Chase Elliott saved a bad day for Hendrick Motorsports by winning a rain-soaked race at Nashville Superspeedway on Sunday night and interrupted a potential Toyota defeat.
Elliott recovered from an early problem that left him deep on the field and took the lead with 38 laps remaining, blocking three Joe Gibbs racing drivers for his second Cup win of the season.
NASCAR’s most popular driver took about seven hours and a late four-lap shootout to get to Victory Lane. Due to bad weather, NASCAR moved the start-up 12 minutes later, then stopped for an hour for lightning in the area, followed by a delayed rain that lasted more than two hours.
“Our team is very proud,” Elliott said. “We had a kind of jolt halfway there and we managed to dial Chevy back and reunite. It was a lot of fun that day.”
The race resumed at half-time, with teams not sure if the full 300 laps would be completed or if more rain would stop the race early. Toyota controlled almost the entire event – its four drivers combined led 253 laps – but No. 5 Hendrik Crew kept Elliott’s Chevrolet alive in the final stages.
“We were ‘(the) bad news bears’, and then we finally got it right and it was really good,” said Crew Chief Alan Gustafson.
He had the race on his hands when he carefully had nine laps left and Elliott didn’t take the lead for fresh tires. The other nine drivers stayed on track with him to create a pack of traffic that prevented Toyota from catching Elliott after stopping for fresh tires.
“I thought it was coming. I didn’t expect it,” Elliott said cautiously. He led 42 laps twice. But when he restarted, he pulled away and lost to Kurt Bush – in Toyota for 23XI racing – by 0.551 seconds.
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“Winning is always big. It’s better to do it in a really cold city like Nashville. Waiting for that guitar,” Elliott said of Nashville’s traditional winning trophy.
“These things are hard to get and you have to enjoy them. You never know when you’ll get another one or not. So, thank you very much and look forward to next week.”
Elliott’s second win of the season was at Dover, a solid track like Nashville.
Bush, who led three laps for Toyota, said he needed to be tough on Elliott during the final restart.
“I softened on him. I had to throw some fenders and move a little faster,” Bush said. “I just needed to stand on our own two feet and I was confused. The way we’re running is a good second, but we’re here to win.”
Ryan Blaney was third at Ford, followed by Elliott’s teammate Kyle Larson. The JGR trio of Danny Hamlin, Kyle Bush and Martin Trux Jr. slipped to sixth, 21st and 22nd after making a late decision to stop for the tires before the final restart.
Mixed Hendrik Day
The race for Hendrick Motorsports went awry in a two-lap sequence soon after an early power delay.
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Within minutes of the race resuming, William Byron drove to the garage with his Chevrolet’s broken steering rack, and after a lap, Alex Bowman suffered heavy losses as he approached Corey Lajoi.
Bowman mocked Lajoi’s talent on his team radio, while Lajoi asked his team to apologize to Bowman on his behalf. Hours after the rain, Lajoi posted a T-shirt design on Twitter that called him a “really good race car driver” to mimic Bowman’s insult.
But Bowman has suffered a loss, sponsored by Ally, who has invested heavily in NASCAR’s returns in the Nashville market. The company is a qualified sponsor for the Cup Race and is heavily active in several downtown Nashville tourist destinations.
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Bowman returned to the event hoping to improve to 14th place last year – which he found unacceptable due to Ally’s significant presence on Speedway. He finished last in the 36-car segment.
Bad mood Bubba
Bubba Wallace lost his composure with his 23XI racing crew when he had to dig from sixth place due to a loose wheel. He cursed his crew, then said he didn’t want to talk to them the rest of the race.
“Leave me alone,” he radioed the No. 23 team. “Don’t talk to me about the rest of the race.”
Crew chief Butty Barker tried to calm his driver down the entire map in Nashville. He was the fastest in Friday’s practice but then finished 30th on the cobblestone road with teammate Michael Jordan.
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“We’re not out of it,” Barker replied. “I know you are (in anger) and you deserve to be.”
Wallace restarted 31, the last car on the lead lap. He rallied for 12th place.
This is only the third time NASCAR’s Cup Series races on the Road America Road Course in Wisconsin. Elliott is the previous winner.