to the finish, Elliott notched his first elusive NASCAR Cup Series win of the season in the rain-delayed Alsco Uniforms 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The victory was the seventh of his Cup career in his 157th series start and his second at Charlotte as Elliott became the sixth Cup regular to win this season. The victory came two days after Elliott celebrated a Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series bounty win at Charlotte over Kyle Busch.

“It feels awesome,” Elliott said. “Man, it’s been a tough week, for sure. We’ve had some tough losses, but that deal on Sunday night was a heartbreaker. It’s not the Coke 600, but any win in the Cup Series is really hard to get. Just appreciate my team. [Crew chief] Alan [Gustafson] made a great call there at the end to get it tuned up and luckily, the run went long and I think that fell in our favor.” 

The race was postponed to Thursday evening after persistent rain canceled original plans for the event to run on Wednesday evening, May 27.

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The starting lineup was based on the results from Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte on May 24, with the top-20 finishers from Sunday being inverted for the event. William Byron, who finished 20th in the Coke 600, started on pole position while teammate Alex Bowman joined him on the front row.

Josh Bilicki and J.J. Yeley were sent to the rear of the field due to driver changes from Sunday’s 600-mile race. Aric Almirola also started at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments.

When the green flag dropped, Byron launched ahead of the field followed by DiBenedetto, who was drafting Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet from the start. After drafting Byron through Turn 1, DiBenedetto made a move on the inside lane in Turn 2 and took the lead entering Turn 3. 

The field was feet away from starting the first lap of the race when the first caution came out as teammates Joey Gase and Garrett Smithley made contact with one another and wrecked in Turn 3. Gase sustained significant right-rear damage while Smithley entered pit road with significant right-side damage as flames engulfed the underneath of his No. 53 Chevrolet. Under caution, Ty Dillon made a pit stop after reporting power steering issues.

Following an extensive cleanup, the race restarted on the ninth lap. On this restart, Byron benefitted from the bottom lane and a push from teammate Bowman to lead the following lap, but DiBenedetto remained dead even with Byron for the next circuit. A lap later, Byron managed to clear DiBenedetto and slowly pull away with the lead as Bowman made his move to take second over DiBenedetto. Byron would be uncontested as he remained in the lead at the time of the competition caution on Lap 20. By the time the caution was displayed, DiBenedetto was able to retake second over Bowman.

Under caution, the majority of the field pitted, except for Joey Logano, Michael McDowell, Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace. With most of the front-runners opting to have two tires changed on their respective cars, Byron was able to exit pit road first followed by DiBenedetto, Bowman, Kurt Busch and rookie Christopher Bell. During his stop, Byron made contact with Corey LaJoie, who was turning left to enter his pit stall, while turning right to exit his pit stall. While Byron sustained minimal right-side damage to his car from the contact, he made an extra pit stop to have his left-side tires changed. During the pit stops, Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin were sent to the rear of the field after both sped on pit road.

On the following restart on Lap 24, Logano received a push from teammate Blaney and DiBenedetto on the bottom lane to inherit the lead as the field expanded to racing three-wide through Turns 2 and 3.

The caution flew five laps later, when Matt Kenseth spun in Turn 3, but was able to straighten and drive his No. 42 Chevrolet back to his pit stall. Just in front of him, Brad Keselowski, who was 16th, fell off the pace when he sustained a flat right-front tire.

Shortly after, the cars made their way to pit road and the race was red-flagged due to lightning and severe thunderstorms surrounding the racetrack. With the rain progressing, the Air Titans were dispatched on track.

Following a delay that spanned 74 minutes, the drivers returned to their cars and the race resumed under the lights as the skies fell into darkness. Under caution, Bell, Jimmie Johnson, rookie Custer, Bowyer and Daniel Suarez pitted while the others remained on track. Keselowski, Kenseth and Byron also pitted to have the damage to their respective machines repaired.

When the race restarted on Lap 34, Logano maintained the lead and was able to maintain a decent pace over DiBenedetto and Blaney. By Lap 45, Harvick, who started 16th, was fourth, Kyle Busch, who started 17th, was 11th and Elliott, who started 19th, was ninth. Jimmie Johnson, who started at the rear of the field, was in 19th. Hamlin and Bowyer, following their early pit road spending penalties, were running outside the top 20. Byron and Keselowski, following their pit stops for repairs under the previous caution, had made their way only up to 24th and 27th while Kenseth was trapped in 38th, one lap behind.

For the final 22-lap green-flag run, Logano was uncontested as he was able to win the first stage. Blaney made his way to second followed by DiBenedetto, Harvick and Bowman. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, Elliott and Chris Buescher rounded out the top 10 at the conclusion of the first stage.

Under the stage break, the lead lap cars pitted for four tires, fuel and adjustments. Logano was able to maintain his lead by exiting pit road first followed by Blaney, Harvick, Bowman and Kurt Busch. DiBenedetto, Buescher, Elliott, Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch exited in the top 10.

The restart on Lap 63 to start the second stage was where the fireworks on the track started to ignite as Logano maintained his advantage while being challenged by Blaney. While racing four-wide with Erik Jones, Stenhouse and Almirola through Turn 2, Kyle Busch and Almirola made contact in Turn 3, which cut Busch’s left rear tire and damaged his left rear quarter panel. Following the contact, Busch fell off the pace as everyone behind him scattered through Turns 3 and 4 to avoid hitting Busch’s No. 18 Toyota. The damage was enough to force Busch to make an unscheduled stop the following lap, where he fell out of the lead lap. During the tight racing, Ryan Newman also sustained a tire rub, but remained on track. 

In the midst of the tight racing behind him, three laps later, Harvick was able to take the lead from Logano while Busch, two laps behind, still had damage to the left rear quarter panel. By Lap 70, Harvick checked out to a lead above a second over Logano. Two laps later, Bowman moved into second over Logano.

The caution returned on Lap 74, when rookies Quin Houff and Brennan Poole tangled in Turn 1, with both drivers making contact with the wall. Under caution, Harvick surrendered the lead to pit for four tires and fuel, giving the lead to Bowman, who was one of 14 cars who opted not to pit.

When the race restarted on Lap 79, Bowman received a push from Blaney to maintain the lead over the field. By Lap 93, Blaney moved to second after passing teammate Logano and was trailing Bowman by less than two seconds. Additionally, Elliott moved into fourth after passing Kurt Busch and Harvick, who restarted 17th, rallied his way to eighth. With all four Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas running outside the top 10, Hamlin was the highest-running JGR competitor in 17th while Kyle Busch was back in 37th, still trapped two laps behind and with a damaged left rear quarter panel.

The 100-lap mark featured unique names running inside the top 10 on track, with Austin Dillon in seventh followed by Bell and Wallace while Nemechek and Reddick were 11th and 12th.

While the majority of competitors continued jostling one another for positions, Bowman was able to drive his No. 88 Chevrolet to the win in the second stage over two seconds over Blaney. Logano held off Elliott to finish third followed by Harvick. Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Nemechek, Bell and Wallace finished in the top 10.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Bowman exited first over Logano followed by Harvick, Blaney and Kurt Busch. Elliott exited sixth followed by Hamlin, who gained five positions following a stellar pit stop from his pit crew. Austin Dillon, Bowyer and Wallace exited in the top 10. During the pit stops, Bowyer was tabbed with a second pit road speeding penalty and was sent to the rear.

The restart of the final stage occurred with 86 laps remaining as Bowman maintained the lead over Logano after clearing him in Turn 3. A lap later, Harvick made his way to second. Three laps later, Harvick made a bold move on the outside lane entering Turn 4 to reassume the lead over Bowman. Additionally, Elliott passed Blaney and Logano to move to third. 

With 74 laps remaining, Bowman’s race fell apart after he slipped entering Turn 4 and slapped the outside wall, damaging the right side of his No. 88 Chevrolet while attempting to narrow his deficit from Harvick. A lap later, Bowman pitted to have the damage repaired, which cost him a lead-lap finish, as the race remained green. During this time, Blaney moved to second followed by Elliott, Logano, Hamlin and Kurt Busch.

The caution returned with 64 laps remaining when Timmy Hill’s car fell off the pace in Turn 4. Under caution and following the pit stops, Harvick led the field off pit road while Hamlin gained three spots to move into second. Blaney, Kurt Busch, Elliott and Logano followed in pursuit. Jones was assessed a penalty and was held a lap in his pit box for pitting outside his box.

When the race restarted with 59 laps remaining, Harvick maintained his advantage with a bump from Blaney. Behind Harvick, the front-runners raced two-by-two through Turn 2 before Blaney cleared the field to move into second and Elliott pursued Hamlin for third. Behind, Stenhouse, making a late rally, took fifth from Kurt Busch. 

With 50 laps remaining, Elliott and Blaney engaged in a heated battle for second behind Harvick while Stenhouse battled Hamlin for fourth.

With 43 laps remaining, Wallace, who spent the majority of the event running inside the top 10, made an unscheduled pit stop for a flat right-rear tire that was initiated from making contact with the wall. Shortly after, braking issues forced Wallace to park his car in the garage and end his race in the late stages.

With 27 laps remaining, Elliott, who persevered over his battle with Blaney and started to reel in Harvick, made a move on the inside lane in Turn 2 and used the lapped car of Suarez, running on the high lane, to take the lead. From there, Elliott started pulling away as Harvick started losing ground and positions.

For the final 27-lap stretch, Elliott placed himself in a familiar position from last Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, leading over the field. Unlike Sunday, Elliott, who increased his advantage above two seconds, was able to take the white flag and start the final lap of the race, thus ensuring the race would not fall into a late caution and overtime. For a final circuit, Elliott was able to navigate his No. 9 Chevrolet patiently behind lapped traffic and cross the finish line first under checkers to win as the lapped car of McDowell spun behind him.

“I was just waiting for the caution to come out, to be honest with you,” Elliott humorously said. “I thought either the caution was gonna come out, I was gonna break something or I was gonna crash. Just after the last couple of weeks, I just didn’t think surely it wast gonna go green to the end. Just glad it did and glad we’re, hopefully, back on the right path.”

Hamlin passed Blaney on the final lap to finish second in his first of four races with interim crew chief Samuel Mcaulay. Stenhouse Jr. finished fourth for his second top-five result of the season and Kurt Busch settled in fifth for his third top-five result of 2020.

Rounding out the top 10 were Logano, Keselowski, Austin Dillon, Truex Jr. and Harvick.

The race featured 14 lead changes with eight different leaders. There were seven cautions for 37 laps.

Harvick continues to lead the regular-season series standings by 14 points over Logano, 41 over Elliott and 43 over Bowman.

Results:

  1. Chase Elliott, 28 laps led
  2. Denny Hamlin
  3. Ryan Blaney, two laps led
  4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  5. Kurt Busch
  6. Joey Logano, 42 laps led, Stage 1 winner
  7. Brad Keselowski
  8. Austin Dillon
  9. Martin Truex Jr.
  10. Kevin Harvick, 63 laps led
  11. Jimmie Johnson
  12. William Byron, 11 laps led
  13. John Hunter Nemechek
  14. Tyler Reddick
  15. Matt DiBenedetto, 10 laps led
  16. Clint Bowyer
  17. Ryan Newman
  18. Cole Custer
  19. Corey LaJoie
  20. Aric Almirola
  21. Christopher Bell
  22. Chris Buescher
  23. Matt Kenseth, one lap down
  24. Ryan Preece, one lap down
  25. Michael McDowell, one lap down, one lap led
  26. Erik Jones, one lap down
  27. Ty Dillon, one lap down
  28. Daniel Suarez, one lap down
  29. Kyle Busch, one lap down
  30. Gray Gaulding, two laps down
  31. Alex Bowman, two laps down, 51 laps led, Stage 2 winner
  32. Quin Houff, three laps down
  33. Timmy Hill, three laps down
  34. J.J. Yeley, four laps down
  35. B.J. McLeod, five laps down
  36. Josh Bilicki, eight laps down
  37. Bubba Wallace – OUT, Accident
  38. Brennan Poole – OUT, Accident
  39. Joey Gase – OUT, DVP
  40. Garrett Smithley – OUT, Accident

With the Carolina spring stretch complete in NASCAR’s return to on-track racing, the Cup Series will travel to Bristol, Tennessee, to race at Bristol Motor Speedway on May 31. The race can be seen at 3:30 p.m. ET on FS1.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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