From Crash to Victory Lane, Chase Elliott Comes Back to Win at the Roval
It’s not often in racing where a driver will crash while leading, suffer minimal damage, and come back to win. In the second annual Bank of America Roval 400, all of that was present in the up-and-down day for Chase Elliott. The 9 car started 19th, had the lead by lap 31, and then went straight into the turn 1 wall on lap 65. In the closing laps however, Elliott maneuvered his way back out front to score the victory. This is Elliott’s 6th career win, 3rd of 2019, and 3rd Playoff victory. The drama did not end there though, as 4 driver’s championship hopes ended on the Roval as well.
Practices See Several Crash, Contenders Sent to Rear for Start
Every driver in the field dreaded coming to the Roval, with the game plan of just surviving. Practice sessions leading into the race were very costly for teams, as four drivers would be sent to the rear for backup cars after crashing. Denny Hamlin, Alex Bowman, and Parker Kligerman each would crash their primary cars ahead of the race. In addition, Martin Truex, Jr. added himself to this list late in final practice when he missed a shift. The engine change would also send the 19 to the rear. With a hungry pack of 40 cars, the middle of the field would surely become a danger zone, putting those in the back at high risk for a crash. The chaos did not even take 1 lap to begin.
Hendrick Out Front Early
Hendrick teammates William Byron and Jimmie Johnson would start on the front row and quickly took the top 2 spots. By the first trip through the new backstretch chicane however, one of their teammates would be in trouble. Alex Bowman got into the heavy braking zone too hot and spun. He would clip the 43 of Bubba Wallace, and Martin Truex, Jr. also narrowly avoided contact. Truex forcibly cut the chicane short however, which resulted in a stop and go penalty for the 19. None of this opening lap drama brought out a caution though. Bowman got pointed in the right direction and would continue forward.
Over the course of the opening 20 laps, William Byron would dominate the competition. The 24 would build up a lead of more than 7 seconds. This was eerily reminiscent of how his race at Sonoma started off. Back in June, Byron also started on the pole and commanded the opening Stage. The 24 was looking to repeat that effort and avoid Playoff elimination. Byron’s lead would be erased though when a yellow was thrown for Ryan Preece spinning in the backstretch chicane.
First Restart Triggers Chain Reaction Crash to Close Stage 1
With the top 18 drivers restarting on old tires late in Stage 1, the intensity would ratchet up for Stage points. Although the first few drivers navigated through turn 1 without issue, the same could not be said in the back half of the top 10. Kurt Busch got into the back of Chris Buescher, sending the 37 sliding sideways. The 37 would collect both Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman. Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones would also be involved in this multi-car spin going into turn 1. Thankfully everyone drove away with little damage, but this caution would be the end of Stage 1. This restart was akin to the crash that Brad Keselowski caused in the Roval race a year ago.
In a calculated veteran move, Kyle Larson took a wider arc entering the 90-degree left hand corner and just edged Byron before the yellow. This would result in Kyle Larson being the Stage 1 victor after leading for just a few hundred feet. Oddly enough, Larson has won Stage 1 in both years of racing at the Roval. Clint Bowyer also got by Byron to take 2nd, so a promising Stage ended bitterly for team 24.
For the 24’s teammate however, Stage 1 was a solid improvement. After starting 19th, Chase Elliott’s 9 car rallied to earn points in 9th. With his 3 teammates all starting up front, the 9 likely had speed and would make gains quickly.
First Shoe Drops in Playoff Elimination
After being involved in the restart melee, the 20 of Erik Jones went behind the wall with a punctured radiator. This would lead to a premature end of the day for Jones, and an early Playoff exit. The Joe Gibbs Racing 20 team would b the first of 4 Playoff eliminations from the Roval with their DNF. After coming into the Roval needing a win to keep his Playoff hopes alive, Erik Jones would leave in 40th.
On the flip side of the Playoff grid, some drivers locked up a Round of 12 spot after Stage 1. Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Denny Hamlin would all join the trio of Truex, Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick in the second round ahead of the checkered flag. 2 Stages remained at the Roval, and 9 drivers were left racing for 6 spots.
Tempers Flare in Stage 2
When Stage 2 got underway, it was the Penske cars of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski leading the way. With both Fords on older tires, they were not as fast as their chasers despite the track position. Kevin Harvick quickly moved into the 2nd spot, and Chase Elliott’s 4 fresh tires were right behind him. Logano’s lead was short-lived, as Elliott and Harvick went by him on lap 30.
Once Elliott got out front, it was smooth sailing for the 9. By lap 35, Elliott’s lead over Harvick was more than 3 seconds and growing. In clean air, the Hendrick cars seemed to be unbeatable. Be that as it may, another Hendrick car would bring out the next yellow on lap 41.
While racing hard against Bubba Wallace, Alex Bowman made contact with the 43 in the backstretch chicane. This sent Wallace hard into the outside wall. Wallace had been giving Bowman the middle finger the past few laps, and Alex had enough of it. Emotions from this incident would persist later on.
Tire Gamble Doesn’t Pay off For Stage Win
This caution late in Stage 2 did slightly change the order up front; Elliott led much of the field down pit road for tires. However, some drivers did stay out: Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, and Michael McDowell would restart up front. Bowyer was in desperate need of Stage points to stave off Playoff elimination, so this old tires gamble could pay off big.
On the restart, Bowyer initially had the lead and was pulling away with 6 laps left in the Stage. However, Keselowski worked his way by the 14 with 4 to go, and the 9 was hot on the 2’s heels. With the fresher tires, Elliott motored by Keselowski through the infield. Elliott would hold on to earn the Stage 2 win.
With the points earned from the Stage 2 win, Chase Elliott locked himself into the Round of 12. With just 59 laps left from the Roval, 5 spots in the next Playoff round were still vacant. The intensity would ramp up for the final Stage, as many drivers were still in contention for the second-ever Roval win.
High Point and Low Point of the Race for Elliott
When the final Stage got underway on lap 55, Elliott easily cleared for the lead by turn 1. Behind him though, the pack went 4-wide through Heartburn Turn. Somehow they all made it through the tricky corner unscathed. Elliott was beginning to gap the field, his advantage over 2nd place was over three seconds in just two laps. A quick caution flew when Daniel Hemric spun in turn 13. The ensuing restart would cause a crash that would be a turning point for the entire race.
Well in command of the restart once again on lap 65, Elliott got another great jump. However, he locked up his front tires after missing his braking zone, and went nose-first into the turn 1 wall. To the amazement of many, Elliott was able to continue and had little front end damage. The crash cost him track position but was not day-ending. This sequence of events gave the lead over to Kevin Harvick, his first time out front all day.
With Elliott all the way back in 31st, the top 3 now were Harvick, Truex, Jr., and Jimmie Johnson. On the restart Harvick cleared Truex, and after a lap had a one second lead. Also on this restart the 18 of Kyle Busch would suffer a flat left front tire. The day where he was a non-factor only compounded for the 18. Busch limped his way around to the pits, but got busted for driving through too many pit boxes.
Harvick’s Race to Lose?
Denny Hamlin would start the final cycle of pit stops under green with just 35 laps to go. The duo of Harvick and Truex stopped on lap 76, giving the lead back to Elliott. Elliott would hold the top spot until his final stop on lap 79. By that time, Harvick cycled back out front. At the expense of Elliott, this race appeared to have fallen into Harvick’s control. As Harvick’s advantage was cresting eight seconds, the yellow flew for the seventh time as Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. spun.
Newman Struggles in Clutch Moment
Prior to this yellow, Stenhouse’s teammate Ryan Newman was in the thick of a tight points battle. The 6 was swapping 12th in points back and forth on a nearly lap-by-lap basis. The battle was as tight as a single point separation, with each position meaning everything. The coming restart would see the final transfer spot switch occupants once again.
Rash of Late Yellows
On pit road under caution on lap 90, the 6 would stall while exiting, losing valuable track position and even more points. Luckily the 6 got re-fired and was able to continue, but he would face even more adversity. While the leaders got away cleanly on the restart, those in the mid-pack did not. In turn 6 Denny Hamlin spun right in front of Ryan Preece as well as Ryan Newman. Both drivers had nowhere to go and were involved in a synchronized spin. Fortunately for Newman, he was able to stay in the race, but with another big loss of track position. The race would restart with just 15 laps left.
Harvick held the lead over Truex yet again, but one of his teammates brought out another caution two laps later. Daniel Suarez got stuck in the grass in turn 6, and the yellow flew so his stalled Ford could be moved. At the time of this yellow, Bowman held the final spot in the Round of 12 by just two points over Newman. Aric Almirola was also just three points back, and the 10 was the first to pit for tires. The green flag would fly again with just 11 laps to go.
Once the field had managed the infield for the first lap back under green, two cars would spin entering the oval in turn 8. Kurt Busch would go around off the bumper of Joey Logano, and also collected Chris Buescher. Under this caution, oil from the 52 car also leaked onto the track. This extended cleanup would trigger an eight minute red flag. Under this red, Kyle Busch parked his car in the garage, citing a broken track bar.
Late Restart Sees Lead Change Hands
With Harvick in command on the restart with 6 to go, he easily held off the charge from Truex. Elliott quickly got to 2nd though, and by the time the top 2 hit the first chicane, they ran nose-to-tail. In turns 3 and 4 of the oval Elliott got to Harvick’s outside. He would complete the pass in the front stretch chicane and took the lead with 5 laps to go. The battle up front was over, as Elliott would cruise to the Roval victory by three seconds. But drama was still afoot in the Playoff bubble battle back in the pack.
With 2 laps to go, Newman had a slim advantage in the race for 12th in points. That would change though, when the 6 cut the backstretch chicane and incurred a penalty. The 6 got sent over the curbs by Aric Almirola, but the penalty stood. Newman’s stop and go penalty would be exactly what Alex Bowman needed to lock in to the Round of 12. Due to not observing his penalty, Newman lost his top-10 finishing position. After NASCAR’s ruling, Newman’s 6 car finished in a dismal 32nd place.
Significance of the Win for Elliott
Earning his first win since Watkins Glen in August, Chase Elliott gave credit to his fast Napa 9 Camaro. “Honestly, that was the only reason we were able to get back in,” Elliott said. “I pretty well blew it; and got the cautions at the right time, and brought it home.” The Roval also marks career win number six for the Georgia-born driver.
Unique Celebration for Elliott
Elliott’s third checkered flag of the year came after a mid-race crash that saw the 9 pile into the turn 1 tire wall on a restart. In his winning celebration, Elliott drove to that spot on the wall and did his victory burnouts there. “I was coming back on the frontstretch and I saw that dang thing,” Elliott said. “I was like, well, I couldn’t pass this opportunity up to go down here and redeem myself a little bit in Turn 1. Yeah, I was pretty excited about that one. I’m typically not very quick‑witted, but I was really proud of that. I was pretty fired up. Definitely it should have never been special in the first place, but since I went out of my way to make it special today, I felt like I had to go back and see it one more time.”
With the win, Elliott locked up a spot in the Playoffs Round of 12. This next round of the postseason could be magical for the 9, as Elliott has wins at each of the 3 upcoming venues. “We’ll go to work on Dover on Tuesday and start our prep and really think about the next one,” Elliott told me. “But it’s hard to carry anything really from today into next week just because it’s back to the ovals. Anything we learned today from a road course standpoint obviously we don’t have another one the rest of the year. But can definitely take those six points with you as long as you’re alive in this playoff system, and hopefully we don’t need them but we got them, and hopefully ‑‑ well, it’s good either way, so we have them.”
Elliott’s Playoff Outlook
Engine number 9 may have just reasserted himself into the thick of the title fight. Elliott’s Regular Season ended on a quiet note, but the 9 team historically comes to life in the postseason. The goal for the 9, as well as his competitors, is to make the Championship 4 in Homestead next month. We will have to see if the Roval crash-and-win carries any momentum for Elliott and Hendrick Motorsports.
Other Notables in the Top 10
Dramatic Day for Bowman
Coming back from a lap 1 spin, Chase Elliott’s teammate Alex Bowman was in P2 at the checkers. With the runner-up result, the Hendrick 88 team advances onto the Round of 12. The story of the weekend for Bowman however would not be him advancing on through the Playoffs.
After climbing from his car, Bowman needed medical treatment for dehydration. While Alex was sitting on the ground being tended to, Bubba Wallace walked over to the 88. Wallace said something to Bowman, and splashed water in his face before storming off. Wallace was obviously still furious about the lap 1 incident as well as being dumped by Bowman. Afterwards, Bowman was treated and released from the infield care center. Driver 88 then took to Twitter to comment on his whirlwind day.
Harvick is Happy with 3rd
Leaving the Charlotte Roval in the third position was the man who Elliott passed for the win, Kevin Harvick. Harvick was pleased to walk away with a strong finish, but realizes where he lost it. “Honestly, it was a great day for us. Without all of those cautions at the end, or one or two less, I think our Jimmy John’s Ford Mustang probably still wins the race, but I could see that 9 creeping in my mirror and I knew how good his car was from practice yesterday. Once he got to us, he just rolled right around the outside of us. I thought if I could just get through turn one and beat the 19, I’d be in decent shape, but the 9 was just so good even after his crash.”
With the Playoff realignment, Harvick and his 28 bonus points are 5th in the 12-man standings. Harvick will enter the Round of 12 in prime position to advance on and keep his run for a second championship alive. Expect Harvick to turn up the wick and be a weekly threat as we approach the closing races of the season.
Bowyer’s Bounce-back Continues
Along with Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer’s fourth place effort was enough for him to leap above the Playoff cut line into the Round of 12. Bowyer was treading carefully all day at the Roval, he was aggressive during the Stages at maintaining track position and that paid off with a race-high 16 Stage points for the 14. “We did what we had to do, knowing what we had to do all weekend long,” Bowyer said. “We knew we had to dig ourselves out of a hole we put ourselves in at Vegas. Overall we had a good weekend last weekend and had a great weekend this weekend.”
The fact that Bowyer managed to survive the opening round of the Playoffs is no small miracle. The 14 won the pole for the Playoff opener at Las Vegas, only led 1 lap, and faded all the way to 25th. Since then however, Bowyer has strung together back-to-back top 10 results. Bowyer should count himself lucky that he is still one of the 12 contenders, but the 14 team has work to do on intermediate-style tracks. While he starts this round as the last seed in 12th, Bowyer is facing two of his best racetracks in Dover and Talladega. It will be interesting to see if the 14 team can rally again or if they will flounder.
Roval Redemption of Sorts for Keselowski
In last year’s Roval race, Brad Keselowski had the ultimate pitfall when he ‘led the army off the cliff,’ by piling into turn 1 on a late restart. This year’s return to the Roval was far less chaotic for Keselowski, as the 2 was in the top 10 all day long. Keselowski would survive this race and come home in fifth, securing his spot in the Round of 12. “That was a hot race, pretty miserable, but we got through with a decent finish and made the most with what we had,” Keselowski said. “We had newer tires than everybody, but it didn’t really matter. The 9 car was so much faster than everyone. He passed everybody on old tires. I don’t know what they had, but we need to come back with that.”
Keselowski had a quiet-yet-consistent race on the Roval, the opposite of his performance a season ago. The Penske 2 crew rolls on to the Round of 12 in the 6th seed, with Brad being the defending Kansas winner. Keselowski’s Playoff pushes have historically been made in the Talladega race, which is just two weeks away. This coming round has proven to be fruitful for the 2, so we will see if they can continue this trend.
Byron’s Postseason Surge Survives the Roval
The youngest man in the Playoffs survives an opening round that many thought he would not. After finishing the Roval in sixth, Byron is optimistic about the coming round and grateful to have made it through. “It feels awesome. It was a goal accomplished,” Byron said. “We had a good car and we could have gone for more, for sure. But I just wanted to finish the race. I knew we were close on points, so just to finish the race was a goal accomplished. A sixth-place finish is good and we’ll go onto Dover. I know it’s a good track for us.”
With a spot in the Round of 12, William Byron is playing with house money as a Playoff rookie. Few expect the 21-year-old to put up much of a fight against seasoned veterans for the championship. With their recent speed and execution though, the 24 could return to victory lane in the coming weeks.
Truex Fades with Late Issues
Despite starting the day in the rear, Martin Truex, Jr. was on his way to potentially sweeping the Round of 16 with a Roval win. Truex was at the head of the pack, running in the top 2 or 3 late until he lost power steering. The steering issue after the red flag forced Truex to drop a few spots to seventh. In the end though, the Roval will not make or break Truex’s year, as he was one of few to be racing care-free.
“It was up and down for sure,” Truex explained. “To start from the back like that and get penalized in the beginning for avoiding a wreck, missing the chicane to avoid a wreck and you penalize us is kind of stupid. We started from way behind there and made our way up. Got to second and just didn’t have a good enough car to take the lead and then all those heat cycles again, I just got really loose. We probably should’ve got tires, but we didn’t expect all of the cautions at the end.”
Having the distinction of the most recent winner at Dover, expect Truex to be a heavy favorite for the Dover sweep this weekend. This next round of the Playoffs shapes up well for Truex on paper; 2 of his best venues are in the next 3 weeks at Dover and Kansas. At the second seed in points though, Truex is far from in need of a win to advance onward. In spite of that, the 19 has shown speed that few have matched so far this postseason.
Blaney’s Quiet Season Persists
It would not be a repeat of the upset Roval win for Ryan Blaney, who leaves the Charlotte race running eighth. Blaney’s defense of his second career win was a handful to say the least; the 12 did hit the wall early in the race and fought handling issues all day. “We definitely had a lot of ups and downs,” Blaney said. “I thought we did a pretty decent job most of the day finding ourselves towards the front. There were a lot of mixed strategies with the way the cautions fell. I messed up really bad and hit the fence and really set us back. But I’m really proud of the whole group for fighting and getting it fixed to where we could make some ground.”
With the points reset, Blaney enters the Round of 12 in 10th, two points below the cut line. The 12 team has yet to show race-winning pace or execution, for much of the year they have been a tenth-to-fifteenth place team. Blaney’s year so far has also had its share of bad luck, nearly one-third of his races have finishes of 25th or worse. If Blaney can keep his unlucky demons at bay, he will be in the thick of the bubble battle throughout the next three weeks.
Johnson Leads Non-Contenders Again
For the second straight week, Jimmie Johnson leads all non-Playoff drivers in the back half of the top 10. He bettered his Richmond 10th-place effort with ninth at the Roval though. This marks his best finish with crew chief Cliff Daniels, but 7-time still believes he didn’t capitalize as much as he could have.
“We had a good car,” Johnson stated. “We lacked a little drive off of the turns and would fade a little bit over the long haul, but I still think we really were a top-five car. I just made three really big mistakes in the race and cost us. I locked up my front tires three different times. The tires were flat-spotted, and we had to pit out of sequence. I spun around once on one of those wild restarts. So, a rally back to ninth was a nice recover, but I’m kicking myself for the mistakes I made.”
Logano Counts Himself Lucky
If you would have told Joey Logano that he would get a top 10 finish at lap 35, he likely would not have believed it. After making a scheduled pit stop, the 22 overcooked entry into turn 3 and slapped the wall with the right front. Logano’s car was not off from a speed factor, but it was his own execution that was lacking. “Today is on me,” Logano admitted. “We had a pretty good car, something that could compete. We were in the top five there the first stage and looked like we were gonna have a car that could contend and then I just made a mistake on pit road and hit the wall. It’s not speed. I keep saying that. It’s not that we’re far off on speed, we just have to clean up the races and today is on me.”
With the reset, Logano enters perhaps his best round of the Playoffs in the fourth seed. Back in 2015, Logano swept this round of the postseason with 3-straight wins. Although Logano is not the best at navigating Dover, he will be a factor at both Talladega and Kansas. Watch out for the 22 in their title defense season.
Championship Hopes for 4 Ended at the Roval
The 4 drivers eliminated from the 2019 NASCAR Playoffs after the Roval would be Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, and Ryan Newman. None of these 4 drivers put up a top-10 effort, they were all mired in the pack. The Playoff field has shrunken to 12 men, as 7 races remain until a champion is crowned.
How to Watch the Next Race
While this year’s repeat appearance of the Roval did not feature the last-lap drama of 2018, the Playoff bubble battle and recovery by Elliott kept unpredictability at a high. With the first 4 drivers eliminated from the Playoffs, the Round of 12 will kick off on Sunday with the Drydene 400 at Dover’s Monster Mile. Coverage will be on October 6 at 2:30 PM EST on NBCSN, MRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90. The concrete mile will be the 13th competitor in the Playoffs this weekend, as 12 drivers will try to survive being bitten by Miles the Monster.
Written by Peter Stratta
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Photo credit to NASCARMedia