FORT WORTH, Tex. - Just when he needs it most, the newfound speed that has carried Chase Elliott to a pair of victories in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs seems to have deserted the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
On Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway, Elliott qualified 16th for the second race in the Round of 8 — and a hard-fought 16th at that. In Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), he’ll have another fight on his hands as he tries to crack the top 10 and accumulate badly needed stage points.
After finishing seventh last Sunday at Martinsville, Elliott enters Sunday’s race 31 points below the current cut line for the Nov. 18 Championship 4 event at Homestead-Miami Speedway. A last-ditch run in qualifying got him up to the 16th spot, but that’s the deepest starting spot for any of the championship contenders.
“Yeah, just couldn’t drive into (Turn) 1 like I wanted to or didn’t do it or whatever,” Elliott said of his qualifying effort. “But, yeah, we have kind of fought some of the similar things throughout practice and didn’t go real fast. Just unfortunate.
“I had a terrible qualifying effort in Martinsville, too, and with the way these stage points are, that was a really strong suit of ours last fall. We qualified really good in these last 10 and that was what kind of kept us going through the rounds.
“So, yeah, you’ve got to qualify good to get those stage points. That last lap helped some, so we will try to move forward on Sunday.”
Unfortunately, Elliott found little solace in Saturday’s two practice sessions. He was 19th fastest in the morning session and 17th at 190.402 mph in Happy Hour. Kurt Busch, who topped the speed chart in final practice, was considerably faster at 192.075 mph.
When former NASCAR star Carl Edwards strode into the ballroom of the TMS Speedway Club on Saturday, his face registered surprise at the rousing ovation he received from the assembled stakeholders and fans who attended the event.
Then the familiar ear-to-ear grin spread across his face. The occasion was Edwards’ induction, along with IndyCar legend Helio Castroneves, into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame.
For a variety of personal reasons, Edwards left NASCAR abruptly after the 2016 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, but not before he had accumulated 28 Cup victories — four of them at Texas — and a NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.
Since his departure from racing, Edwards has traveled extensively, twice sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. Though he misses the challenges of the competition, he has no plans to return to racing full time, if at all.
“The more I’m away from the sport, two things are clear that I miss,” Edwards told reporters after the event. “I definitely miss driving the car. Sliding it around sideways was definitely a blast.
“And I miss the people. This is definitely cool. It means a lot for (TMS president) Eddie (Gossage) to have me back here. I never thought I’d be glad to see (NASCAR Vice Chairman) Mike Helton, but this is cool.”
AFTER TOUGH RUN AT TEXAS, GRANT ENFINGER PINS HOPES ON PHOENIX
Just about everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong for NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title contender Grant Enfinger in Friday night’s JAG Metals 350 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Early on, Enfinger’s No. 98 ThorSport Racing Ford fell back in race traffic. He was seventh in the first stage and fourth in the second, but as he was primed for a podium finish, his truck ran out of fuel on the final lap, dropping Enfinger to 12th at the checkered flag.
Eighteen points below the cut line for the no. 16 Championship 4 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Enfinger likely will need a victory to advance to the title race.
“We just got held up by a lot of slow trucks at the beginning of the start, and that’s on me,” Enfinger said. “We spotted everybody a straightaway or so and just played catch-up after that. I feel like we might’ve had one of the best trucks here, and we just didn’t take advantage of it.
“We were in position to run second or third there at the end, and we just ran out of gas. It’s not really a testament to our entire year. We’ll have to go to Phoenix (next Friday) and win the race.”
—By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.