DOVER, Del. (AP)Chase Elliott had a front-row seat for the Hendrick Motorsports trophy celebrations and photo shoots and all the kitschy social media posts created as one by one – and as his three teammates won, and won and won again – they all brought home checkered flags.
Elliott rarely needs a motivational nudge to park his Chevy in victory lane, so while he felt happy for the drivers, he didn’t necessarily use their successes as a means to create artificial fire to try to match them.
”My drive to win and my job to do my job to the best of my ability doesn’t change whether we are struggling, whether are we doing very good, whether I’m in a contract year or not, whether my teammates have won and I haven’t,” Elliott said.
He drove to the best of his ability again Monday at Dover Motor Speedway and earned his first victory of the season, making Hendrick Motorsports drivers 4 for 4 in the win column this season. It’s barely May and Elliott, Kyle Larson, William Byron and Alex Bowman already are locked into the playoffs.
The summer run will be a tuneup for the 10-race shootout.
There’s a new car this season in NASCAR – and the same old results for Hendrick at Dover.
Elliott snapped a 26-race winless streak when the 2020 NASCAR champion led the final 53 laps to win his 14th career Cup race. He gave team owner Rick Hendrick another triumph on the mile concrete track. Elliott followed Bowman’s checkered flag a year ago as a Hendrick driver won for the 22nd time at Dover. Hendrick swept the top four spots last season; this one clinched the four playoff spots.
Elliott, who leads the points standings, hopped on the window ledge of his No. 9 Chevrolet and pointed in appreciation toward a solid crowd for a weekday race. The finish was delayed a day because of rain.
”We just had some good circumstances, finally,” Elliott said. ”We’ve had some tough races over the last four, five months. This one means a lot in so many different ways. Hope to see this big crowd here next year.”
His last win was July 4 at Road America.
Even without a win, Elliott had been building toward this moment. The 2020 NASCAR champion and reigning most popular driver, Elliott took a steady pace while his teammates burst out of the gate with early season wins; Byron already has two wins. Elliott has only one finish worse than 14th this season and rolled into Dover with three straight top-10 finishes at Martinsville, Bristol dirt and Talladega.
”If you just look at the box score, you don’t see it,” crew chief Alan Gustafson said. ”But I think we’ve been pretty close.”
Elliott snatched the lead from Ross Chastain, last week’s watermelon-smashing winner at Talladega Superspeedway, and pulled away on the concrete. Chastain led 86 laps and Kyle Busch, who finished seventh, led a race-high 103.
”I feel like we’ve had a lot of pace at different times throughout the year,” Elliott said. ”We just hadn’t put an entire race together until today.”
A Hendrick car in the top spot looked familiar at Dover, but that was just the tip of four different teams in the top four spots. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was second and had his first top-five finish of the season for JTG Daugherty Racing. Chastain was third for Trackhouse Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell finished fourth.
Martin Truex Jr. spun himself out on the last lap while racing for a top-five finish when he appeared to get boxed out by Chastain. Truex confronted Chastain on pit road.
”We were talking about where we were going to go fishing next week,” Chastain cracked. ”I’m racing with champions and I got beat.”
One of those champions? The one whose Chevy was dotted in confetti in victory lane.
Denny Hamlin, who won the first stage of the race, lost serious ground after a left-front tire wasn’t properly attached to his No. 11 Toyota and rolled down the track. Hamlin apologized this week for posting a crass anti-Asian meme on Twitter.
Hamlin worked his way back into fourth when he connected with Cody Ware and brought out the caution on Lap 242. Hamlin finished 21st.
Larson also spun on the frontstretch and blew the front and rear right tires on his Chevrolet. AJ Allmendinger also lost a tire. Allmendinger’s and Hamlin’s teams are expected to receive NASCAR punishments for the loose wheels.
Dover wrapped its only NASCAR weekend of the season. The track traditionally held two NASCAR weekends but moved one race date last season to Nashville Superspeedway. Dover hosted one race weekend in 1969 and 1970 and then held two races every season from 1971 to 2020.
Speedway Motorsports bought the track (Dover Motorsports) late last year. Speedway Motorsports President Marcus Smith worked the Dover gates and greeted fans Monday with the track short-staffed because of the postponement.
”I think it’s a great event and I hope we continue to race there for a long time. It’s definitely a cool place,” Bowman said.
The Cup Series races next Sunday at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. Truex is the defending race winner. Toyota is set to celebrate its 1,500th NASCAR race during Darlington’s annual Throwback Weekend.
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