Chase Elliott’s second try in the Sprint Cup Series turned out to be a vastly different experience.
That was certainly welcome news for Elliott.
His series debut at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway last month was filled with drama and short on results. Elliott was involved in an early-race accident and it went downhill from there as he finished 38th, 73 laps down from race winner Denny Hamlin.
Sunday’s rain-delayed Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway – the entire weekend, really – was nearly a complete reversal.
Elliott qualified a solid 16th Friday and spent the entire 400-lap race on the lead lap and finished a respectable 16th.
“I thought we had a good car throughout practice, was able to run well in race trim, and our real struggle was trying to go fast for qualifying,” said Elliott, who will take over Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet next season at Hendrick Motorsports.
“My guys made good adjustments for qualifying to get us in the show, and our car (Sunday) had great long-run speed,” he said. “It was always going to be a short run to the finish, and I didn’t tell them to do the right things for that last (pit) stop to run a short run.”
Asked if he could put his finger on anything specific that contributed to the vastly different performance between his two Cup weekends, Elliott said he simply didn’t know.
“You know, I felt like at Martinsville, too, we had a good car,” he said. “I didn’t do my job like I needed to there and got us in a wreck 60 laps into the race, and that’s not the thing to do.”
At times Sunday, Elliott was running as well or passing some of his future Hendrick teammates, including Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“We were able to run laps, able to stay on the lead lap and battle really hard, especially towards the end of those long runs, and to race with some good cars,” Elliott said.
“I think that’s something our team should be proud of.”
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