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Elliott’s Chase Reaches Objective At Martinsville

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 2 2020

Chase Elliott and his crew celebrate their victory at Martinsville on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Jim Fluharty)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Chase Elliott’s season-long objective of reaching the Championship Four boiled down to one race – the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway. He had to win it or be eliminated from the playoffs.

On Sunday, Elliott made sure NASCAR’s shortest track wasn’t his Achilles Heel as it had been in previous years. He led five times for 236 laps en route to his fourth victory this season and the 10th of his career, making him the first Chevrolet driver to reach the title round since Jimmie Johnson accomplished the feat in 2016.

“This is a big moment for us, having to perform in a tough spot,” Elliott said. “I think that’s something we’ve been missing as a team, something we haven’t been able to achieve over the last handful of years.

“I think everybody gains a lot of confidence from it. We proved to ourselves that we can do it. I think we have always believed we can do it.  But to go out there and achieve it certainly is something we haven’t experienced yet as a group.”

 Joining Elliott in the title battle Sunday at Phoenix are Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Logano and Keselowski finished third and fourth, respectively, while Hamlin placed 11th. Noticeably absent is regular season champion Kevin Harvick, who owns nine victories this season. It’s the first time the regular season champion hasn’t made it to the title round since the current format was implemented in 2017. 

“These championships aren’t like winning like (Richard) Petty and (Dale) Earnhardt used to win them,” Harvick said. “You have to put them together three weeks at a time and it comes down to one race and it came down to one race for us tonight and (we) came up short. The last three weeks didn’t go exactly how we needed them to and you’ve got to be right when you get to this Round of 8.

Early in the race, Harvick cut a tire on his Ford and lost two laps with his unscheduled stop. He regained one lap during the race’s seventh caution flag that ended on lap 193. On lap 285 of the 500-lap race, he was 30th, still one lap down. Harvick finally returned to the lead lap with 100 laps remaining when James Davison’s Ford stalled on the track, bringing out the 11th caution flag. When the 12th and final yellow flag waved for William Byron’s crash on lap 441, Harvick had cracked the top 20. He restarted 16th and was running 11th with 10 laps remaining. Headed to the checkered flag, Harvick knew he needed one more position to make it into the Championship Four and that meant passing Kyle Busch. However, the maneuver he attempted failed and he finished 17th.

“It was just a move I had to try knowing that I needed one point,” Harvick said. “I needed to hit him square in the door, but at that point I was too late and wound up hitting him in the back.  It was just a Hail Mary that didn’t work out.

“I don’t usually drive like that, but you’re trying to make it to the Championship Four and doing everything you can. Sorry to put him (Busch) in the middle of trying to gain a point, but not a great three weeks. ”

Harvick said not making the Championship Four wasn’t the worst “gut punch” he’d ever suffered. 

“We won nine races, had a great year … the championship is kind of a bonus,” Harvick said. “It would be great to win it, obviously, but I’d rather go through the year and win races and do the things that we did. (We) just came up short.”

Despite Harvick not advancing to the title round, Ford clinched this year’s manufacturers’ championship at Martinsville. It’s the second time in three years Ford has claimed the manufacturers’ title. This year Ford leads all manufacturers with 18 Cup Series victories by five drivers.  

Even though Elliott led the most laps in the event, it wasn’t a trouble-free race for the Dawsonville, Ga., driver. When Elliott pitted on lap 354, jackman T.J. Semke came over the wall too soon. He quickly realized his mistake and ran back to the wall to reset everything, per NASCAR rules. Semke’s actions resulted in NASCAR rescinding the pit road penalty initially assessed Elliott. 

 “T.J. made a mistake,” Elliott said. “He was heads up enough to go back and fix it.  If he hadn’t have done that, I don’t think we’d have been able to win. There just wasn’t enough time left.”

(Editor’s Note: Deb Williams is in her fourth decade of covering motorsports. The former editor of NASCAR Winston Cup Scene and managing editor of GT Motorsports has also covered auto racing for United Press International, USA Today and The Charlotte Observer. The 1990 and 1996 National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year has authored five books and hosts the podcast “Racing Now and Then.”)

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NASCAR Cup Series Race – 72nd Annual Xfinity 500

Martinsville Speedway

Martinsville, Virginia

Sunday, November 1, 2020

  1. (8)  Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 500.
  2. (10)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 500.
  3. (7)  Joey Logano (P), Ford, 500.
  4. (1)  Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 500.
  5. (5)  Kurt Busch (P), Chevrolet, 500.
  6. (3)  Alex Bowman (P), Chevrolet, 500.
  7. (20)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 500.
  8. (16)  Clint Bowyer, Ford, 500.
  9. (9)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, 500.
  10. (12)  Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 500.
  11. (4)  Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 500.
  12. (19)  Erik Jones, Toyota, 500.
  13. (15)  Cole Custer #, Ford, 500.
  14. (31)  Matt Kenseth, Chevrolet, 500.
  15. (11)  Christopher Bell #, Toyota, 500.
  16. (25)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 500.
  17. (6)  Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 500.
  18. (21)  Ryan Newman, Ford, 499.
  19. (22)  Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 499.
  20. (18)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 499.
  21. (32)  Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 499.
  22. (2)  Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 499.
  23. (14)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 498.
  24. (17)  Tyler Reddick #, Chevrolet, 498.
  25. (26)  Corey LaJoie, Ford, 498.
  26. (23)  John Hunter Nemechek #, Ford, 498.
  27. (29)  Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 497.
  28. (24)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 497.
  29. (34)  Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 495.
  30. (27)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 495.
  31. (38)  JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 494.
  32. (33)  Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 490.
  33. (35)  Quin Houff #, Chevrolet, 489.
  34. (39)  Joey Gase(i), Ford, Electrical, 447.
  35. (13)  William Byron, Chevrolet, Accident, 439.
  36. (37)  James Davison, Ford, Electrical, 422.
  37. (30)  Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, Accident, 184.
  38. (28)  Chris Buescher, Ford, Accident, 146.
  39. (36)  Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, Electrical, 100.

 

Average Speed of Race Winner:  71.581 mph.

Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 40 Mins, 27 Secs. Margin of Victory:  6.577 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  12 for 83 laps.

Lead Changes:  20 among 10 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   B. Keselowski (P) 1-3;M. Truex Jr. (P) 4-88;C. Elliott (P) 89-112;D. Hamlin (P) 113-133;A. Bowman (P) 134;K. Busch 135-139;K. Busch (P) 140-162;C. Elliott (P) 163-217;D. Hamlin (P) 218-220;J. Logano (P) 221;D. Hamlin (P) 222-239;C. Elliott (P) 240-266;M. Truex Jr. (P) 267;C. Elliott (P) 268-353;J. Logano (P) 354-368;R. Blaney 369-404;J. Logano (P) 405-407;M. Truex Jr. (P) 408-442;C. LaJoie 443-448;M. Truex Jr. (P) 449-456;C. Elliott (P) 457-500.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Chase Elliott (P) 5 times for 236 laps; Martin Truex Jr. (P) 4 times for 129 laps; Denny Hamlin (P) 3 times for 42 laps; Ryan Blaney 1 time for 36 laps; Kurt Busch (P) 1 time for 23 laps; Joey Logano (P) 3 times for 19 laps; Corey LaJoie 1 time for 6 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 5 laps; Brad Keselowski (P) 1 time for 3 laps; Alex Bowman (P) 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 11,88,2,9,22,19,18,24,1,48

Stage #2 Top Ten: 9,19,11,12,1,18,2,22,88,6

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 2 2020
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