Chase Elliott closes playoff round one with Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval win
Chase Elliott claimed his third win of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season Sunday when he took the checkered flag in the Bank of America Roval 400 on the Charlotte Motor Speedway oval-road course hybrid circuit.
Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman took runner-up honors to give HMS a one-two finish. Bowman’s second-place finish allowed for his advancement to the second round of the playoffs, scheduled to begin Oct. 6 at Dover International Speedway. He’ll join Elliott and a third Hendrick driver, William Byron, in the 12-driver in round two. Byron finished the race in the sixth position.
After leading the middle portion of the race, Elliott was up front for a lap 64 restart but hit a tire barrier right after that restart. Kevin Harvick inherited the lead. After a cycle of green-flag pit stops began around lap 75, Harvick cycled back to the lead on lap 81 and ran up front until Elliott got back to the front on lap 105.
“Oh my gosh. What a mistake. Holy moly,” Elliott said. “You talk about messing something up, right here. Don’t do that. What a day. We had such a fast NAPA Camaro ZL1, and honestly, that was the only reason we were able to get back in. I pretty well blew it and got the cautions at the right time, and brought it home. Thank you guys. I made a whole lot of noise right there.”
Bowman also passed Harvick on the same lap, moving Harvick back to a third-place finish. Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer finished fourth, and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five.
Bowman qualified second and expected to start on the front row next to teammate and pole sitter Byron. But Bowman had to drop to the back for the initial green flag after going to a backup car because of a practice crash on Saturday. He dug his hole even deeper early in the race by missing the backstretch chicane on lap two and making an unscheduled pit stop after flat-spotting his tire.
Byron led most of the opening 25-lap stage of the race but wound up second at stage-end after Kyle Larson got by him on a restart between a lap-20 caution for a Ryan Preece spin and a lap-23 caution for an incident that included playoff driver Erik Jones.
Jones’ car sustained enough damage that he retired from the race and wound up eliminated from the playoffs.
“It’s frustrating,” Jones said. “It’s frustrating not just to even have a chance throughout the whole race, you know? We didn’t make it to the first stage, and it wasn’t our fault. That’s probably the most frustrating part is getting taken out and nothing you can do about it. We’ll have to keep going all year, win some more races and come back and start over again in next year’s playoffs.”
Also eliminated from the playoffs at the end of the first round were Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch. Almirola finished 14th, Busch 20th, and Newman wound up 32nd after a late-race penalty for missing a chicane with under three laps remaining.
After Larson, also a playoff driver, took the stage-one win, he wound up a lap down because of a penalty for pitting outside his pit box during the caution between the first two stages. He eventually got back on the lead lap to finish 13th.
Another playoff driver, Joey Logano, inherited a short-lived lead early in the second stage while Elliott restarted for stage two in the fourth position. Elliott took second from Harvick on lap 30 and the lead from Logano a lap later.
In the final 10 laps of the second 25-lap stage, though, Elliott gave up the lead to pit during a caution but retook the lead from Keselowski on lap 49 for the stage win. He continued to lead until his restart snafu.
Nine of the top-10 finishers of the race were playoff drivers who all advanced to round two, including Byron in sixth, Martin Truex Jr. in seventh, Ryan Blaney in eighth and Logano in 10th. Jimmie Johnson was the only non-playoff driver in the top-10 of the finishing order in ninth.
Truex suffered early-race troubles similar to those of Bowman. He also fell to the back for the start of the race because of an engine change. He, then, missed the backstretch chicane of the circuit twice in the first 10 laps.
The remaining two playoff drivers, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, were credited with 19th and 37th-place finish. Busch was multiple laps down as the end of the race drew near, so he pulled off the track and called it quits during a red flag for track cleanup on lap 103.
“It just wasn’t our weekend,” Busch said. “I don’t really know why we had the trouble we’ve had with our M&Ms Hazelnut Spread Camry. It’s not the way you want to run in the playoffs. We are fortunate that we had such a strong regular season and that we have the playoff points that we have. We just can’t keep relying on that as we go through the playoffs.”