Hendrick Motorsport #9 Chevy driver Chase Elliot held off Denny Hamlin’s Toyota to win the Go-Bowling 235 on the Daytona Road Course – his third road course win in a row.
Martin Truex Jr. passed Jimmie Johnson on the last lap for third at the finish with Johnson and Chris Buescher rounding out the top-5.
The top 15 drivers did not stop for new tires with just 4 to go. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski did and restarting back in 16th they ran out of time to make it back to the front.
The 24-year-old Elliott gave a not-so-subtle reminder Sunday afternoon in the NASCAR Cup Series debut on the Daytona International Speedway Road Course that he is one of the sport’s very best on the technical road circuits, even sight unseen as was the case this week.
Just before a caution flag with five laps remaining, Elliott had pulled out to a 10-second advantage on the field. He turned in a fantastic restart and drove three perfect final laps in his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to hold off Denny Hamlin by .202-seconds to win the Go Bowling 235. It was Elliott’s third consecutive road-course win dating back to last year.
“Just had a really good car more than anything, not sure I did anything special today,” Elliott said. “Really fortunate from that standpoint. Had a good week of preparation and came out and really executed on the race.”
Elliott said he was hardly surprised about the late-race restart and prepared for it.
“To me was not when, but how many green-white-checkers we were going to have to do in a row and being better at executing those,” Elliott said. “Any win at Daytona is special. (Crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) and I were joking that we had to change it to a road course to win at Daytona. … Just a great day.”
Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. finished third followed by seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and Chris Buescher. Clint Bowyer, Kaz Grala (who was substituting for Austin Dillon in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet), William Byron, Joey Logano and Michael McDowell completed the top 10 in a race so smooth and expertly handled that it more closely resembled an age-old venue than a first-time visit on a challenging 3.61-mile, 14-turn course.
“Let’s make sure we don’t look like a bunch of dummies there in Turn 1,” Hamlin said of a pre-race conversation with fellow drivers about the new venue. “We made sure we kept it clean to start and then you can get your bearings about you after you run a few laps. Really, it’s one of the those tracks where it’s not super technical but it definitely rewards the guys that do the right techniques on road courses.”
The veteran NASCAR Cup Series drivers immediately put on a driving display that seemed as if they had long raced on the circuit — which includes a tight infield road course as well as Daytona International Speedway’s more famous high-banked turns.
Elliott has proven himself a road course favorite even though he’s only in his fifth full-time season. He led the most laps — 34 of the 65 — and won the first stage on Sunday with Hamlin winning the second stage. Outside of regular pit stops, Elliott was either leading or about to lead all afternoon resulting in Elliott’s eighth career win and second of the season — matching a victory in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“I just wanted to keep him honest and it seemed like the closer we got the more his car was either wheel-hopping or sliding the front tires, so we were at least keeping him honest there to make him push his car and earn the victory,” said Hamlin, a five-race winner in 2020 and driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Championship points leader and six-race winner Kevin Harvick had an eventful day in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford — contact with another car while running near the front and then another spin later in the race. He finished 17th but still leads the championship by 118 points over Hamlin.
Only three races remain to set the 16-driver NASCAR Cup Series Playoff field. Byron is in the 16th position with a 25-point edge over his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson and a 35-point advantage over 18th place Erik Jones with a doubleheader weekend scheduled next week on the one-mile Dover International Speedway before the series returns to the Daytona 2.5-mile superspeedway for the regular-season finale.
Note: Inspection in the NASCAR Cup Series garage resulted in no major issues. The No. 4 of Kevin Harvick and the No. 19 of Martin Truex Jr. each had one lug nut not safe and secure in post-race inspection. There were no other issues.
Chase Elliott — Winner: “Our guys did a phenomenal job. We just had a phenomenal car. I don’t think I did anything very special today. I think Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) and all our guys did a really good job pitting there at the start. We made a couple really small adjustments, I felt like, there, at that first stop and I was really kind of able to leave it after that. So, I just appreciate everybody that makes this happen. … Just thanks to all our partners and Chevrolet. I spent a lot of time with them this past week. A special thanks to Jordan Taylor and Boris Said for reaching out and being willing to help this weekend; some road course ringers. I tried to lean on them and luckily everything worked out.”
Denny Hamlin — Finished 2nd: “I just would have liked to have stayed closer to him (Chase Elliott) to put a little pressure on entries. My entries were the strong point against him, but I was giving him four car lengths so he could kind of drive the entries the way he wanted to make sure he got a good exit. I wasn’t quite clean enough the last few laps, but I definitely gave myself a chance. Those last couple corners, I felt like I did as much as I could to get to him and tried to do it the right way.”
Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 3rd: “Thought we had a chance to win, no doubt about it. Just got caught speeding on pit road. Had to go to the rear and then got damage so we had to go to the rear again. We passed a lot of cars that last run. I know we had the speed at the end there, we were faster than anyone. Just ran out of time, but that’s how it goes. Proud of everybody on the team and still feeling really good about these road courses.
Jimmie Johnson — Finished 4th: “Good job to everyone on my No. 48 Ally Chevy team. I just lacked that rear grip at the end there. That was a really fun and a solid day, that’s what we needed and now we go to my favorite track – Dover. So proud of Chase, what a road racer he is.”
Chris Buescher — Finished 5th: “That was just a fun day for our Fastenal Ford Mustang team. We needed that after a couple of hard weeks. Some decent runs and some bad luck and that was fun. I was able to mix it up and steadily work our way forward. We kept learning as we went and there at the end we got beat up. All four corners of this Mustang are beat up but we got the finish out of it. That was a good one. A good day.”
Clint Bowyer — Finished 6th: “We did what we needed to do today. We had a great Mobil 1 Ford. I thought it was going to be even better there at the end, but we must have gotten hot. (William Byron) got me on the restart and then another car got by me. If I didn’t have anything to lose there I might have been able to get a few more back. But that was a good points day. I hope we are on a roll and we continue this at Dover.”
Kaz Grala — Finished 7th: “I never thought my NASCAR Cup Series debut would come in this nature. I first want to say that I’m thankful that Austin’s symptoms are mild and that his wife Whitney and baby Ace are healthy. I hope to see him back in the car next week at Dover International Speedway. It certainly was an honor to get the call from Richard Childress and drive his iconic No. 3 American Ethanol Chevrolet. I honestly had a blast. These Cup cars have so much power, which I really enjoyed. Today exceeded my expectations. My goal was to come in today, run all the laps, not tear anything up, and get a top-30 finish so this is certainly far above my wildest dreams. Justin Alexander called an excellent strategic race, which really helped us get up there and compete inside the top 20 most of the day. We were able to lead laps in my NASCAR Cup Series debut, and it was fun to mix it up with some of my childhood heroes. Before the last caution, I made a bold, three-wide move on a restart, which got us a ton of positions. I don’t really know what I was thinking, but it worked and put us around 12th. We were in pretty good shape with some fresher tires than the guys ahead of us and opted to stay out under the last caution. We were able to pick off a few more of those guys to finish comfortably inside the top 10.”
WILLIAM BYRON — Finished 8th: “It was a good result for us today. We chose to go for the stage points and had to pass our way through the field a few times because of that strategy. I think we did a nice job of that and getting a lot of those available points. Once we got towards the front top five we kind of stalled out though. Overall, I’m pretty happy with today and getting a good result. We just need to have a couple good weeks with solid races when we go on to Dover for two races and back to Daytona. I’m looking forward to Dover next week for sure though.”
Joey Logano — Finished 9th: “We are starting to get some consistency which is good. We tried some interesting strategy stuff today. It didn’t work but we were able to recover for a top 10. Overall, we know what we need to work on for the Roval with our Mustang and we will go to work. (Chase Elliott) obviously has been really good at these road courses, especially with this tire. We have to find some rear drive. That is where he was beating everybody. We will go to work and try to find it.”
Michael McDowell — Finished 10th: “It was a decent day. We had high hopes which is good. You should come to places like this where we have a lot of experience and track knowledge. Unfortunately we started really deep in the field and we were able to drive up to the top 10 there before the end of the first stage and then we talked about it and it was all about trying to win a race for us. We didn’t try to get stage points. We came in with a few laps to go and we were able to get into the top five and get to third. I saw those rain clouds coming and I thought that was exactly what I needed. I was hoping that it would rain because I have experience on this course in the rain and the others guys don’t really. We lost a little bit there at the end and got passed by guys that had fresher tires. We still managed to get in the top six or seven and then that caution came out with five to go. We knew we weren’t going to beat Chase and those guys up front on the same tires so we just took tires.”
|3||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||2.360||65|
|16||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Chevy||12.416||65|
|18||8||Tyler Reddick #||Chevy||13.658||65|
|21||95||Christopher Bell #||Toyota||14.039||65|
|22||41||Cole Custer #||Ford||14.261||65|
|27||96||* Daniel Suarez||Toyota||18.651||65|
|28||15||Brennan Poole #||Chevy||21.418||65|
|29||66||* Timmy Hill(i)||Toyota||22.572||65|
|33||00||Quin Houff #||Chevy||-1||64|
|35||38||John Hunter Nemechek #||Ford||-3||62|
|39||62||* Brendan Gaughan||Chevy||-19||46|
(I) NOT ELIGIBLE FOR POINTS
(*) REQUIRED TO QUALIFY ON TIME