NASCAR Cup Series
Chase Elliott Advances in Playoffs with Last Lap Talladega Win
Oct 2, 2022
"I wanted to score 30 points and five stage points and we did that."
"It was a good points day especially after scoring none in the second stage when we bailed."
"We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be."
There was a lot of that in the aftermath of the Yellawood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway and Chase Elliott wasn't too far from that viewpoint too running third approaching the final lap. He had one move to make and it worked out, propelling the Hendrick Motorsports team to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
That one relatively risky move, at the start of the two-lap shootout, was coming out of Turn 2 when Elliott jumped from third on the bottom behind Ryan Blaney and Michael McDowell to leading the outside. With a massive shove from Erik Jones, Elliott eventually won the drag race with Blaney on the final lap.
Elliott wasn't totally preoccupied with points, and that is the mindset you can take after scoring 18 points over the first two stages, and took that one calculated risk even knowing what could have gone wrong with just a 22 point advantage over the cutline at the start of the final stage.
"I just felt like when we took the green for the restart, I thought my opportunity to win was to get up in the top lane," Elliott said. "It was certainly a risky move. I felt like we had accumulated a decent number of stage points throughout the day, so it made me feel a little bit better about moving up there, trying to give myself a shot to win.
"I just didn't think I was going to be able to win from (the bottom row) with that few laps left. I just thought that was my shot."
It was, and from there, it came down to getting the shove from Jones -- and Elliott was willing to give his longtime friendly rival all the credit for making it happen.
"That was all on him," Elliott said. "He was able to give me a really good shove. I didn't feel like I did anything special. I think just the timing of how he got connected, and the two guys on the bottom were also connected, so they weren't aggressively side drafting us, trying to pull us apart.
"Yeah, it was just good time. He did a really good job. I think he deserves a ton of credit for that. Obviously I'm very thankful he was that committed to me for the last lap and a half."
Elliott and Jones have raced each other for just over a decade, dating back to Super Late Models, Xfinity and now the Cup Series.
"I have a lot of respect for Erik," Elliott said. "I've raced with him long enough to trust him in that situation to not turn me around. We certainly pushed right to the limit (laughs). It was a handful, but that's kind of what you have to do in those scenarios. I thought he balanced that well."
For his part, Blaney was in a no-win scenario as he was getting a great push from Michael McDowell but was either going to cause a crash by throwing a late block or get hung out by one of his best friends.
"I just didn’t feel comfortable going up there and trusting ... I trust Chase, but not that much to where he wouldn’t have hung me out for the greater good of his group," Blaney said. "So just chose to stay on the bottom with Michael.
"We had a great chance at winning the thing, but we got disconnected in the middle of three and four. I don’t know if (Denny Hamlin) laid off of him, but we disconnected and let (Elliott and Jones) get a big run."
It was arguably a masterclass of superspeedway racing from Elliott in timing his jump combined with the luck of getting a committed pusher in Jones.
For the second playoff round in a row, Elliott found himself with some first race adversity between the engine failure in the Southern 500 and the right rear tire failure at Texas last week. Elliott has won two times in four starts at Charlotte.
But again, if you think calculating the points or banking on road course success played a factor on the final restart Sunday, think again.
"No, no," Elliott said. "I was just trying to think in the moment as to what I felt like I could do, be smart, give myself a shot to win today, yeah. No, I wish I could piece things together that far ahead. I just don't have it in me."
Elliott won the 2020 Cup Series championship, so he is no stranger to the mental gauntlet that is this format, but he admits the start to the final 10 races this year has challenge his usual tenacity.
"I mean, I feel like I've been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing," Elliott said. "It's going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don't. That's just part of the deal.
"So, yeah, you just have to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we're super proud of that."
With that said, if this year has taught Elliott anything, it's that the upcoming Round of 8 isn't a given either. The regular season championship and top seeded perks hasn't shielded him from anything.
As Elliott has said all autumn -- no one is safe.
"This deal can humble you," Elliott said. "We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don't know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there."