Chase Elliott took the lead by restarting on old tires after a caution flag waved with eight laps to go, held it through an overtime restart and went on to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday at Dover (Del.) International Raceway.
The victory in the Gander Outdoors 400, the opening race of the Round of 12 playoffs, locks Elliott and his Hendrick Motorsport Chevrolet into the Round of 8, which begins in three weeks at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
Dover gave Elliott, son of Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, his second win of the season. The other came on the Watkins Glen road course.
“We had a penalty (for speeding in pit lane) there early,” Chase Elliott said, “got behind and luckily had a good enough car and a good strategy to get back. What a day. ...
“I’ve had an up and down year, I feel like, and to have this race slip away (last year when he was passed for the lead late by Kyle Busch) makes today that much more sweet.”
Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing — a non-playoff driver — finished second while playoff driver Joey Logano of Team Penske was third.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Hamlin said. “We chipped away at it all day long, we kept moving up through the field, and this is kind of where we deserved (to finish) and we’ll move on to the next race.”
Rounding out the top five were non-playoff driver Erik Jones of JGR and playoff driver Kurt Busch of Stewart-Haas Racing.
For three quarters of the race, it looked as if Kevin Harvick of SHR would notch his second dominating win at Dover in 2018. He won the first two stages and was leading when his crew sheared off a valve stem during a pit stop with 80 laps to go. He had led 286 laps at that point.
“I can’t control which way lug nuts fly,” Harvick said. “Our Busch Beer Ford was really fast, and that’s it.”
Late race problems also robbed two of his playoff entrant teammates of shots at the victory.
SHR’s Aric Almirola had the lead with eight laps to go, but his bid to end a 143-race losing streak ended when teammate Clint Bowyer crashed to bring out a caution.
On the ensuing restart, Almirola was involved in a wreck, and his hopes for a victory ended.
Almirola, who ended up 13th, was asked if he believed he had a shot at earning his first win since the July 2014 race at Daytona.
“I thought so,” he said. “I know better to not get too far ahead of myself and just the race. Circumstances just didn’t go our way. I thought for sure we were going to go to Victory Lane here.”
Next up in the playoffs is a race at always-crazy Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, a 2.66-mile, high-banked track.
—Field Level Media