NASCAR Cup Series
Chase Elliott Breaks Through for First Win at Dover
May 2, 2022
You wouldn’t have though Chase Elliott entered this weekend with the Cup Series championship lead based on the narrative and noise surrounding his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team.
They haven’t won in 26 races.
They haven’t won an oval since the 2020 championship at Phoenix.
All their teammates have won.
And yet, Elliott held a 21-point advantage over Ryan Blaney entering the weekend at Dover Motor Speedway and backed it up on Monday with their first victory of the season and first in NASCAR’s Next Gen era.
I guess they didn’t suck after all, but the scrutiny is heavier when you have the largest fanbase and the equal number of critics that come with them.
"We don't do it for them," said crew chief Alan Gustafson of the critics after the race. "We do it for each other. That keeps you going. (We’re) certainly not done (after) today either."
Again, when you’re the championship leader through 10 races, that’s not an aberration or fluke. The No. 9 team had posted nine finished of 11th or better, had led the third most number of laps with two stage wins and now has an average finish of 9.6.
Elliott himself said it was matter of putting a full race together, and certainly just having a few breaks go their way, which is what happened on Lap 323 when several cars briefly lost a lap during a caution in the middle of green flag pit stops.
Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman were amongst those bit by the timing of the caution, needing to take a wave-around, which then gave Elliott the chance to line up on the front row next to Ross Chastain. Two restarts later, Elliott took the lead and led the final 53 laps.
"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 really until today I feel like. Been fast at one point or fast at another. Just not quite putting it all together all in one three-and-a-half, four-hour time frame. It was just nice to do that today.
"Proud of our team. Proud of Alan and our entire group for continuing to bring good attitudes to the racetrack. Coming in with the right mindset every week regardless of what happened the week before. To me that says a lot about their character and the kind of group that we have."
And while a sense of doomsday seemingly befell Elliott Nation, its eponymous driver pointed out that they have now actually won quite early in a season in which they’re already leading the standings. In fact, because of the playoff points paid out to the top-10 in the standings by the end of the regular season, Elliott is actually ranked third in playoff points.
William Byron 353
Ross Chastain 338
Chase Elliott 418
Kyle Busch 353
Alex Bowman 349
"Still fairly early in the season," Elliott said. "That's always a good thing. Good opportunity to build some more wins and bonus points before we get to the Playoffs. A lot of racing left, though, for sure."
And no, Elliott and Gustafson didn’t somehow forget how to win on ovals after their dominant road course stretch over the past three years with the Gen-6 car or winning altogether for that matter. In fact, Dover is one of their best tracks.
Dover is the first oval Elliott has repeat wins at, and Gustafson has wins here with Jeff Gordon as well. If not for a string of bad luck, Elliott had chances to win other races over the years at the Monster Mile as well.
"To me, the winless streak, not winning on ovals, is a hell of a lot bigger deal to (the media) than it is to us," Gustafson said. "It's just the way the circumstances played out. We were just as competitive in all those places.
"You look at our statistics here with Chase driving the car, we got inverted when we did that double (stint) one year, right? We got crashed on lap three one year, we blew up on lap four another. Besides that, I think our average finish was fourth. It's not like we run bad at ovals. There are a lot of places that are that way. Martinsville is that way. We certainly have good statistics.
"I think the fact we run well on road courses and have dominated the road courses for a short period of time overshadows that, but I don't think there's a lack of performance on ovals. I think that's way overdone."
So, while Elliott is aware of the fan expectation or narratives surrounding his season, especially after each of his teammates all went to victory lane over the first 10 weeks, the 2020 Cup Series champion says it’s just noise -- and not a particularly loud one at that.
"I understand (the media is) just doing its job," Elliott said. "I respect that. But at the end of the day, like, I want to win just as bad at Daytona at the start of the season when no one has any stickers on their cars just as bad as I do when we get to Phoenix at the end of the season regardless of what has happened.
"My drive to win, to do my job to the best of my ability, doesn't change whether we are struggling, whether we are doing very good, whether I'm in a contract year, whether I'm not, whether my teammates have won and I haven't.
That was the case when he was winning Super Late Model races across the country with Ricky Turner and it’s the mindset now. Elliott has never allowed himself to get distracted by the noise that comes with his fanbase and detractors.
"Those circumstances are fine and cool and great," said Elliott, "but I want to do my job to the very best of my ability all the time no matter what, no matter the track, no matter the circumstances, always."