With a little bit of luck on pit road, and a car just fast enough to withstand two hard-chargers behind him, Chase Elliott won Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Elliott didn’t need the win to progress to the next round of championship playoffs; two weekends ago he guaranteed his advance by winning at Dover, Del., his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup victory. Sunday’s trophy is the third he’s collected this year in the series.
His good luck happened when Bakersfield native and past champion Kevin Harvick got snagged for speeding on pit road during a green-flag stop on Lap 214.
Elliott then inherited the lead when Brad Keselowski pitted 10 laps later. And he never gave it back.
But the victory didn’t come easy. Kyle Bush was gaining on him, and behind those two was another hard-charger, Elk Grove native Kyle Larson, who needed to win if he was to advance toward the championship.
Still, Elliott summed the race as “just a really fun day.”
He said he knew two days before his car was “kind of decent,” and early on in the race, “the car drove really nice.” He knew if he could gain track position, he’d have a shot at the checkered flag.
“Obviously got lucky with Kevin’s misfortune there,” Elliott said. “I wish we could have raced him straight up to see who was better.”
Even though his win at Dover guaranteed him a spot when the championship field narrowed to eight, Elliott said racing still is about winning rather than counting points.
“I think that needs to be the mindset, for sure. I think every week has to be pressure-packed,” he said, adding that a must-win attitude is needed every week. “If you’re trying to win, putting yourself in position to win, that’s way more important than just barely, trying to squeak through.”
He knew Busch was gaining as the race wound down, but Elliott said he was more comfortable driving his own line rather than moving up to where Busch was able to close the gap until five laps from the end, when his advancement stalled.
“It was a good day for us,” Busch said despite coming up short in the race to the finish. He said he knew Elliott “was going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
Besides Elliott, Aric Almirola who won last weekend in Talladega, Ala., are in the next round on wins.
Harvick earned a spot in the Round of Eight on points, boosted when he came in second in the first stage of Sunday’s race and won the second stage.
Also in the Round of eight are Joey Logano, who led the most laps (100) Sunday and won the first stage of the race; Busch; defending champion Martin Truex Jr.; Clint Bowyer; and Kyle Busch’s brother, Kurt.
Those eliminated from competing for the championship are Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Larson and Alex Bowman. Larson got even more bad news in post-race inspection, when his car was found to have an unsafe lug nut.
Finishing in the top 10 Sunday after Elliott, Kyle Busch and Larson were Erik Jones, Truex, Keselowski, Blaney, Logano, Bowman and Almirola.
Other Californians and their finishing spots were Los Gatos driver A.J. Allmendinger, 21st; El Cajon native Jimmie Johnson, 22nd after an accident; and Grass Valley’s Matt DiBenedetto, 23rd.
Three more races will narrow the championship candidates to four. Those races are First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, Sunday, Oct. 28; AAA Texas 500 Nov. 4 at Texas Motor Speedway and Can-Am 400 Nov. 11 at ISM Raceway.
The final race is the Ford EcoBoost 400 Nov. 18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Broadcast of the First Data 500 will be 11:30 a.m. Pacific time Sunday on NBC Sports.