DOVER, Del. — A little over one year ago, Chase Elliott’s first Cup Series victory slipped through the cracks of agony and heartbreak. In a race that was his, mismanagement of lapped traffic opened the door for Kyle Busch, who then stole the victory late at Dover International Speedway. Elliott was left dejected by car, dropping his head in defeat before teammate and mentor Jimmie Johnson attended the young driver trying to live up to his name.
Now, a full racing season later, Elliott is the one who steals the show with strategy and savviness at the Monster Mile, staying out on a late caution to lead the last 11 laps and win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover in overtime.
“It definitely makes you appreciate it more,” Elliott said.
It’s Elliott’s second win of his three-year career, seven races after it took 99 starts for his first victory, which came at Watkins Glen. Elliott also punches his ticket to the Round of 8.
Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Erik Jones, and Kurt Busch rounded out the top five.
Kevin Harvick, who won the first two stages and led 286 of 400 laps, had a comfy lead washed away when he needed to pit to fix a loose wheel with 70 laps to go. He rebounded to finish sixth. After the No. 4 crew pitted for a second time under green flag stops, Harvick slipped to 13th, one-lap down, but got the free-pass when a caution came out for debris on Lap 61.
Aric Almirola then assumed the lead from Harvick’s pit road blunder when green-flag pit stops cycled through and opened up a 1.6-second lead on Kurt Busch. Almirola (64 laps led) survived the Lap 61 caution, opening up a full second lead as the laps dwindled to single digits. In that moment, it finally appeared late-race misfortune wouldn’t rob the journeyman racer of his second career victory. That is, until, teammate Clint Bowyer got into the Turn 4 wall to bring out the caution with seven laps to go.
Elliott, who was in third at the time, elected to stay out, as well as Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. Almirola, meanwhile, pitted for four fresh tires and restarted fifth. A green-white-checkered finish ensued, and on Lap 398, Almirola tried to make something happen down the backstretch with fresh tires but got into Keselowski to bring out another yellow.
Elliott held on from there and didn’t let this one out of grasp this time around.
“It’s nice to close the deal,” Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson said.
Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse and Daniel Suarez completed the top 10. Playoff drivers Ryan (11th), Kyle Larson (12th) Almirola (13th), Keselowski (14th), Truex Jr (15th), and Alex Bowman (28th) finished outside the top 10.
Stage 1 (Laps 1-120)
Kevin Harvick was lauded all weekend as the fastest car and he proved that out of the gate, leading all 120 laps to collect his series-leading 13th stage win of the season. He topped Joey Logano by 6.457 seconds and at one point led by 10 seconds, nearly half a lap at the Monster Mile.
Kyle Busch, who started on the pole, came third. Clint Bowyer and Chase Elliott rounded out the top five. Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and Martin Truex Jr. made up the top 10. Kyle Larson narrowly missed stage points in 11th. Alex Bowman struggled early to place 15th in Stage 1, but earned the free pass to get back on the lead lap.
Jimmie Johnson, an 11-time winner at the Monster Mile, missed the green flag to repair a right front broken ball joint suffered during the parade laps. He returned 10 laps down. Stage 1 went caution-free and green flag pit stops occurred from Laps 68-80.
Top 10 after intermission pit stops: Logano, Kyle Busch, Bowyer, Keselowski, Elliott (uncontrolled tire) Blaney, Almirola, Austin Dillon, Harvick, Truex Jr.
Stage 2 (Laps 121-240)
Kevin Harvick held off Clint Bowyer in the closing laps to claim his series-leading 14th stage of the season. Up to that point, he led 211 of 240 laps.
Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Aric Almirola completed the top five. Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top 10.
Ryan Blaney slipped to 12th after finishing seventh in Stage 1. Alex Bowman came 14th and earned the free pass for the second stage in a row. Kyle Larson, surprisingly, was the worst of the playoff drivers, mired in 15th, one lap down.
Top 10 after intermission pit stops: Harvick, Bowyer, Truex Jr., Almirola, Logano, Bowman, Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Keselowski and Elliott.
Playoff update with two races left in the Round of 12
1. Kevin Harvick +68
2. Kyle Busch +63
3. Martin Truex Jr. +36
4. Joey Logano +31
5. Chase Elliott (locked into Round of 8 with win at Dover)
6. Kurt Busch +21
7. Brad Keselowski +21
8. Ryan Blaney +10
9. Aric Almirola -10
10. Clint Bowyer -10
11. Kyle Larson -12
12. Alex Bowman -34