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Elliott Steps Out Of His Car As One Of The Eight

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, October 21 2019
Chase Elliott, front, went around and around at Kansas Speedway on Sunday. And when he stopped, he had a berth in the Round of Eight. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Jim Fluharty)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Every, like, five minutes during Sunday’s broadcast of the NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway (OK, every, like, 20 minutes if you factor in the time taken up by commercials and that redneck fan-guy actor’s shilling for the next race) NBC would flash its little updated point standings graphic.

And the news contained in that graphic was only good for Chase Elliott once – after the checkered flag fell in double overtime.

It was only then that Elliott’s almost Earnhardt-sized fan base knew their boy had finished second behind winner Denny Hamlin and that that was good enough to move him into the third round of the series’ Playoffs.

Elliott started the cutdown race in Kansas 22 points in arrears in competition for the final spot in third of four rounds of the Playoffs.

In order to transfer to the Round of Eight, he either needed to win the race or else rely on the misdeeds of others. For the majority of the race, winning looked beyond his reach.

Late in the race, with yellow flags filling the cool, cracking October air at the intersection of I-435 and I-70, Elliott got his misdeeds. As a result, his second-place finish put him three points to the good in the race to eight.

After getting out of his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, and after having it confirmed that he was, in fact, moving on, he still seemed a bit unsure of what had just happened.

NASCAR’s purpose-built cars don’t come outfitted with speedometers or Bose sound systems, let alone calculators. Asked if he was noodling his Playoffs predicament in NASCAR’s comically absurd points system as he cruised around Kansas’ 1.5-mile, variably banked oval at 180 mph, he answered, in effect: you kidding?

“I’m just trying to move forward,” Elliott said. “Obviously, three points is three positions, two points is two positions and one is one position. That’s pretty simple, but obviously it’s just about trying to get as many as you can get. In our case, I was under the impression that we had to win all the way up to the end of the race. It was a lot of good fortune for us there at the end, a lot of luck and just being in the right place at the right time.”

Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott got support from four-time Cup champions Jeff Gordon at Kansas. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tom Copeland)

The only realistic strategy that a driver in Elliott’s position could dope out and deploy as he drove, was to power up. That was what his crew chief, Alan Gustafson, kept telling him over radio: Just win.

“Honestly,” the son of Million Dollar Bill said, “I was just trying to win the race and the rest of it just kind of fell into our hands a little bit, with the 2 (Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski) having a misfortune and the 22 (reigning champion Joey Logano of Penske) being in that crash.

“Luckily, we got a good bit of stage points in that first one, got five more in the second stage, and battled for the win. I was proud of that. We weren’t the best car by any stretch, but I did feel like we came here with the mindset to win and I was proud of the fact that we came here and fought for a win.”

It was a good moment for NASCAR.

Not as fortunate were a couple of Elliott’s teammates – William Byron and Alex Bowman. All they can hope for now is a final points position of ninth.

Then there was Keselowski, the 2012 series champ who won three races in 2019. He started the day 20 points above the cutline and ended it three points below.

He didn’t need a calculator to figure out his situation.

“We didn’t make it,” he said. “I pushed as hard as I knew how and didn’t quite do good enough on the last restart and that was it. We clawed as hard as we could and there were times it looked like we were going to be fine and times it didn’t. In the end it didn’t work out.”

The Round of Eight begins next weekend at Martinsville Speedway. The round then moves to Texas and Phoenix before the four-driver championship race hits the stage at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Gentleman, start your calculators.

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Couldn’t help but notice on Sunday that:

– Winner Hamlin looked good. Good enough to challenge for his first championship in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and ditch his journeyman driver tag.

– Kyle Busch looked whiny after he failed to end a 17-race winless streak. He again took a shot at the rules package.

– The racing at Kansas looked OK. Especially after restarts when cars near the front of the field actually had chances to make passes for the lead.

– The crowd at Kansas was heartbreaking for somebody who watched that fine facility be born and raised.

– Stage racing and its accompanying points system continues to suck. There should be only one strategy in racing; win the race.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, October 21 2019
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