Monday, August 06, 2018

COMMENTARY: Elliott's Win Is A Win For All Parties

Eight times a bridesmaid, finally a bride.

After 99 tries, Chase Elliott is finally a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner. And for Elliott, his Hendrick Motorsports team, Chevrolet and the sport itself, the victory could not have come at a better time.

The 22-year old son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott finally put it all together Sunday, starting third and running up front throughout the day. He won a stage for the third consecutive week – the only Hendrick Motorsports driver to do so this season -- led a whopping 52 laps and took Chevrolet back to Victory Lane for the first time since Austin Dillon’s upset decision in the season-opening Daytona 500. Perhaps more important, he proved that he could withstand the pressure of holding a late-race lead, something he has failed to do a handful of times in the last three seasons en route to a frustrating eight runner-up finishes.

Elliott offered a glimpse of what was to come early in Sunday’s race, unexpectedly overpowering leader Kyle Busch on a restart to take the lead. The reaction from the Watkins Glen grandstands was unprecedented since Dale Earnhardt, Jr. retired from the sport at the end of the 2017 campaign, but it was nothing compared to the raucous ovation he received in Victory Lane some two hours later.

Truex dogged Elliott to the finish
“Relief is definitely one way I’d describe it,” said Elliott in a champagne-drenched Victory Lane. “I’ve left races (feeling) pretty down over the last couple years. One thing that ran through my head is `You don’t run second eight times by luck. You have to realize you’re in this position for a reason.’”

Elliott’s scintillating late-race duel with defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. ended only when Truex sputtered out of fuel within sight of the checkered flag, allowing Elliott to sprint away to his first career MENCS victory. While Elliott didn’t get to celebrate with NASCAR’s customary post-race smoke show – his car ran out of gas on the cool down lap and was pushed to Victory Lane by teammate Jimmie Johnson – it did little to mute a celebration that was felt at virtually every level of the sport

At least for one day, it proved that NASCAR’s Holy Trinity of Truex, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are beatable, every once in a while. It also provided further proof that NASCAR’s “Young Guns” are more than mere hype and hyperbole. Just weeks after sophomore driver Erik Jones won on the hallowed ground of Daytona, and just a week after Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and William Byron all recorded career-best finishes at Pocono, it appears that NASCAR’s Kiddie Corps is beginning to feel its oats.

That is good news for the sanctioning body, which generated clouds of promotional hype for its “new stars” at the start of the season, only to have grizzled veterans Harvick, Busch and Truex win three-quarters of the races.

Everyone knew Elliott would win eventually. It was a matter of “when,” not “if.” But after inheriting Jeff Gordon’s seat at the pinnacle of Hendrick Motorsports in 2016, expectations were astronomically high. There have been a handful of near-misses in the last three seasons; a blown late restart while leading at Michigan, an infuriating dump-job at the hands of Denny Hamlin at Martinsville, and a late-race loss at Dover last season when Elliott was chased down and passed by Kyle Busch, virtually within sight of the checkered flag.

After 99 weeks of frustration and second-guessing, some had begun to wonder if Elliott would ever live up to his lofty expectations. But today, those questions seem a million miles away.

"You can win these things a lot of different ways,” said the soft-spoken Elliott Sunday, with his beaming father just a few feet away. “But to actually go out there, run in the top two or three all day long and race the guy that's won the past two road races for a victory at the end is very satisfying.
“This is really cool and something I’ll never forget,” in Victory Lane. “To see the fans’ reaction and people fired up… that’s pretty cool to see. I’m certainly glad we were on the front end today.”

Sound the siren at the Dawsonville Pool Hall, Chase Elliott is finally a MENCS winner.

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